Tuesday, September 30, 2003

O CANADA! Just walked in the door . . . back home from a wonderful trip, and ready to crash before getting back to work. Just a few quick thoughts. First, DAMN did they treat me well up there. I was at the Canadian Forces College, encompassing a range of upper level professional military courses, specifically the Advanced Military Course (for Lt. Cols and Cols) and they could not possibly have been kinder, more gracious, or more engaged with what I had to say. As to the conversation itself, not for attribution, so not for discussion here, with one exception, which I don't think they'll mind (since I was the speaker speaking on a not for attribution basis, I can rat myself out.) I mentioned the possibility that the various first person accounts contradicting "old media" coverage of Iraq circulating on the blogosphere may have played a role in last week's perfect storm of media angst, and this idea was of great interest. So if certain of my favorite blogs begin to get hits from Toronto, y'all will know who to thank. One officer, whose name I unfortunately did not get, came up with a perfectly elegant phrase for the blogosphere when it creates a message that contradicts old media -- "It's the People's Media" Isn't that lovely?

WHAT IS ABC TALKING ABOUT? One small but annoying thing I did notice while away. Look at the ABC logo burned in the lower right corner of the screen during World News Tonight. Why does it suddenly say "VOTE 2004" above the ABC Logo? It gives the impression (since surely it is not intended as a subliminal message that we should all get out and vote 5 months before the first Democratic primary) that EVERY story is a story about election coverage. But it looked to me as if that stayed above the logo throughout the broadcast. Doesn't that give the impression they think every story IS about election coverage? Is that really their point?

Monday, September 29, 2003

GONE FOR THE DAY: Out the door to go lecture in Canada. On the implications for the the militaries of Western liberal democracies of a post-embedded world, oh my.
ALL THE ARGUMENTS IN ONE PLACE: This is a little long, but bear with me here. Instapundit points to a long, thoughtful piece on the implications of the media's skewed coverage by UPI Pentagon correspondent Pem Hess, just back from Iraq. Note, she speaks to the implications because she begins by conceding the point. That its Pam Hess is no big surprise: her reporting from Iraq was superb (if you had read her stuff from Najaf, you would have known to have taken all the doom and gloom scenarios with a grain of salt after the assasination of the cleric, for example, because she was the only one who bothered to get out there and see if that anti-American cleric, Sadr, had all the power and authority he claimed, and other reporters therefore assumed, that he had on the ground.)
This speaks to a larger point. Pam Hess isn't just a good reporter, she is a Pentagon BEAT correspondent, that is, someone who knows something about the issues. When you look at the backgrounds of the people reporting from Baghdad today from the major outlets virtually none were embedded during the war (or have a background covering the military), and only a few were even in Baghdad during the war. (Which or may not be a good thing. It may mean "knows their way around, knows the people." Or it may mean "still usin' that Baathist interpreter.")

But she makes a number of arguments here that should be drawn out and focused on. FIRST, "there is no cogent narrative that sum up the entire country." But I think that is exactly the complaint from those of us who feel as if the coverage if skewed: we think the coverage is slapping on a single coherent narrative (chaos/quagmire/Vietnam) whether it fits or not, and filtering out that which does not fit.
SECOND, she argues that one source of the negative coverage is basically boomer reporters "who cut their teeth on the Vietnam war experience." In other words, who assume that the Pentagon/military as an institution is not to be trusted. She quotes Abizaid as saying that's the military's fault b/c they are essntially reaping as they sowed for their behavior in Vietnam. Please. I have no doubt some of this is a Vietnam hangover in terms of credibility, but anyone who studies military affairs will tell you the military has spent the last twenty-five years agonzing over Vietnam and enforcing an ethos of "never again." Where's the press been? Does the Pentagon spin? Duh. What institution or bureaucracy doesn't? The Department of Agriculture spins. But at some level there is this aura in the air about events from the 60s and 70s. At what point do people start interacting with the PEOPLE who make up an institution and not its history? That's the difference with most of the professional Pentagon beat reporters. They seem to have a healthy critics' skepticism towards anything from the DOD and not just a knee jerk refusal to believe the military because they are the military.
THIRD, she argues a number of reporters who had been embedded went unilateral in Baghdad and that changed the nature of the reporting. Again, that isn't borne out by the numbers. Most embedded reporters who hit Baghdad then went home. My research (by which I mean, the work I had my research asst. do) makes this crystal clear. And as she points out in the article, despite the fact that the military is now making available these short term embed opportunities, it doesn't seem as if many take advantage of them. One reporter for a broadcast network was here at a conference and was quite clear: the military had been very generous with those chances, but he couldnt' leave the satellite uplink and that was in Baghdad. So at best it is likely print people will take these chances.
FOURTH, she makes a pretty compelling case that the Coalition Provisional Authority isn't close to having its act together. Fair enough. If they want the good news out, it would help if they would announce it. But the very story she tells to prove her point also proves that reporters who bother to follow up on their own, would find the good news at least some of the time. From her description it sounds like this is a door that swings both ways. The CPA for purely pragmatic reasons better get its act together. But it doesnt sound like the reporters are LOOKING for either positive stories OR follow up of any kind, and as I keep arguing it is often thelack of follow up on resolved problems that is the biggest problem. Are reporters, when they are in the States, happy to be totally reliant for all their stories, on a government entity?
FIFTH, she ultimately agrees with Congressman Marshall's point (if not his conclusion as to what should be done) -- the situation benefits our enemies.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

ITS A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES: MSNBC announces a new OBL tape from Al Jazeera. OK, they announce that (when I first hear it) in between Hardball reruns and the first National Georgraphic Explorer of the evening. That's a big international news story, right? Time was, you'd go immediately to CNN to get the details. But their 6pm broadcast has bigger fish to fry. After all, there's a new poll out showing Gray Davis in big trouble AND they have an Arnold interview. So its all California until the first break at 6:13. And when they come back? Presidential politics, analysts tossing around Wes Clark's performance to date. Politics is just more fun for reporters, bottom line. That isn't an ideological bias, its professional one, is my guess. But it feeds the general pushing of stories about al Queda down the list, decreases the emphasis on what our enemy has said, the threats they have made. WHY ISN'T CNN FRONTING THEIR AL QUEDA PEOPLE TOSSING AROUND WHAT THE NEW TAPE MEANS, INSTEAD OF GOING OVER THE DEBATE PERFORMANCES AND RECENT POLLS ONE MORE TIME WHEN THE PRIMARIES ARE STILL FIVE MONTHS OUT?

When the emphasis on the threat posed to this country is decreased it sends a subtle message that, really, is it THAT big a deal? At some level its as if some form of all clear has sounded. (Can there be that much of a threat if the media is fussing over this California debate for a week? Still wondering where J-Lo has holed up?) And so there is a constant swing in the media from complacency to TOTAL CRASH EMPHASIS for example when the alert level is raised. Its either or, feast or famine. The idea that there should just be a steady state of attention paid, vigilence noted, just isn't on their radar screen. And the implications of that narrative trajectory are many, and negative.

But I'm sure I'll learn a great deal from this upcoming Canadian hurricane story.
THE PATTERN CONTINUES: I have argued before that worse then event driven reporting ("soldier shot, bomb detonated") is a pattern of reporting where the press spins up something negative but then, when the situation is resolved, just loses interest and never bothers to report that the situation has changed, leaving people with the vague sense that Iraq is in much more trouble in a general sense then it may be. Electrical power is the perfect example of this. First there was constant reporting on the inability to restore the power right after the regime fell. But when partial power was restored, there were no stories saying, "hey! they're on the right track!" until stories began to appear that the lack of full power was a huge problem in Baghdad. You can track the status of power, but never in stories on electricity per se, but in other contexts, other stories, if you are paying careful attention. When there are stories about electricity, they are inevitably centered on Baghdad, and rarely mention that since Saddam starved the rest of the country to satisfy Baghdad's needs, people in Baghdad will almost inevitably be displeased with the current situation where there is equitable distribution leaving everyone with some but not 24/7 power, since the country's plant simply can't support that. (And, lately, notice, dissatisfaction with power has dissapeared from the news. Are the people in Baghdad still angry, but reporters have stopped mentioning it? If so, why? Or are things much better, and reporters aren't filing stories on big progress in providing power? Which is more likely given the patterns we've seen? We're just left to guess. But we shouldn't be guessing on the status of the situation on the ground, making assumptions based on whether we think the CPA is likely to have succeeded or not. We should KNOW based on what we are being told.) Here's why I bring this up again today. Today's Times has a story on how terribly poor the city of Kirkuk is, despite its oil wealth, because Saddam was milking the place. Says the reporter: "The roads are lumpy. There is no sewage system. AND THE CURRENT 18 HOURS OF ELECTRICITY DAILY IS ABOUT TRIPLE PREWAR LEVELS." So they have electricity more then half the day -- and are providing three times what they had before. Which if nothing else suggests that maybe the next time you hear an interview with an Iraqi complaining about power levels (if that story returns) check which city the interview is being conducted in.
THE WORST EXCUSE IN THE WORLD I: Last week it seemed like there was a perfect storm, a combination of the appearance of the editorial in the Atlanta Journal Constitution by Congressman Jim Marshall making the sensational claim that media coverage of Iraq was not just distorted but might actually be costing American lives, the Gallup poll, which gave people a platform to discuss the coverage because it was so off from what one would have expected just from looking at the coverage, Dan Rather's odd, out of the blue disclaimer, and (maybe) all of the bubbling discontent reaching a tipping point on the internet. So all of a sudden, particularly since people apparently found Marshall bookable and a good articulate guest, there was discussion of the question in a number of places on broadcast and cable (less so in print.) And one excuse kept coming up, from a number of people who noted that, sadly, the coverage may well be a bit skewed but, hey, what are you going to do? You obviously have to cover the violence. You have limited time. . . Hey, here's a thought. HOW ABOUT ONE LESS DIET EACH NIGHT ON THE EVENING NEWS? ITS A WAR, WHATS SAY, JUST FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT, LETS EASE UP ON THE ENTERTAINMENT CRAP! Cable has even less excuse, with more air time to fill. What if we only got Ben and Jen updates every OTHER hour? (I'd sign a petition for that one.) Remember after 9/11 how they promised to stop all the soft news nonsense and do what it took to keep us informed?

We went through all this angst right after Operation Anaconda. That one, in March of 2002, caught the media off guard completely. MAYBE BECAUSE THEY HAD ALMOST ENTIRELY FORGOTTEN AFGHANISTAN AFTER TORA BORA. So when a ground operation broke out, even though the DOD had repeatedly warned the press that there would be additional operations in Afghanistan, they were out of position at the starters gate. And kept asking, gosh, however did we miss this one? Well, when the international media throws all its weight into teasing out every single aspect of the vast international figure skating judging conspiracy, perhaps we might conclude that resource prioritization is just a tad out of alignment.
THE WORST EXCUSE IN THE WORLD II: The other excuse I repeatedly here is that "we don't cover planes that land safely." That analogy just strikes me as absurd. In this country we don't expect the news media to report on the fact that long standing systems, already in place and functioning, are still in place and continuing to function. But in IRAQ the essence of the story is the effort to get those systems up and running. How is that effort proceeding? Are US efforts gaining any traction or not? In what context are US military deaths occuring? Is the violence that is taking place typical or not typical? To simply report the violence with no frame is to CREATE a frame. What's more, it isn't even true that the media for the most part leave the placement of the news of violence into a frame up to the viewer/reader. All too often, the media insert that violence into the narrative of quagmire/Vietnam or at least CHAOS. If they are not reporting on the progress of all the efforts going on surrounding the violence, then the story is being skewed in a way that is just not the case in the US when the media report on, say, plane crashes without mentioning other flights arrived safely. The analogy is simply false.
SHOULDN'T PRECISION COUNT? In this morning's Times, Frank Rich writes that during his Meet the Press appearance VP Cheney "asserted that Iraq was 'the heart of the base' for the 9/11 terrorists, and went on from there to a series of half truths . . ." But during that appearance what Cheney actually said, as widely reported, (since the President's statement that we don't believe Saddam was linked to 9/11 the following Wednesday was widely reported to be a clean up) was that when all was said and done we don't know. That was controversial enough in and of itself (hence the presidential response.) But the statement Rich "quotes" is utterly mangled by being chopped down. What Cheney said when taken in full context was "This is NOT JUST ABOUT IRAQ. [My emphasis.] . . . This is about a continuing operation on the war on terror. [and if what we are doing in Iraq works] now we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11." I have heard this quote repeatedly mangled by pundits (though generally on TV, not pundits with editors.) When you look at it in its entirety, isnt it pretty clear he is talking about al Queda generally, and striking a blow in the Gulf region/Middle East? I really think people are stretching. Why would so much of the interview have been given over to Cheney's elaboration of his interpretation of the 9/11 evidence, only for him to turn around in the midst of a conversation about what Iraq means to the overall war on terror and suddenly ASSERT in a roundabout way confidence in the link here? If people want to make that argument fine, I just wish they would start using the quote accurately.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

WHAT'S A LITTLE TALK OF QUAGMIRE BETWEEN FRIENDS? Calvin Trillin has a profile of the New York Times' Johnny Apple in this week's New Yorker (not web based I'm afraid.) Apple got big noise during the war with Afghanistan for being (most believe) the first journalist to jump into the quagmire metaphor game. What's Trillin's take? "A Q-head [the Times' name for the kind of summarizing News Analysis piece Apple is now brought in to write] is not necessarily a profound or blindingly original piece of work. Two or three days after its written, it can look dated or even wrong, particularly in a constantly changing situation like war. When the military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan seemed bogged down, for instance, Apple used some Vietnam analogies that were later criticized as not being predictive of how the war went." Not predictive? NOT PREDICTIVE? I think the criticism was a bit more pointed then that. It was a bit more along the lines of "why are we talking about a Vietnam style quagmire after three weeks?" Of course Apple then proceeded to do the same thing during combat in Iraq (although he reversed himself within a few days. Trillin's take? "When the war started, Apple did return to writing Q-heads -- which, as it turned out, drew some of the same sort of criticism that had been directed at him during the Afghanistan campaign." Yes, perhaps because he slapped the same metaphor on another war he decided was bogged down, this time even more quickly.

For two of the best analyses of Apples/the Times News Analysis pieces during Iraq, see Slate's Jack Shafer (and the title's here really say it all): "The Leading Indicator of Victory: When Johnny Apple Says We're Thwarted, We Must Be on the Verge of Winning," (a piece well worth reading if you missed it the first time it was posted for his description of the press's cyclical coverage of war) and then "Apple Turnover: The New York Times RW Apple Jr. Never Wrote a Piece He Couldn't Contradict." To answer your question, no, Shafer is not a fan.
ADDITIONAL CONFIRMATION ON NAJAF: 1st Lt. Eric Knapp publishes a piece in the NY Post yesterday (pointed out by Instapundit) that describes the successes in Najaf and (a story missed by the press) the way things were worked out in the wake of the murder of that moderate cleric. And his point is clear -- what I saw on the ground and what I saw on TV just are not the same. Knapp was with the 1st Marine Division. The Commanding General of that Division, Jim Mattis, was on The Newshour last night (I will post a link to the transcript if one goes up) and was asked about the kinds of tactics that have led to the disparity between the situation in the areas under his control and, say, Baghdad. (No Marine KIAs under his command since April 20.) Aside from the fact that it was nice for a media outlet to notice there were differerences in the country, his answer was fascinating. He sent tanks home. He sent Marines home to REDUCE the appearance of an occupation. He introduced "wave" tactics (everybody wave!) and had his people make eye contact all the time (no sun glasses.) Patrol on foot. etc etc. (NOTE in the midst of the debate over whether what is needed in Iraq is an infusion of additional troops, no one seems to have noticed that one of the most successful commanders WAS SENDING PEOPLE HOME INTENTIONALLY.) And (this strikes me as pure genius) when there were protests and rallies, they went out and distributed cold water to the protesters. The General said (this is a paraphrase) "It's hard to throw a rock at a man who's just given you a cold drink."

Obviously there are differences in what will happen in the south and in the areas where the Baath held sway and those with something invested in the regime are holed up. But its a story of progress and ingenuity and its a story the press almost entirely missed while the Division was deployed.
AM I THE ONLY ONE? Listen, I'm delighted some troops are home for awhile, and delighted they are getting coverage (although some of the wording is a little wierd. Miles O'Brien introducing Newsnight's story refers to "families torn apart by war." Is that an appropriate phrase with an all-volunteer force? wouldn't one more appropriately say "families separated by war"? don't we reserve "torn apart" for, like, situations where a bomb hits a refugee camp and the mom gets split from the kids etc etc etc. But I digress.) My point is, I'm glad they're getting coverage, but am I the only who finds the violation of privacy when the press insists on shoving cameras in the faces of couples AS THEY ARE REUNITED just a little bit, I don't know, creepy? You've shown the running and the hugging, now BACK UP TEN FEET. It seem's the least the troops deserve, doesn't it?

Thursday, September 25, 2003

HE WAS SUCH A GOOD BOY. Today's New York Times' front page story on the Muslim chaplain being detained for alleged violations of security up one end and down the other at Gitmo is well worth reading. The neighbors, the wrestling coach, his imam -- they all know him to be such a good man, a solid citizen, a patriot, etc, etc, etc. Now of course, we all know that every time some serial killer finally cracks and takes out his entire family every neighbor on the block looks into the camera and says "but he was such a quiet fella." This is a bit more than that. These folks aren't so much shocked at the allegations, they are damned well prepared to deny the allegations, right here and now (well, the wrestling coach is waiting to see.) Read this article for tone as well as for balance. No one wants a paper to convict a man as soon as he's detained. But it would be nice if the Times would admit of the possibility that in a time of war that might, just might, be people looking to hurt as and yes, some of them might be here and some of them might be spies -- this is virtually a brief for the defense.
ANDREW GILLIGAN WAS A GOOD BOY TOO: If you read the paper version of the New York Times, in the lower left corner today was a tease for an article in the Arts section. "At the Mighty BBC, Cracks in the Facade." Ok, first of all, the ARTS section? Second, consistent with a pattern of coverage of the Hutton inquiry which has sought to frame it as an inquiry about the Blair government, having little if nothing to do about any misadventures at the BBC, the first paragraph of the tease reads as follows:
"For 81 years the undisputed voice of Britain and the country's most enduringly credible institution, the BBC is being subjected to public scrutiny and criticism as never before. The current furvor over the BBC reporter who admitted overstepping strict accuracy when he accused the government of exaggerating an Iraqi weapons report to gain support for the war has touched off fresh charges that the BBC has lost its way and that its partisan scrappiness matches or even outdoes that of Britain's independent news media."
Partisan SCRAPPINESS? What a great phrase. Since they have claimed all along to be truly neutral and objective, now that there is a crack in the armor, its just partisan scrappiness (or such is the charge, you understand.) But far better (and far more important) is that phrase "strict accuracy." He admitted "overstepping strict accuracy." Is there another kind? Aren't you either accurate or inaccurate? Or is the Times introducing us to the idea of some third standard here?

"POLICE BLOTTER REPORTING" IS NOT THE REAL PROBLEM. The Dems just back from Iraq, and most of the folks complaining about negative reporting from Iraq, have focused on the idea that the media reports specific incidents which are negative -- a soldier was shot, a bomb went off -- to the exclusion of events which are positive. That's only half the problem. The real problem is a consistent pattern of spinning up a bad story, then, when the situation is resolved, just not reporting on the story anymore. Consider all the reporting on how there was no power in Baghdad. When the power came back on -- albeit intermittently -- there were no stories reporting that the problem had been at least partially resolved and progress was being made. Instead the story just went away, until it was time to be begin reporting that the power in Baghdad was intermittent and that was a problem. Consider all the stories on hospitals being looted. When the looting stopped the reporting stopped and Coalition efforts to resolve the situation (ie to resupply and reopen the hospitals) were not reported. Remember all the stories over the summer about the 3rd ID and how horrible it was that they had been over there for so long and didn't know when they were going home, and might not be home until September? (You remember: there was the mini-storm about the fate of the soldier who said he would ask for Rumsfeld's resignation on air.) Well, the vast bulk of 3ID has been home for weeks and no one reported that -- they just stopped reporting on the unit at all (except for one front page story in the New York Times that made no mention at all of when they had gone home, but focused only on the psychological difficulties of readjusment.) So its the consistent pattern where there is some "awful" problem the press focuses on relentlessly -- that then just goes away. It leaves a general sense things are awful because the resolution of these problems never gets attention. Apparently solving the problems they focus on is not of general interest.

THAT'S WHY THE BIGGEST STORY IN THE LAST TWO DAYS WAS BARELY REPORTED. The Spanish took over in Najaf. Why is this such a huge story? Because when the moderate cleric was killed, the level of hysteria in the press was huge. It meant we would potentially "lose" the Shiia community. It meant the start of uncontrollable internecine fighting. Remember? The scenarios spun on and on, fuelled by every expert anyone could get on the air. And what happened? Nothing. But instead of reminding people of that -- hey, we were wrong, the dog didn't bark, in fact, not only are the Shiia not blaming the Sunni, not only are things still calm, they're so calm the military trusts the SPANISH to take over -- the whole town is just going back to being ignored. Unless and until there's another shooting or bombing, in which case the whole thing will cycle up again.
HOW SERIOUS IS CAN THE LINK BE? NBC is giving serious play to its new poll, with various figures showing the president is in trouble in various ways. But on whether he is doing a good job with the War on Terror, he gets 60% support. Tim Russert, NBC's poll interpreter in chief,makes the argument on last night's Nightly News, that the problem for the White House seems to be that people are happy with the way the broader war is going, but are increasingly unhappy with the way the war in Iraq is going, and are not associating the one with the other. But if that's true, all the complaints that the administration has created some sort of artificial link with September 11th (about which more at another time) have to be rethought, don't they? People may think Saddam had something vaguely to do with 9/11, but they still arent' associating fighting in Iraq with the overall War in Terror, at least in a way that can be polled.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

MORE GOOD NEWS UPDATE. Unlike the Zogby poll of opinion in Iraq, which got virtually no attention from the mainstream press, or the earlier British Channel 4 poll, which was equally ignored in this country, there is attention being given today to a Gallup poll of opinion in Baghdad (although the Zogby poll did report on opinion in a wider range of population center's.) CNN conducted an interview with a representative from Gallup. The New York Times' produces a stand alone article on the poll, reporting most of the positive numbers, including one of the biggest: 67% believe their lives will be better in five years. But they don't include the other big result, that 62% believe everything they have and are going through was worth it to get rid of Saddam and have a chance at freedom. Interestingly, USA Today (which is an AP story) not only buries the poll, (the headline is "Bomb Misses US Patrol, Kills Iraqi") but simply states that a poll has been taken ("A Gallup poll conducted in recent weeks . . .") as if polling is done there as regularly as it is here. Since the poll itself isn't available on the Gallup web site to non-subscribers, what I'm looking for is whether they polled on some of the key questions the earlier polls looked at -- how do they feel about the occupation, specifically how long it should last. Or are these results about their attitudes towards the CPA a proxy for that?
ARE YOU COUNTING THE SUMMARY EXECUTIONS? The New York Times editorial page notes this morning that, in Afghanistan, "Violence against women has increased dramatically since the war." Oh. Well, maybe that's right. You are probably safer when you aren't allowed to leave the house.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

BUT ITS NOT JUST FOX: But then NBC does a positive piece as well. The poorest section of Saddam City has "embraced democracy," the cops on the street are Iraqi, freeing the US military to be "social workers." Now, there is an established literature that makes the case that soldiers shouldn't be social workers, but there is no hint that Jim Avila means the phrase in a snide way, the tone of the phrase is generally positive. NBC searched out positive, hopeful pieces -- when Tom Brokaw visited Baghdad. They haven't really been their stock in trade. Coincidence? Things that make you say "hmmm."
FOX PICKS UP THE BALL: Fox makes two moves on Brit Hume's show, one more subtle then the other. First, a piece filed from Tikrit, NOT Baghdad, on the training of the Iraqi Civil Defense Force. They ain't happy (the US Military is getting them up at 4 A.M. to train, for one thing) but they're doing it. Says one recruit (paraphrased) we have a deal here: once there's a legitimate Iraqi Army in place, the Americans go. (You had to love the classroom lesson of the day. DO NOT SURRENDER.) Why does this matter? It's a piece about real progress being made, in the field, in a real way. And it's not sugarcoated -- there's no suggestion this is anything but a hard slog. The second, more direct move: the nightly interview segment is with Congressman Jim Marshall, Democrat unhappy with the coverage (who in fact says he went to Iraq precisely because of the disconnect between what he was hearing from the DOD reps and the press, to ensure this wasn't "Vietnam deja vu.")
MOMENTUM GATHERS: Instapundit links today to two stories in the print press, one in USA Today and one in The Hill on the question of whether the overwhelmingly negative slant of Iraq coverage fairly reflects "ground truth." The USA Today story basically asks a number of reporters whether the American people are getting a false impression, and several basically concede the point. But of course, its a media criticism piece, not a big news story with a blaring headline: REPORTERS HINT AMERICAN PEOPLE MAY BE MISLED ON IRAQ STORY. And The Hill story, while important, isn't exactly mainstream media. Who else covered that press conference? Nexis search to follow.

Monday, September 22, 2003

THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AREN'T THAT HAPPY EITHER: A new poll (and not the first national poll to show this) from Harris Interactive demonstrates yet again that the American people believe that the quality of press coverage has gone down since 9/11.
WHERE'S THE FIFTH PLANE? Everyone is covering the story that the mastermind behind the 9/11 plot is reported to tell debriefers that the original plan was much worse, five planes on each coast, plus more terror in Asia (see USA Today's article here.) But while Khalid Sheik Mohammed says they scaled back, cancelling the West Coast and Asia plots, no one seems to be asking whether or not there was a fifth hijack team on the East Coast or not.

IS THIS WHY TONY BLAIR IS SO LOYAL? The reason the question matters is that Rohan Gunaratna, in the book that is to my mind the gold standard on al Queda (so long as you are prepared to wade through an awful lot of detail) has the following story, which I still cant believe hasn't been widely picked up and disseminated (Inside Al Queda: Global Network of Terror, Columbia, May 2002 -- the new edition is now available in paperback):
"[Al Queda] planned a simultaneous attempt to destroy the House of Parliment by crashing into it a British Airways aircraft hijacked from London's Heathrow airport. Muhammad Afroz, an Indian suicide pilot trained in Melbourne, Australia, Britain and the US was subsequently arrested in Mumbai, India." The Brits grounded all flights at Heathrow, and thats what saved them, according to Gunaratna, the team was grounded. (p. 119)

Sunday, September 21, 2003

APPARENTLY DAN RATHER AGREES: After all the complaints that the mainstream media has relentlessly focused on the negative in Iraq, ignoring anything that looks like good news to such an extent that the story overall has become skewed and distorted (complaints often made in the blogosphere, along with posts directly or indirectly from deployed troops) came this on Friday night's CBS Evening News: First another relentlessly negative story, and then Dan Rather saying, "A reminder that television sometimes has trouble with perspective, so you may want to note -- some parts of Iraq are peaceful." What a strange and interesting thing to say. While certainly true (that is sort of the point of the criticism) and while it does make one wonder how much criticism CBS is hearing directly, a statement like that does more to beg the question then anything else. The difference between saying "some parts of Iraq are peaceful" and actually doing a full news piece, with pictures, and real people, and all the elements that make a television piece potentially powerful and persuasive, hardly gets does more then demonstrate CBS' awareness that there has been a problem with its coverage. If your coverage lacks perspective, maybe instead of labelling it as "lacking perspective" you might want to do something about that.
WHO WE ARE: Cori Dauber and Scott Deatherage are both professors of Communication Studies (Dauber at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Deatherage at Northwestern) with an interest in the media coverage of the War on Terror. Dauber is a specialist in the way the media covers and represents war and the military, and Deatherage focuses on the media and politics. We both believe that the media coverage of the war, including the war with Iraq, has all too often been deeply flawed, although we don't always think thats the case for the same reason, (and we don't always agree with one others arguments.) We will post here our running commentary on the media coverage of the war, homeland security, Iraq, etc. etc, and the way politics are intertwined with those issues. And if we disagree from time to time we may fight it out here.

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