PHOTOS & GRAPHICS
Who will step in to fill the void?
Tools of the Hunt
On Assignment: The War
Perry: Street Fighting in Karbala
Robinson: Chaos at a Bridge
Ware: Last Stand for Saddam
When the Cheering Stops
Jubilation and chaos greet the fall of Saddam's regime, leaving Iraqis and Americans puzzling over how to rebuild the nation
The Search for the Smoking Gun
Counting the Casualties
CNN.com: War in Iraq
This media-aware Administration used the press, if not as a weapon, then as an advantageous feature of the landscape. The government managed coverage, giving reporters embedded with troops an exciting but limited view that made for thrilling pictures. TV also managed itself: as the statue fell, troops were in a fire fight blocks away, but viewers saw little of that scene it didn't fit the master story line. Still, no stage management could keep Marines from undiplomatically raising Old Glory or shooting civilians at a checkpoint, as Australian TV caught Wednesday night in footage widely replayed in the States.
This was also the war of cable news, whose ratings jumped by triple digits while the ratings for network nightly news dropped slightly. Cable showed a war that was easy to see but hard to know, as 24-hour news took advantage of technology and access but often hurriedly picked up unconfirmable reports, albeit with caveats. "It's a hazard of the electronic-journalism game," says msnbc president Erik Sorenson. "My staff is so sick of me saying the word attribution." There is always the fog of war, but like smog trapped by a heat inversion, it was compounded by hot air, as anchors vamped to fill time and pushed guests to speculate. If anything, the fog grew thicker as the bombing slowed. The allies killed Saddam or did they? and troops found chemical weapons that later, diabolically, morphed into pesticides. Spend 30 minutes with cable news, and you'd be sure you knew where the war stood. Spend all day the preferred mode of media professionals and the insane and you'd have no clue.
That confusion (the more you watch, the less you know) is the inevitable result of the 24-hour news cycle, which exaggerates both advances and setbacks and in which war is a quagmire if it threatens to last as long as a season of The Bachelor. Yet TV also had fine moments, many, not coincidentally, when anchors and talking heads shut up, as with a fire fight in Baghdad that aired on msnbc last Thursday. For several chaotic minutes there were no voice-overs, charts or speculation, just the sound of spent shells clinking on concrete and the sights of G.I.s ducking behind walls, blood soaking into a soldier's pant leg. It was war, simple and unspun. Then the talking heads returned, for wars may come and go, but the battle for your attention never ends.