June 09, 2004
Telling Us What We Should Think
From the NY Post:
June 9, 2004 -- DAN Rather and Tom Brokaw work for different networks but agree one thing — coverage of Ronald Reagan's death has been excessive, they say.
"Even though everybody is respectful and wants to pay homage to the president, life does go on," Rather told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"There is other news, like the reality of Iraq," said the "CBS Evening News" anchor. "It got very short shrift this weekend." . . .
"Once the herd starts moving in one direction, it's very hard to turn it, even slightly," Rather said. "Nationally, the herd has grown tremendously."
I don't remember Rather complaining when "the herd" was excessively covering Abu Ghraib or the 9/11 Commission. But one can easily understand why Rather would want to get back to the steady drumbeat of overly pessimistic coverage about Iraq.
June 04, 2004
Iraq History Lesson
June 03, 2004
Roger L. Simon
A world traveler, Simon lived in France for a few years, and had considered moving there again. But the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism and corresponding entrenchment of reflexive anti-Americanism have soured him on its appeal.
He recently journeyed to France to conduct research, and found anti-Americanism to be rampant. "To them, it's almost like breathing." He continues, "Some of it is inevitable because we're so powerful. The French are masters of envy."
Simon supports Bush's reelection because, he says, "I don't want the world to see us repudiate what he's done." Moreover, Simon's distrust of Kerry has roots in his college days in the '60s. He attended Yale at the same time as Joseph Lieberman, Oliver Stone — and John Kerry.
The Vietnam War debate was raging then, and "I was militantly antiwar," Simon recounts. So was Kerry, publicly and vocally. But Kerry really threw Simon for a loop when he volunteered for service. Among those opposed to the war, it was a matter of principle to avoid serving: "If you were at Yale and you didn't want to go to Vietnam, there was always a way out of it," Simon recounts.
So when Kerry volunteered it struck Simon, then and now, as a supremely hypocritical act. Because Kerry's actions didn't match his expressed convictions, "it proved [to Simon] that his values weren't really deep."
Interestingly, it was the O.J. trial that first caused Simon to begin questioning his leftist political beliefs.
Tiananmen Square Massacre?
There's an interesting article in the CS Monitor today stating that there was actually no "massacre" of student protesters in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, as was widely reported at the time and afterwards. Instead, the killing largely took place outside of the square, and the victims weren't just students:
Despite orders that the People's Liberation Army was to clear Tiananmen Square using whatever means necessary, there is no credible eyewitness testimony of a massacre of students there. No eyewitnesses at the Monument to the People's Heroes, where students were centered, ever saw one. No "rivers of blood" flowed on the square. No rows of students were mowed down by a sudden rush of troops, as reported in European, Hong Kong, and US publications in the days, months, and years that followed.
The actual number of students and citizens killed on the square may be as low as a dozen, according to the documents and the eyewitnesses. The medical tent on the square, originally used to comfort student hunger strikers, reported at least 10 deaths. Rather, between the morning hours of 4:45 and 6:15, some 2,000 to 3,000 students filed off the square through a cordon of troops, protected by a line of their own ranks who linked arms.
There was, however, a massacre in Beijing - during the four days starting June 3. It took place at street intersections, in Hutong neighborhoods, in the alleyways around the square, and in the western part of the city, where resistance to the deployment of the Army was strongest. Moreover, the victims were not only students, but ordinary people who were outraged that the soldiers of a people's army had been given warrant to shoot the people.
This new account shouldn't, of course, lessen the scorn directed at the Chinese communists. But what does it tell us about the media?
June 02, 2004
John S. Carroll, the editor of the Los Angeles Times, recently gave a speech at the University of Oregon, in which he attacked Bill O'Reilly, Fox News Channel and me, the chairman of Fox News. However, Mr. Carroll obviously did not feel particularly restricted by facts, truth or sources. In an effort to use guilt by association, he compared me to Sen. Joseph McCarthy without evidence, sourcing or analysis. An old, cheap trick used by weak writers and thinkers. . . .
Mr. Carroll's pathetic attempt to smear Fox News Channel will only drive his paper's circulation down, as it should. Fox News Channel's audience in Los Angeles is increasing daily. The Los Angeles Times is becoming less relevant in people's lives, so Mr. Carroll is trying to flog health back to a newspaper by attacking television news. Most Americans, of course, get their news from television. In fact, the Fox News Channel today has 53% of the audience share of cable news. CNN and MSNBC divide up the rest. According to Mr. Carroll, that proves most Americans are therefore stupid and gullible. It's that elite, arrogant, condescending, self-serving, self-righteous, biased and wrongheaded view of Americans that causes viewers and readers to distrust media people like John Carroll.
He owes the fine journalists at the Fox News Channel an apology for his insulting comments. However, we will never see that. He treated Fox News Channel worse in his newspaper than he treated the terrorists who recently beheaded an American. But of course, he sees Fox News as more dangerous.
I'll admit to watching more Fox than other news channels. The real standout is Brit Hume's show, Special Report, which is the best nightly news show on television in my opinion.
June 01, 2004
John Keegan on the Media
Preeminent military historian John Keegan is critical of the media too:
British and American media retail with evident satisfaction every scrap of information that implicates its service people in wrongdoing, casts doubt on their operational efficiency and undermines any expectation by readers and viewers of a successful outcome to the Iraqi involvement.
The media's message is clear: Iraq is a mess that should never have been allowed to happen. Yet media people are precisely the sort who know perfectly well that wars usually end in a mess.
The reason why the situation has been untidy in Iraq?
History boys can explain easily - and convincingly - why some wars, as that against Germany in 1945, end in unopposed occupation of enemy territory and why others, as in Iraq in 1920 and 2004, do not. In the first case, the defeated nation has exhausted itself in the struggle and is dependent on the victor both for necessities and for protection against further disaster - social revolution or aggression by another enemy. In the second case, the war has not done much harm but has broken the power of the state and encouraged the dispossessed and the irresponsible to grab what they can before order is fully restored.
What monopolises the headlines and prime time television at the moment is news from Iraq on the activity of small, localised minorities struggling to entrench themselves before full peace is imposed and an effective state structure is restored. The news is, in fact, very repetitive: disorder in Najaf and Fallujah, misbehaviour by a tiny handful of US Army reservists - not properly trained regular soldiers - in one prison. There is nothing from Iraq's other 8,000 towns and villages, nothing from Kurdistan, where complete peace prevails, very little from Basra, where British forces are on good terms with the residents.
It's almost as if the media has an agenda, which seems odd given all those moderates in the press.
Liberal Media and the Pew Survey
I haven't had anything to say about the Pew survey of the media, but I think John Leo gets it right:
Pew reports that just 7 percent of journalists and news executives call themselves conservative, compared with 33 percent of the general public. The self-identified liberals (34 percent) are five times as common as conservatives in the news business. As you might imagine, this got very little play in the mainstream media. Howard Kurtz did a good job with it at the Washington Post. But that was about it. Those who did report or comment on the survey tended to play up the large number of news people (54 percent) who call themselves moderate. Why is it such a big deal to have a newsroom that's only a third liberal? asked Eric Alterman, author of What Liberal Media?
I would say that the big deal is that media workers are becoming more liberal at a fairly rapid pace--up from 22 percent nine years ago to 34 percent now, according to Pew. It would be a bigger deal if the hiring of liberals reached the point (as it has in the academic world) where conservatives don't bother to apply for jobs.
Immoderate. In addition, there is debate over what "moderate" means in the survey. My experience is that liberal journalists tend to think of themselves as representing the mainstream, so in these self-identification polls, "moderate" usually translates to "liberal." On the few social questions asked in the survey, most of the moderates sounded fairly liberal. Asked whether homosexuality should be approved of by society, 88 percent of journalists agreed, compared with only 51 percent of Americans.
Some 82 percent of the journalists were able to list a news organization that was "especially conservative" (most named Fox News), but an amazing 62 percent could not name any news organization that struck them as "especially liberal." Good grief. Even 60 percent of the Homer Simpson family could probably figure out that the New York Times or National Public Radio qualify as liberal.
Yes, many of those so-called moderates are obviously liberals.
UPDATE: There's more here on this topic, including many other links.
May 28, 2004
Why the Watchdogs Need Watching
Here's a fine essay by Bruce Thornton on Victor Hanson's site. An excerpt:
But if the media are really, as they claim, merely "objective" recorders of the facts, then surely they would at least cover the negative and positive facts equally. Indeed, one could argue that in the context of war, civilian deaths or abuse of detainees isn't really "news" but an unfortunate constant of war. What is really "news" in Iraq is that the U.S. military has taken remarkable steps to minimize civilian casualties, and is attempting an unprecedented task: to destroy an enemy and rebuild a society simultaneously. Certainly that wasn't the tack taken in WWII, when Japan and Germany were literally destroyed before the task of rebuilding began.
The "news" in Iraq, then, isn't the behavior of the prison guards, for such brutality occurs every day in every prison in America. If there had been a cover-up, then that would be newsworthy, but the only reason the media know about the story is because the military initiated an investigation. What the whole sorry episode shows is not the failure of the military or the administration, but rather the constant reality of evil in human hearts, an evil that war has always provided an excuse to indulge. That out of 150,000 troops in Iraq a dozen would be sadists should not surprise us.
Another problem with the media is their failure to provide an adequate context for the "facts" that usually are presented in isolation. Sometimes this context is historical: for example, what sorts of things typically have happened in wars? Civilian casualties, massacres, rape, death from friendly fire, execution of prisoners, torture, all have occurred in war throughout history. Unleashing the violence of human beings is never neat or precise. We try to have in place laws, training, and regulations that minimize such brutalities, but they will still occur and have to be accepted--though never condoned-- as part of the cost of resorting to force. Again, what needs emphasizing is not the constant brutality of war but the novel attempts to create a free, functioning society in a land that has never known one. When we condemn the bad, we need also to remember the worse.
To mention this larger context does not excuse the behavior, of course. To say that getting shot in the head is worse than getting stabbed in the arm is not to approve of wanton arm-stabbing. But the media needs to keep the proper perspective and judge actions by the standard not of perfection but of flawed human nature and the complexity and unforeseen consequences of all action. One way to do this is to be careful with language. In describing the abuse in Abu Ghraib, the New York Times' favorite word is "horrific." If intimidation and humiliation are "horrific," what word do we use to describe Auschwitz, or what went on in Abu Ghraib under Hussein? The use of such rhetoric is a sure sign that partisan interpretation rather than objective reporting is driving the news. . . .
Finally, and most importantly, where ultimately do the loyalties of the media lie? To profit, professional standards, or partisan ideology? And what if pursuing these harms the interests of their own country? We are not asking that the media be cheerleaders for the government, but simply be objective and fair in their coverage and not work actively against the aims pursued by a democratically elected administration, particularly when the lives of fellow Americans are at stake.
May 27, 2004
To the Editor:
When I read "The Times and Iraq," I thought: Not good enough. You're The New York Times.
Those of us in the air-conditioned wilderness with our minds still intact need your eyes — accurate and each morning.
Failure and self-flogging won't unspill the blood in Iraq.
Getting the truth every day, on each piece, is an impossibly high standard. But it is the mark of The New York Times. Back to work.
Tucson, May 26, 2004