Between the U.S. Tomahawk strike on a Syrian airfield and the dropping of the Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB) on Afghanistan, cable news in the Trump era has been saturated with dazzling and dramatic images of American firepower.
Footage of American weapons at work -- usually provided to news networks by the military -- makes for cheap and entertaining television, which explains why those images have been so widespread on cable news networks and on Twitter. One study found that CNN played nearly an hour of MOAB test footage in the six hours after news broke of the weapon’s use, and Pentagon footage of Tomahawk missiles being fired from American destroyers played on a near constant loop during news coverage of the strike on Syria.
But cable news’ fixation with treating American weapons like products to be packaged and sold for ratings can end up sanitizing and even glamorizing violence -- like when NBC’s Brian Williams fawned over the video of Tomahawks being fired. As Deborah Jaramillo, author of “Ugly War, Pretty Package,” explains, focusing on the weapons of war often distracts us from thinking critically about the consequences of military action -- distancing viewers from the consequences of war by showing them animated or decontextualized images of American firepower. And that problem is compounded when news networks rely on ex-military guests to describe how weapons work, framing discussions around how America engages in violence, rather than why.
Watch the video above to see how cable news’ weapons fetish primes audiences to support war.