Archive for May, 2004

“Denial” Ain’t a River….

Thursday, May 27th, 2004

MSNBC has one of the most unintentionally ironic news reports I have ever seen — a left-leaning article about just how not-biased the news media is. The title? “Media takes heat from administration over Iraq — When the going gets tough, the messenger gets shot”. The report:

On one thing Iraq war supporters and opponents agree: The news from Iraq beamed, served and delivered to Americans since the beginning of the year has been abysmal.

Agreed, but let us make sure that the distinction is recognized here: the news being reported is abysmal — as distinguished from multitude of positive events happening in Iraq on a daily basis that are not seeing the light of the newsroom.

Soaring U.S. casualties and costs, abuse in U.S. jails, assassinations of top Iraqi allies, the dual Sunni and Shiite risings, a scandalous lack of armor for American vehicles, defecting coalition allies and, most ignominiously for those who designed this war, a sheepish collapse back into the arms of the United Nations. Oh, and did we mention: Osama bin Laden is still at large.

Damn, Dude. You must have had a good ol’ time writing that one. What other report could possibly allow them to throw out a laundry list like that in the first paragraph and still possibly claim objectivity? Let’s take a look, though: “Soaring U.S. casualties…” I would definitely call “soaring” a relative term here. Our casualties are about the lowest they could be in a ground war. No war has zero casualties. Regarding the “dual Sunni and Shiite risings…”, likening this to a “popular uprising’ is like saying that the KKK represents the average American. It was a decidedly unpopular uprising; which is why a certain militant cleric is no longer doing much damage — his fellow Iraqis turned against him. “Defecting coalition allies…” — wait a moment there! Did a reporter just admit (in nonetheless backhanded fashion) that the war in Iraq was not unilateral, but in fact the act of many countries? Meanwhile Great Britain has just commited more troops. “A sheepish collapse back into the arms of the United Nations” — I’m sorry I must have missed a memo. What the hell is he talking about? The UN is still thumping it’s fist and demanding control, and we’re still handing control over to the Iraqis as scheduled. And finally: “Oh, and did we mention: Osama bin Laden is still at large.” Oh, and did I mention that Osama bin Laden is most likely a bloodstain on the side of a cave somewhere near the border? Nobody really knows of course, but to definitively say that he’s still out there plotting is at the least a stretch. Oh, and did I mention that Jack the Ripper is still at large? Boogity Boogity! (Hey, you never know….)

Confronted with this drumbeat of dismay, senior administration officials are lashing out at American journalists, adding their official voices to the chorus of talk radio, conservative Web site and newspaper columnists for whom there is no more filthy three syllable word than “media.” From seemingly casual asides in remarks by President Bush to outright attacks and boycotts orchestrated by Bush administration allies, a strong subtext is being transmitted with the normally optimistic line of the day — that the media is undermining support for the war.

This is probably the truest statement in the article, but even here is a coloring of the truth. Much as the American public did to the French economy, people are turning off the nightly news with no help from “boycotts orchestrated by Bush administration allies”. The falling news viewership is “orchestrated” by nothing more than thousands of individual choices to stop listening to slanted, defeatist, anti-American reporting.

“Call it a fallback strategy: the media lost the war,” says Tom Rosenstiel, a former Los Angeles Times correspondent who now runs the non-profit Project for Excellence in Journalism. “It’s very convenient politically for an administration that’s under fire for its war policy to blame the messenger. But realistically, what is the problem now? It is the increased violence in Iraq, the prison scandal — which is no media creation — and the huge question of whether the entire policy was wrongheaded from the start.”

In World War II there was an infamous Japanese strategy to undermine U.S. troop morale: Tokyo Rose. In perfect, American-accented English, a sexy-voiced woman was broadcast across the Pacific theater, reporting that another American ship had sunk, and this many thousand young American men, whose wives and children would never see them again, had perished in the latest battles. As you might imagine, she never reported American victories, only death and defeat, and the impending Japanese victory. Does this sound like anybody we know?

Oh yeah, the complaint is not that the media reported the “no media creation” prison scandal; it’s that the “atrocity” of putting panties on a guy’s head has been burned into our TVs for a month now, while the “execution” (a.k.a. videotaping and shouting “God is Great!” while sawing off the head of a man who was there to help rebuild your country — why is this not an “atrocity”?) of Nick Berg got one day, page three, below the fold. Nick supported Bush and the war — why is it that his grieving father bashing Bush gets more coverage than the actual murder did? Oh, and have I mentioned the elections going on across Iraq, the rebuilding of schools and hospitals and infrastructure (which, incidentally, were destroyed not by our attack, but by 25 years of Saddam’s rule), and the general goodwill the average Iraqi shows towards our troops on a regular basis? Dan Rather sure hasn’t.

Can the media lose a war? Yes, if they turn the tide of public morale despite the real victories on the ground. If the media in 1943 had been anything like the media today, I’m not sure we would have won that War. I would point out this 1946 article from LIFE magazine: swap “Europe” for “Iraq” and “Hussein” for “Hitler”, and you could publish this sucker today in Newsweek, right down to the references to the “skeptical French press”, without anybody raising an eyebrow. Obviously there were a few reporters who sounded just like today’s media; but unlike today, they were the fringe minority, not the primary bulk.

Nattering nabobs

In recent weeks, several top officials joined in this campaign.

To date, there has been nothing like the broadside unleashed in 1970 by Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, who decried the “doom and gloom” over Vietnam and said: “We have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. The [media] have formed their own 4H Club, the ‘Hopeless, Hysterical Hypochondriacs of History’.”

If it hasn’t happened, then why are you talking about it? This is a underhanded form of suggestion that has been around for years: make a statement about what someone else said or did (Agnew), or something that might have happened, but relate it to the man you’re against (Bush), while simultaneously hedging your statement by saying “They haven’t done this.” Oh, did I mention that there is no solid proof of a possible link between John Kerry and criminal money laundering operations? Yep, and the suggestion that John Kerry was bribed by the Viet Cong is also entirely unsubstantiated. In fact, those things probably never happened. Where did you get such an idea? I’m shocked!

But high-level talk of the media as a force undermining the war effort can be viewed as something of a right-wing ideological hedge against geopolitical disaster in Iraq or political disaster at the polls in November.

With a mix of spontaneous remarks, carefully crafted press releases and interviews with friendly outlets, the quiet, private disdain for the media has come out of the White House closet.

“Could be viewed as… [a] hedge” — of course. “Could be” viewed as anything you like. It could also be viewed as a rightful attack on a media that is trying to undermine the war effort in order to get Bush out of office. Also note the subtle suggestion that Bush has skeletons in his closet.

Last week in interviews granted to an administration friendly paper, The Washington Times, White House chief of staff Andrew Card and Secretary of State Colin Powell attacked the media’s frequent references to Vietnam in stories about Iraq.

Kind of like your non-sequitur mention of Vietnam just a few paragraphs ago?

“The press is fixated on Vietnam,” Powell said. “Everybody says, ‘Powell and all those generals still suffer from Vietnam Syndrome.’ No, I don’t.”

Card went further, claiming that “the media, in my opinion, kind of wants to relive the Vietnam experience.”

Sure they do. Vietnam ended with an incumbent President getting the boot.

This echoed Bush’s own remarks in early March when he answered a reporter’s question about the Vietnam comparison by saying, “I think the analogy is false. I also happen to think that analogy sends the wrong message to our troops, and sends the wrong message to the enemy.”

I can’t argue with that.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, being interviewed by the notoriously anti-Bush lefties at FOX [could that be sarcasm perhaps? – strider], lashed out at Brit Hume for suggesting that Iraq was on a downward trajectory.

“Look, we’re in a war and it’s tough, and it’s dangerous, and no one’s trying to put a smiley face on anything,” he said. “But by golly, when you’ve got that many Iraqis, 100,000, now providing for their own security, where you have a Governing Council and a bunch of ministers, and you have a central bank and you have a new currency, and you have all the universities and colleges open, and the hospitals are open, and there was not a humanitarian crisis — sitting around wringing your hands and saying, ‘It’s horrible, it’s horrible, everything’s terrible,’ is nonsense. It isn’t all terrible. There’s some darn good stuff happening.”

Here he’s trying to show that the press coverage is not biased by showing that Rumsfeld is even “lashing out” at the relatively right-wing Fox News Network. Of course, CNN probably wouldn’t have run the quote at all…. Fox News is unusual in that they have both conservative and liberal commentators, which in reality makes them fairly middle-of-the-road; but in the eyes of the leftward-leaning media makes them hopelessly right-wing. Remember kids, there is no such thing as “left wing”; there are only “commentators”, and “conservative commentators”.

Jumping ahead just a bit…

No news is good news

Ironically, as conservatives denounced the new scrutiny being applied to the administration, the increasing friction between the White House and the media — particularly inside the cozy world of Washington press corps — is viewed as long overdue in the industry.

A report released Monday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that most journalists feel the Bush administration got a free pass after the attacks of Sept. 11. In a poll of journalists and news executives, Pew reports that “the poll finds that many journalists — especially those in the national media — believe that the press has not been critical enough of President Bush. Majorities of print and broadcast journalists at national news organizations believe the press has been insufficiently critical of the administration.”

Pardon me, but is it physically possible for the media to be more critical of Bush? These folks are trying to tell us that he’s directly responsible for Abu Ghraib!

Conservatives, no doubt, will merely regard this as more evidence that the media is, in the words of John Hawkins, the founder of the conservative Web site Right Wing News, “so biased that they’ve essentially allowed themselves to become the most powerful weapon in our enemy’s arsenals.”

Another false-logic dodge. Take a reasonable statement and lump it together with an extreme statement in order to discredit the idea of the reasonable statement.

But journalists see this quite differently.

‘Natch

“Blaming the media is a tried and true method charlatans use to distract from bad news,” says Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics & Public Policy. “They certainly were not complaining when the media was reporting nothing but good news. But the good news turned bad and we’re reporting it and now they don’t like it.”

When was the media reporting nothing but good news? Was I sick that day? If he’s referring to right after September 11, 2001, I would have to suggest that if they’d been bashing Bush then, the public would have rioted outside NBC tower!

As the administration begins the search in earnest for scapegoats other than their ideological blueprint for the Iraq war, the media clearly will give them a very large and time-tested target. As the Pew report points out, those in the national media identify themselves, increasingly, as centrist or left-of-center.

This statement has a double-decker fallacy in it. First, the fault of Bush’s “ideological blueprint” is such an a priori assumption that any other explanation for the failure (ahem) of the war can only be referred as a “scapegoat”. The second assumption being that of course the war is a failure, thus requiring a scapegoat in the first place. Ladies in gentlemen, we’re winning the war. The administration is not searching for scapegoats because they don’t need one.

“In terms of their overall ideological outlook, majorities of national (54 percent) and local journalists (61 percent) continue to describe themselves as moderates. The percentage identifying themselves as liberal has increased from 1995: 34 percent of national journalists describe themselves as liberals, compared with 22 percent nine years ago.”

And note that this is how they describe themselves. Those describing themselves as moderates are looking pretty left-wing when asked questions about specific political stances. (I’m guessing that their numbers here come off the recent Pew research poll — I’ll see if I can find a link and post it here.)

Update: I found it. Pew Research: Values and the Press.

Well folks, that’s about all I have the stomach for today. The article goes on for a little bit, actually referencing the under-reporting of the discovery of sarin gas (a chemical weapon, a.k.a. a WMD) in Iraq. Somehow, though, he never gets around to explaining why it’s so under-reported.

Here’s the link again if you’re interested in reading the rest: MSNBC: Media takes heat from administration over Iraq.

Oh, my! I almost forgot to mention: Here are the links on MSNBC’s website going down the right side of the article as I read it:

  • New Abu Ghraib images — Click “launch” to view several photographs published May 21 in The Washington Post that have raised allegations of torture against U.S. personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. EDITOR’S NOTE: This slide show contains graphic images.
  • CBS asked to delay report? — May 7: Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers if CBS was contacted and asked to delay its news report on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
  • IRAQ: the Human Cost — Coalition deaths in Iraq since major fighting ended

The photo at the top of the page is captioned: Major General Geoffrey D. Miller, who took command of the Abu Ghraib prison in April, talks to reporters at the prison outside Baghdad last week.

Yep, you’re all right down the center. Thanks for explaining that for us.

The bottom of the page is an ad for the book Worse Than Watergate.

Strength

Monday, May 24th, 2004

So remember this; tattoo this in backward letters on your forehead so you can read it when you brush your teeth each morning: The most deadly, most awful and destructive war in our history was won not by a series of tactical and strategic masterstrokes, but rather by an endless, relentless series of monumental, hair-rending, soul-destroying blunders, missteps and debacles…that never stopped until they had won total, complete, utter, victory.

That is a small quote from a long piece. Anyone who has a shadow of a doubt about the rectitude (or potential for success) of what we’re doing in the Middle East should go read the whole thing. Part 1 / Part 2

The Coming of the Blog Roll

Friday, May 21st, 2004

As you’ve probably noticed, the visual look of this page has just undergone a major overhaul. I’ve pretty much done away with the last vestiges of the “default template” that came with the blog software I use. (I hear that newer versions of Greymatter now have better templates, but I wasn’t about to start from the scratch template again.)

Along with rewriting the CSS that lays out the page, I also made some content changes, and I wanted to point out one of them to you: the Blog Roll. This is a list (in the sidebar there) if other blogs that I commonly read and that I think deserve some attention. The entries:

  • Chrenkoff – an Aussie blogger who seems to have a better grasp of the US situation in Iraq than do many US citizens.
  • Iraq the Model – an Iraqi writes about the huge changes that are sweeping his country. It is absolutely astounding to compare what this guy sees in his everyday life to what the media is saying about the “disaster” the country has become.
  • The Smallest Minority – This site primarily focuses on gun rights. He’s an intelligent read.
  • BlackFive – A military man writes about the war and politics. He has a sharp mind, and I would exspecially point you to his recurring Someone Your Should Know, in which he profiles outstanding military people (generally Marines) and thus proves the Marine slogan “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy”.
  • Iowahawk – This man has the potential to be a one-man Onion. He has a sharp wit and a sharper pen. Okay, some of it is hit-or-miss, but for the most part it is very funny stuff.
  • Eject! Eject! Eject! – This writer doesn’t write nearly as often as many other bloggers, but he makes up for it with quality. His extended essays are a great read. Outstanding.
  • USS Clueless – At his best when tackling complex sociopolitical issues, Steven Den Beste is an extremely sharp and logical thinker (he’s an engineer by trade, which I suppose explains a lot). Many people consider him long-winded, but his better pieces carry you along until, before you know it, it’s three hours later and you’re looking up from your computer screen, blinking, with your brain comfortably wrapped around ideas you never thought you’d be able to fully grasp. This is the first blog I read every day.
  • The Daily Bleat – James Lileks is funny, eclectic, and smart. His posts range widely in topic, but is always a worthwhile read.

You have your assignments, now go explore. When you’re done, of course, don’t forget to stop back and visit your friendly neighborhood Striderman.

More Good News from Iraq

Wednesday, May 19th, 2004

Or should I simply have called it “Good News From Iraq”?

Down-Under blogger Chrenkoff has compiled a pretty good list of good news coming out of Iraq. You know, the stuff neither Dan Rather nor the Trib are bothering to mention amidst rerunning prison pictures for the third week straight.

Well, heck, so long as I’m posting straight links, go read this article at The Spoons Experience. As with the best satire, it makes a very telling point while making you laugh.

Patriotism and Philosophy

Tuesday, May 18th, 2004

Steven Den Beste recently posted an email dialog between him and Andreas from Sweden, in which they talk about how patriotism affects (or should not affect) a person’s view of right and wrong.

Andreas suggests that maybe Steven’s take on the war is being unduly influenced by his patriotism for the USA, and goes on to say, “Of course one feels for ones country but great thinkers don’t let that affect the thoughts.”

Steven’s response:

I absolutely disagree that “great thinkers don’t let [patriotism] affect the thoughts”. I would say exactly the opposite: someone who refuses to let love-of-country affect their thoughts is a moral cripple irrespective of their intellectual prowess.

I have to start by saying that on socio-political matters, it is extremely rare for me to disagree with Steven. His is the first blog I read every day, and his insight into complex matters is second-to-none. That being said, his statement above is dead wrong.

Oddly, it’s also a surprising statement coming from him, considering his previous entries (here, and especially here) in which he argues essentially that there are people in the world who are really “Americans”, even though they technically have a different nationality. He talked about “American” as a philosophy of sorts (which by extension also meant that there are people born in this country, who live here, but aren’t really Americans).

I thought it was an very powerful statement, and true; however, it clashes with his newest statement. Steven’s newest statement holds true for him, but only because he’s a philosophical “American” who is also an American national.

To put it another way: If he were born in and lived in France, would he be a “moral cripple” for believing what he believes now about the war, or would patriotism (or as he phrased it, “being partisan for [his] country”) require him to let his French nationality affect his thinking?

We as Americans are right in this conflict. I have no doubt in that statement. However, the rectitude of our fight has nothing to do with our specific nationality, and a lot to do with “right vs. wrong”. The people we are fighting are murderers and demagogues.

I guess in a sense, I agree with one of Andreas’ points, but he takes it to the wrong conclusion. Steven turns around and take the wrong side of that argument, and steers it to the right conclusion. Hmm….

Thanks! (I think)

Monday, May 17th, 2004

I’ve been preparing for my wedding in August, and my fiancée and I went to meet with a potential photographer. I had initially emailed him to set up the appointment, and here we were sitting in his office. We sat and talked with him for a while, looked at albums, and went over our options, and as we were wrapping up, he asked for my email address.

I gave it to him, and he said, “Striderweb… what is that? Is that a portal?”

“No,” I replied. “That’s me. I own it.”

Suddenly his face lit up, and he said excitedly, “Oh! You’re the blog guy! I’ve seen your website!”

“Well, I have a blog on my site, but I would be surprised if you’ve seen it….” My readership, after all, is not particularly large at this point. (Hello, you two.)

“No! I went and looked at it when I saw you email address! You have all that Iraq stuff! It’s really good! I mean I don’t agree with anything you said, but it was really good!”

***ahem*** I think I’ve been complemented. I think.

Actually, it was just a funny moment that I though was worth telling. I’ll take it as good news when someone who disagrees with me complements me anyway. It’s a refreshing change from the venom I see regularly in the blogosphere (or on the nightly news).