“Denial” Ain’t a River….

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.


“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.

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