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Friday, October 24, 2003

WE'VE MOVED!: Starting Saturday, October 25, Rantingprofs is moving to another site, which I hope you will find at least more attractive, and hopefully as I learn the software, more feature friendly as well. At a minimum, the new site will have trackback right from the start. So please bookmark the new address or click here:

Rantingprofs.typepad.com/rantingprofs/


A WAR OF IDEAS -- WITH THE SAUDIS: It's not like anyone should really need more evidence for the proposition that we are in the midst of a war of ideas with the Saudis, but people do not want to seem to believe that, like charity, that war may need to begin at home. Today's Wall Street Journal has a long article that, unfortunately, is not available on the web. Luckily, I'm a touch typist. But because it isn't available, I need to quote a length. "One Imam Traces the Path of Islam in Black America," begins: "In the burgeoning world of Islam in America, Imam Siraj Wahhaj is a star. In 1991, he was the first Muslim to lead a prayer before the start of a session of the House of Representatives. Then Secretary of State Madeleline Albright hosted him and other Muslim notables at a State Department banquet . . . One of the country's most popular Muslim preachers, he travels widely, extolling the Quaran to large crowds at immigrant Islamic centers, conventions and universities. But to his followers in Brooklyn's inner city Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood and elsewhere, the imam sometimes shows a different side. He has proclaimed that the 'real terrorists' are the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. In another of his sermons, widely available for purchase on audiotape, he says, 'In time, this so-called democracy will crumble and there will be nothing. And the only thing that will remain will be Islam.' Few religious leaders of any faith could rival Imam Wahhaj's combination of militant notoriety and mainstream honors -- a mix that says much about the complexity of Islam in the US today. . . . two powerful currents have come together in America, the black-separatist movement of the 1960s and 1970s and the training of Muslims, including Imam Wahhaj, in programs financed by Saudi Arabia."

i KNEW IT WAS THAT SPEILBERG GUY: "While decrying the events of Sept. 11, the Imam takes great pains to remain neutral about Osama bin Ladin. He says the al Qaeda leader's videotaped boasting about the attacks may have been a media ruse."

THIS PART IS REALLY SPECIAL: When the New York Daily News described the Imam (accurately) as an unindicted co-conspirator in one of the New York case's from the 1990s, his response to his congregation? "'I had dinner with Secretary of State Albright -- after the list' of unindicted coconspirators was circulated."

I WANT THE LIST: "The odds are the administration is still looking for another foreign policy crisis." General Wesley Clark on Hardball, in answer to a question as to whether he thinks the president is still "in sway" to the same neoconservative foreign policy approach that calls for a series of "take downs" he keeps saying was described to him in a corridor of the Pentagon. There's a list of seven countries, he keeps saying mysteriously. I don't expect him to reveal his Pentagon source, but I think he owes us that list. Or is this like that September 11th phone call?
TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE: There's something very important in this story (although of course it's buried.) Why all the Syrian jihadists in Iraq? They let them through to fight us in Iraq, so they make trouble for us and are out of the country which simultaneously provides a way for the Syrians to identify who their Islamist troublemakes are, then, if they live, they just detain them on their way back into the country (which may not make for a great incentive for them to go back into the mother country.)
MOCKED FRONT PAGE STORY OF THE DAY: Andrew Sullivan has all these cool daily features. I think this blog needs one, and apparently the New York Times is providing it.
DECODING RUMSFELD'S MEMO: That's the unintentionally hilarious title of the New York Time's lead editorial today. Because, you see, we're very lucky that unlike the rest of the us the Times has the secret decoder ring, which is why while we may debate the meaning of the memo, or even hear out our friends who may speculate as to whether or not it was a genuine leak -- the New York Times knows. "Mr. Rumsfeld is a canny player who knows exactly what he is doing when he drafts internal memos and makes them public." You just gotta love it.
ALL LINKS CORRECTED: Everything from this morning is now correct. Again I apologize, and hopefully within the next day or two the steps I have planned should result in a more user friendly (for me) and more attractive (for you) blog, possibly with more features as well. Thank you again for your continued interest and support for these critiques and comments.
BEGGING YOUR PARDON, AND ASKING YOUR PATIENCE: A reader who is also a blogger, and who is far more technically savvy than I, just emailed and explained that every link I posted this morning is bad -- and explained why. It isn't worth taking your time with the details of the mistake I made, but please accept my apologies. While I have found blogging to be a wonderful medium for the way I think and write, I often find the technical side, well, let's just say, daunting, and I am taking steps to try and overcome that in the next day or two. In the meantime, I am starting to correct this morning's mistakes immediately -- it should take about 15 minutes now that I realize what I did wrong. I greatly appreciate the interest and support from everyone who checks this site and is interested in the "rantings" of this particular prof, and I apologize again for this morning's difficulties.
MAYBE THE BAD NEWS HAS BEEN UNDERESTIMATED: If you are going to worry about balance on the one side, you have to worry about balance on the other.
BUT NORMAL ISN'T A STORY! Here's an interview with the man who supervised the Gallup surveys in Baghdad. His perspective is fascinating, but he is also a perfect example of the problem -- "why is normal a story?" It's that whole, "we don't report when a plane lands safely" attitude. Because the situation in Iraq hasn't been normal, that's why normal is the story in this situation.
YUP, THAT MARSH STORY WAS GREAT: What else ya got? Because it is true that the president's claim led to a (bad) debate over Iraq coverage that mainly proved the press didn't get the point, and that front page story in the Post about the return of life to the Marsh Arabs sure gets trotted out as an example an awful lot of the time. As to this AP story cited by this gentleman, it sounds wonderful. But you know, I know, and he knows -- wire service stories don't matter if they aren't picked up.
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH THIS? I have never believed race was a factor in the media frenzy surrounding Jessica Lynch, but because the media felt they got burned in some ways (burned themselves) in the way that story played out, still aren't sure of the some of the details they themselves reported early (but blame the Pentagon for that) and because by the time the second set of POWs was rescued they were taking a lot of heat for "cheerleading coverage," because they were not rescued in as spectacular fashion, the second set of POWs (I realize they were taken together, but they were rescued separately) never got the attention they deserved. For example, one of the most stunning images to come out of the war was one of the returning POWs popping out of the plane as it returned to the States, holding a huge American flag as the plane taxied -- that shot should have been everywhere, on every newspaper front page the next day, on both Time and Newsweek's covers that week, etc etc. But it just disappeared. I checked everywhere; I think I found it on one newspaper front page the next day. So this story is not that surprising in terms of the difference in visibility, but it is very disappointing in terms of the difference in benefits.
AN HONEST REPORTER SPEAKS: This article is more important that I can say. OK, I'll say. On the one hand, the opening paragraphs demonstrate that the press still does not understand what it is that those of us who are asking for balance in Iraq coverage want. I don't read the president as asking for anything much different than the rest of us -- don't airbrush out the truth of the negative, but stop airbrushing out the truth of the positive. The American people are not stupid, and if all we got from Iraq was happy talk school openings, we would know full well we were being spun. But we have no way of knowing that we are being spun if all we get is death and violence since it's a war zone, and the question is one of progress -- if we are told no progress is being made in a difficult situation, we have no recourse but to believe that, unless we do spend two hours a day searching the internet. But the rest of the article is stunning because almost never does the press admit that there is choice, selection, present in the process of shaping how we see events through the creation of how we see the news in the process of the production of news photos. They want us to believe news photos just show the world as it is -- and that is never the case.
PLEASE READ THIS IF YOU HAVE FREQUENT FLIER MILES: A new program would allow you to contribute those miles to troops on leave, since the military gets them only as far as BWI (Baltimore) but from there they're on their own to get the rest of the way, and that can be a heavy financial burden. Read more here.
Update: I don't know why this link won't go through. Go to www.foxnews.com, scroll to the bottom of the home page, and it is the first item under "Politics" on the left hand side.
Update: The link.
WHY, HERE'S ANOTHER GOOD QUESTION TO ASK: I think, frankly, that it is the case that Fox for the most part does have a conservative spin on the news. What amuses me is the idea that Fox is some kind of radically new media enterprise, a return to the times when outlets were affiliated with political parties. Please. It simply mirrors CNN. But I don't monitor PBS. Others, apparently, do -- and fairly closely.
DUDE, WHERE'S MY IRAQ NEWS? During the summer of 2002 the news networks, and the nightly news shows on the broadcast networks, took great heat for the amount of coverage they gave to stranger kidnappings. Despite FBI figures showing that the risk of having your child whisked away was actually down, the risk of being frightened by news coverage about having the risk of having your child whisked away was way, way, up. Soon it became clear that stranger kidnappings was 2002's version of shark attacks. Indeed, one independent media watchdog group found that the network nightly newshows spent thirty percent more air time on stranger kidnappings during the summer of 2002 than they had on shark attacks during the summer of 2001 -- despite swearing, after 9/11, that they had seen the light. After the tragedy of Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping, the level of absurdity truly reached new heights, with all three cable news channels covering live press conferences where the Salt Lake police came out and basically said, "well, we don't have anything new, but we're holding this regular press conference anyway so you people don't drive us crazy."

IT GOT WORSE: After the miracle of her rescue, wonderful news indeed, which deserved some level of coverage, we got instead an orgy of coverage -- for three days. The problem was she was found right on the brink of war, in mid-March, right as the second UN resolution was falling apart. Yet we heard one shrink after another speculating on whether she had been sexually assaulted (probably inappropriate at any time, but certainly when the press should have been thinking about the bigger fish they had to fry.)

AND NOW THEY'RE AT IT AGAIN: I've just been channel surfing again. Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Diana. I realize everyone has books to sell, but come on people. I'll say it again -- there's a reason we think the coverage might be skewed to the negative, and that reason is because the reporters stationed in Baghdad can't buy air time unless, God forbid, something or someone blows up over there. The only place hard news issues are being discussed right now that I can find? Joe Leiberman is being interviewed on Imus. Imus is an acquired taste, I realize, and a lot of people I know just can't stand his sense of humour -- but major news figures tend to migrate over there, and NBC reporters who can't get past the parade of celebraties on Today seem to get awfully long interviews over there. But Today did have a great segment on whether the crowd at that game last night made Kobe feel welcome.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

NEWS CYCLE ROUND UP: Iraqi police with US military acting on a tip stop a car bombing (a Syrian behind the wheel, note) reports Molly Henneberg on Special Report. Second raid, again acting on a tip, discover a large arms cache (after blowing up a small arms cache) incluidng 315 antitank mines and 100s of rockets. These reports matter. The details of success matter, the fact that tips started the balls rolling, matter. The fact that an American was killed today, others wounded, that's obviously tragic news, but these other elements of the report explain why and how that happened -- NBC and CBS report only that an American was killed in Iraq today. Doing what? For what purpose? What was accomplished through that death? Is it any wonder that polls suggest more and more Americans every month believe the war wasn't worth it? The news reports no longer give them any reason to believe that it is. What is being bought with these deaths -- how will people know if those we entrust with being our witnesses do not tell us?
Then there is a report of a bipartisan delegation of US Congresswomen. The Congresswomen visit a class of female police cadets and a hospital, reported by Dana Lewis (when did he move over to Fox?) and, frankly, do not distinguish themselves. Katherine Harris goes on and on about the oppression of women and how exciting it is to see them getting jobs. Now, look, there was plenty wrong with Saddam's Iraq (and plenty wrong for women, given that "rapist" was an actual government career) without us inventing things. She talks as if we just liberated Saudi Arabia, when the truth is Iraq was always the most progressive of the Arab countries, and women had all kinds of career opportunities. At the hospital it is noted the health budget is about to be quadrupled, a good thing, and there another Congresswoman, whose name I don't know, notes that the hospitals are in such wretched shape because of the embargo. Wrong again. The Oil for Food program was designed to allow humanitarian aid like, say, hospital equipment, into the country. Saddam was skimming in part by selling off things like hospital equipment on the black market, in part just by only providing hospital equipment to hospitals in areas that supported him, but it wasn't the actual sanctions program that kept the health system in tatters, but Saddam's manipulation of it.
All three networks start with Walmart's problem with the INS over the use of cleaning companies that are apparently using illegal immigrants. Two questions. First, this is so important all three came to the same conclusion, that it was the story of the day? Second, suddenly they're back to being "illegal immigrants" again, but when the question was whether California should give them drivers licenses that would let them get on airplanes they were "undocumented workers?" How does that work, exactly? NBC has more on the man in jail for laundering money between Libya and Syria, yet who was deemed legitimate enough to advise the Pentagon, meet with Clinton, serve as a "good with ambassador" for State. Here's what's annoying about this report -- they also mention that FBI Director Mueller met with an "organization founded by" this Alamoudi. Why the weasel words? Why not come right out and say it's the Council for American Islamic Relations? Could it be because they quote spokesmen for that group as if they were spokesmen for the Islamic community as a whole, despite complaints by many that in fact it's an extremist group all the time, most recently in response to General Boykin's comments?
On CBS, as ever, credit where credit is due, for once the ever depressed Kimberly Dozier gives it a rest and decides to see the glass as half full. Travelling with the 4th ID, while she sees the possibility that they "create new enemies" as their tactics "humiliate" people, they are trying to "tap networks" in place, and "get Iraqis themselves to keep the peace."

HOW DO YOU DEFINE FAWNING? This is fairly typical of the Western media's response to al Jazeera. They utterly buy into the networks's representation of itself, the image it wants to project to the Western world. When they show gory images of civilian casualties over and over and over, sending the message that the most precise bombing campaign in history killed no one but women and babies, al Jazeera says "we're keeping it real." And because American networks won't show bodies -- which is true, they do sanitize war coverage, but not because they're shilling for the administration, but because they won't show bodies, think about how local TV shows car wrecks, or national networks show plane crashes -- American journalists view them as more honest somehow, more authentic. So they just overlook (maybe because they don't speak Arabic, maybe because the reporters are hip, charming) the anti-Americanism, the shilling for Saddam. But we know the Iraqis kicked them out, suspended them. There are reports of Iraqi civilians trying to beat up on al Jazeera's reporters on the ground. So why the constant flow of gushing articles from enchanted media critics?
THERE WAS GOOD NEWS IN IRAQ: But good luck finding it. If a friend hadn't emailed me this article from the Post I wouldn't have been able to find it on their web site -- and I looked. Balance is also a question of placement -- this article, which talks about the 101st Airborne, a radically undercovered unit, a source of all sorts of Good News stories, now talking about reducing its "footprint" because it has had such success in standing up Iraqi security forces in its area, appears on page A-27.
SOMETHING IS MISSING: There is a piece of the puzzle missing. The number of attacks on US troops has apparently doubled, according to the US Commander, but there are obviously days when there is no attack that makes the news, and the number of deaths (thank God) has stayed constant. What question is the press not asking? Something does not add up.
WHERE IS KOFI ANNAN'S APOLOGY? That's what I want to know, when do we get an apology.
WHY, LOOK WHAT'S ON CNN! OK, I'm no fan of CNN generally, but at 8:43 a plenty thorough report from Sheila MacVicar on the Iraq donor's conference. Didn't hear that on the morning "news" shows. Lots of recipes, though. I know I sound like a breaking record on this point, but I just want people to ask themselves -- are you being well served?
I'M STICKIN' TO MY STORY: Eric Muller at isthatlegal, wonders if the leaked Rumsfeld memo is really a leak, and spins a variety of ways the memo could end up helping the SECDEF. In fact, he thinks it through so elegantly, and spins the situation so thorougly, you would think this blog originates inside the beltway and not Chapel Hill. But here's why I'm sticking to the story that it was a leak, that the DOD's publications of it are efforts to make the best of a bad situation, and that it is in fact a bad situation -- take a gander at the way the Washington Post's Bradley Graham spins the memo this morning. I haven't been through multiple papers yet, but I heard the nets last night, and I'm betting this ends up being the consensus vision.
BLOGGER WARS: I suspect most folks are already aware of this, but on the off chance you are not, the difficulty in logging on recently to Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Little Green Footballs, and others, now looks like an intentional Denial of Service attack that was ideolgoically motivated -- a sort of War on Terror blogger war, a hack that went after the highest traffic "war blogs." Instapundit has linked to the places explaining best how and why this happened, but the place to the get the fastest, clearest explanation if (like me) you aren't especially tech savvy is here. (You need to scroll down to it.)
WHAT DID THE AUSSIE SAY? Every clip I've seen shows the heckling Aussie Senator being warned, then escorted out, one shows Pres. Bush winning the crowd over by cracking, "I love free speech," but I still haven't been able to hear what it was the Senator thought was so important to yell out.
WHY DO THEY HATE US? Well, everyone who studies the Middle East has a theory, and I'm sure they're all very wise, but I study communications, and I have a theory of my own. At least part of why they hate us is this: they read the newspapers in their own countries, and those newspapers are controlled, and those newspapers don't make us look too good. So we can invest whatever we want in public diplomacy, but if we don't get our allies (yes, the same allies whose delicate sensibilities are so upset by General Boykin who associates terrorism with Satan, terrorism, not them) to open up their media to more messages, we're wasting our money. And, oh, by the way, that's not just why they hate us -- it's part of why they continue to be anti-Semitic as well.
WAS IT REALLY A SUICIDE ATTEMPT? Why, maybe the guy went over the Falls in a suicide attempt, in which case I retract my moron comment. I do not retract my "why is this getting so much attention" comment. He's all over the morning shows again today. I think a sentence saying "hey, it may have been a suicide attempt" is approriate but I see interviews, I see recaps, I even see (on ABC) a graphic explaining the science of how he survived. The science of how he survived? Who the hell cares? Meanwhile I'm surfing like a maniac and you know what I don't see? Now, now, "news from Afghanistan" isn't a fair answer, you know could say that any morning. I don't see any reports from Iraq. As always, could be a function of the surfing, but I betting not. So as always, the press mocks the president's arguments about the "filter" and about their only reporting the bad news, but the truth of the matter is -- no casualties, no reports. In a sense, no reports from Iraq can be interpreted as good news, but I'd appreciate a bit more detail, thanks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

YOU JUST GOTTA LOVE IT: Al Jazeera, busted.
NEW YORK TIMES ROUND UP: First of all, I know I feel better informed about the world for having this article on the front page. What is it, funny resturant story week? Again, I have no problem with these stories, it's these stories on the front page of the "A" section that I think a bit odd. As was inevitable, the editorial page finally weighed in on General Boykin. No surprise, they find his comments indefensible. You have to give them points for being totally explicit about what bothers them -- the General "makes remarks that espouse a single religious view and denigrate others" and which therefore "damaged the national security policy of the United States." I'm not going to continue repeating the same arguments over and over, but at least they are clear that for them espousing a single religious view is the same as denigrating all others. It's also nice to see the Times now on board the national security policy of the United States. But, for them, the "the inquiry seems like a waste of time." Well, that's good to know. Never want to waste time with those messy investigations, seeking the truth and what-not. And, they also point out that this, wait for it, hypocrisy from the Secretary of Defense, who did not hesitate to criticize other Generals (of course, he actually knew what they had said in full, which is part of the problem here) but of course, they didn't have the backing of conservative Christians, a critical campaign constituency, because after all, no one ever does anything but that it's politically motivated in the Times' world. They have two articles about the Shiia community. The first goes right back to arguing that al-Sadr is an influence, or at least that he would be "a natural choice" to be an influential leader, given his "substantial support." They want so badly to present a situation (or this reporter does) where we are on the brink of losing the Shiia community, they are almost literally tying themselves into knots. Sure, it's a disaster if we lose that community, sure, on paper the guy might be a great candidate for leading a popular uprising -- but there is no evidence we are losing that community, that does have influence, and even this reporter has to admit by the end of the article that that's because he's too young, he's an upstart, he pushed too hard with this stunt of "declaring" a government, which has actually cost him part of the support he did have -- and pushed the more important, older clerics closer to the Americans. In fact, the second article says upfront that "Since the war, Iraqis mostly moderate Shiite leadership has maintained good relations with the Americans backing the occupation and tempering the radical elements in their ranks like the Sadr." Hmmm. And right underneath the first article. Interesting.
NEWS CYCLE ROUND UP: Everyone, no surprise, is starting with the leaked memo, (except, did I click too fast, or did CBS start with school violence and the horrible newly released Columbine video?) and are saying about what you would expect. Deeper in the programs, are some things you might not expect. Molly Henneberg, on Special Report, again points out that things are about to get better for many ordinary Iraqis in a small but very tangible way as the nightime curfew is about to be lifted. And I'll ask the same two questions -- would the Coalition be doing that if the security situation were that dire? and will the other networks take notice of this? Simon Marks does the kind of good news story I was calling for the other night. Rather than going out and looking for some kind of happy-talk, human interest, there-has-to-be-something-we-can-put-a-good-face-on piece, this is a genuince piece of solid reporting that balances out the negative reporting on anti-American violence with a reason to be hopeful about progress on reconstruction. Story after story on the security situation in Baghdad has specifically mentioned kidnapping as a reason why citizens have been afraid to go out and rebuild the city -- today the Major Cases Squad of the new Iraqi Police, with support from the US Military busted a major kidnapping ring. And the piece itself is balanced, admitting "kidnapping is a new crime" since the end of the war, one that is spreading fast, part of a crime wave that has swept the city. US military officers say it has been "challenging to explain Western concepts" of suspects rights, but they're getting there (although it sure looks like that one guy is getting whacked around pretty good.)
NBC again does its "Iraq Watch" rather than a report from Iraq. Gone is Sanchez's quote from Henneberg's report that they can "expect more radical and desparate as they continue to lose resources," replaced by the simple fact that the "real danger is underscored" by the fact that attacks are now up to 35 a day. Here's my question. I don't mean at all to underplay the danger for troops in what is clearly a dangerous environment. But if the number of attacks (and I am still waiting to be told how many of those are us on the offensive, but put that aside) keeps going up, and the number of casualties keeps holding steady, what does that actually tell you about the alleged "increased sophistication" of this enemy? They may be more sophisticated in the mechanics of the bombs, but they obviously aren't doing anything beyond the capacity of the US troops to counteract.
Then, NBC has audiotape on the founder of the US military Muslim chaplin program, who as you may know is in jail after having been caught prepatory to taking money (from Libya) to Syria, which, as NBC shows former FBI Agent Steve Pomerantz saying, is an act it's difficult to come up with an innocent explanation for. He is on tape criticizing OBL, not for using violence, but for choosing his targets poorly. By going after embassies in Africa, after all, he got a lot of innocent Muslims and no Americans (he was wrong about that as it happens.) So, he wonders, why didn't he go after a "Zionist target, in America" or elsewhere. (I wonder if that will generate quite as many as editorials as NBC's last venture in playing tapes for investigative purposes?
CBS has new polling data showing a majority now believe the Iraq war wasn't worth it. Why, whereever would people have gotten that idea? Apparently the people of Baghdad (here's a new one) know something they don't know.
WAS THIS LEAK HELPFUL? A brainstorming memo from the Secretary of Defense to his inner circle of aides and confidantes was leaked. It can be read as a far ranging, useful attempt to ask "where are we now? are we where we ought to be? can we do better?" Or it can be read as admissions of failure, if you so choose. High level officials have to be free to ask the questions they need to freely and openly without fear of how those discussions might be spun. (Remember all the hand-wringing about what the publication of Bob Woodward's book while the Bush administration was still in office would do to open discussion at the highest circles of government as they went foward? Would conversations become stilted as various players inevitably began to ask themselves, "how will this play in the next Woodward book?") I could say more, but it's already been said at another blog (thanks to Instapundit, once again) although I have to say, I think treason is a bit much.
JOE LOCKHART IS OUTRAGED! Dover was off-limits to cameras during Desert Storm. The other incidents the article cites, where there were ceremonies for returning coffins, are hardly analogous. It's easy to have a ceremony for returning coffins when you are talking about the fallen for a specific and single event, such as the Nairobi bombing, as opposed to a war, where there will be casualties returning over an unspecified period of time. Nonetheless, frankly I think the policy is a mistake. As Afghanistan demonstrated, showing the dead arriving at Dover, like showing the wounded arriving at Ramstein, is a visible symbol of the nation's sacrifice. It may only anger those who already are angry even more, but it can serve to inspire those who need to remember the importance of what this war is all about. But the idea of Joe Lockhart being "outraged" over the manipulation of political symbols is pretty entertaining.
OH, THIS HEADLINE IS FAIR: The report clearly busts a variety of offenders before it gets to the US (say, Cuba.) Wonder if that last sentence might have anything to do with it? But the article itself is outrageous. The US military is "responsible" for the deaths of journalists? How? I presume they are talking about various friendly fire incidents and incidents where journalists got in cross fire. But the article makes it sound as if the reporters were intentionally targeted (which, of course, is exactly what they believe happened at the Palestine Hotel.) Just as annoying is the charge that the United States' behavior towards reporters trying to operate in Iraq is unacceptable -- without the slightest effort made in the article to explain to us what precisely the problem is. We're just supposed to take Reuters' word for it that the reporters are right, I presume. No thank you. I prefer a bit of explanation in my news, not just blatant assertions.
EXPLAIN THE PART ABOUT YOGA AGAIN: Notice no matter how many times the interviewer asks what drives a decision to go with a soft news cover, the editor of Time Magazine just ducks the question.
HERE'S ANOTHER QUESTION: If someone is stupid enough to go over Niagra Falls, (since everyone says this was a stunt, not a suicide attempt), why do we reward such stupidity with the attention that was precisely the goal of the effort? Isn't it exactly the fact that every morning show is interviewing somebody involved with this idiot that encourages people to do things this stupid? Just thought I'd ask. Say, couldn't that time have been devoted to an Iraq story? Just thought I'd ask.
FINALLY, A STORY THAT ADS UP: Everything we heard about Sadr City was that things were going well. Then there was this trouble with al-Sadr, and the New York Times wanted to peddle this idea that all the Shiia were about to turn against us. That didn't make any sense, but when they backpeddled off that, all we got were reports that his supporters -- with no clue how many there were -- were killing, and trying to kill, Americans, with no sense of how that played in the community. Now, the Washington Post weighs in, with a story with enough detail and substance that it gives you the sense you now know what is going on in that community.

TODAY ON TODAY! Diana! Elizabeth Smart! Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg! Why don't they just call this thing "People in the Morning" and be done with it. All the NBC reporters who have substantive reports make them on Imus anyway.
ONE THING TO KEEP IN MIND: This news story includes the actual wording from the money graf of the Warner/Levin letter, asking if General Boykin has put American lives at risk. My feeling is, once you've stepped aside "temporarily" for an investigation, you ain't comin' back. I have said this before, but it is worth saying again: if Boykin does step down, we should keep this episode in mind, so that if (let's face it, when) there is a single word out of either NBC or the LA Times about how the Bush administration hasn't yet found Saddam or Osama, we can all turn around, point a collective finger, and remind them that they helped weaken the office responsible for exactly those jobs. Because even if you believe this thin reed that knowing what the General said does put Americans at risk, it is knowing what the General said that does so. And there is still no evidence either that he ever said anything like the quotes being tossed around outside church, where our oh-so-sensitive allies' ears might have picked them, or a defense of the newsworthiness of this story given that the man was in church. This is media generated and media created.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE: (I apologize if this is a duplicate: it looks to me as if blogger ate my post, so I'm retyping it.) CNN's Newsnight adds a new wringle to the Boykin story. In their somewhat overdramatic tease, "two US Senators claim the General's statements may be endangering the lives of US troops" serving in Muslim countries. Introducing the piece, Aaron Brown notes that the General became controversial by suggesting that the War on Terror may be "a religious battle." It is this kind of narrative frame that is both disingenuous and damaging. Certainly the General's claim that the enemy is evil itself, perhaps the physical body of Satan himself, makes clear that he believes this to be a "religous" battle, but without making that clear through extensive quotations from the General, the statement in the current context makes it appear to the casual viewer as if the General has been suggesting that the war is a war with Islam, and no one has said or been able to prove that the General has ever said as much. Then comes the piece from Jamie McIntyre. Senate Armed Services Chair Warner has asked the General to step aside "without prejudice" while an investigation proceeds. He and Ranking Member Levin question whether Boykin demonstrates "sound judgement" in that he has "denigrated another religion" (how? by saying it's false?) and has "perhaps increased the risk to service personnel." Well the worm has certainly turned now, hasn't it. But if you believe there is possibly any credibility to this idea, then I would ask you to ask yourself this question -- was the risk to US service members increased by what the General said, in these obscure little church services in Nowhere, Oklahoma, and Offthebeatentrack, Oregon -- or by NBC and the Los Angeles Times? and who will hold them accountable for what they have done? I love McIntyre's wording, as he speaks about "portraying the investigation as something the General asked for," the obvious implication being that seeing an investigation as inevitable the General asked for one himself to get out in front of the wave. Could well be. Got proof? Like CBS earlier in the evening, McIntyre repeats the General's comment about worshiping an idol, but unlike CBS, in conversation after the piece with Brown, McIntyre does make clear the General has issued clarifying comments. (Although he says that "in full context" it seems that "idol" refers to Allah.) He ends by saying that the question is not whether the General has the freedom to say what he did, he does, the question is whether what he said "undercuts the Bush administration's stated policy that Islam is not the enemy." How in the world does anything the General say do that? When did we say to believers in this country that respecting other faiths means keeping silent about the fact that you do not believe in them? Is that respect, or pandering? Why do we never ask our allies to respect our traditions and sensibilities? And wouldn't the tradition that says that we believe that people who believe different things to be true -- and know that of one another -- can live respectfully in one community -- be a good place to start? One of the goals, apparently of public diplomacy, is to begin to communicate to the Islamic world what American values are. Maybe this would be a good place to start. As for the jihadists -- face it. They hate us anyway.
REUTERS STRIKES AGAIN: Little Green Footballs is absolutely right. This headline for that story is absurd. On the bright side, they have finally found a way to use the word "terror." But note that I was right too, when I suggested back a week or so ago after Tom Friedman's column the day before this report was to be released that it was likely to get virtually no pick-up at all.
THE LAST LINE CROSSED, THE LAST PROMISE BROKEN: After September 11th, the press said over and over, we have seen the light, brother! We were lost, but now we're found! And everyone, from the reporters on the ground, up to the top money people, said we are re-energized and reborn to our journalistic roots. They strayed, they said, during the '90s, with too much celebrity journalism, "news you can use," infotainment, and replacing "parachute journalism" when big crises broke for actual overseas bureaus, which were shut down in droves. We will do what it takes, they said, to follow this story through, and we will not go back to the errors of our ways. So what's happened? The return of celebrity journalism (anyone up for another story on Ben and Jen?), news you can use (how much do you know about headaches, ebay, and what babies learn in the womb?) and there are so few reporters in Baghdad they keep saying they don't have the resources to cover anything in another city. (Oh, by the way -- remember Afghanistan?) But the ultimate example of where they had strayed that they used was the obsessive coverage of the death of Diana. This morning on Today, they mentioned the butler's book and it's conspiracy theory. Fair enough. But did they need to interview the executive editor of People magazine? (And what does it tell you that it was the editor of the ultimate paragon of celebrity journalism that they turned to?) And the story will be stretched as far as they can stretch it. Tomorrow, on Today, did Diana predict her own death? How many stories for how many days on how many shows? Let's not pick on Today. It seemed to be running all day on cable. Where will the butler be interviewed? How long will the story run? Keep an eye out for this over the week, and everytime you see this story ask yourself -- what isn't being covered so that they could do this instead? Is this the news coverage I want? Is this really my preference?
HOW DO YOU DEFINE CLUE FREE? When I read Hugh Hewitt's description, I was totally prepared to be profoundly offended by this Boston Globe editorial. Instead I just found it almost funny. The list of things this man doesn't get is, well, quite long. Yes, Christians do in a sense denigrate other religions, if by denigrate you mean "believe to be not true." That doesn't mean we are prepared to wage war on every believer of every other religion. This is such a distortion of what Boykin is reported to have said, that the true enemy in this war is not Islam, but evil, is really quite laughable. I am not going to apologize for the fact that holding my faith to be true means that I believe Islam to be false. I have never been anything but kind or respectful to the Muslims I have encountered, and in fact it is the dictates of my faith -- you know, that whole love thing the editorialist mentions -- that have served to guide me in my behavior towards them as towards all other people. And it has yet to be proven or even suggested that the same is not true of the General. So I'm sorry if when I say "I am a believing Christian" I happen to mean it, the same way the General does (if not the same in the particulars) and the same as millions of other Americans. What the editorialist wants be "inclusivist" isn't a "loving" religious person but one who doesn't really mean it when they say they believe in religion X or religion Y, because they're all the same, aren't they? Isn't one just as good as the other, since all are ways to worship God? And I am little sick and tired of the denigration of what it is to be an American believer. Isn't there something truly wonderful about saying "I am absolutely convinced that your belief system is utterly wrong. Welcome to America, go two blocks and turn left to find your house of worship." If you are worried about belief turning to violence, it isn't the General I'd be worried about.
EDUCATOR'S DILEMNA II: One other thing about teaching in today's media environment. Any academic will tell you that the fastest way to get a room full of college kids (much less the high school kids the World View educators have to deal with) snickering loudly is to start a sentence, "Why, when I was growing up . . ." I'm not that old, but I have reached that frightening benchmark where I am the age of at least some of their parents. But I tell them periodically -- "When I was growing up (I grew up in a major media market) three networks, one channel that aired reruns of fifties sitcoms, and a PBS outlet." This just stuns them. I mean their jaws drop -- we simply live in a totally different media world. They can't even imagine the world of the '80s where all computers were dos, and only the truly adventuresome had email. (Of course, once I say, "and no clickers" I've lost them. At that point I might as well be telling them I walked five miles to school barefoot in the snow. I have yet to break the news, mind you, this was all in black and white. They wouldn't believe me anyway.
MAYBE IT WOULD BE EASIER IF YOU TOLD US WHAT WASN'T THE PRESIDENT'S FAULT: I've stayed out of the Krugman wars -- why enter an established market? -- but today's column was really too much. Yes, it is actually George W. Bush's fault that Mahathir made anti-Semitic remarks. Wow. You know, I remember a debate argument floating around the intercollegiate debate circuit about "shunning" Malaysia because of Mahathir's anti-Semitic comments back when I was last coaching in the mid-1990s. I wonder if that was somehow W's fault too. You can never tell with Krugman. And, yet again, this gets linked to Boykin. But at least Krugman is explicit about the link he sees: "And bear in mind that that Mr. Mahathir's remarks were written before the world learned about the views of Lt. Gen. William 'My God is Bigger Than Yours' Boykin. By making it clear that he sees nothing wrong with giving an important post to someone who believes, and says openly, that Allah is a false idol -- Gen. Boykin denies that's what he meant, but his denial was implausible even by current standards -- Donald Rumsfeld has gone a long way toward confirming the Muslim world's worst fears." So, since of course we never take anyone at their word, we assume the worst possible interpretation. Well, let's assume that's true and Krugman is correct. First, I love that "and says openly." I am still waiting for anyone to come up with a single instance of the General saying something along these lines in a context where it would have offended a Muslim ally had it not been published in the LA Times and taped in a semi-private setting. What is "in the open" to mean? Do active duty military (or anyone with hopes of serving in a high level capacity) have the right to participate in churches in a way that involves speaking at services or not? Apparently not, the way things are going. Second, let's take the worst possible interpretation, that the good General believes Islam is based on a false God.

HOW OFTEN DOES THIS NEED TO BE SAID: Let's go through this one more time. As a believing Christian, by definition, you cannot and do not believe in the truth of Islam, anymore than any believing Muslim will believe in the truth of Christianity. As Americans, we believe in the right of other people to believe -- in the false religion of their choice. That's what makes the freedom of religious worship such a powerful concept. We are by definition believing in the right of the other guy to be wrong in complete dignity and freedom. Tell the allies to learn to live with it. We do. And we're quite proud of the outcome. If there is no evidence of Boykin being disrespectful or discourteous of Muslims, he is just living like any other American, albeit one who tends to express himself in his off hours in ways that tend towards the impolitic. But what the press has yet to deal with is that his expression of ideas he had every right to express would not have been a problem in terms of his ability to do his job had they not been publicised. This is not only a press-driven, it is a purely press created scandal.
EDUCATOR'S DILEMNA: Well World View went well, and it was once again really inspiring to see the number of educators willing to give up their time to come find ways to improve and turbo charge what they're doing. The biggest and most visceral response I got from the audience, without a doubt, was when I suggested that the Internet poses unique challenges to educators, because the kids love their surfing -- but haven't a clue how to evaluate the comparative quality of what they come up with. They just don't have the sophistication to make a distinction between nytimes.com and crazyguyinabasement.com and that's what the game is in education these days. We used to have to take them into the library (drag them in) and try and teach them how to do research, how to find the materials. That was true fifteen, even ten years ago. Finding materials isn't a worry today because they all love their Google. But today the challenge is teaching them what to do with those materials once they have them in hand, how to distinguish good from bad, useful from not useful. The question that had the most resonance with the crowd was "how do you teach them what a 'good' web site is?" My answer was the biggest thing was to remind them over and over that it wasn't necessarily (once you weren't talking about sites attacked to established media, but were looking at personal web sites) the ones with the best and flashiest bells and whistles. Kids love bells and whistles. But that crazy guy in the basement probably has a lot of time on his hands to make that site look really, really, cool.
IS THE LA TIMES HAPPY NOW? Secretary Rumsfeld just announced at the Daily Brief that as of an hour ago General Boykin requested an IG review -- and that it is open question whether it will be at the Service level, the Department level, or both. So the self-generated scandal, which would have been no scandal at all if it had not been actually reported, has picked up steam. Are you happy now? (I'll blog extensively in response to various op-eds later in the day.)
THE PEOPLE'S UNIVERSITY: The morning news cycle blogged incompletely until tonight I'm afraid. Let's say you're a world class university in a state where education budgets have been slashed, and with many rural counties. How do you fulfill a mandate to be "The People's University?" Well, one way is a wonderful program I'm proud to support called World View, where several times a year teams from high schools across the state come to Carolina for a day and a half program on topics of international flavor, and we give them the resources they need to integrate those topics into the curriculum. If you teach in a small town where no one locks the doors, and the resturant is Pizza Hut (and there are towns like that in this state, because we get kids from those towns coming to campus every year), and you've been teaching for ten years, where would you go in the normal course of events to get a good solid package of material on -- September 11th, Latin America (there is an increasing Hispanic presence in North Carolina), globalization. You know you need to integrate those topics into your classes, that everything you have in your text books is out of date by the time you get the book, but not necessarily where to start. The World View people do an amazing job of putting together a day and a half one-stop-shopping program, workshops, materials, and lectures from faculty. So this go round is globalization, and I'm off to lecture this morning on "The Communication Revolution." Think good thoughts, it's a tough crowd.
HERE WE GO AGAIN: I had thought this had settled down, but I am profoundly disappointed to see the Post follow the LA Times lead and link General Boykin with the distasteful, racist remarks of the Malaysian leader. There has yet to be an acknowledgement by the press that it is they who made these remarks available to Islamic allies so that they could become uncomforable and start to use them to score political points -- I still doubt Egyptian intelligence is staking out Baptist churches in Oklahoma and Oregon and no one has yet produced evidence to prove me wrong on that, or to suggest the General has said inappropriate things in inappropriate contexts. And, honestly, this idea that because when he looks at intelligence he sees the hand of evil he somehow is disqualified is so laughable one hardly knows what to say. Aside from the fact that presumably there would have been some evidence of poor performance in his record -- and to date his record is the one thing everyone agrees on; it is exemplary -- some people look at Osama and see the face of evil. Some see the face of religious zealotry gone to absurd extremes. And some see the face of a madman, of utter insanity. As long as those differing perspectives do not interfere with the ability to filter intelligence reports, what the hell do I care? But the suggestion that a metaphorical discussion of what satellite imagery meant in a church meeting means that the man was incapable of seeing tactical data in real world terms is such a stretch as to suggest that those making the argument are literally grasping at straws. Further, again, there in no evidence whatsoever the General has ever been discourteous or disparaging of believing Muslims who are not terrorists. We can ask no more. Belief in a given faith demands of us by definition that we discount the truth value of all other faiths. What, I ask again, is the big deal? No Muslim would ever suggest Christianity was true and no thinking Christian would condemn him for that. To condemn the General for statements made in the semi-private surroundings of church is to make it impossible, not just for active duty military, but for any high ranking government official who might interact with Islamic allies, to participate freely in their own faith traditions. Did the General say things I would not have said? Sure. But were his comments racist, rising to the level of what Mahathir said? Hardly. He has apologized, he has explained his remarks more fully, they were made in a semi-private situation. Our allies, who gave Mahathir a standing ovation, can learn that we also have sensitivities, that we do not make every decision based on the need to walk on egg shells regarding their sensitivities, and that we do not deprive ourselves of the capabilities of our most competent terrorist hunters because they took the idea that they also have the right to practice their religion freely seriously.
HERE'S WHAT'S IMPORTANT ABOUT THIS: Whether Human Rights Watch is right about the nature of the environment, and therefore the standards that ought to be implied to these situations is one thing. (In other words, if it is peacetime, you would think the risk of a bad guy getting away was less than the risk of injuring innocent civilians. It's why FBI agents don't fire on a crowded street when they think -- but are not 100 percent positive -- the guy down the street is their suspect. In war time, the balancing of risks change, and the risk of a bad guy getting away may be greater in a particular circumstance -- especially if he's still firing than the risk that innocents in the area will be harmed if you fire back.) But bracket that issue for a moment. Human Rights Watch has devoted enormous energy and attention into the issue of counting civilian casualties on the battlefield. Why that counting matters is a topic for a whole 'nother day, but in a nutshell, these on the ground studies are important as counterweights to some of the "studies" floated about that are purest propaganda, based on "media reports" and not real work on site, but which have gotten enormous media attention because they pump up the body count. When someone tells you "hundreds" or "thousands" of innocent Iraqis have been killed during the occupation -- remember this article.
THIS ISN'T GOOD NEWS: But it's subtle and nuanced and actually leaves me feeling like I'm better informed after reading it than before about the situation in Iraq. And that's what makes the Post the best paper in the country -- sorry, but I just can't imagine this article being in the Times.
A TOUCH ANNOYING: On the Washington Post homepage blares the headline: Web Feeds Pain Management: that is a fairly inaccurate description of the article, which speaks to web doctor's prescribing for patients they have never met and therefore feeding addiction, and the fact that you get a different headline when you click on the article suggests the Post knows that. Legitimate pain management has enough difficulty without consistently being confused with illegitimate practice in this haphazard sloppy fashion.

Monday, October 20, 2003

COME AGAIN? I'm not saying they should lock box-cutter boy up for life, but I think Congressman Ed Markey on Newsnight may be taking things a bit too far in the opposite direction. The kid had "no criminal intent" (ok, maybe I can be talked into that one) was trying to perform "a public service" (oh please) and is "obviously a patriot." Obviously a patriot? For smuggling box cutters onto passenger airliners? Are you just batty? Maybe you could make that argument if after going through the machine he turned around and said "ha ha, gotcha, I just got a box cutter through the machine," but he left those packages on those planes for five weeks. He wants to make a point, he gets to his destination and hands the package to the stew on his way off the plane. Oh, you say, that's TSA's fault. Fine. Tell him to call a press conference. What kind of bizarre stunt was this? How does he know who was going to discover those packages while he blithely waits for TSA to respond to his email? If he wanted to make a point there were a dozen better ways for him to proceed that wouldn't have involved actually leaving packages with dangerous objects on airplanes unattended. And Markey wants to turn this nut job into some kind of a hero because he just happens to say he did it to embarrass TSA? The fact that it did embarrass TSA should not for a second keep us from wondering why the kid chose this utterly wierd way of going about it. Let's try and avoid turning every nut with a scheme into a hero just because the scheme happens to have a happy ending when it could just as easily have gone south, shall we? And as to Markey's plan for punishment -- give him community service working security at airports -- first of all, I thought it was us PC college professors who were supposed to have the bad reps for coddling kids. And second, would you really feel better boarding a flight checked out by someone with this kind of judgement? It's all too easy for Markey to suggest this: he doesn't fly out of RDU.
NEWS CYCLE ROUND UP: I appreciate Fox's effort to balance the good with the bad, but we want substantive good news, not for them to wander around looking for up-beat, happy talk human interest stories, which is really how I categorize what we got tonight from Simon Marks, generally a fine correspondent. The race track is back in business, only for the first time in 30 years, the races aren't rigged to let Uday and Quesay's horses win. Well, that's nice, but unless this is the very center of Baghdad social life, I don't know how central a story this is. And, really, the cliche alarm is ringing off the hook -- "all them say in the new Iraq, they're winners." "Everyone seemed to be chomping at the bit . . ." blah blah blah. However, credit where credit is due, Brit Hume says (from my notes, I may be off a word or two) "Kobe Bryant, for those of you who are interested, has been bound over for trial." Now that's how you cover that story!
ABC starts with the story of box cutter boy. Yes, he saw it as civil disobedience/social activism (what happened to picketing? these kids today.) What has people a little bit, oh, touchy, is that he emailed his intentions a full five weeks ago but that didn't seem to have gotten the government's attention. And why the rapid location of the culprit? He signed his own name. Let me tell you, by the way, how delighted I was to find out it was RDU he was smuggling his goodies through.
NBC uses a common rhetorical device when talking about the new tapes from the jihadists. To make themselves look cooler, and avoid admitting this is a story that every media outlet under the sun has, the phrase they use is "NBC has obtained" (sometimes they will instead say "we have learned.") Sometimes that means "we read it in the New York Times," in this case it means, we got it off the web. But in this instance it isn't until late in the story, and only as a throwaway line, that they admit that these tapes were made available via an Al Queda web site. I think that's a mistake. I think that should have been a huge part of the narrative -- this is on their own web site because this is what they want you to see about them, this how they wish to present themselves to the world.
Back on CBS, Kimberly Dozier says today there were 43 attacks, clearly a higher number than yesterday. Should we be concerned? I don't know. How many of them did we initiate? Where were they? How long did they last? Dozier gives us no sense of the overall tactical situation. But, boy oh boy, is she upset about the emotional ramifications. Tension, tension, tension. Are our soldiers tense? I would be shocked if they weren't. But what does that mean? Soldiers are in harms way. Wouldn't that produce the kinds of tension she describes? You would think they were frail flowers the way she produces piece after piece built around the issue of the fact that soldiers are nervous about being in harms way. Wouldn't it be more worrisome if they weren't nervous when they went out of secure areas? These men and women are volunteers in harms way to protect our security, and we should be grateful for their willingness to confront risk, but the issue is whether the mission is worthwhile. The fact that soldiers have to face down "nervousness and tension" hardly outweighs the value of this mission unless you start with the assumption that the mission is worth very, very little to begin with.
Back over at NBC they make a mistake that I find very annoying. Oneof the things that has been true of the coverage of the war on terror from the beginning is that mistakes and errors linger for news cycle after news cycle, while victories seem to disappear the next day. Ned Colt, talking about al Queda's presence in South Asia, notes that their local franchise, Jemah Islamayah, had big plans for Singapore, including blowing up the US and other embassies (actually it went further than that -- had that plan gone down in December 2001 it would have been quite the terrorist spectacular, rocking the island to its core.) But, he says, the US embassy "is all but impenetrable" so they moved on to soft targets, like Bali. No. That may be part of why they moved on to soft targets after the cell planning the assault on Singapore was picked up and arrested just in the nick of time based on intelligence discovered in Afghanistan -- surveillence videotapes of the target sites. But no one remembers that important victory because it was announced, then just sort of disappears, and no one ever talks about that huge triumph of American intelligence. How many lives were saved when the American, British, Aussie, Israeli embassies, facilities housing US naval personnel, hotels catering to them, and US and British warships weren't bombed? given that some of those targets were hotels and bus stops, how many of those lives would have been innocent civilians, Singaporeans, tourists, businesspeople? It's a victory that should be remembered, not dismissed with the idea the terrorists just "moved on" when they surveilled our embassy because it's well built.
READ HEWITT FOR HIMSELF instead of Kurtz's interpolation here. There are three segments running all the way down the page.
A QUESTION HALF ANSWERED: Not unusual with Howard Kurtz. So basically, the LA Times had a scoop with the Christian General story, but gave up the scoop because they thought letting people see the video was more incendiary and would get its story more attention (it worked: that's what got my attention.) And it's clear from this brief account why Arkin pursued the story once someone tipped him: he was incensed by Boykin's beliefs. But what tipped him? (or rather, who?) How did he get those tapes? Surely he hasn't been investigating the man to the point of following him to church?
I LOVE THIS STORY: Why won't they all get the clue -- who applauded? Regular people. Who was appalled? Journalists. Clue in -- we've had it!
A SYSTEM BASED ON COMPLICITY: I can't remember who said it -- it may have been the very wise Kanan Makiya, always worth listening to -- but someone said that part of the profound evil of the Iraqi state was that it was constructed in such a way as to force everyone to become complicit. And part of what we may have underestimated is the difficulty of moving from that to a true civil society. But we did not underestimate the importance, indeed the urgency, of doing so, for such a state becomes a cancer in the international system, among other things.
WELL, I FEEL BETTER: The first Today Show segment is yet more Kobe. Think about that for just a minute. In the Headlines segment they do a piece on the start of the sniper trial, but in the slot reserved for longer coverage, for interviews, for in-depth analysis (well, as close as Today gets), the trial they focus on again is the one with the celebrity basketball player that has been chewed over endlessly for weeks, not the one which has gotten comparatively little attention, but which centers on the crime that did, after all, paralyze the nation's capital for a bit of time. I was no fan of the absurd speculative coverage of the sniper situation, and I hope they don't turn that trial into a circus, but it does seem as if they ought to at least pay some attention to it. Only in the second segment do they get to the box cutters found on the planes. But they treat this story not as a story about homeland security but as yet another crime. Who is this kid? What is he like? Do his classmates like him? Are you completely insane? I'm getting on a plane tomorrow, what possible difference does it make to me what kind of a kid he is? I have one question -- are there more box cutters out there and is it going to impact my safety? Now, no one knows more about homeland security than my friend Randy Larson, and he says it's not a crisis -- but he says that on CBS. NBC says it's important to prosecute the kid to deter all the other little munchkins out there planning to test the system. Since when is that our biggest security concern? I'd like to know what this little escapade has to say about the soundness of the system, and NBC has nothing to offer me on that score.

ANOTHER BROKEN PROMISE AFOOT: One of the examples the media used in their various mea culpas about how they had gone astray in the '90s but had seen the light after 9/11 was almost inevitably the way they covered Princess Diana, the ultimate example of celebrity trumping substance. Have they gone back on their promise to right the wrongs of the past? We shall soon see -- CBS is reporting apparently explostive new revelations in a new book by Diana's Butler. Let's see how much attention he gets.
WHAT IS BALANCE? Notice there is almost no Iraq news in the New York Times today. What does it mean to be "less negative" in the coverage? It doesn't mean to take the article about soldier's deaths, and stuff them inside the paper (the article is right on the home page, but in the paper copy, that article is actually on page A6.) Especially when what is on the front page is some article about a resturant guide. Real balance would be taking the pop culture nonsense off the front page in a time of war, putting the bad news on the front page, but also going out and finding out about the positive things that are going on and also reporting them on the front page.
WHY WE NEED EXPERT ANALYSIS OF EVERY TAPE: I said yesterday I thought the tone of the coverage of the OBL tape was pretty good, but I wished the tape had been used as a platform for a bit more analysis. There's a reason for that -- there are people in this world who can sit down with these texts and see far more in them than the rest of us (especially when the mainstream media don't give the rest of us more than the sentence or two we expect to hear, leading us to believe there isn't anything new.) After every tape is released every network should make a practice of calling in its people who do this for a living, we might all learn something.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

WHAT'S IN THE NEWS TODAY? Jane Arraf does a report from Baghdad for Wolf Blitzer's Sunday Chat show, and says several things that don't ring right. First, she notes that the leave program is helping morale because "at least it's some link back to their families" since the communication has been so poor. This makes no sense. Hasn't morale been a problem because with email so widely available the troops and the families always know exactly what the disconnects are between what the families were told, what the units were told, and what the press reports were, about how long units would be staying deployed and what their likely rotation dates were? Aren't there troops blogging from Iraq, for God's sake? Obviously what your level of email access is is going to be is entirely dependent on where you are stationed in Iraq -- there have been reports of commanders of the 101st working very hard to get semi-permanent structures in place so that at least the troops can get real food as opposed to MREs, that kind of thing, and we also know from accounts on the internet that at least some troops get 10 minutes of phone time every 10 days. I'm sure if you are in that situation that seems like absolutely nothing, but it's a far cry from having the leaves be the only communication link with the families. It's this kind of generalization, where what is no doubt true for some units somewhere becomes a flat statement of fact with no qualifiers which is what makes the press so open to the charge of "overly negative" reporting. The other thing she says (and she has said it several times over the last day or two) that doesn't sound right to me (and of course is said with no explanation) is that there is particular tension between American troops and the Shiia in Karbala and Najaf. But why are there any American troops in Najaf at all? In late September there was a ceremony marking the transfer of authority from American troops to Spanish, when the 1st Marine Division went home. Has there been a change? Are there still Americans there for some reason? Maybe I'm not negotiating the CENTCOM web site properly, but I can't find anything like a map that would show which units have responsibility for which areas. Maybe Arraf is onto something here, but there's no explanation, only assertion, and an assumption we won't remember the change that occured back in September.

FOR THE NIGHTLY NEWS CYCLE she sticks in at 6pm "It's not all bad news" after all the bad news, and a few sentences about how in Kirkuk they are celebrating their ability to teach their children in Kurdish, and even in Turkish. But again, unlike Fox, that isn't a balancing stand alone piece, it's a few sentences awkwardly stuck at the end of a piece about all the bad news. Is CNN feeling pressured to "balance" the negative reporting? Do they really think this approach either provides proper context or completely informs us about what's going on in Kirkuk? What they did last night was balance. This is a few sentences stuck on at the end of a bad news piece. Then of course more reporting about that big New York Times front page piece on the State Department study, complete with response pieces from various Democrats. And a nice piece on Homeland Security efforts to upgrade the security of buses, including not just upgrades of the buses themselves, but teaching the bus drivers how to be more vigilent. Good deal. I have to say, the coverage of the OBL tapes has been decent -- coverage of the tapes, he's there, we refuse to be panicked by the fact that he's there, but the threat continues kind of a tone. I'd like it if they had used it as a platform to talk more about the threat and what it means, that there is a threat here too, but at least it hasn't been ignored, which had been the pattern with these tapes for a long stretch of time.
CBS goes to the always depressing Kimberly Dozier. Because there were 22 attacks today, she notes that to an American soldier, whenever they walk out the door there is always "a good chance someone will try to kill them." Really? Everywhere in the country? What's 130,000 divided by 22? (and how many days has it been 22, anyway?) And how many of those 22 were instances where American soldiers went on the offensive and initiated the attack? She interviews several troops who, under prompting, admit they get "butterflies in the stomach." Where are they? With what unit? See problems with rampant generalizations, above.
Here's a question I have not broached -- does the media have an anti-military bias? Part of the reason I haven't broached it is that I don't think "the media" have much of anything. What media -- print, broadcast, cable, opinion journalism? Even within those categories, the differences between the different networks -- or even within a single networks' news division -- can be impressive. I think it makes more sense to ask if a single reporter or a single show has such a bias. But here's one test for such a bias. When you look at the tone, the text, the argument, ask yourself: the way the piece is set up, is there any way the military could possibly win with these people? That's the question you would have to ask about the CBS piece on the leaves program. What's the problem with the program as it's currently constituted? Well, it's fatally flawed, essentially, because -- eventually the troops have to go back to Iraq. They have found a Guardsman to talk to who won't (one of what they concede is not a staggering number, as there are now all of 8 who are AWOL. Which is interesting since the military doesn't use that term anymore, but I digress.) They interview a "Veteran's Advocate" who'd been getting calls, but I'm not sure we call someone a Veteran's Advocate when he's talking to people who are still in who just don't want to report back to their units. Of course Stars and Stripes comes up, but here's the kicker line -- "knowing the breaks are temporary creates anxiety." So, if there aren't leaves, the military is keeping families apart, but if there are leaves, the military is creating anxiety. What's a Defense Department to do? Well, clearly, stop sending troops back would work, wouldn't it?
Over at NBC, Tom Aspell is in Fallujah with the 82nd Airborne and notes that the situation is tense, but also points out that the morning after tossing a house, they went back to offer apologies and compensation. And the family refused, saying it was their duty -- although many in the town would not have responded that way. That's what a balanced report looks like. Note: reporters say, oh, it's tense, it's a security nightmare, blah blah blah all the time. One thing to look for. While doing this report Aspell was wearing kevlar. Nine times out of ten they go on and on about how tense things are while standing there in a polo shirt. If it's that tense, and you're that worried, why aren't you in your vest, pal? Just something to keep an eye out for.
HOW INFLUENTIAL IS THE NEW YORK TIMES? What's been the big story all day long? That the New York Times is reporting that before the war the State Department did a study that predicted everything and the Pentagon chose to ignore it. Read the story (I linked it below.) I'm telling you, there's nothing new there, no "there there" so to say. But the broadcast nets all bit, and just keep repeating the headline, "State predicted it, DOD ignored it, State predicted it, DOD ignored it." As inter-agency gamesmanship, it's brilliant, as the DOD has been put on the defensive all day long responding to the story, explaining they did integrate the study, they did respond to the study, yes, they have already mea culped their way through the fact that they probably should not have disbanded the army, and so on and so forth. The Times may or may not be participating in an agenda in reporting this the way they did, with the big splashy headline, playing it up like it's a big exclusive. It may not be buying into State's poltiical agenda -- it may just want to make it look like it got a scoop that was worth a lot more than it was. But where's the rule that says the broadcast people have to pretend that the New York Times' world is the real world? That's the power of the Times in today's media environment.
AND THEN AGAIN: awhile back Wolfowitz claimed al Jazeera was broadcasting false information from Iraq that was incendiary, and alot of people gave him grief for that (while al Jazeera demanded an apology, even though the New York Times had also reported that there had been unrest in Najaf around a Wolfowitz visit because of false information in the same al Jazeera report.) Check out this blogger from Iraq on how al Arabiya does its business (thanks to Instapundit.)
HOW TO SPIN A POLL (OR A SURVEY): Everyone is precisely right, and this is something to watch carefully for whenever numbers are reported. A fair report mentions both sides on the question (one third say X, two thirds say Y.) If you don't think there's a media filter on this Stars and Stripes thing, ask yourself why the big news is the numbers who aren't happy, the numbers who aren't reenlisting, etc etc etc. Clearly those numbers matter, and it's fair to report them. But a fair story would be that in a completely unscientific, self-selected survey, which you would think would draw in those with a gripe, relatively big numbers are happy, reenlisting, see a point to the mission, etc.

A BIGGER COMPLAINT: This survey has totally blown the Gallup poll of Baghdadis right off the radar screen. Which would be fine, except everyone is right back to making assumptions about what the Iraqis think again. In particular the phrase "we were led to believe we would be greeted as liberators, not conqueror/occupiers." OK, first of all . . . we were greeted as liberators in an awful lot of places and I'm really getting tired of the historical revisionism on this. Look up the pictures. Second, I understand many people use this as a metaphor for "people don't take us that way anymore." Well, sorry, but there is now an established trend line of polling data from reputable polling outfits proving that the administration is right on this -- the people who don't view us that way are a very small percentage of the population; the vast majority wants us there. So why is the American media so assiduously ignoring this part of the story, and just making generalizations based on false assumptions instead?
STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER: Just like the soundbite "Fox News viewers are more misinformed," so too the idea "morale in Iraq is awful" is rapidly becoming ensconsed in the public square. Notice, Tim Russert just used the Stars and Stripes survey as the basis for a question to Sen. Graham, back in circulation from his failed presidential bid, who of course jumped all over it, used it as the basis for yet another Vietnam parallel. Here's the problem -- the average listener does not understand the difference between a survey and a poll, would not realize, without Russert explicitly saying so -- and he does not -- that the Stars and Stripes survey is not scientific because it has a self-selection bias. This is how these little factoids get into the national bloodstream, and once they're there, good luck prying them out.
REHASHED, RECYCLED, REHEATED: I'm sorry, but I don't see the news in this piece. Yeah, yeah, it's an analysis piece. So where's the new analysis? There's resistance, it's mostly near Baghdad, Sanchez says it may be coordinated, and the ambushes are getting more sophisticed. What in this piece is new?
JUST FOR SNICKS: Care to know which Senators up for reelection voted to convert the Iraq money into a loan? Check out this blog. (Care of Instapundit.)
A CRITICAL HEADS-UP: This story didn't get nearly enough play last year. How much attention will it get tomorrow?
THIS IS THE HUGE NEW YORK TIME EXCLUSIVE? One of the problems with reading the paper in hard copy is you are bound by the vagaries of the delivery boy's schedule, so I've been hearing all morning about this big, bad, front page story in the New York Times about some super duper critically important study by State that predicted EVERYTHING! that of course the Pentagon ignored. Now, at last, I have it in my hot little hands, and just glancing at it two things came to mind. I love the way the broadcast people will spin up anything that's on the front page of the Times. First of all, let's put our heads together and try real hard and I bet we could come up with a list of suspects for who may have leaked this one. (I mean what agency they represent.) You don't suppose there might have been an inter-agency axe to grind on this, do you? Second, uh, I'm sorry, but isn't this a story about something PBS just did a documentary on? There is absolutely nothing new here. Including (although of course it's on the jump page -- let's hear it for reading the paper in hard copy) the argument made by Defense that some of the working groups involved had good solid reports and some groups met once and provided slim reports that just weren't worth anything. So what's the big hit on Defense? That they shouldn't have disbanded the Army -- thank you, exactly how many times is Bremer going to have to say that he was wrong about that one and is backpedalling -- and that the looting was predictable. Look, there were a whole range of disasters that everyone was worried about. (And this includes our friends who will be marching in DC and San Fran today, by the way.) Refugees. Floods from blown damns. Massive displacement in the system for providing food. The war went better than expected and all the scenarios that were anticipated didn't occur. Was the State report prescient? Fine, great, good for them. But really it is just a bit of hindsight bias to now use that to beat up on the people trying to do their best on a regular basis for a mistake they have admitted to over and over and over again. They get it, they shouldn't have disbanded the Army. Pretending this report is news over and over again doesn't seem to me to be productive.
WHILE WE'RE ON THE TOPIC: Mull this over. Since the anti-war movement came up this morning, I just thought I'd mention -- if having over 100,000 troops in Iraq for more than a year is stressing the military, imagine what doing it semi-permanently would have done, since of course that was the "but he's contained now, and accepted inspectors" argument last February and March seemed to be pretty willing to accept. Just thought I'd point that out. Oh, come on, we'd never have done it long term, you say. Exactly.
WHAT'S MISSING FROM THIS STORY? This is a pretty typical representation of the way the press has been covering the fight between the White House and the press over press coverage of Iraq -- the White House says the coverage isn't dealing with the positive stories, the press thinks they're trying to divert attention from the bad news. But look what's been neatly airbrushed out of the press accounts. Not only are the congressional delegations going over to Iraq and then complaining suddenly all Republican, but this is a fight between the White House (which clearly has a political agenda) and the press (which clearly has a stake in having it's professional integrity assaulted.) Look who's missing? Us. Weeks before the White House used the word "filter" came the "perfect storm of media angst" week (that's what I called it anyway), the week when the internet anger over ignored first-person accounts seemed to be boiling over, when Dan Rather made his bizarre little disclaimer, and then suddenly the media decided that although they had ignored the Zogby poll they would cover the Gallup poll on attitudes in Iraq itself. But by making this narrative about what the White House wants the press to cover, they make it same-old same-old, isn't every White House always complaining when it gets bad press. If they cut us out of the story, they cut out the fact that news consumers feel uninformed, that there is evidence suggesting it's more than bad press, (in other words they continue to act as if they are just accurately reflecting a story the White House doesn't like) but ignore that in this case the White House is following popular anger with the press to an extent, not creating it. And they ignore that it isn't about "spinning" the story, it's about leaving information out, which is a bit different than what we normally see in disputes between the White House and the press.
Update: Try this link and click on Good News and Bad Battle it Out in Baghdad.
EXACTLY WHAT PART OF "THE TORTURE CHAMBERS ARE CLOSED" ARE YOU TOO STUPID TO UNDERSTAND? I'm sorry, I've tried to be less than vituperative on this blog, but these people make me crazy. I love the man in this article who says we should be "good neighbors." Does that go for the murdering thug dictators too? You would think that as more and more evidence of mass graves comes in (not as if evidence of that didn't exist before the war, but it's pretty incontrovertible now, for God's sake) the people who opposed the war on "moral grounds" because it would be "bad for the Iraqi people" would have the grace to just shut up. Instead, they're calling for an immediate end to the occupation, despite poll after poll showing that what the Iraqi people want -- is occupation. But then, this was never about what the Iraqi people actually wanted, or these folks would have listened to the voices of the Iraqi expat community -- as Tony Blair did. And what exactly would an "immediate end to the occupation" mean? And end to every reconstruction project that offers them a way to dig out from thirty years of Saddam's stealing their oil wealth to build palaces, degrading their infrastructure to do so, so that their lives were built on rotting foundations. An end to the hope of stable, democratic political foundations, as the strong grab power once again. But, hey, the morally pure here would be able to claim they stopped the "American Empire," right? That's the thing -- it was never about what was good for them. Actions in the real world are messy and morally complex. Being morally pure in this simple way demands ignoring the consequences for anyone but yourself. March on, friends.
JOHN STEWART IS RIGHT: These guys spend alot of time in the studio, but they never seem to come up with any new material. What does this tape mean? That this isn't over yet.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

ELIZABETH SMART, AMERICA'S GIRL: CBS's ratings exploitation. Oh, but don't families like the Smart's, people like Jessica Lynch, cash in, participate, let the media off the hook from any charges of exploitation? I have little sympathy with that argument. Let's not forget NBC made it pretty clear they were making a made-for-TV movie based on newspaper articles about Jessica Lynch, for example, with or without the family's blessing or participation. When it comes to this kind of media madness, these families can either stay away, and lose any kind of control what-so-ever, or give in, in the hope that they can have something to do with shaping the ultimate product.
HE'S JUST SO MISUNDERSTOOD: CNN has a Saturday morning show called "On the Story." If you've ever seen it, I think it's what the old "Crier and Company" morphed into over the years -- just the gals, offering what are supposedly behind the scenes insights on the stories of the week. I think they think they aren't being obvious about their contortions to make sure no man ever taints this show -- anything, anything they have to do, including putting producers on the air, so long as said producer is female. Anyway, this gem from Maria Resa, CNN's Southeast Asia correspondent, on Mohathir's, shall we say, indiscreet, comments this week at the OIC session. We need to understand, you see, "he was addressing an audience with different senstitivities (ya think?) telling them to stop suicide bombings." (Wow. So that's what "Jews rule the world means." I guess the cultural divide is greater than we think.) Last year he told them to stop suicide bombings and was not well received, so he is wrapping that message in this language, but in that context, it's a "message of moderation." The theory seems to be "if he's criticized by both sides, he must be saying something right." This is CNN's vaunted international reporting staff? Well, maybe she's right, and that really is precisely what's going on and as far as the delegates to the OIC -- and the government of Malaysia -- are concerned that speech really was a message of moderation. If that's the case we have bigger problems than we thought. What's really depressing about the way CNN runs it's business these days is that she drops this little bombshell on the gals, and they all start talking at once -- with questions about the president's (our president's) next stop on his tour. Her comments about the apparent radicalism of a group of nations pretty important to this country's security, which I had heard reported by no one else, just sit there, not one question asked to prompt her to move that statement a bit further along.
Update: Daniel Drezner argues he is the face of moderate Islam.
FOUND IT! It is always interesting, as I've said, to look at Fox's polls, because they do add polling questions other outfits don't. Here, for instance, they come up with these interesting results: 60 percent believe the media are more likely to focus on the negative than the positive, and 36 percent are now dissatisfied with the Iraq coverage overall, which looks like a ten percent dip. But is it me, or is their search engine just balky as hell?
AT LEAST IT MADE THE CRAWL: Fox crawl: Al Jazeera (of course) has a new tape from OBL. Who will pick up this story, and how much attention will they give it? Do I think we should stop everything we're doing and panic whenever the son of a bitch sends up a smoke signal from his (hopefully) rat infested cave? No. My point is exactly the opposite. If we paid attention every time he made a threat, we would continue to live our lives as always, but we would regularly be made aware that the threat continued. We would always be somewhat vigilent. So when something happened that spiked that threat level, we would not panic, not buy into the media hype of the moment, but pay due attention. We need to take a page from the Israelis book on this one. Life goes on -- but always be vigilent.
Update: Fox puts the story on their list of half-hourly headlines. Update again, Fox actually does a piece on it. No surprise. Remember my theory: the real reason Fox is ahead in the ratings, even when combat operations are not ongoing, is because they are the network that has chosen to act as if the country is at war. Do they hype the story? No. They mention the story, cover the story. It would be good if some more attention would be paid when these tapes came out, (isn't this an opportunity to examine where the hunt is at, the status of al Queda as an organization, the meaning of these tapes -- maybe it's too early for all that with the transcript only released so far), but at least there is no hyping.

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