Genetically modified mouthpieces

Pub date June 11, 2008
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION In 2003, when I was working as an anchor for a San Francisco television station, newscasters and reporters across the country were asked by the White House to refer to the Iraqi invasion as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). We were asked to call the war in Afghanistan Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

With press releases in hand, journalists repeated genetically modified words as if their DNA depended upon it.

Genetically modified language is when propaganda wins, journalism sells out, and the public loses. It’s when words are twisted and massaged and spun until an entire suit of lies is woven to cover the guilty and cloak the truth.

The genetically modified language, in the case of Iraq, was full of false bravado and moral superiority, wielded in attempts to turn lies into honorable causes our dear children were willing to go to war for.

Nothing caught on like the phrase "the war on terror." It was a White House propaganda bonanza. Whole networks built their news around swirling "war on terror" graphics and anchors began stories with "Today in the war on terror," while most of the world considered Americans the terrorists.

That’s when I pulled up lame and refused to dance the destructive dance. Most of us who complained are now gone.

The fourth estate, as the media is called, was created to watch the government and anyone else using lies to gain power and profit at the expense of the safety and security of the American people

Thinking journalists can now see that using the White House’s genetically modified language with unquestioning devotion is one of the many reasons why we lost the public trust five years ago.

I propose that journalists stop repeating genetically modified White House language, and go a step further.

On the very day it was leaked that Scott McClellan’s book reveals the country went to war based on known lies, the sweetest, shiniest, dimple-faced, airbrushed Bay Area Murdoch girl began a broadcast by announcing: "Another American has given his life for his country today."

I was once that girl. Today I know that soldier was one of thousands who bravely believed in what the president said — and died believing a lie the press helped promote.

What if this anchorwoman — and hundreds of others like her, all of whom I imagine to be nice people — read instead: "Another American has died in Iraq today. He was a beloved brother and child, and he was number 4,084."

Then perhaps follow that with the number of wounded Iraqi veterans: 30,329.

In an attempt at truly unbiased journalism, they could end with the number of Iraqis who have lost their lives: 1,217,892.

If this war, as McClellan says and dozens of other experts have pointed out, was based on a great lie, let’s honor those soldiers who were willing to believe the lie by bringing them home alive. Let’s stop repeating genetically modified words that glorify a conflict American journalists could have helped prevent by putting their pom-poms down.

Leslie Griffith

Leslie Griffith is a writer, award-winning television reporter and former KTVU news anchor. You can find more of her work at