May 26, 2004
The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow.
The bias charges are getting more serious lately as the stakes rise in Iraq and the election. The press has every reason to keep reporting aggressively on the investigation of Abu Ghraib. But there is something lacking in press coverage, and it may be time for wise journalists to assess it. The re-building story has gone missing. And without it, how can we judge the job Bush is doing?
Today the New York Times declared itself amiss on the weapons of mass destruction story. One of the striking things about its editorial summarizing the verdict against its own coverage was a failure to mention the many critics of that coverage who thought the Times had been fooled. Did they not have a point?
After all, the statement today was in reply to those critics: yep, we were fooled. To me it is a sign of strength for the Times to do this. And maybe it’s a strength the press should be tapping more often. Correcting mistakes is one thing. Examining your judgment and finding it faulty over a range of stories is another. And that’s what critics of the Times coverage had been doing over many months. In a sense, the editor’s note is the Times joining the party.
Judgment in journalism is becoming a day-to-day political issue, put there in the arena with everything else we argue about. And lately the bias charges have been getting more serious as the stakes rise in Iraq and the November election. The Washington columnist and pundit Morton Kondracke recently argued that “Congress, Media Could Talk U.S. Into Iraq Defeat.” His parallel—and I have seen others draw it—was the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, to him a military victory for the U.S that was spun a different way at home.
“The U.S. media reported the episode as a U.S. defeat, helping convince the American establishment that the war was unwinnable,” Kondracke wrote. Bias in the news triggered a failure of nerve. “There is a real danger that Iraq could become like Vietnam—a self-inflicted defeat.” He criticized the press for being “obsessed with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal” when “the decapitation of Nicholas Berg was a front-page story for just one day.” (See PressThink on the Berg video story.)
More than most pundits, Kondracke’s views consist in what already like-minded people in the Washington establishment are already thinking and saying. (Opinion-wise, he wants not to be first.) And there is no doubt that his column speaks for a body of opinion on the right and among supporters of the war in Iraq. (See Roger Simon, The New Reactionaries, and Glenn Reynolds, calling Kondracke’s “A MUST-READ WARNING.”)
The charge is pretty serious, and routinely stated in some quarters. The press, in league with others, is losing the war for us, wants the war to be lost, is unwittingly causing the U.S. to lose the war, or is trying to lose it but hasn’t— yet.
Shooting back? Dave Moniz, MRE president and a military writer for USA Today, gave a pretty mild statement. “Name-calling and finger-pointing isn’t productive,” he said. Sig Christenson, vice president and a long time military reporter at the San Antonio Express-News, came with the heavier charges. “People are filtering this through their political views,” Christenson argued. “People ought to be thinking about what is the truth.” There is a “real danger when people deny the truth,” he added. “This is the same dynamic that went on in Nazi Germany.”
Which some might see as name-calling, or at least a glaring lack of proportion. But Christenson had another warning, according to E & P. He said the “backlash” that is building against the press has already hurt its relationship with the Pentagon and people in the military. Things had improved in 2003 after reporters were embedded with American soldiers in Iraq. Here Vietnam was a reference point as well, but in a different way.
“We will be right back where we were after Vietnam; we will have a horrifically bad relationship,” Christenson said about the press relations with the Pentagon. “Embedding broke the ice. People in the military realized that we are pretty decent people. That was a watershed moment.”
Well, yes. At a time when the nation is polarized there might well be those who support “crippling the press’s power,” or at least reducing it a lot, hemming it in. Rightly or wrongly, they think it destructive. I dock points for the Nazi comparison, but I give Christenson points for recognizing that not only Truth, but the power of the press is at issue in the coverage of Iraq today— and not only the potential crippling of press power, but also the proper uses of it.
I think the press has every reason to keep reporting aggressively on the investigation of Abu Ghraib. As a use of press power, it is fully legitimate, since the scandal really is a scandal. It involves massive problems of accountability in the military. Congress is outraged, and actively inquiring into those problems. And the photographs of Americans abusing Iraqis cannot help but affect Iraqi and world opinion. It’s a big story, and not primarily because the press has played it big. The events themselves are shattering.
But in making this judgment, and supporting the press, I become one of those people Christenson talked derisively about— “filtering this through their political views.” On Tuesday, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post did the same thing when he took notice of the criticisms. (“Enough already! We get it. How many more pictures do we have to see?”) He said he had talked to journalists about revealing more and more from Abu Ghraib, and they agreed: “It’s excruciating stuff, and everyone recognizes it’s hurting the country, but it’s a painful story that must be told.”
Kurtz has an argument: it’s hurting the country, but the pain is necessary. That’s a conclusion I agree with it, but only if it gets called by its right name— for this is a political judgment, a weighing of harms and benefits. Not at all necessary, Kurtz said, “is the media running the same pictures over and over until they become video wallpaper.”
The test should be whether the photos and stories add new information to the saga of Abu Ghraib and other prison camps. If not, we’re guilty of regurgitation. But for now, at least, new and ugly material continues to surface.
In a Sunday column (May 23) Post ombudsman Michael Getler ran this comment from a reader angry about the prison abuse coverage:
With all due respect this isn’t reporting, it’s cheerleading for failure and smacks of blatant support for the lefty spin that Iraq is a quagmire. It looks like piling on. There are problems, of course, but most of the “on the brink” comes from the major media here and in Europe and doesn’t reflect ‘ground truth’ in Iraq, which is that a lot of progress has been and is being made in spite of the high-profile attacks and the Abu Ghraib prisoner scandal.
“The view that things are better than the press makes them out to be has been expressed by the Bush administration and supporters of the war for more than a year,” Getler wrote, granting that “there are, undoubtedly, some positive developments that may not have been reported.” Then he gave his reply to the main charge:
But it seems to me that events on the ground have confirmed the thrust and credibility of the reporting on this conflict and that the press generally has been more reliable than official statements as a guide to what is happening. My view is that both this country and Iraq are at a critical juncture in a huge, costly and controversial undertaking and that readers who view the work of reporters covering this for major U.S. news organizations as “lefty spin” are fooling themselves.
This combines truth as a defense (events unfolded to confirm our reporting) with comparative credibility (we’re more reliable than U.S. officials) with political argument (“my view is…”) So Getler has three ways of concluding that the critics are wrong. Except that he granted one way they might be right, pointing to “some positive developments that may not have been reported,” about which he said nothing.
On May 4, around the time of Nightline’s show on “The Fallen” (see my post on it) Mark Jurkowitz, media writer for the Boston Globe, made note of a “new kind of ethical dilemma” emerging: “Is the media’s focus on the casualties incurred in a controversial war during an election year an act of journalism or politics?”
But this isn’t really an ethical dilemma (what will it be today, boys, some journalism or some politics?) so much as a dispute over the proper terms of press think. Retired Air Force lieutenant general Tad Oelstrum, director of the national security program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, is quoted in the Globe. He disputes the way Jurkowitz framed the question: “You can’t separate journalism and politics.” But then:
Scott Bosley, executive director of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, said that focusing on the casualty count is also a journalistic obligation. “It’s a very important part of the coverage,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s political. It’s reality.”
The ethical dilemma I see is right there in Bosley’s statement. I know what he meant, of course: we’re not trying to achieve partisan ends with our coverage, we’re trying to tell you what happened. But one outcome of this style of argument is the message to bias critics: we stand for the reality principle, you stand for a political principle. Sorry, but the news is about reality, and that’s why you are dissatisfied with it.
The dilemma: Is it better to defend the contents of the front page by saying reality is responsible for what appears on it, by pointing to the “danger when people deny the truth,” by telling critics that they’re “filtering this through their political views” while journalists do their duty as truthtellers, by the simple imperative that “new information” must come to light, by warning critics not to become Nazis?
Or… is it wiser for journalists (more honest, and better for them in the long run) to engage in political argument when they explain their decisions and uphold the rights of a free press? After all, it is a political argument to warn the country about souring relations between the press and the military. That’s not good for anyone, so let’s try to prevent it, Sig Christenson was saying. And it’s a political judgment Kurtz made when he said: the news is hurting the country but it’s necessary—on balance—for the country to face the ugly facts from Abu Ghraib.
Michael Getler said to readers: my view of the war is that it’s going badly at the most critical time. With this argument—a reasoned but contestable claim—he justifies the grim and skeptical reporting found in the news pages of the Washington Post. He didn’t, but Getler easily could have cited the growing list of Republicans and once-hawkish supporters of the war who have abandoned ship. (Eric Alterman wrote a sharp Nation column on that.) “Even some of the president’s friends say….,” a style of persuasion common in journalism, is also political argument, since it suggests an alliance of the reasonable around the case at hand.
When it came time to defend his televised toll of soldiers killed in Iraq, Ted Koppel didn’t say: “we did it because the truth is they’re dead.” He said on the air that night: “I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way.” That was making an argument: what I am opposed to is… (He added that he did not oppose the war.)
It’s a curious thing: Mort Kondracke, who believes the press may yet lose the war for us, writes: “There is plenty of bad news— but there is also much good, and it is being almost completely ignored.” Michael Getler, who thinks the press is doing its proper job, kind of agrees: “There are, undoubtedly, some positive developments that may not have been reported.” The coincidence is trying to tell us something, but Kondracke and Getler have the wrong language for it.
What I’m missing from the news coverage I consume is not “positive” stories or the cheery news out of Iraq— it’s the re-building story in its totality, good, bad and middling. We need to sever that narrative… what are we doing to re-build Iraq, what are the Iraqi’s doing, how is it going, how can we tell?… from the call for more “positive” stories to balance out The Negative. These are fruitless terms in which to debate press coverage. They should be junked.
For there is hardly a journalist alive who believes you have any right to good news, and calling for it is unlikely to get you a serious hearing, anywhere in the press. (The publisher’s office is another story.) On the other hand, to give the public, including outside critics, a more serious hearing is an important project in journalism today. The press is slowly becoming more transparent, more likely to explain itself; and the mea culpa from the editors in New York is the latest sign of that.
The news from Iraq is not too negative; it’s too narrow. Bit by bit, and for reasons probably sound at the time, the press allowed its coverage from Iraq to develop as a military story, in which the “security situation” is the base line reality, and threats of violence—or if not violence, tensions that could fracture the society—overshadow other things going on. Second place in that narrative goes to the jockeying for political control and influence in the “new” Iraq, especially among the known factions.
Both are essential. Both are truth. But smart journalists could have recognized before the war began that these two stories, responsibly reported, would not be enough to inform Americans about what’s going on in the country their own country invaded, promising to re-build it after the fall of Saddam. (A moral promise implicating all of us.) The re-building of Iraq is complicated, sprawling, thick with life— and a difficult thing to inform us about, especially given the language barrier. It is far less dramatic than a bombing, way more elusive than a briefing.
The entire population of Iraq is a player in the re-building story, not just the political class or clergy. And to get the story requires close attention to changes in daily life—normal life—all around the country, including the repair of public infrastructure and the recovery of institutions that make normalcy possible. Then there’s the story of bottom-up democracy, the building of which was promised to Iraq, and to the soliders who fought to free Iraq. Tom Friedman of the New York Times (Nov. 30, 2003):
This war is the most important liberal, revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. The primary focus of U.S. forces in Iraq today is erecting a decent, legitimate, tolerant, pluralistic representative government from the ground up. I don’t know if we can pull this off. We got off to an unnecessarily bad start. But it is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad and it is a moral and strategic imperative that we give it our best shot.
From the ground up. That is the only way to tell the re-building and democracy building stories. It would take an exhaustive study to prove it, but I have my own news consumption to measure by. The press that I spend several hours a day with has kept me reasonably up to date on the security situation in Iraq. It has told me what it can about the political players and factions as the future government takes shape.
From absorbing the news over the last year I learned something about the prosecution of the ongoing war, and a lot about the scandal in the military because of Abu Ghraib. I know a great deal about the politics of the war back in Washington, and among the Bush team. But I have almost no clear picture of daily life and the struggle for normalcy in Iraq after it fell to ruin under Saddam and during the war. Depite spot coverage here and there, including Iraqi-in-the-street stories, I don’t know from my own press where the re-building effort actually stands, including:
Do most Iraqi’s have health care, some, almost none? (See this list of claims from the CPA. Accountability journalism, anyone?) How about electricity, running water, sanitation? Do you know, and did you learn it from the mainstream media? Jeff Jarvis on May 15 wrote: “Iraq assignment desk: The rebuilding beat.”
If I were in charge of a bureau of reporters in Iraq — are you listening NY Times, Washington Post, FoxNews, NBC, CBS, ABC, Reuters, BBC? — I would assign one reporter, just one, to the rebuilding beat.
And who is? Readers of Buzzmachine know the answer to that, because Jarvis has been a diligent tracker of Iraqi blogs. “The stories would be easy to get,” he wrote, “all you have to do is read a few of the Iraqi weblogs. Read Zeyad or read Omar on the new economy.” And he quotes one Mohammed, just an Iraqi with a weblog, with a scene from daily life:
The coalition forces here invited all the kids-and their parents-in the neighborhood for a special festival, the kids were given paints and brushes and a definite area of the wall was assigned for each kid to paint on whatever he likes and to sign his painting with his/her name. I leave it for you to imagine how this hateful wall looked like after this festival. It became a fascinating huge painting that gives a feeling of brotherhood and friendship.
It’s not that such stories haven’t appeared in the press, or been heard on NPR, or seen on the evening news. They have, when there is space between explosions and announcements. And it’s not that we need uplifting stories of daily life to balance the negative news about violence and hatred. The press can be criticized for neglecting the re-building story, but this does not mean: give us more good news. There may well be discouraging news at hand, a failure to re-build that needs telling. Corruption in the re-building story? Highly possible.
But without a steady focus on daily life I cannot answer the question that news from Iraq is supposed to help me with: how to judge the job my government is doing, how to hold president Bush accountable to what he said he would do. As Peter Levine has written, in paraphrase of a view he says is widely held: “A citizen’s main responsibility is to decide whether the Bush Administration has done a good job so far, and to vote accordingly this November.”
Journalists believe that. It’s not only an argument they accept; it’s a premise they build into news coverage. The news should inform citizens, journalists believe, and the core of that responsibility is to inform the citizen’s vote. If the mainstream press has a “theory” of democracy, widley shared among its members, this is it: stay informed, vote wisely, and democracy works.
For this purpose the news from Baghdad is not too negative. It is too narrow. The truth about Iraq after Saddam needed three legs to stand on, and it only got two: the military and security story, the jockeying for power and influence. There ought to have been, from the start, at least a partial preoccupation with re-building Iraq, the recovery of daily life, including the development of measures to chart progress, a task well within the reach of the American press.
On the whole that narrative went missing. It was not inevitable this would happen, but if it did happen, the omission might yet be corrected, or at the very least reflected on when the ombudsmen of the nation sit down and read their mail, or pen their Sunday columns. Did American journalists give the re-building and democracy-building story their best shot? And if they didn’t, is there yet time to make a new judgment, put forward a better argument, and set things right in the news from Iraq?
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links….
new @ PressThink: From Wen Ho Lee to Judy Miller: The Transparency Era at the New York Times (May 28.)
Listen here to my radio interview about this post on NPR’s On the Media, with host Brooke Gladstone, May 28. (Or read the transcript.)
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now a lot of conservative media critics would agree with you, because I think they would assume that’s where a lot of the good news is. But don’t reporters risk, you know, going with military guards to staged hospital openings or soccer games or Barbie distribution sites, and are these stories newsworthy?
See this online talk with readers by the Washington Post’s assistant managing editor for foreign news, Phil Bennett, who visited Baghdad and returned with his impressions: “For a foreigner, it’s entering the looking glass. Even though I read this coverage everyday, I was surprised by the profound menace that accompanies almost every step across the city. Kidnappings and attacks on foreign civilians have driven almost everyone into a bunker, into armored vehicles, behind the wire. Of course this is potentially disastrous for our journalism. So we are searching for ways not to lose contact with the heart of the story — still the Iraqi experience — without risking the lives of our correspondents.” (June 1, 2004)
Z Magazine’s Brian Dominck at UTS: “Reason #184,045 to support independent media: What the hell is going on with the ‘reconstruction’ of Iraq?” Dominick points to examples of Dahr Jamail’s work in The New Standard, reporting on the shoddy reconstruction effort in Iraq. See, for example, “Electricity Production in Iraq Remains Below Pre-War Levels.”
Chris Allbritton, journalist, blogger and now a stringer with Time magazine and others, is in Baghdad, reporting back to his blog. From a post called Dear Friends: (May 29, 2004)
To those who think that reporters aren’t supporting the war effort enough and “refuse” to report good news, well, here’s a shocker: There isn’t much good news to report. The security situation is growing worse. The power is still bad (three hours on, three hours off, or so.) Major U.S. contractors are bypassing Iraqi companies, leading to growing resentment. What kinda sorta good news there is is being pretty well covered.. Most of the “good news” they release has to do with passing out free soccer balls to kids. Is this what should be reported when U.S. troops and Iraqis are dying every day?
Allbritton’s post explains why it’s so difficult to do “normal” reporting—indeed, to get very much work done in a day—under conditions in Iraq not only dangerous and life-threatening, but also exhausting, filled with unknowns. And there is anti-Americanism to deal with.
I’m going to be following Chris’s reporting because I feel he is my eyes and ears there. In a different way, so is John Burns of the New York Times, whom I wrote about recently. It’s my relationship to Chris that is different (I can talk to him) and this is how the Web is changing journalism. So I wrote about these two—Burns of the Times, Allbritton from Blogistan by way of the AP—in this post.
Jeff Jarvis replies to Allbritton: “Because of all the limits he lists, don’t we need to acknowledge that we are not getting good reporting from Iraq? I don’t care about the reasons and excuses of which there are plenty. Let’s just take a cold, hard look at the quality of the reporting and see whether we’re getting the whole story.”
Be on the alert for this amazingly detailed analysis of the reporter’s predicament and the likely sources of bias in mainstream journalism from USS Clueless. It begins: “This is an experimental medium, and I’m going to try an experiment today. I was inspired by an article about press bias, written by Jay Rosen, and I started making notes, and filling in some parts while leaving others more sketchy. Five hours later just the notes were 4000 words long, so I decided not to expand it any further…” Here’s one cherry-picked insight, but there are many more:
The argument would be that a reporter who abandoned detachment and tried to actively interfere in events would poison the well for all other reporters in future and make it more difficult for them to gain access in similar situations, and that any evil prevented in that one case would have to be counterbalanced by the greater evil of seriously reducing the ability of all reporters everywhere to gather critical information in performance of their mission…. If reporters abandon that detachment, the system fails.
Notes On Press Bias, USS Clueless. Very interesting post, as part of it is: geek does press think.
Columnist Michael Barone says the news from Iraq is too negative: “Roosevelt did not have to deal with one problem Bush faces today. And that is that today’s press works to put the worst possible face on the war.”
Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard, reacting to this Pew survey of journalists and their opinions:
With the evidence of liberal dominance so overwhelming, a leading press critic is now calling for more ideological diversity in the media. Tom Rosenstiel, who helped design the Pew poll and who runs the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says it’s necessary not to think just of diversity that makes newsrooms “look like America,” but to create a press corps that “thinks like America.”
See also Kevin Drum’s reply to Barnes (and the comments following): “The press bashes whoever’s in power, Democrat or Republican, and they cover drama, whether it’s in Baghdad or Burbank. For better or worse, that’s the main bias of the news industry, not ideology.”
Matthew Yglesias: Think Again: The Return of the ‘Stab In the Back.’
Some commentators on the right seem to have decided that the real enemies aren’t the ones they read about it the papers, but the people who write them… The political purpose of the theory isn’t hard to grasp. The groundwork is being laid for a new version of the “stab in the back” myth that helped destroy Weimar Germany. No matter how far south things go in Iraq, the blame will be laid not at the feet of the president who initiated and conducted the war, but rather on those who had the temerity to note that it wasn’t working. Rather than the critics having been proven right, or so the story goes, the critics are to blame for the failure of the very policy they were criticizing. It’s an ugly tactic…
From the Boston Globe: “Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, attributed the disclosure to a Times culture that is more aware of credibility problems. ‘In the post-Blair era, they are a lot more sensitive to those questions and issues,’ he said.”
The practical political philosopher Peter Levine: Why do we care about press coverage of Iraq?
For an example of “bottom up” reporting from Iraq, listen to Fear and Anger, a radio series by Inside Out Documentaries and WBUR. It is almost exclusively Iraqi voices, which makes it part of the rebuilding story.
Michael Moran, columnist for MSNBC (May 25): Media takes heat from administration over Iraq: “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.”
Rod Dreher, Dallas Morning News columnist: “We decided to search photo wire service archives for the past month, looking for images of U.S. soldiers engaged in helping Iraqis instead of shooting at them. We were startled to discover that the photo accompanying this text was the only image of its kind that moved on the wires in recent weeks. This newspaper’s photo department told me that if news photographers aren’t shooting those pictures, it’s because media back home aren’t interested in those stories. Which justifies the reader complaints we’ve been hearing, does it not?” (June 1, 2004)
Harrowing does not begin to describe this tale of a Washington Post reporter who was almost killed when a passing car started shooting at his SUV. (June 8, 2004)
On June 14 (nineteen days after this post was published), the New York Times ran a front page account by James Glanz out of Baghdad: “In Race to Give Power to Iraqis, Electricity Lags.” It began:
“Tripped up by problems ranging from sabotage to its reliance on by-the-book engineering, the United States has failed by a wide margin to meet its long-stated goal of reviving Iraq’s electricity output for the start of the searing summer. The American-led occupation missed its goal by as much as 30 percent, starving air-conditioners, lights, factories and oil pumps. That has damaged the occupation’s efforts to foster stability and good will among a populace already traumatized by the failure to guarantee their security.”
So that’s accountability journalism on the re-building Iraq beat, more or less as I argued for. (In this piece and in an interview with On the Media here.)
Posted by Jay Rosen at May 26, 2004 3:27 PM Print
One thing that keeps crossing my mind about this war is the old adage that the winner in a war gets to write the history. I don't think that's true anymore, and it seems the history writer now is the one with the loudest voice. Great piece, Jay. Thanks.
Posted by: Terry Heaton at May 26, 2004 3:53 PM | Permalink
Jeff Jarvis is certainly not the most diligent tracker of Iraqi blogs, other Iraqis are, and while Jarvis consistently favors quotes from pro-occupation bloggers, the Iraqis do a much better job of views from all sides.
Posted by: panopticon at May 26, 2004 8:06 PM | Permalink
Latest FaBlog -- The Judy Miller Show: Season Finale for the NYT's "Made Man"
Posted by: David Ehrenstein at May 26, 2004 9:14 PM | Permalink
Getler's comment is disingenous because it is opportunistic.
If he had tried to make to make the same argument in February 2004, he would have looked like an idiot because it would not have fit reality at that snapshot in time.
He may take satisfaction in the burst of violence in April, but was his reporting in October-November 2003 also predictive of the lull in February 2004? What is his reporting today predicting for the June/July transfer? Is the trendline being built each day one that Iraq is getting worse or better overall? For Iraqis versus coalition?
A week into the war, the opportunistic cynics in the press whose reporting had slanted toward high casualties, quagmires and Stalingrads were crowing, a week later they were eating crow.
Both were political statements that fit the reality of a snapshot in time. Predictive reporting is ALWAYS political statement.
Immediately after the toppling of Saddam's statue, the press was reporting Iraqis were already disillusioned by the looting and violence.
By May, things had calmed down so much Bush felt confident enough to make a political statement from an aircraft carrier after flying in on a fighter. Such triumphalism, reflective of the reality of that snapshot in time and deserved or not for deposing Saddam, was a sharp contrast to the political statements that had been made by the press.
By June, the press was warning of a small window of time before all was lost, quagmire, and Keystone Kops hunting for Saddam and WMD.
We were at the brink in November, with rising attacks from terrorists and insurgents, but then the attacks fell and news turned to plastic turkeys and Saddam's capture.
If Getler's point is: "We provided the pessimistic slant to the administration's optimistic slant" then fine, that's not apolitical.
And I really dislike Koppel's, "I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way." Koppel's role is to add to our burden by taking gloomy pleasure in saying unpleasant things? Was Koppel concerned with his audience being overwhelmed with all the good news he had been reporting?
Posted by: Tim at May 26, 2004 9:43 PM | Permalink
Uncovering the Rationales for the War on Iraq:
Posted by: Tim at May 27, 2004 12:48 AM | Permalink
Jay - This is a more generic problem. The press tends to see everything international through the lens of how it affects US domestic politics, and that makes covering effective 'real-life' in other countries very difficult.
Posted by: Matt Stoller at May 27, 2004 1:59 AM | Permalink
YOu're right about the news focus being too narrow.
Aside from the violence keeping hacks confined to quarters in Baghdad, the other problem in reporting from Iraq is that news desks necessarily are so focussed on the daily mayhem that reporters have no time to put together material about the quotidian context in which it is happening. But in a place as extraordinary as Iraq ... the ordinary is the real news. When Fallujah is going on, or battles with Moqtada's Mehdi Army in Kerbala, the rest of Iraq is still functioning (in its way). The way you will know that Iraq is finally going to blow up in a general insurgency is when "ordinary" life ceases to function.
And it is possible to get around outside of Baghdad and report the "ordinary".
I spent the best part of a month in Iraq recently (I also covered "major combat operations" from the North/Kurdistan). The idea was to only use Iraqi voices ... and other than an extract of a Paul Bremer speech and a nat sound snatch of a kid from International Republican Institute lecturing Iraqi's on how to use a political party as a vehicle for power ... I managed to get past the language barrier in radio and do just that.
Posted by: Michael Goldfarb at May 27, 2004 9:28 AM | Permalink
One of the truly irritating things about press responses to questions about why reporters haven't mentioned the so-called "good news" stories in Iraq, is that for so long (first six months after the Baathists fell?) things such as the lack of electricity, water, healthcare, food were at the forefront of media coverage of the "disaster."
Once these problems had been solved -- as it now seems -- the media moved on, without even bothering to tell anyone what had happened.
Because now this was "good news". As if Baghdad were Brooklyn and such new developments were not significant. Entirely disingenuous. And yet twits like Getler are still making the same lame excuses.
Part of the problem seems to be, as you note, that stories about Iraqi life are hard to do. They require travel, security, and you know actual work.
Often it seems to me that a huge part of the problem is that most reporters seem to be "phoning it in" from the bar of some hotel in the Green Zone, where their source is probably the same guy who was their Baathist Ministry of Info handler from before the war.
And we know how close some US journalists got to the Baathists from what the CNN chap and John Burns of the NYT have revealed post-war!
That was and is a scandal that the media have made, it seems to me, virtually no effort to come to terms with.
How can journalists wonder why they're distrusted by many and despised by some?
And yet the likes of Getler sit their, entirely divorced from reality, lecturing us.
Posted by: JimL at May 28, 2004 2:09 AM | Permalink
I read this whole thing today while in the car (with no internet access) and frankly, was shocked.
It was the most detailed example I have seen of the out-of-touch media mindset at work.
I'm not even going to try to go after it point by point. It's after 1AM and I (hopefully) have tornados to chase tomorrow.
I see nothing but the Dr. Rosen justifying the outrageous performance of the main stream media this summer.
The press has every reason to keep reporting aggressively on the investigation of Abu Ghraib.
Don't you guys ever get it? Abu Ghraib was an absolutely typical screw-up like always happens in war. Furthermore, without the homo-erotic and sadistic images, I don't think it would have lasted two days. It is of no significance.
Sure, the press imagines it should keep reporting it. Never mind that the military was on it early, put in a senior investigator, and was cleaning up its own house. Somehow this incident became news. And that means, of course, the people like the scumbags who run 60 Minutes II will poke around and find other miscreants. We can't have a narrative of a military evil and out of control without stringing it out.
If this is such a big deal, why aren't we hearing big stories about the refugee issues in the Sudan? Why do we hear over and over again about an incident where a military unit lost its discipline. This is like Me Lai in Vietnam - an incident only significant for two reasons: the rarity of that kind of occurrence, and the power it gave the press to attack the establishment. As I have said before, as a Vietnam Veteran and air crew member, I was humiliated more and for a longer time than those prisoners who were in the wing reserved for the worst - those who are conspiring to kill us. I was tortured in SERE school. These guys were not.
Give it a frigging rest. There's a lot going on out there and this incident has no meaning except as part of a fictional narrative saying someting bad about Bush or Rumsfeld or our military or whatever.
I love the qualifying words ("to him") in the following:
The Washington columnist and pundit Morton Kondracke recently argued that "Congress, Media Could Talk U.S. Into Iraq Defeat." His parallel--and I have seen others draw it--was the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, to him a military victory for the U.S that was spun a different way at home.
"to him" implies it is a matter of opinion. "To History" would have been better. How can you doubt after all this time that what Kondrake and others (including myself) knnow to be true: that the significance of Tet '68 was inverted in the press coverage back home. You shouldn't have to look far to find people who came back from Vietnam and were shocked to find out that their victory was a defeat. Hell, ask the Vietnamese. After Tet, they were seriously considering suing for peace, until they realized the way Tet played at home. This is from the mouths of the North Vietnamese leadership.
I can only conclude from this posting that Dr. Rosen, for whatever reason, is choosing to defend the press in cases where it is indefensible.
The fact that bias is becoming a huge issue this time is because more and more Americans have access to alternative sources of information (or hear about it), and we are not going to take it any more.
The main stream media can continue in its self-annointed role of bringing us all the facts that matter (to east coast anti-bush transnationalist intellectuals and their followers), but we aren't going to fall for it this time.
The journalism profession is just about dead, and I think that's a damned good thing. The information age is disintermediating journalists just like it is many other people. And frankly, I don't think "professional journalists" add much value, because if they did, disintermediation wouldn't happen.
So the media is having strained relationships with the military. Where have we seen this before? Under Johnson, the military was forced to lie to the media (one of the reasons the media got the Tet story exactly and totally wrong).
Now the lying is on the other side. The military is seeing what the press is saying and is not happy, not because some important secret coverups are being exposed (they aren't), but because the total narrative has little correlation to what the soldiers are experiencing.
I have seen many comments from soldiers coming back (or posting from Iraq) that mirror those of the military members after Tet - utter and total amazement at the absurd picture painted of the Iraq war, combined with shock at the clear antagonism shown by the press towards the military and what they are doing.
A demand for good stories is probably too much. But the current hyena feeding frenzy is pathetic.
Frankly, I hope it continues at an ever increasing level of mania, because Americans are starting to learn an important lesson: the media isn't there as a solid information source, but is rather a major player one one side of a power game while we are all in deep peril.
I have little respect for the Main Stream Media in issues like this. They are predictable to an incredible degree. Was anyone surprised when Sixty Minutes II came up with their second prisoner abuse story?
How many media people have taken up "Chief Wiggles" offer to discuss this. He was an interrogator at that camp. He knew the MP's. But only conservative journalists have even noticed that this first hand source is sitting in Utah ready to tell the other side of the story - the part that doesn't fit the narrative.
There are a lot of big issues to cover that are being shoved aside in favor of the media's favorite sport - dragging out a scandal - especially one with sex, the military and Republicans all together.
Meanwhile, how much do we see about the implications of the finding of two chemical weapons in Iraq?
Here is what somebody in the media ought to consider. Where there is one old shell (or new - it matters little), there are almost certainly others.
If Al Qaeda wants a very deadly weapon, all they have to do is get one of those shells, remove the two inert ingredients, mix them toghter, and spray them from an aerosolizer (or a few of them) from, say, 10 stories up in Manhattan. Then you will have thousands of dead New Yorkers. Or maybe they can get shells designed to produce VX. Then you get even more dead, and the property is unusable for a long time.
This isn't fantasy. This isn't scare mongering. This is easily within the capabilities of Al Qaeda.
Is anyone going to set aside Abu Ghraib for an analysis of this sort of thing? I guarantee you the serious people in government are focusing on this, not a poorly led National Guard unit that decided to have a sex play day in Abu Ghraib.
Of course, many Americans don't even know about this. After all, only a "very small amount" of Sarin was found. The fact that the weapon had enough material to make a gallon of the stuff didn't make it into many reports. The stories I read in a number of papers mostly played down this event.
But if that same Sarin turns up in the US and kills a bunch of innocent civilians, don't expect the press to apologize for not having informed us about it. After all, has anyone heard any apology for the extremely poor reporting about the Communist side of the cold war? Has the press been screaming for Nuremberg trials of former Soviet bloc dictators? Why did Pol Pot die of natural cuases?
No, we will go from "Bush got us into this war with lies about WMD's) to "Bush failed to stop the WMD's in Iraq from gettting into the wrong hands" with nary a hitch in the news tempo.
So my question to the media and Dr. Rosen is: What in the hell is going on in your heads to cause the media to waste weeks showing us Abu Ghraib pictures, while ignoring the actual attempted use of two chemical weapons against us in Iraq (you know, the WMD that weren't there)? Don't you imagine their might be a bit of bias when your stories nicely fit into Democratic party attacks?
And where are the investigative journalists digging into Kerry's past? Or his current coverups?
I wrote this because the article angered me a lot. It's bad enough when the MSM gets out of focus, but when all sorts of bizarre rationalizations are made to show that this is just fine... well, hell, I'm gonna watch Fox News, read the bloggers and use my private sources, and try my best to avoid the "big news media" just to keep my blood pressure down.
Posted by: John Moore at May 28, 2004 2:56 AM | Permalink
when Howell Raines fell in love with Martha Burke and slanted the coverage it helped get him fired..
someone explain to me how Abu Ghraib , an interesting but strategically insignificant story, winds up on the front page of the NYT for 28 STRAIGHT DAYS!
no political agenda here folks, nothing to see, just move along!
Posted by: JonofAtlanta at May 28, 2004 9:36 AM | Permalink
"Did American journalists give the re-building and democracy-building story their best shot? And if they didn't, is there yet time to make a new judgment, put forward a better argument, and set things right in the news from Iraq?"
Journalists -- and not just American ones -- gave the rebuilding and democracy-building story no shot at all.
No, journalists can't cover everything. Yes, the story of Abu Ghraib is/was important and needed to be reported. But as another poster pointed out, there is a total picture the narrative should paint a cartoon of, at minimum, and journalism is not doing that. Instead it is concentrating on the bad news, especially when such bad news paints the Bush administration in a bad light, and the result is a completely one-sided view.
Dr. Goebbels famously said that a lie repeated loudly and often enough becomes accepted as truth. The defections mentioned as justification -- the Republicans and others, supposed friends of the President -- are not a justification, they are a triumphant result: the Press has spread the lying memes around so thoroughly that even those who are predisposed not to believe them have embedded them in their thought processes, and this is the result. The Press will destroy Iraq to get Kerry elected, and that's the bottom line.
I don't mean to suggest that the specific stories reported are not true; some are, some aren't -- about average, not a problem. But the science fiction author Robert Heinlein once pointed out that there are three ways to lie. The first, trivial one is to simply tell falsehoods; it is weak because easily countered. The second is to mix falsehood with truth so as to confuse and associate the lies with material that can be proven. The third is to carefully select which truths to utter, leaving an utterly false impression of the total situation without ever actually emitting a false statement. The Press has become remarkably skilled at the third method, although it does not shrink from the second when didactic necessity ("Get Bush out of there!") arises.
From the Press's point of view the necessity to lie and the utility of Method Three coincide wonderfully with its prime directive, which is to sell soap by attracting viewers. Bad things are generally exciting, especially if one has pictures. "Good" things typically are not. It has become a truism that the old saw has been inverted: good news is no news. When the media's need to attract customers for its advertisers fits so well with what it wants for its political aims, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised.
But unless things change in the next few months, you needn't worry, Dr. Rosen. Bush will not be re-elected. The soldiers will all come home, their lives having been partly or fully wasted in an exercise in futility. And you and the journalistic profession can triumphantly crow about your invaluable service to the improvement of America, right up to the moment when Al Qaeda or the successor Islamist organization you built blows you to bits.
Posted by: Ric Locke at May 28, 2004 10:06 AM | Permalink
Perhaps I was a big hyperbolic, but the prison story was only significant in the first place because the photos were e released, which damaged our image among some Arabs.
Honestly - how many days of run would it have gotten if there were no lurid pictures to show?
And I'll tell you something else - lots of people want to hear good news, yet one more reason FOX news is cleanaing the clocks of the MSM.
Abu Ghraib with the pictures might have been good for a day or too. The rest is pure partisan scandalmongery, and polls show the public views it that way.
Let me say this again: The incident was minor. I was a military discipline problem extend up to (in my opinion) the National Guard general in charge of the unit. So the mlitary put a higher ranking general in charge of the investigation. No coverup. No major incident. It is only interesting to normal Americans because the press has failed to inform them about the realities of war and especially guerilla warfare, and hence the pictures are "shocking."
And again I say, I went through worse treatment just in training in the US military.
There is absolutely no excuse for the scsandal mongering. Sure, the Democrats in congress will try to kee[ it alive, and hence we have a little loop of journalists doing Congress's dirty work, then the Democrats making a stink (thereby justifyng a new story) and round and round she goes on a story that is no more exceptional than "the lights are on in Baghdad" except that it puts the US in a bad light.
Posted by: John Moore at May 28, 2004 12:15 PM | Permalink
Mr. York may wish all he wants that infrasturctures successes don't exist, but in fact they do.
I'd advise him to look at at a number of postings at http://chrenkoff.blogspot.com.
Chrenkoff has done a great job finding stories ignored by the mainstream press.
The real proof however that the infrastructure is being successfully rebuilt is that the media isn't crowing about the lack of water, electricity, etc. Because if these things were still a problem, we'd be hearing about it ad nauseam.
Of particular note I believe is the building boom in Baghdad. People don't build things when the situation is dire.
Now we can all sit back and await Mr. York's candid denials and circumlocutions.
Waiting . . .
Posted by: JimL at May 28, 2004 2:53 PM | Permalink
I heartily endorse your argument. In any domain (be it political reporting, the metro beat, or war coverage), it's unhelpful to ask whether journalism is too negative--overall. That question leads to counting positive versus negative stories and looking for bias. Subjects of the news (and their supporters) rightly claim that the press is only interested in conflict and crisis. Reporters and editors reply that each story they've published is true, and the powerful can handle their own p.r.
It's much more useful to say what you do here. Typically, the story is not too negative, but it is too narrow, because all reporters follow a single storyline. In a campaign, it's the horse race. In anyone's hometown, it's murder and scandal. In Iraq, the story is conflict and the daily body count (also the struggle for power). Quite apart from whether or not this story is too negative, it's clearly too restricted. Other things are going on.
By the way, I wrote the following on my blog only to rebut it: "A citizen's main responsibility is to decide whether the Bush Administration has done a good job so far, and to vote accordingly this November." This doesn't make sense to me as a reason for following the Iraq news closely. I've only got one vote out of 100 million; I already know enough about other issues on which I can base my vote; and the two major candidates have similar positions about the future in Iraq. Going to great lengths to figure out whether the incumbent did a bad job in the past just isn't worth my time. There must be other reasons for us citizens to care about the Iraq story .
Posted by: Peter Levine at May 28, 2004 9:28 PM | Permalink
I read your story and the feeling I got afterward is that you are twisting the whole thing around to justify the reporting of the bad news. You even say that it would be nice if we could report things like the painting of the wall by the children but you have seen stories like this on the news. I would doubt if you have seen more than one or two and that only if there was no bad news to report. You then go on to justify not reporting this because maybe there was a bombing somewhere or a mortar shot.
You also say that we need to know how the rebuilding is going. You seem to think that the only source for that can be the CPA government and the US headquarters. How about the real source which is the people who live in the Iraqi villages or cities and how they feel and what is happening in their lives. You pay lip service to this and then immediately tell us how much more important it is to report a roadside bomb. I respectfully disagree. The important thing is the people in the villages and how their life is going and how they feel about what is happening. That is what we are there to do and you are blocking that out in favor of yet another bad news story reported from the green zone in Baghdad. Baghdad, while it is the capital of Iraq, constitutes only about 15% of the population and very little of the area. The rest of Iraq is where the important stories are and the media is letting us down badly by not realizing that and for you to try to paint this not as a political choice in an election year is to sadly underestimate our intelligence and ability to read between the lines. There is a reason why the media is losing readers and viewers and that is the reason. We are not idiots and we know when we are being fed bullcrap.
Posted by: dick at May 28, 2004 10:51 PM | Permalink
Here's a thought: perhaps the news is too narrow because it's too negative. Perhaps we don't hear more rebuilding stories because the press doesn't care about them or doesn't want to leave the hotel room.
The only way they can ever find out the story is to stop being wimps and get out there and talk to people who live outside of Baghdad. If you're concerned about your safety, then you should go to the Kurdish parts or the southwestern parts which are fully stable and full of news that never gets covered.
I blame a combination of bias, cowardice and laziness. And don't try to say it isn't bias because there have been several statements recorded from actual reporters there who say that they all want Bush to lose. The Daily Telegraph did an excellent report on that a while back that I saw linked to on OxBlog.
Posted by: Sorry at May 28, 2004 11:01 PM | Permalink
bent on undoing everything gained by the previous administration
Everything gained? Oh, like the first WTC bombing, the Khobar Towers, the deaths of millions of Iraqis from sanctions, Somalia, the failure to obtain OBL from Sudan, terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, Madeleine Albright cavalierly dismissing Iraqi deaths from sanctions broadcast around the world, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, USS Cole, sanctions crumbling, allies bailing...? Such brilliance! So much gained! All lost! Oh, the crime and shame of it all!
Posted by: Reid at May 29, 2004 12:38 AM | Permalink
To throw my small piece onto the pile --
On wednesday, I visited with my most reliable source of information about what goes on in Iraq: my long time friend Jessie, who flies in and out of Baghdad several times a week in the back of a C-130, looking out the window for heat-seeking SAMs with his finger on the flare button.
The last time I got to hang with him he told me -- this was a year ago -- about transporting prisoners and what their guards would do to them. Nothing so... creative as what we've seen, but certainly evidence of simple and unchecked brutality. The last time I got to hang out with him he told me about private contractors and how they had a reputation for living large. He told me a lot of things I'd read about a lot more later on.
This time he tells me things are getting worse. He tells me the the guarella tactics are imrpoving, that the get off more shots at him and his buddies are less and less able to find people to shoot back at. He tells me that the attitude of normal people has become (at best) more impatient and less hospitable.
I don't know if the news is too negative. It's hard to write about a newly-paved road when there's a corpse off to the side. More importantly, based on virtuall all accounts Iraqi public opinion, it doesn't seem to matter how good a job our construction contractors may or may not be doing at rebuilding. Without the participation and sense of acceptence/ownership of the people there, it means very little.
People tend to react poorly when someone they don't like builds something for them and tells them to live with it. They might go along out of economic necessity, but it's only a matter of time before such construction is repurposed, reclaimed, or raized.
Posted by: Outlandish Josh at May 29, 2004 2:35 AM | Permalink
"the adage that the good things take care of themselves and the negatives need attention"
... is not the way it works. If you are trying to do something constructive then it is "the good things" that need attention. That is how "the negatives" are reduced or eliminated. Train your troops well, and fewer are killed. If you want things to go badly, then attend to "the negatives".
The major media in this country has become lazy, complacent, condescending and perverse.
Posted by: Mark at May 29, 2004 4:12 AM | Permalink
I don't know anything from the press about what's up in Iraq in any important area, in any area that respects the purpose of the war: the civilizing of Iraqi civil life.
What I do know for sure is that the press delights in, and cannot get enough of, pictures of naked men in bondage.
There is a name for this, and it ain't "reporting."
Posted by: John Mendenhall at May 29, 2004 11:18 AM | Permalink
Mark York: "...The real war should be conducted in a subversive CIA venue not a traditional military presence and campaign. That would require an actual adversary that doesn't run from their tanks."
Ah, I see. And, of course, "it won't play over there." In other words, they're wogs; they need adult supervision, the stricter the better. Leave them to their mutual murder societies, and let's get back to Getting Bush Out. Important things.
And, pray tell, under your rules, how are you going to run "...a subversive CIA venue..." anyway? Using what resources? It's UnAmerican to use low-lifes as a source of information. It's double UnAmerican to hire people to do things we can't do because of laws and Executive Orders and complaints from Amnesty International. And it's triple UnAmerican not to expose anything and everything that's going on when a NYT reporter asks about it, and quadruple UnAmerican to have anything going on that the reporter doesn't know about anyway -- so that he can use his "news judgement" to decide on a whim to smash it in the name of transparency (and circulation, and ad revenue.)
All of which comes down to what Mr. York clearly believes: there is no war. There is only a political campaign. Middle Easterners are too stupid and vicious to achieve a stable, reasonable society, so building one is not a fit cause to waste effort on, and any claims to the contrary are simply campaign rhetoric. And he will bend every effort at his disposal to make that so, and his (and his friends') capabilities are large in that respect.
The underlying thought for Ted Koppel's "names" show was that absent his patriotic, community-minded, selfless effort, nothing would have been done to recognize the efforts of those who died and acknowledge their importance. This is a lie, a whole lie, and nothing but a lie; but he didn't actually say that, now did he, so Mr. York and Mr. Rosen are free to twist and spin the whole affair into "responsible reporting" based on the axiom never stated. Similar with Abu Ghraib: the unstated rationale is that, absent the Press's obsessive coverage, no-one would pay any attention or do anything to correct the abuses. Another lie; the military had been moving to correct the abuses and straighten out the command problems since shortly after the occurrence. But their efforts do nothing whatever to Get Bush Out, and besides there are all those deliciously titillating pictures to sell soap with, so off we go with the longest-running press opera since OJ Simpson, and never mind that the overall effect will be to poison the justice system to the point that the perps will walk. In fact, that's an advantage. When the perps walk because the Press has made it impossible to give them a fair trial, it will be another "abuse" they can triumphantly point out to Get That Man Out Of The White House.
The more I look at the situation, the closer I come to the conclusion that the problem is not, or is not primarily, ideological bias. Watergate produced a Pulitzer Prize, but more importantly it showed that if the Press is persistent enough it can destroy a President. This is real power, and it may be too much to ask of human beings to expect them not to try to exercise it on their own. Ideology makes one sort of target for it more attractive than another, but the main motivation is that of the bully: I can break this, therefore I own it. The Press has found another thing it can break, and is reveling in its power. Too bad about the collateral damage, but you know what they say about omelets.
Posted by: Ric Locke at May 29, 2004 2:09 PM | Permalink
Very thoughtful piece, Jay. This is obviously a topic people that gets people angry pretty quickly, and I appreciate your calm, reasoned tone. Good work!
Ultimately, though, I disagree with you. A previous poster suggested that the coverage is too narrow because it's too negative, and I have to agree, at least that's how it seems.
Perhaps the best example of where I think your reasoning fails is when you write: "It's a big story, and not primarily because the press has played it big." I don't think that's quite right, but thinking about it shows the disconnect between the media and it's critics.
To put it simply, most of the people I know (i.e., non-pundits, but both left- and right-leaning) believe that the media is very strongly biased left. My lefty friends like that; my VRWC friends don't. Neither of them consider it worth arguing over anymore, mostly because of the recent coverage of the prisoner abuse scandal.
See, with all the stuff out there to report, we've seen the way the media handled two somewhat similar scenarios, back to back, and the difference is striking. The Abu Ghraib abuse was shouted from the rooftops, the Berg execution was mentioned and forgotten. The same press that discovered a journalistic duty to show the American people the truth, through pictures of humiliated prisoners, suddenly discovered restraint when handed pictures of the bad guys executing one of our own.
How can you be surprised that so many people think the media is biased? What has been the common thread for stories that get the most attention? They're bad for Bush, or good for not-Bush. And the stories that seem to fade quickly? Good for Bush, or bad for not-Bush.
Even without departing from the war coverage (e.g., ignoring domestic economic news coverage), I can think of several stories that probably ought to have at least as much coverage as the prisoner abuse story. What's happening with the UN Oil-for-Food scandal? Is it true that France and Russia had huge financial incentives to try to stop us from invading Iraq? What about the draft Constitution? Do the Iraqis like the new flag? Are women any better off in Iraq? (or Afghanistan?) Are the bad guys still trying to blow up oil pipelines? Is it true that some AP reporters were being "handled" by Saddam, in effect being ordered to report good news for him or get out? Is that happening now? Are there any more embedded reporters? What happened with the two Sarin shells found? Does that mean that maybe there really are WMDs we haven't found? Should we be concerned that maybe the missing WMDs were smuggled into Syria?
This is just off the top of my head, but you can see why we (ok, I) might be frustrated by the constant attention paid to the prisoner abuse story, when there are lots of other questions I'd like answered.
Finally, it is my understanding that the press had word about the Abu Ghraib story, through at least two press conferences, long before they actually broke the story. If this is such a critical story, why weren't we hearing about it when the press found out about it? It seems a little suspicious to me that it didn't become such a big deal to the press until they had the pictures.
I understand that media is also a business, and that a picture is worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to getting television viewers and selling newspapers. And maybe the press didn't realize how big a story it was until they saw the pictures, but I doubt it. From what I've read, the pictures add nothing to the information the press already had.
Which brings me to the charge I think you're trying to address: the mainstream media is blowing the prisoner abuse scandal out of proportion, and to the exclusion of other legitimate stories, driven primarily by a desire to get not-Bush elected, and not a sense of journalistic duty, under the cloak of objective reporting.
If I understand your response correctly, you make two arguments: 1) the Abu Ghraib story is a legitimate, newsworthy story; and 2) it only looks like the media is overplaying Abu Ghraib because the media has not sufficiently covered the daily life angle in Iraq (the "third leg").
I think the first argument fails to address bias in selecting that story to hammer on, or the extent of the coverage, even for a legitimate story. The second argument is stronger, but I still don't think it answers the accusation or the reasoning behind it.
The charge of bias implies that the media ran with the story because it's bad for Bush and good for not-Bush. Saying that the media didn't focus on the "daily life" leg doesn't address bias in picking the Abu Ghraib story over other, more important stories in the military/security leg or the "jockeying for position" leg.
Moreover, given the level of trust the (rightish) public has in the media, the accusation also seems to predict that even if the media began putting more effort into the "daily life" leg, it would contiune to focus on "daily life" stories that are bad for Bush and good for not-Bush.
In fact, you seem to anticipate this yourself: "The press can be criticized for neglecting the re-building story, but this does not mean: give us more good news. There may well be discouraging news at hand, a failure to re-build that needs telling. Corruption in the re-building story? Highly possible."
Against that backdrop we have the NY Times "apology" you mentioned. The gist? "We at the NY Times overplayed the WMD issue, and were duped into reporting that there might be WMDs in Iraq." That's not an apology to the right; it's an apology to the left.
Again, I appreciate your honest assessment and very much enjoyed your post. Please don't take the above as a personal attack. I truly believe that your work will go a long way in helping us regain a "Fourth Estate" we can be proud of.
More first-person news from the ground: Chris Albritton blogs from Iraq. Relavent sentences:
So to the people who think they’re being fed a stream of lies from the press corps here, I’m going to disagree. To those who think the reporters aren’t aggressive enough in sticking it to The Man and reporting on the abuses, you have no idea what it’s like trying to get accurate and verifiable information here. Often it just doesn’t exist, and you can’t just take Iraqis’ words for it. They’re very passionate and have very strong opinions about the current life in Iraq and frankly, they’ll exaggerate, repeat and amplify gossip until it’s conventional wisdom, even though it has only a fleeting resemblance to the truth.
To those who think that reporters aren’t supporting the war effort enough and “refuse” to report good news, well, here’s a shocker: There isn’t much good news to report. The security situation is growing worse. The power is still bad (three hours on, three hours off, or so.) Major U.S. contractors are bypassing Iraqi companies, leading to growing resentment. What kinda sorta good news there is is being pretty well covered. The (maybe) truce between Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and U.S. forces in the south, the coming together, however shakily, of a caretaker government. I refuse to reprint the press releases that pour out of the CPA on any given day. Most of the “good news” they release has to do with passing out free soccer balls to kids. Is this what should be reported when U.S. troops and Iraqis are dying every day?
Posted by: Outlandish Josh at May 29, 2004 6:55 PM | Permalink
Jay--ABC News, when it conducted an opinion poll on the first anniversary of the war, addressed your point about the narrowness of the news coverage by finding that the lack of security was the overarching concern among Iraqis. Construed broadly to include everything from the rise in street crime to terrorist kidnappings to the guerrilla war proper, ABC News' survey found that the array of questions about civil society you mentioned was not worth addressing until security was restored. If true, this would provide a cogent justification for the narrowness you complain of. Furthermore, we have seen ample reporting about how the lack of security has forced NGOs and multinational construction companies (Siemens, General Electric et al) to withdraw from the reconstruction effort.
The fact that almost all of the networks' reporting consists of voiceovers of pool footage filed from a relatively safe location in Baghdad may indeed be accounted for by laziness or cowardice--but this too may reflect how insecure it is for TV crews to travel freely around the country. Indeed, when the Siege of Fallujah was at its height, no American network--unlike al-Jazeera or al-Arabiyah--established a presence inside the city: in this country we only saw embedded footage from the Marines' point of view.
So, it is possible that the dominance of the security beat in Iraq coverage is a reflection of its controling role--in civil society, in the reconstruction and in the envirnoment journalists are able to work in--not narrow but accurate.
Posted by: andrew tyndall at May 29, 2004 7:40 PM | Permalink
Dr. Rosen’s point, “For this purpose the news from Baghdad is not too negative. It is too narrow.” is exactly correct. My point is that I no longer trust the big media filters (including Fox). I believe that it is too narrow because it is narrowly and incessantly focus on the segments of the war/occupation that are not going well. So, is Fallujah an example of:
Are the CPA crimes at Abu Ghraib:
Considering big media’s narrow focus, how would a viewer/reader reason about:
Can a diligent reader of the NYT make balanced and informed decisions about these questions?
Posted by: Robert Monical at May 29, 2004 8:07 PM | Permalink
Lots of challening points, but before I get to them, a little reflection...
Participants in comment threads at PressThink and elsewhere don't have to play by my rules. Within bounds, it's say any damn thing you like. Gives us a link we can check out ourselves, we'll love you. There are no rules. In fact, conflict between rule systems for understanding media is part of what goes on in the threads here. It's normal. I expect it. This isn't a community--a space of shared belief--and doesn't try to be. It's a public space, filled with argument, but also milling around, people watching, etc.
But let's be clear: especially on the subject of media bias--which I see as a strange, maddening, and cunningly futile debate between left, right and journalists--we have not only argument about the media and its "spin" on things, which presupposes a certain engagement with Other View Out There... but we also have the sound of crashing belief systems, battle noise from another showdown of absolutes, prose versions of propaganda wars going on in larger spaces; and what, after a while, looks and sounds like religious conflict on the subject of The Media.
Is that all there is going down when we argue about media bias? HELL NO. It's just there: the battle of absolutes rumbles beneath the sentences, and sometimes becomes a freight train. I would underline, for the benefit of all, that journalists are sometimes participants in that, too. One example, their use of absolute denials that their work has any "politics" in it.
So there is engagement. There is the impossibility of engagement. It's not a bad tension, really; (can make for a lively blog) and as I tried to say before, it's become a normal sound to me. This isn't a community, and it wouldn't want to be. But... if it played by the rules of one, and they were my rules, this would be my one rule in the media bias debate: the paraphrase test.
It states that if you can paraphrase the "opposite" view to a holder of that view's satisfaction, then you understand it. Any and all arguments, using any form of reason the human mind can commit, are welcome and may be submitted to public acclaim under my rules--which, I admit, are entirely fanciful, the kind of thing only a professor could love--but that minority of arguments that struggle and meet the paraphrase test (before they come out on the ice, so to speak) are afforded special attention by everyone, and are lifted up a little, because they are more likely to feature engagement between views.
There are people whose convictions land them on the Left at PressThink, and they are against George Bush's re-election. They have textured views on media bias. There are people whose convictions land them on the Right at PressThink, and they are for Bush. They have textured views on media bias. There are people alienated from these categories, who may or may not want Bush re-elected. There are people--and I sometimes try to speak for them--who are alienated from "bias" talk itself.
They come here to talk about the media, darting in and out when a subject interests them-- or there is a dispute. In the things I write about media bias, I try to keep it about ten degrees cooler. It can be a maddening subject, a frenzy of distortion, but it's an important subject, and smart, informed--in fact, news hungry--people care deeply about it. They're angry. They come with a sense of the unjust. It's one of the ways people connect to the media, arguing about its bias.
The paraphrase test would drive participants in the bias discouse crazy, of course. On top of that, it would never work. It's not a suggestion. It's a concept. Just remember: conflict between rule systems for understanding media is normal here. Often, it's absolute.
Even so, one can learn from it, especially if for strange reason you're planning to take the paraphrase test.
I've said before that our press coverage of Iraq is like understanding art looking through a soda straw with someone else is holding the straw.
The coverage of the Abu Ghraib story is annoying not because it was sensationalized, but because it triggered a massive effort to turn it into Watergate. The story had been around for months, but when the pictures came out, politicians and pundits were all calling for Rumsfeld's resignation and claiming that violation of the Geneva Accords and torture was systemic.
It could have been a story about the impact on the Arab world of a government acknowledging misdeeds and apologizing for them. Instead it was warmed over Watergate, the Procrustean bed of all scandal stories since the Nixon administration.
As for the NYTimes, it seems to agonize over sins that most of us out here in the Great Unwashed don't even understand. So they were lied to by some Iraqis. Who hasn't been? That's the whole problem with the WMD reports. It's old stuff. And the Times decides to confess to being misled just at the time when real WMD, sarin, shows up in a IED used by terrorists. I hope the Times doesn't have to apologize for their apology.
Posted by: AST at May 30, 2004 12:11 AM | Permalink
At the risk of earning a YHBT/YHL/HAND award, I'll respond to Mr. York.
I don't think that anyone on the right would be satisfied with your paraphrase attempt. The whole point of the paraphrase test is in the "to a holder of that view's satisfaction" requirement.
It doesn't increase your understanding of the other side very much if you don't take that requirement seriously.
Do you honestly believe that the paraphrase you offered would satisfy anyone on the other side of the debate from you? "Two old shells from the first Gulf War"? You think that's the crux of the right's argument?
That strikes me as the equivalent of: "lefty crybabies just bring up FOX to show that not ALL of the media is leftward biased." That isn't an honest paraphrase of the left's view.
If you want to try again, I'm sure there are plenty of honest folks on the right who will admit when you're paraphrase is satisfactory to them.
In the context of this discussion, I thought you all might like to look at this:
The blogger involved is an MP who has responsibilities related to prisons, and discusses that as well, but the piece pointed to doesn't have much to do with that. One quote, re Gary Trudeau:
"In the short few years that have passed since this country sent us out to fight the terrorists on their own turf, you've managed to attack our expeditions as immoral, lobby against our removal of a despot, deny our progress here against terrorism and use our daily sacrifices as political fodder. So what exactly, other than this questionable 'tribute' with hint subliminal discordance have you done anything for us? That's not support. It's not humility. It's not honoring. It's not even basic respect. It's exploitation."
Another, about "respect" for the dead:
"So when a decade-old ban on photographic vultures using the somber return of those who made the ultimate sacrifice as a gratification festival is finally enforced and you scream like little bitches that the admin is trying to cover up the cost-forget the fact that every single newspaper in the world is continually keeping a running tally of U.S. casualties-don't lie to yourselves (and us) by saying you're doing it to honor our sacrifice. Explain how thoughtlessly disregarding the wishes and rights of us, our comrades and kin and aggravating the sorrow of bereaved survivors so you can plaster your websites with pictures of flag-draped coffins so you can use us as political fodder in your columns is somehow honoring our sacrifice or doing us a favor?
Mr. York: "If you'll pay attention you'll see that Iraqis don't want you telling them what to do, how to do it and taking their paychecks to do it for them. Sell this somewhere else."
Nor do I want Americans telling Iraqis what to do; I do want us telling them how to do things, because they have little or no experience. I may be a winger, a phrase I accept in much the same spirit as I accept "geek," but I'm not an Imperialist, and I'm as disgusted at the strain of imperialism coming to the forefront of the Right as you probably are. More so, because they ought to know better.
Back somewhere close to the topic: whether or not media bias exists, and/or is a problem, doesn't really matter in the end. If actors perceive media bias -- which they do, as is amply illustrated by the posts at the site I referenced -- then they will be selective in responding to the Press. Those who perceive media bias in their favor will respond expansively; those who see it as against them will tell reporters to f* off. The result reinforces any bias that may exist.
So if Mr. York goes in with the preconception that things are going badly, he will naturally seek out confirmation of that hypothesis; his responders will answer or not, according to their own perceptions, which will correspond to both the tone and the content of the questions; and Mr. York, in reviewing his notes, will naturally emphasize the ones that confirm his previous notions. The result will absolutely confirm that things are going badly. It cannot help doing so. And even Mr. York will never know whether it is true or not. To argue that this serves the public or the cause of press freedom is ludicrous.
Posted by: Ric Locke at May 30, 2004 2:47 PM | Permalink
The naysayers and nattering nabobs of negativity that make up pressthink (favoring conflict and crisis) are representative of a long line of failed reporting. The arguments remain the same, old and stale, pointing to setbacks to justify cynicism and relying on human nature that if things turn out well, all is forgotten, but if it goes poorly, well, we warned you.
Imagine the Getler of post-WWII occupations justifying his reporting.
I've watched these critics and cosmic anti-patriots from each side of the ideological during Panama, the first Gulf War, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, ....
Yuk it up Mark A. York and Outlandish Josh. Today's news is not, and should not be, making history.
Posted by: Tim at June 3, 2004 10:22 AM | Permalink
History tells us that most conflicts end in chaos
I understand people choose journalism because numbers hurt their head, but history too?
Posted by: Tim at June 3, 2004 11:29 AM | Permalink
I concur with Mr. Cordesman.
In its entirety?
Cordesman brings up the AQ numbers, but in doing so, demonstrates the disconnect in anti/counter-terror metrics.
Could a journalist explain how we get from 70,000-100,000 that went through AQ training camps (a number from Senate testimony soon after 9/11) to the 20,000 IISS says went through between 1996 and 2001 - and that we've killed or captured 2,000 since October 2001 - leaving 18,000? And how that is not a significant attrition?
Could a journalist explain why, in pressthink, we're limiting the scope of the war on terror to attrition numbers of AQ, but not Hezbollah, and why we should be discussing AQ attrition numbers - as if it were a division of conventional armed forces?
Considering AQ had already decentralized prior to 2001, could a journalist explain why a military campaign against trans-national non-state terrorism could have been won solely in Afghanistan?
This ideology, a composite of the common elements of all the various strands of modern Islamic radical thought, is currently the most widespread, and the fastest growing, element of what makes up the phenomenon currently, and largely erroneously, labelled "al-Qaeda"....The war in Afghanistan ended a specific, and in many ways anomalous, period. The camps were destroyed, the militants who had joined bin Laden there were scattered. The al-Qaeda hardcore, the first component of al-Qaeda that we identified above, was virtually destroyed. However the threat is more grave than ever before.
Could a journalist explain the assymetric nature of foreign internal defense in Afghanistan and Iraq? In contrast, could a journalist explain the underlying imperative of sequential military campaigns being put forward by critics, waiting for completion of nation building operations as we go? Could that journalist provide an historical example of such a campaign against a trans-national enemy?
Could a journalist explain the conventional wisdom that Iraq should have been considered neutral in a war on terrorism and justify not following Zarqawi into Iraq?
“In late 2002, officials say, Zarqawi began establishing sleeper cells in Baghdad and acquiring weapons from Iraqi intelligence officials.” ABC News
Could a journalist explain the hubris in conventional wisdom that understood Iraq's ties to terrorism and AQ, but now denies such ties?
The latest developments in the putative meeting in Prague between hijacker Mohammed Atta and Iraq Consul al-Ani includes an appointment on al-Ani’s calendar and evidence of Atta having a false passport. Edward Jay Epstein
A lawsuit on behalf of FBI agent John O’Neill’s estate claims “Al Qaeda, backed by Iraq, carried out the September 11th terror attacks with the financial and logistical support of numerous individuals and organizations, …. These individuals and organizations provided Al Qaeda with the means to recruit, train, and employ thousands of terrorists.” The evidence includes documents seized from the bombed headquarters of the Iraqi intelligence agency. CBS News
Judge Baer concluded that there was enough evidence “albeit barely,” for a reasonable jury to infer “that Iraq provided material support to Al Qaeda and that it did so with knowledge and intent to further Al Qaeda’s criminal acts.” Law.com
In 1998, a US Grand Jury indictment against Usama bin Laden stated, “Al Qaeda also forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in the Sudan and with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezballah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States. In addition, al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq.” Archived at FAS
Secretary Powell included in his February 5 presentation to the United Nations evidence of Iraqi ties to international terrorist groups in general, but specifically to Al Qaeda’s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Ansar al-Islam. Powell referred to widely reported ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, including reports after the bombing of Sudan’s VX “Aspirin” factory in 1998, the 1998 bombings of the embassies in Africa, all through bin Laden’s 1999 “disappearance” and the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. Have the liaisons between Iraq’s Mukhabarat and Al Qaeda, including between Farouk Hijazi and Usama bin Laden suddenly been proven to have not occurred - leaving not a shred of evidence? State Dept.
PM Blair said, “I’m not sitting here and saying that is why we are taking action against Saddam. It isn’t, but it would not be correct to say there is no evidence linking al-Qaeda and Iraq”? UK Independent
Running list of Iraq terrorism articles & more…
Sleuthing The Iraq-Bin Laden Connection (Redone)
Could a journalist explain why Iraq was either incapable of provably disarming over 12 years, or at least appeared in February 2003 "not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it" and had not made a fundamental decision to disarm or fully cooperate?
And once a journalist has developed such a framework, could that journalist report daily events - good and bad - reflecting the scope of extremes and expectations such a framework would apply?
Posted by: Tim at June 3, 2004 9:33 PM | Permalink
I'm a biologist and I write narrative history, ... I have a life.
... you're obviously an accomplished conspiracist.
You both see proof of those beliefs everywhere. We don't.
Mark A. York's critical reasoning at its best.
Posted by: Tim at June 3, 2004 10:20 PM | Permalink
Mark A. York, was there anything that you wanted to actually, you know, add to the debate?
From what I can tell so far, you've decided to engage in the intellectual equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting, "nah, nah, I can't hear you, winger!, propagandist!, conspiracist!, nah, nah, look at my bone fides, nah, nah, not going to listen, nah, nah, ..."
Posted by: Tim at June 4, 2004 1:03 PM | Permalink
You've got nothing but ad hominem attacks and wild quotes that you atempt to splice together (remember that addition?) into a conspiracy thesis that won't fly.
What is my conspiracy thesis?
I see the difficulites and the sources of those facts that you don't like.
Expressing what you see as the difficulties would be adding to the debate. Otherwise, you are claiming omnipotence you don't possess.
Unless, of course, being a recent student in Journalism school with a collateral field in Environmental Biology and Ecology has endowed you with it. Perhaps it was in a Middle Eastern studies and terrorism course with travel outside the US?
I suspect you are unchangeable on this: you see what you want and omit the rest.
I'm not. So far, you haven't offered any information to add to the palette.
Posted by: Tim at June 4, 2004 4:36 PM | Permalink
The difficulties are falling into imperialism pits that serve up the same images that the terrorists are selling to that part of the world.
That's a fine concern for engaging military in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, pretty much the Middle East generally or most countries in Africa, Asia, the Balkans, and the Caucusus.
It is a conceptual framework that represents a non-militaristic/non-interventionist approach to Arabs (Africans, Asians, Europeans), as well a thread in the fabric of what passes for reality in the Middle East.
This is about reporting the facts.
Exactly, facts tend to fit within a conceptual framework and challenge it.
You have accused me of ignoring facts that do not fit within my (unstated) conceptual framework while highlighting facts that do. I thought I was presenting facts that demonstrate today's reporting is:
- historically shallow,
The facts say exactly [what] I've said all along a priori: the country was broken; there were no weapons left operable;there was no Iraqi-al Queda connection per se as purported by the administration. (emphasis added)
I see ...
They were wrong, I was right.
Uh huh ...
Funny, there isn't much comfort in it.
A pessimist, even when sure he's been proven right, is never comforted unless he does not love what he chastises. He is an uncandid candid friend: "Granted that he states only facts, it is still essential to know what are his emotions, what is his motive. It may be that twelve hundred men in Tottenham are down with smallpox; but we want to know whether this is stated by some great philosopher who wants to curse the gods, or only by some common clergyman who wants to help the men."
Or, some reporter hiding his pessimism behind claims of objectivity and pointing to setbacks to justify his cynicism and pessimistic prose.
Posted by: Tim at June 5, 2004 9:14 AM | Permalink
Pearls:Swine::Chesterton:Mark A. York
Posted by: Tim at June 5, 2004 7:08 PM | Permalink
Please... mass media is about ad revenue, not reporting. People love shit. The more shit, the more revenue. If it bleeds it leads. Your note and comments are in a fairy tale world. Look a few corporate levels above the editors and you'll find who controls the flavor of the news.
To report the successes in Iraq would simply "write down existing revenues" from outrage at Abu Graib, etc. NYT must be rakin' it in these days. That's all they talk about.
This is a more generic problem. The press tends to see everything international through the lens of how it affects US domestic politics, and that makes covering effective 'real-life' in other countries very difficult.
8336 http://www.texas-hold-em-i.com play texas hold em online here.
Posted by: texas hold em at October 11, 2004 1:45 PM | Permalink
Posted by: online texas holdem at October 13, 2004 10:06 AM | Permalink
Posted by: texas hold em at October 14, 2004 4:14 PM | Permalink
Posted by: debt consolidation at October 16, 2004 2:50 PM | Permalink
7979 http://video-poker.uni.cccheck it out! Video Poker yabba dabba doo
Posted by: Video poker at October 17, 2004 12:12 AM | Permalink
Hello. If you are owner of this site, delete this message, please. 123
Posted by: Bairon Bancks123 at October 18, 2004 3:18 PM | Permalink
Hello. If you are owner of this site, delete this message, please. 4321
Posted by: Bairon Bancks4321 at October 18, 2004 4:15 PM | Permalink
Hello. If you are owner of this site, delete this message, please. 4321
Posted by: Bairon Bancks4321 at October 19, 2004 4:42 PM | Permalink
Hello. If you are owner of this site, delete this message, please. 4321
Posted by: Bairon Bancks4321 at October 19, 2004 7:21 PM | Permalink
2866 You know anti wrinkle cream
Posted by: wrinkle cream at October 21, 2004 3:58 PM | Permalink
6188 online casino games
Posted by: casino games at October 22, 2004 9:28 PM | Permalink
3929 .Way to poker online.
Posted by: online poker at October 23, 2004 12:18 PM | Permalink
Could a journalist explain why, in pressthink, we're limiting the scope of the war on terror to attrition numbers of AQ, but not Hezbollah, and why we should be discussing AQ attrition numbers - as if it were a division of conventional armed forces?
battery, lithium batteries, alkaline batteries, carbon batteries , lithium battery, alkaline battery, carbon battery
Posted by: Douiaep at October 26, 2004 4:30 AM | Permalink
Posted by: Generic cialis at October 26, 2004 4:37 PM | Permalink
Posted by: jobs online at October 26, 2004 4:51 PM | Permalink
Posted by: free online blackjack at October 28, 2004 2:34 AM | Permalink
8764 Ttry playing online pokeronline.
Posted by: online poker at November 2, 2004 1:49 PM | Permalink