By James Clark & Matt Skenazy
Politics & Culture Reporters

The Iraq War will cost $3 trillion.

Add to it that in Iraq, a country of 25 million people, there are an estimated 1 million dead, 3 million wounded and 4 million in need of emergency care. Additionally there are 3 million internally displaced Iraqis and a further 3 million refugees.

To top it all off, this could have been avoided.

Such was the dire assessment of independent journalist Dahr Jamail during his April 22 talk at Cowell College. Jamail spent eight months in Iraq working as an unembedded journalist.

Embedded journalists are reporters attached to military units in armed combat. They receive unprecedented access to battlefields, but also sign contracts with the military restricting what they can report on.

As an unembedded journalist, Jamail traveled the country without military supervision but with the increased freedom to write about whatever he encountered.

“On Sept. 6, 2002, when Bush announced that Iraq was six months away from developing nuclear weapons, the media asked for no evidence,” Jamail said. “If we had real media coverage at that time there would have been criticism. Instead we had ‘Iraq has embarked on a worldwide hunt for material for an atomic bomb.’”

Jamail, on his third visit to UCSC, spoke about his new book, “Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq,” which challenges many of the reports by the mainstream media. The event was sponsored by Peace at the Crossroads (PAX) and the Resource Center for Nonviolence.

The lack of fact-checking and research is what posed as journalism during the lead-up to the war in Iraq, Jamail said. He emphasized the need, now more than ever, for quality reporting in what looks to be a public relations campaign for a war with Iran, and for an attentive public that is aware of suspect news.

Jamail described how the mainstream media regurgitated the statements provided by “anonymous Bush Administration officials” during the beginning stages of the Iraq war; the media failed to conduct sufficient research and investigation.

Jamail is no longer alone in the woods on these issues, as people all over the country voice their discontent.

“If the media had done its job, we would never have gone into Iraq,” said Conn Hallinan, foreign policy analyst for the think tank Foreign Policy in Focus and former provost of Kresge College. “The Bush administration would never have been able to stampede in. The media has forgotten that they are supposed to have a watchdog role. Rather than fulfilling that role, they support the powers-that-be and back the administration.”

In addition to the lack of investigative journalism and critical reporting in the mainstream media, there is the issue of unbalanced news coverage that Jamail pinned on corporate ownership of the media.

“With the repeal of the fairness doctrine under Ronald Reagan, the media has free reign to stack their lineup of talk radio hosts with absolutely no balance,” said Isabel Macdonald, the communications director at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR).

“The fairness doctrine required that broadcasters using public airwaves had to cover issues of controversy in communities that they served,” said Macdonald, adding that news organizations weren’t allowed to provide just one side of a story, but had to provide a counterpoint.

Because of the mainstream media’s inaccurate reporting of the Iraq war, people have begun to turn to independent media outlets. More than ever before groups like FAIR and Democracy Now!, a national independent news group, have seen a substantial increase in their circulation.

“Though I’ve never had mainstream coverage, my website still gets good traffic. People can tell when they’re getting good reporting,” Jamail said. “I think that the mainstream media is delegitimizing themselves. By their poor reporting they’re my best recruiters.”

Satya Chima, a second-year feminist studies major at UCSC and a member of PAX, said she turns to alternative media sources.

“I’ve learned not to rely too much on the mainstream media, and I actually don’t watch TV and my news source now is the Internet,” Chima said.

The Internet allows her access to shared information, multiple perspectives and issues that aren’t being covered in mainstream media, she said.

“Why is no one talking about the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq?” Jamail asked his audience on April 22, pausing momentarily to glance around the room. “Since 2000 the National Security Strategy of the United States has been a plan for U.S. global domination.”

The plan calls for six to 12 enduring bases in Iraq, Jamail said, referring to the Quadrennial Defense Report (QDR), a plan for the overhaul of the Department of Defense (DOD) in order to combat terrorism in the 21st century.

“They don’t call them permanent — but they didn’t call those in Japan and Germany permanent either, or South Korea for that matter,” Jamail said.

The QDR states that the U.S. should “maintain long-term, low-visibility presence in many areas of the world where U.S. forces do not traditionally operate.”

“Media is very much a part of a national security state, which is what we have in this country,” Hallinan said. “The war in Iraq is a war that the media can bear full responsibility for.”

Noam Chomsky is the leading critic of U.S. foreign policy and the media and is professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The media’s lack of critical investigation is not surprising, Chomsky wrote in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press, because “we cheer for the home team.”

“It’s not fair to criticize the media for this,” Chomsky said. “It’s part of the general culture. That’s why there is virtually no principled criticism of the Iraq invasion. A special difficulty in Iraq is that the U.S. created such a catastrophe there that it can barely be reported.”

He acknowledged that there are a few journalists, like Jamail, who report regularly from the country without the protection of U.S. troops. Their reports tend to differ entirely from network reports.

So what are the media to do amid unethical practices and poor reporting?

Chomsky offered a solution.

“The first elementary step is to apply to ourselves the same standards we do to others,” he said. “That’s hard. Not easy to look in the mirror.”