Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Subject Reports on Media

Even if it dates from January of 2005, this rant on the media's incorrect and uninformed reporting on Iraq is still priceless reading. It's from an LTC in the Army's 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq. You know, someone whose boots are on the ground and who has actually been shot at by people intent on killing him. Someone who has actually been outside the safe zones.

Anyway, he writes of what he's seen on the ground in Iraq and then what he's seen on the television reporting back home. The disconnect is huge:
The operation in Fallujah is only one of the recent examples of incomplete coverage of the events in Iraq. The battle in Najaf last August provides another. Television and newspapers spilled a continuous stream of images and stories about the destruction done to the sacred city, and of all the human suffering allegedly brought about by the hands of the big, bad Americans. These stories and the lack of anything to counter them gave more fuel to the fire of anti-Americanism that burns in this part of the world. Those on the outside saw the Coalition portrayed as invaders or oppressors, killing hapless Iraqis who, one was given to believe, simply were trying to defend their homes and their Muslim way of life.

Such perceptions couldn't be farther from the truth. What noticeably was missing were accounts of the atrocities committed by the Mehdi Militia — Muqtada Al Sadr's band of henchmen. While the media was busy bashing the Coalition, Muqtada's boys were kidnapping policemen, city council members and anyone else accused of supporting the Coalition or the new government, trying them in a kangaroo court based on Islamic Shari'a law, then brutally torturing and executing them for their "crimes." What the media didn't show or write about were the two hundred-plus headless bodies found in the main mosque there, or the body that was put into a bread oven and baked. Nor did they show the world the hundreds of thousands of mortar, artillery and small arms rounds found within the "sacred" walls of the mosque. Also missing from the coverage was the huge cache of weapons found in Muqtada's "political" headquarters nearby. No, none of this made it to the screen or to print. All anyone showed were the few chipped tiles on the dome of the mosque and discussion centered on how we, the Coalition, had somehow done wrong. Score another one for the enemy's propaganda machine.

Now, compare the Najaf example to the coverage and debate ad nauseam of the Abu Ghuraib Prison affair. There certainly is no justification for what a dozen or so soldiers did there, but unbalanced reporting led the world to believe that the actions of the dozen were representative of the entire military. This has had an incredibly negative effect on Middle Easterners' already sagging opinion of the U.S. and its military. Did anyone show the world images of the 200 who were beheaded and mutilated in Muqtada's Shari'a Law court, or spend the next six months talking about how horrible all of that was? No, of course not. Most people don't know that these atrocities even happened. It's little wonder that many people here want us out and would vote someone like Muqtada Al Sadr into office given the chance — they never see the whole truth. Strange, when the enemy is the instigator the media does not flash images across the screens of televisions in the Middle East as they did with Abu Ghuraib. Is it because the beheaded bodies might offend someone? If so, then why do we continue see photos of the naked human pyramid over and over?
I could excerpt a whole lot of this, if I'm not careful, so I'll stop here and direct you to Read the Whole Thing.

I will add that this is what comes of having reporters and journalists who have no experience of the military being sent to cover the military and its actions. The problem is that the military is about using force (or the credible threat of it) to make someone do your will; if necessary, they will be killed to protect the Americans the military is sworn to defend. The media aren't sworn to anything, and are all about using words to achieve ends. Two very fundamentally different means to different ends.

The problem is also that the press judges the military by their own means, and by their own political philosophy, rather than judging the military by their means and philosophy, or by their ability to defend this nation.

The military is sworn to an oath. They answer to one person, the President of the United States, who in turn answers to Congress and the people. The press answers only to the corporations that hire them, corporations that exist to generate a profit for shareholders. Whatever talk they may spew about responsibilities and obligations are nothing compared to having living humans depend on you to keep them alive in a war zone. They answer to no one authoritative and pay no penalties when they fail. (Being fired? So what, you can still write. In fact, write a book about the firing! Make money from the incident. Some penalty, that.)

Look at newscasts or newspapers. They look the way they do because paid consultants are brought in to teach the people making the news how to appeal to an audience, to get more people to watch the news, to generate more viewers, to raise ad rates, to make more money from advertising. When was the last time you heard of paid consultants being brought in to teach a newsroom how to be more diligent, more rational, have better backgrounds in their subjects, to be more honest? Are journalists drilled in the duties in even remotely the same way the military is?

Without reporters, journalists and editors who are veterans themselves, the media is in danger of not knowing what it's talking about. Lots of folks have suspected this for a long time, but it took the Internet Age for them to discover each other and get a dialogue going, a conversation that has shown that, if fact, very often the media don't know what they're talking about. The Internet makes it possible for people who might otherwise be a couple of sentences in a single paragraph of a story to expound at length and in detail, and gives us the opportunity to find them and listen to them ourselves, unfiltered and undistorted by the need of the writer to make a story fit in the time or space alloted by deadline.

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