Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Continuing the conversation

The furry and cat-like Akinoluna replied to my post about the work of the press when it comes to reporting a story. Because I don't think I've ever had someone give any thought to something I've written I figured I'd punish her for her trangression by continuing to mash the keyboard in the hope that words come out. Maybe I can bore her to tears and cause her brain to hemorage, thus sparing me the embarassment of having people actually think about my wordifying. And failing that, she's cat-like, I'll use a laser pointer to distract her.
Part of the reason the media gets a bad rap is because people don't understand its purposes. Yes, the media exists so you can find out what's going on in the world or in your town. But I think its most crucial and vital purpose is to question. Specifically, question the government. We NEED the media to question everything the government says, does, or wants to do. A country without a free press to monitor the leaders is not a free country.
We're just going to have to agree to disagree on this. The primary function of a news media outlet isn't to question, it's to report. It's why they're called reporters and not inquisitors. I know that sounds trite and dismissive, but I feel it is important. Human nature makes it impossible that bias won't be introduced into human endevours. Since the absence of bias isn't possible, then it is important to admit what are the individual biases in today's newsroom. That does not happen.

It's not the role of the "media" to question what the government does. The government isn't beholden to the media, it's beholden to those who elect them. The media serves as the conduit through which this information flows. Unfortunatly for the citizens of our country, those who are paid to relay information have instead chosen to filter information. Valerie Plame becomes a super secret agent who was involved in current black-ops because the facts of her story, that she was no longer a field agent, and that her identity as someone in the CIA was generally common knowledge throught the political set, is condemned to page 14 status. President Bush is personally listening to my telephone conversations is the story the reaches the papers, and the fact that the NSA listening program was possibly legal under one statute, but illegal under another, isn't explored or explained. The fact that such conflicts between laws are supposed to be sorted out by the courts is short circuited by reporters eager to make a headline. A battle in Baghdad where the US and Iraqi forces are victorious is treated like a defeat, and the fact they defeated the enemy is buried underneath paragraphs of praise for the ferocity of the insurgent fighters and the unpreparedness of the Iraqi Army.

I freely admit I'd have written these stories differently. I don't share the opinion of the NYT that it's a violation of my civil rights to have known terrorists calling me from foreign countries traced. In a battle where the US and her ally was able to defeat their enemy in combat I'd make it clear that the battle was a win early on in the story. Not after using 20% of my space.

"Painting with a wide brush" is probably the best way to describe my description of the news media. I don't actually believe that daily meetings at the CBS Evening News involve coordinating their "Down With America" campaign, and when I imply that they're rooting for our defeat in Iraq, I'm being, at best, melodramatic.
The media didn't brainwash Americans into thinking the war was a mess because the media didn't make a war that was supposed to be over in months drag on four years, the media isn't spending billions of dollars on the war instead of projects at home, the media didn't turn the Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites into enemies, the media didn't send millions of refugees pouring into Iraq's annoyed neighbours' territory. They just told us it was happening, because it wasn't what was supposed to happen and because it's making the situation worse.
The Media didn't brainwash the masses into thinking anything, true. However The Media is also incapable of providing the sort of military analysis or thought which a kid who plays Command and Conquer is capable of providing.

The sum total of The Media's analysis of the situation in Iraq can be summed up thus: "It's been X years since President Bush declared 'Mission Accomplished', and there have been #,### killed ."

That's it.

It's been said before that if we had the reporters we have today covering wars in our nation's past, then we'd never have gotten off the beaches of Normandy.

The situation is not helped by the adversarial nature of the administration when it comes to negative news. But is there anything in the past six years which leads someone to believe that if the Bush administration was more open, accomodating, and willing to publically admit mistakes, that The Media would be even-handed in their coverage and analysis? If so, I've missed it.
The media didn't cause the gap between the government's terrorist fears and war desires and the American population's lack of fear and war support because that as much as people like to talk about the terrorist threat, there is virtually no threat on American soil. The vast majority of the wackos who would like to see us die have no chance of making it across the ocean to blow themselves up in our grocery stores. Americans go about their daily lives as they always have because they still feel safe.
There'd be far less of a "gap" between the administration's "desire" for war and the public's "support" for it if there was honest reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead we have mass media agencies rebroadcasting insurgent propaganda pieces, brought to them by stringers in the service of the same insurgent groups. If Michael Yon had spent the past four years writing for the Washington Post rather than himself support for the war would be 15% higher than it is right now. The Media does play a part, an important part, in how much the population supports something. If the drumbeat is that Iraq is a failure, then eventually people will follow that drumbeat. Ever since the first person died after "Mission Accomplished" the drumbeat has been that Iraq is unwinnable.

That there is "virtually no threat on American soil" has been true for years, long before 9-11. Even with the success of the attack on the WTC and the Pentagon, there is still "virtually no threat". The 9-11 attacks succeeded because the system is not perfect, and those 19 managed to work their way through some holes. 9-11 unfolds very differently if security screeners in Maine do something different. But just because there is "virtually no threat" doesn't mean there is "no threat", and that doesn't mean we should sit back and be happy to be "virtually" terror free. There hasn't been a successful terror attack on American soil since 9-11, but there have been many, many successful terror attacks across the world. Spain, London, that resort in the Pacific I can't remember, and all of them executed by the same strand of terrorist we fight in Iraq. That "vast majority of wackos" won't cross the oceans to reach our shores because they're getting killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's a feature, not a bug. But that doesn't mean we can simply say "done" and pack it up. The "vast majority" isn't the concern because it only takes one.
No, the media isn't perfect, nobody is. But the burden of justifying, drumming up support for, and cheering on a war is on the government, not the media. As Ron Steinman said: "Pencils do not win or lose wars. Governments and armies win and lose."
I'm sure Mr. Steinman is a very brilliant writer, but he contradicts himself three sentances later when he, correctly, observes "We lose wars when the will to win vanishes." That "will to win" can be directly affected by the coverage provided. Coverage which emphasizes the bad, minimizes the good, and glorifies the abilities of the enemy, while ignoring the atrocities committed by that enemy, will not improve the "will to win". It was Euripides who observed that "The tounge is mightier than the blade." This is still true. Armies and governments fight the wars, but it's the writers who declare the victor for history. Mr. Steinman reveals the extent of the power of the press by his attempt to distance himself from his culpability for events by, in effect, saying "I'm not a soldier, and it's not my job to win."
At (sic) that leads us back to the current war. It's pretty obvious to anyone who can breathe that the war didn't go as planned and wasn't planned well in the first place.
The war or the occupation? They are two totally different things. The war itself was a stunning success. There have obviously been mistakes made after the war was over and the insurgency began. That al-Sadr remains breathing is one I can think of without much effort. But rather than treat the occupation as something in need of repair, the "story" becomes that the occupation is broken, cannot be repaired, and that the only logical solution is to call it quits.

Anyways, I've gone on long enough. My thoughts are disjointed and not well expressed, it's early, I've got a guy on the floor and he needs to get in. Hope everyone has a good one.


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