Schlock and Awe

The media march off to war with Iraq: A TV glossary

MOAB On the eighth day of the war, with biblical sandstorms swallowing forward progress and American marines besieged by suicidal Saddamites, MSNBC unleashes its newly developed tactical weapon, the Mother of All Blowhards, Jesse Ventura.

Non-Commissioned Officers see Enlisted Soldiers

Occupation The Arab media's term for Liberation.

Palestine The rest of the world's media use the word as a noun, referring to a state called Palestine. Americans use it as an adjective, "Palestinian," which comes before the word "territories."

Porn title Which makes a better title for a porn video: Shock and Ahhhh or Coalition of the Thrilling? (Alternative title for the hardcore shelves: 'Get Sodom!').

Qusay The good son.

Republican Guard First the Coalition of the Willing had invisible friends. Now our enemies are invisible, too. The Republican Guard are everywhere. They're nowhere. On Day 8, CNN's embed Walter Rodgers frightfully announces that thousands of elite Iraqi troops are making a beeline toward tired and under-supplied 3rd-7th Cavalry soldiers, under the blinding cover of a sandstorm. One imagines the parents of these soldiers canceling dinner plans to await the battle in the family den. Then, after hours of hysterical rebroadcasts, the horde dissolves as mysteriously as it formed.

Shaping the Battlefield When seen alongside Beach Body infomercials in the logy, late-night hours, the phrase seems to suggest the battlefield might want to go on the Zone Diet and start working those glutes.

Slant The media's political leanings are old news; the contorted physical posture of today's TV anchors is the real story. Aaron Brown slopes forward and to the right; by his sixth or seventh hour on camera he's practically slouched from Atlanta HQ to a satellite facility in Ft. Lauderdale. Peter Jennings twists 30 degrees off his axis--as if he's delivering the news from a rotating restaurant. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann moves in and crowds the plate. The silver military crop on CNN's late-night anchor Anderson Cooper seems to be magnetically attracted to the camera, pulling him forward and down. Sitting up straight is for guys who read the teleprompter, these hosts seem to be saying. Real news anchors move a little with the tide.

Smiling Disease For the first five days of the war, a handful of news anchors seem unable to shake a petroleum-eating grin--as if the story being reported were the White House Easter egg hunt. For all their trumped-up folksiness and greatest generation pomposity, the big three can still pull off gravitas. During Oscar-night updates, Peter Jennings looks positively funereal in a dark suit and thin charcoal tie. And Dan Rather, having paged through Virgil (or Bartlett's) for inspiration, comes on dour and profound. While the smiling disease spreads as quickly as SARS in the hours after the first "decapitating" attack, the fever breaks once the anchors have to start interviewing parents of POWs.

Stalingrad see Vietnam

Tragedy The word used by news anchors to describe any Anglo-American casualty. The behind-the-lines fragging inflicted by a disturbed American loner, the incompetent Patriot missile-downing of a British warplane, the brutal capture of an errant U.S. supply convoy. Losses all, but ordinary occurrences in the course of war. If everything is a tragedy, nothing is a tragedy.

Uday Famous for kneecapping his own uncle, murdering his father's confidential valet at a diplomatic reception, and forcing the losing Iraqi soccer side to kick a concrete ball around the pitch. Also responsible for creating the Fedayeen Saddam. Some Arab media are reporting that he suffered a brain hemorrhage at war's start after being beaten by his own enraged bodyguard. Competing claims in the Washington Post have it that his private dinner with human shield Miss Germany sends her fleeing the country the next morning. A bad son of Shakespearean dimensions.

U Letter that in the naming of Iraqi cities does not follow Q.

Vietnam Appearances to the contrary, we're not fighting it. Thank god Lyndon Johnson never had a son.

Vaseline Described on one admiring web site as a hotter version of Ann Coulter, Fox's night-and-weekend anchor Laurie Dhue sinks deeper each night into some kind of lipstick dysmorphia--she's the customer who is such an easy mark for the ladies at the makeup counter that they actually start feeling guilty. A week into the war, it appears that Dhue is slathering fistfuls of Vaseline over her mouth, perhaps as a prophylactic against chemical weapons.

Weapons of Mass Delusion Following the lead of the Jerusalem Post, Fox and CNN both report the American seizure of a seeming Iraqi chemical-weapons plant south of Baghdad on Day 5 of the campaign. In the next 12 hours, though, the story evaporates like John Poindexter's prison time. The failure of Anglo-American troops to turn up a stockpile of something more potent than oven cleaner or color-safe bleach suggests a demoralizing, if remote, possibility. What if Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction?

We Fox News bandies about the first-person plural with cocky glee--as if daring viewers and other reporters not to root for "our" commander in chief. Yet the word drops quite naturally from the lips of embedded reporters, and for good reason. Are they expected to maintain--counter to fact--that they're not experiencing the same firefights, the same all-night vigils, the same food as the troops that hunker down alongside them? The first-person plural is a simple observation in the field--and an ideological crowbar in the studios at home.

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