Monday, April 03, 2006

Oft interred with our bones

One of the persistent memes about the Iraq war that's bothered me almost since the war's first putative "ending" is the idea that the news media (or "MSM") is persistently over-reporting the bad news, thus causing public opinion to shift against the Mighty War Effort. I've long thought there was something fishy about this idea, which has come in such goofy varieties as "Per capita, the number of deaths in Iraq this month doesn't even equal the number of car traffic deaths per year in Casper, Wyoming!" Well, yeah; so?

I've read two highly interesting things the last two days pertaining to this very "Blame the media" idea. First is this post by "Armed Anonymous Liberal", over at Glenn Greenwald's blog, which specifically takes down an article by the unfathomably-popular Mark Steyn:

That sounds like something I might write. After all, this war has been "spun" from the very beginning. The American people were told that Saddam posed a grave and gathering threat; that he was in league with Al Qaeda and six months away from getting his hands on nuclear weapons. They were told the war would be quick and easy and would pay for itself. They've been treated to a string of premature declarations of victory and assured repeatedly that everything is going swimmingly when their own eyes tell them that it's not. It's no wonder they're a little disillusioned at this point.

Sadly, however, Steyn wasn't referring to any of these things I just mentioned. No, Steyn thinks the problem is that President Bush and Tony Blair have not made it sufficiently clear to the American and British people that this is really a war against Islam.


What scares me about the analogy between "this war" and the Cold War is that with Communism, we weren't opposing an ideology that really had a great chunk of the world devoted to it -- not in the same sense that Islam does. Communism is a political ideology that was used to pave the road for totalitarians over several decades; Islam is a religion that has been a major player on the world stage for almost 1,400 years. The historical lessons from the Cold War that can be brought to bear on "this war" are, in my estimation, very limited.

I also read this article in the Washington Post:

Anyone taking potshots at the "mainstream media" should read the description of what it's like to cover Baghdad that appears in the April/May issue of the American Journalism Review. The story opens with a description of NPR's Deborah Amos, dressed in Arab clothes, anxiously scanning the street for bombers and kidnappers as she heads for an interview in the protected Green Zone. And that's an easy assignment.


Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times showed what you learn out in the Red Zone in stories Sunday about the spread of gruesome revenge killings: "By conservative counts, nearly 200 civilian men have been executed in the past two weeks and dumped on Baghdad's streets. Many have been hogtied. Some have had acid splashed on their faces. Others have been found without toes, fingers, eyes." Gettleman, who had been away from Iraq for more than a year, wrote that something fundamental had changed: The violence had "turned inward" into sectarian warfare.

Lots of folks read something like that and say, "Why do they only report the bad stuff?" This always makes me want to scream.

Look at that bit again, about the sectarian violence: two hundred civilians executed, and their bodies mutilated, in two weeks, in Baghdad. And consider some perspective: According to this site, Baghdad's population is about 7.4 million people. Now, imagine if one of the two American cities of similar population, New York and Los Angeles, had become so violent that in two weeks, two hundred men had been murdered and their corpses mutilated.

And then imagine our outrage if, while an American city saw two hundred violent murders and executions on its streets, if the news media focused instead on the painting of schools and the opening of clinics and who knows what else.

As someone with issues of my own with the media, it would be nice if they'd realize that no matter what they do, they're going to get bashed by the Right. Every single network could become a mirror of FOX News, and they'd still get bashed by the Right as the "liberal MSM".

EDIT: I misattributed the post at Glenn Greenwald's blog.

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