April 12, 2007

Makes Sense to Me

Glenn Reynolds calls attention to this comment by Bruce Kesler:

Wonder why so many of the news articles you read, or steam over, are lacking essential information or perspective? Wonder no longer. Knowledge and experience of the subject is only a “plus.” Would the AP advertise for a sports reporter for whom knowledge and experience with baseball, basketball, football, soccer, hockey, tennis, and so forth is only a “plus,” rather than essential and primary?

So, why should the AP believe that knowledge and experience of intelligence, or medicine, or any other important and technical subject only requires a “plus”?

Maybe because the reporter was schooled in a system where subject matter expertise is not required for a teacher of a hard subject, but the ability to "[d]emonstrate[] an understanding and acceptance of diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, gender, special needs and religious groups" is?

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September 20, 2006

The Song That Never Ends

The amount of blatant fakery in news lately — staged photographs, altered photographs, invented sources, invented documents and the like — has gotten me to the point where now I can not trust the news any more than I can trust random anonymous commenters on the web. I figured I'd keep a catalog of such fakery that I run across, so that when I say things like "the media lies", I'd have a quick place to point people when they say "prove it". Feel free to contribute examples you've found. I'll bump and update as I find new instances.

This is the song that never ends
Yes, it goes on and on, my friends
Some people started singing it not knowing what it was,
And they'll continue singing it forever just because

This is the song that never ends
Yes, it goes on and on my friends
Some people started singing it not knowing what it was,
And they'll continue singing it forever just because —

In case they disappear from the web, the story links, in order, are:

Reuters publishes doctored photographs (fauxtographs?) of Israeli actions during the war in Lebanon, 2006.
Staged photographs from Reuters, AP and AFP of alleged child victims of Israeli attack on Qana, Lebanon, 2006.
NBC fakes footage of GM pickup truck with "sidesaddle" fuel tanks exploding. NBC had planted rockets underneath the truck to make it explode. 1993
CBS presents faked memos critical of President Bush's National Guard service, apparently in an effort to influence the upcoming 2004 presidential election.
"Pallywood", a documentary showing how Palestinians staged shots (including fake injuries and fake combat) and their use on CBS' 60 Minutes. Pallywood was made in 2005, but includes footage going back many years prior.
The Guardian cites section of Iraqi penal code as allowing anyone to kill homosexuals as an "honor killing", when the cited section actually is about depriving someone of their rights as a trustee of an estate. There is no apparent part of the Iraqi criminal code that allows killing of homosexuals or honor killings. This is an apparent attempt to make the Iraqi government look bad. 2006
Salon.com attempts to make it appear that President Bush skipped a National Guard physical because he was afraid of testing positive for drugs, quoting a non-existent regulation. 2004
The widely-quoted official from the Nixon and Reagan administrations, George Harleigh, doesn't apparently exist, and all links lead back to one source: Capitol Hill Blue. 2006

A veritable catalog of Reuters fakery — in categories! — from the Lebanon war of 2006, including some of the above-noted incidences as well as staged photographs with a wedding dress, other staged photographs with kids' toys, other staged photographs with people feigning death, and still more staged photos of people in front of various scenes of destruction (including one woman who appears to have spontaneously adopted the same pose on the loss of about six of her houses).
Eason Jordan admits shilling for Saddam Hussein, including just reprinting Iraqi propaganda, in order to maintain their Baghdad bureau. 2003
Jayson Blair exposed as having invented numerous reports for the New York Times. 2003
Journalist, having admitted in 2003 making up a story, lambastes blogs in 2006 for questioning the credibility of the media. In the process, the article that he wrote admitting making up a story is mysteriously edited.
AP story on speech given by SecDef Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly puts words in Rumsfeld's mouth, including words that could not be taken as a wild paraphrase, but which are quoted as if they were said in precisely those words. This is more subtle than most of the incidents of bad reporting that I am showing here, which means that it is also almost certainly more common. Essentially, the speech that is being reported on is not the one that was given, in any meaningful sense. 2006
An AP reporter, according to translated Iraqi documents, spied for Saddam against the inspectors looking for Iraqi WMD programs. 2000
Time's chief correspondent in South Vietnam during the Vietnam war was a Communist spy. His press credentials gave him access to US military bases and background briefings. 1960s and early 1970s

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September 19, 2006

Beating. Head. Against. Wall.

I need to have an "Idiots" category. Gregg Easterbrook would be a many-times-featured recipient of the "honor." For his latest mind-numbingly dense emission, go here, search down to "bummer edition", and read that section. If you drink into a comatose stupor first, you might avoid blindness or weeping. (thanks??? for the tip to the Jawa Report)

Once you've recovered, marvel that Easterbrook is a reporter, and for that reason alone, many people will take what he says seriously, will not stop to count the number of inaccuracies, will not notice the hyperbole, will not realize that his IQ must be hovering around 80.

Which, now that I think about it, explains why he covers the sports beat.

And as my darling wife notes: "Writing it is one thing; the editor letting it through is another. That's the whole point of editors." Clearly, my wife doesn't watch the news enough to separate theory from reality in journalism.

For reference, because news sites expire their content quickly, here is that section in all its garish, pitiable "glory":

Cosmic Thoughts -- Bummer Edition: Recently, I was creeped out by this supernova. Detected Feb. 18 by Swift, a satellite launched to look for gamma-ray bursts, the exploding star already was the 24th supernova discovered at that early point in 2006. As instruments improve, exploding stars appear more common than cosmologists had expected, and that's not the best news we might have heard. Coded GRB 060218, this star detonation began as a gamma-ray burst that lasted 33 minutes -- absolutely stunning because previous gamma-ray bursts from space have lasted a few seconds at the most. The gamma rays came from 470 million light-years away. That was discomfiting because strong gamma-ray bursts usually emanate from what astronomers call the "deep field," billions of light-years distant and thus billions of years back in the past. A distance of 470 million light-years means the GRB 060218 supernova happened 470 million years ago. That is ancient by human reckoning, but many cosmologists had been assuming the kind of extremely massive detonations thought to cause strong gamma-ray busts occurred only in the misty eons immediately after the Big Bang. The working assumption was that since life appeared on Earth, there had been no stellar mega-explosion. Now we know there has.For several days as the giant dying star GRB 060218 collapsed, this single supernova shined brighter than all 100 billion other suns in its galaxy combined. The detonation was so inexpressibly luminous that, though 470 million light-years distant, it could be seen by telescopes on Earth. And not just fancy telescopes at the tops of mountains: A few days after the Swift satellite detected the gamma-ray surge, an amateur astronomer in the Netherlands sighted the forming supernova through a backyard telescope. The stellar coordinates hit the Web -- it was at RA: 03:21:39.71 Dec: +16:52:02.6 -- and soon amateur astronomers the world over were marveling at the glistening beacon from the cosmic past. This explosion released so much energy that it happened 470 million years ago yet the light could travel for that protracted period, plus pass through the gas and dust of roughly a hundred galaxies along the way, and still illuminate mirrors of backyard telescopes on Earth.Now here's what creeped me out: had GRB 060218 happened in our galaxy, life on Earth would have ended Feb. 18.Gamma rays are a deadly form of radiation. Routine gamma-ray bursts course through the Milky Way, our galaxy, all the time, and the threat from them appears small. Recently Krzysztof Stanek, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State and one of the hot names in astronomy -- reader Jim Yrkoski of Warsaw, Poland, notes I missed one "z" in Stanek's name the last time I cited him -- calculates that a regular supernova causing a routine gamma-ray burst would need to detonate within about 3,000 light-years of Earth to expose our world to enough radiation to cause a calamity. Only a small portion of the Milky Way, and none of the larger universe beyond, is within 3,000 light-years of our world.This does not rule out "nearby" gamma-ray bursts as causes of past extinctions. About 340,000 years ago, a supernova called Geminga exploded 180 light-years from Earth, which is much too close. Calculations suggest Geminga was bright enough to rival the full moon; our Homo erectus ancestors must have looked up on it in wonder. The Geminga supernova is believed to have blown off much of the ozone layer, exposing Earth to solar and cosmic radiation that killed many mammals, including many of those ancestors. Another supernova, Vela, about 1,500 light-years away, detonated 11,300 years ago. About the same time, several large mammals of North America and Eurasia fell extinct: among them, the woolly mammoth, the giant sloth and the glyptodon, an armadillo larger than a bear. There's a lively archeological debate about whether these extinctions were triggered by climate change or by people armed with new hunting tools such as bow and arrow. Maybe the extinctions were caused by the supernova bathing Earth in gamma rays. At any rate, Vela and Geminga were normal supernovas that caused relatively mild gamma bombardments lasting just seconds. If a 33-minute, incredibly powerful gamma-ray burst similar to the one associated with GRB 060218 happened anywhere in the Milky Way or any nearby galaxy, Earth would be sterilized; any life that might exist on other planets in our galaxy and nearby galaxies also would end. Most likely, the gamma radiation from GRB 060218 ended all life in numerous galaxies near the explosion. After GRB 060218, a team of astronomers led by Andrew Fruchter of the Space Telescope Science Institute calculated that the class of extremely massive blue star that caused this mega-supernova probably is not found in the Milky Way. That's some consolation. But February's ultimate supernova tells us nature has a doomsday weapon -- and that creeps me out.Interstellar bonus: The Swift satellite has a marketing slogan

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September 1, 2006

That's Going to Leave a Mark

Now that the Plame affair is over, and "it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson" in the Washington Post's words, Wretchard observes: "Mark Coffey is "absolutely flabbregasted" at the Post's accurate summation of events, which is sad in the way that watching an immigrant from the Third World marveling that the electricity works is."

That's going to leave a mark, on the media that is. How sad indeed that we are stunned when the media is accurate to events. As I put it 3 years ago:

[S]hould it transpire that there is far more smoke than fire here, and that in fact nothing quite so dastardly as the intentional blowing of operatives' cover for petty political reasons actually happened, the critics who are all over the administration on this issue should apologize in the same fora where they are smearing the President.

I also noted that I didn't think that such a result would happen, so at least I'm not surprised. Just disgusted.

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August 8, 2006

Conspiracy Theory

There has been a great deal of both smoke and fire lately about Reuters' use (and subsequent laudable retraction) of doctored photographs of fighting in Lebanon taken by Adnan Hajj, and of the possibility of much of the Qana photography (including photographs by Hajj) as probably being staged. I haven't really written about this much, other than to comment on others' blogs, but such lapses are of critical importance. The public's judgement is informed only to the extent that personal experience of the world or the testimony of others informs it. Since our personal ability to be wherever news is breaking is quite limited, and our capacity to directly connect to those who might be where news is breaking is also quite limited, the majority of the information we get about the world comes from the news media, either by watching/reading the news, or by talking to people who have. Indeed, in many cases, the news media barely reports the factual basis of the news at all these days, instead simply having on pundits who analyze the facts, complete with judging which facts are important and to what degree, for us and present us their digested and (theoretically) considered view of what those facts mean.

This is a dangerous situation for a free people, because we often think that we are being informed when we are actually being manipulated. Consider the infamous case of NBC's faked reporting on the "danger" of pickup trucks with side-mounted fuel tanks. This could easily have led to government-mandated safety standards which could have increased costs and decreased safety, because judgements would have been skewed by bad information. But this is only an example of news media being caught faking the news: how many times have they not been caught on issues where public policy was at stake? Or consider "Rathergate"; in an earlier age, without the blogs' fact-checking of the media, this kind of faked news could have changed the results of a presidential election, which no one can reasonably dismiss as small stakes. With that dynamic in mind, it is clear that faked news about the war in Lebanon could easily lead the public, because of its bad information, to pressure the government to make bad decisions about foreign policy. That is, in fact, almost certainly the goal of Hizb'allah.

After all, it's not as if Islamist groups have not been staging news for years. Staging news to create wrong impressions is the very basis of effective Islamist terrorism: create an outrage, manipulate public opinion, force the enemy (us) to retreat or withdraw from shame or fear, repeat. The goal is, eventually, to so weaken the West and Israel that we stop resisting the Islamists, at which point they can take over and establish the Caliphate (Muslim theocracy) and subject infidels (that's us again) to conversion, slavery or death. If this seems extreme, it is. But it's not me being extreme; it is the Islamists. Don't take my word for it: read their thoughts on the topic. (Hat tip and analysis: FrontPage Mag)

So Shane Richmond can make of The Telegraph insinuations or outright allegations of blogs succumbing to conspiracy theories akin to "the moon landing was fake" and "Bill Clinton was profiting from drug running, and had someone killed at the Mena airport to cover it up" or "the US government destroyed the World Trade Center on 9/11" (and sometimes, it does look that way), but that is missing the point. The whole basis of ridicule of such outlandish conspiracy theories is that they are so ludicrous: they rely on a massive cover-up by thousands of people, sometimes over decades, which only the intrepid conspiracy theorist has been able to unravel, due to the slight difference in shading in the bottom left corner of frame 184 of this film. No, really! Look closely! But conspiracy theories are not equally subject to ridicule when there really is a long-running, well-documented conspiracy afoot. And in this case, there is.

I do not believe the media is intentionally co-operating with terrorists. Amend that, I do not believe that most of the media is intentionally co-operating with terrorists. But I do believe that the terrorists have crafted a public relations campaign aimed at defanging Western resistance to the Islamist project to reestablish the Caliphate around the world; that that campaign is aimed at the needs, preferences and biases of Western media; and that Western media has, by and large, been unable or unwilling to see that they are being manipulated.

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July 21, 2006

On the Internet, Anyone can Find Out if You Are a Dog

Peter Steiner's 1993 New Yorker cartoon posited a complete online anonymity: "On the Internet, no one knows you are a dog". At the time, this was quite true: a person could adopt any online persona they wanted to use, or any set of them, with no fear of discovery of their true identity unless they themselves revealed it. But the Internet has evolved since then, and web spiders like Google have uncovered enough information that it is now possible to find almost any information, including information people might want to hide. Like when an online journalist uses made-up sources for quotes, investing them with massive authority ("worked for the Reagan and Nixon administrations" and so on). This happens, of course, with print journalists as well. These are harder to catch, but they can be caught; ask Jayson Blair.

The beauty, and terror, of the Internet is that anyone can find out if you are a dog.

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July 18, 2006

On the Other Side?

What is really sad about this photograph of an enemy fighter firing on US troops is that if the US troops fired back and killed the journalist who took the picture, we would be treated to endless stories about the US "targeting" journalists, and the enemy soldier firing at the US troops would not even be mentioned in the media.

OK, so the question mark in the title is largely rhetorical.

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June 23, 2006


I was going to write at some length about the latest attack by the New York Times on the American war effort, and thus on the people of the United States1, by disclosing yet another method the government uses to find terrorists. Fortunately, most of that ground was covered by Fran Porretto, so you can see much of the rest of what I would have written there.

But there is one thing that Fran didn't cover and that I would like to discuss: obligations. A member of a community — up to and including a citizen of a country — has obligations to that community. One of those obligations is to obey the constitutionally-valid laws duly passed to govern that community, and another is to not deliberately attack that community directly or by aiding those who attack the community. To do otherwise is to yourself be an enemy of that community. (If someone would like to propose a definition of "enemy" that doesn't include deliberate attempts to destroy or weaken an entity, I'd love to hear it.) For institutions that are part of a community, there is a double obligation: the obligation of the institution to support the system that governs and protects them, and the obligation of each and every member of that institution to do likewise. As such, the Times has multiple obligations to the US that should prevent the Times from deliberately attempting to weaken the US. "Serving the public interest" is not only the Times' duty, but that of every US citizen or institution — and most particularly of the government. The government has an absolute duty to protect the US from attack, and the Times' weakening of that ability is a moral and cultural failure.

The Times, though, has some other peculiar views about obligations that it seems to share with many other MSM outlets. For example, the Times seems to think that the government has an obligation to the Times (and other self-designated journalists with the proper accreditations, memberships and viewpoints) to grant access, disclose information and otherwise to assist the Times in its organizational (corporate, in this case) endeavors. The government has no such obligation. This lack of obligation on the government's part opens a road to dealing with the Times and its like-minded compatriots: banishment.

The President should immediately announce that the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have, through their disclosure of this and other critically sensitive government programs, policies and procedures in the War passed beyond the point where they can be reasonably believed to be acting as responsible American journalists, particularly in refusing to withhold publication of sensitive information about vital government war measures. That, as a result, it is the policy of the government for one year from this date to hold those named institutions and their employees to be persona non grata in their role as journalists, with the following consequences: neither those organizations, nor any employee or associate of those organizations, nor any person whose material is published by those organizations during the year, will be granted press credentials at any government news conference or other event, including travel on Presidential and other government trips abroad; nor will any executive officer or employee grant interviews or otherwise disclose any information of any kind in their official capacity to those organizations or their employees, on pain of termination. The organizations' behavior over the sanction period would determine if the sanctions would continue in place past that year.

The MSM have for too long trampled over the people's true interests, and the people's representatives, in the MSM's own self-interest (while piously insisting they are merely our representatives, as if they were an elected, rather than self-appointed, agent of the public!). It is time for the government to reassert its own obligations to the citizens, by failing to cooperate with those who would harm our war efforts. True, there would be a firestorm over this. But then, what can the Times say that would be worse than what they've already said? What can they do that would be worse than what they've already done? It's time — it's past time — to reclaim government's role as our watchdog.

Certainly, there needs to be a free press covering the government, but there also need to be limits to how far that press goes. Exposing true malfeasance by government (yes, Abu Ghraib counts, though the coverage was one-sided and excessive) is one thing. A sustained attack on the country's ability to defend itself is quite another. And while censorship is not the answer, neither is ignoring the rot within.

1Yes, I realize that the Times would claim that they are "serving the public interest", or, in private, perhaps that they are attacking the Bush administration, but when you deliberately weaken a country's war effort, it is the people of that country who are put at risk. Do I question their patriotism? Unhesitatingly.

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June 10, 2006

Focusing in on the Important Issues

When a key person in an enterprise passes from the scene — whether by moving on to other career paths, natural death, or being immolated by 1000 pounds of high explosive encased in steel moving at hundreds of miles per hour — the ripples and waves of that absence have long-term effects that are difficult to predict with any precision. Their absence, like their earlier presence, warps space around them, and in the case where the now-dead (for which I am grateful) is an enemy of one's country, the implications can be staggering. These implications require huge resources and much consideration to unravel and understand, so that we can maintain our focus on the desired end state of the war, and act with due consideration of how to achieve those aims in the changed circumstances.

Fortunately, the Western media brings such resources into the reach of the public. We are not constrained to listening to our leaders tell us the outcome of their reasoning process; we can reason for ourselves. Unfortunately, the media would often rather focus on the frame than the issues. In this case, I mean that literally: the WaPo's concern about Zarqawi's death is the literal frame in which his picture was displayed at the CENTCOM briefing. No, really!

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March 7, 2006


There is a very small window open to the MSM (I hate the all-inclusiveness of that term, but it's so convenient because everyone realizes who it refers to, even though that's not even really implied in the term itself) to fix its problem before it is destroyed. The bias and lying and flacking and agenda-pushing has been so evident for so long that companies manipulate the press openly; even rabid news watchers tune out and instead look to blogs and foreign news sources; and now the administration is starting be openly adversarial to the press. There is a small, small window of opportunity left during which this part of the theoretically news reporting world can reform, can win back the trust it has squandered since 1968, and can become useful to society. If not — if they refuse to see themselves as Americans first, reporters of fact second, and writers of stories not at all; if they do not in other words see themselves as they say they do, as holders of a public trust for all of us — my children will not grow up to be adults in a world where traditional media has any power at all.

The ball is entirely in the media's court now, though. We won't need them much longer: anyone can make things up and put stock footage behind them, and it won't be long before anyone can access raw data (images, sounds, interviews, local opinions and so forth) about any place in the world, as they can already access a wealth of intelligent amateur opinion about those data. At the point, in the very near future, when the two advantages of news organizations — having a person paying attention in a place where something interesting is happening; and having access to government and corporate officials — are no longer operative, news organizations will no longer be operating, at least not as they do now.

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February 21, 2006

David Gregory Thinks He's my Proxy?

What an arrogant ass! It's not just that I didn't vote for him (a vile excuse for not supporting a representative after an election), but that he didn't even bother to run. That's not representation, it's arrogation, and David Gregory can stuff it.

Not that I'm bitter.

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February 16, 2006

Journalism's Crazy Old Aunt in the Attic

If you've ever wondered why Helen Thomas has earned the appellation of "journalism's crazy old aunt in the attic", read this.

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February 15, 2006

MSM Hypocrisy. How Unsurprising.

I have said before that the reason people get irritated at newspapers and TV news outlets not showing the Danish cartoons "to show respect for Muslims" and, more on point, "to avoid inflaming a tense situation" is that the media showed Abu Ghraib pictures wall to wall during that scandal. Well, they still are, with ABC rebroadcasting newly available photos of what happened at Abu Ghraib, despite not having shown the cartoons. So it's once again hypocrisy from the MSM. How unsurprising.

I'm sure that, when called on this, we will start hearing endlessly about the public's "right to know", while eliding the cartoons entirely.

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February 11, 2006

"I Think You Guys Have Blown It"

Glenn Reynolds takes CNN down a peg over their failure to show the Jyllands-Posten cartoons. Video here.

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February 7, 2006


Kudos to the Philiadelphia Inquirer for running one of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons of Mohammed. In their excellent explanation of why, the editors end with this statement, which should be read to the editors of newspapers like the NY Times, as a challenge:

This is what newspapers are in the business to do. We educate people, we inform them, we spark discussion. It is not only our profession, it is our obligation.

More of this kind of attitude, and I'll have to stop criticizing the media so broadly.

(hat tip: InstaPundit)

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February 5, 2006

Angry Muslims Terrorize Those They Accuse of Caricaturing Muslims as Angry Terrorists

And this cartoon has a great take on the American media reaction.

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January 4, 2006

Reports and Editors

Glenn Reynolds points out some of the distressingly wrong news stories from the past few months, and notes: "If bloggers had made these kinds of mistakes, Big-Media folks would be pointing them out as evidence that the blogosphere can't be trusted. But where were all those editors, filters, and fact-checkers?" It's actually worse than Glenn notes here, because these are places where the media got things wrong because they were sensational (Katrina), lazy (wolves) or fast and emotional (the miners). Glenn doesn't note here the other news failures, the ones where the reporters were being partisan attack dogs (forged memos), treasonous bastards (the reporting of how the CIA moves captured enemy around, or of where they are held, or of how we monitor enemy communications), deliberate liars (Jayson Blair comes to mind) or simply tools for tyrants (Eason Jordan to Saddam, the AP to the Palestinian terrorists and the Iraqi terrorists, etc). In other words, Glenn's current post only notes the understandable accidents, not the deliberate abuse of their power to control the flow of information.

And it is those deliberate failures, far more than the understandable mistakes, that condemn how the mainstream media works. And frankly, I think that the media gets it half right when they criticize bloggers. The media criticism of bloggers is on two lines: bloggers don't have the resources to uncover facts, but depend on the mainstream media for that; and bloggers don't have the "layers of editing staff, fact-checkers, lawyers, an editor-in-chief, and a publisher". The former is correct, and the latter is bogus.

It is clear that bloggers don't have the resources to have reporters (or stringers) covering all kinds of local events, never mind national and international events. It simply takes a large base of resources to put reporters around the world and have them cover everything of interest. So large, in fact, that only a few organizations even try: even the NY Times or CNN rely on local reporters, foreign stringers, wire services and press releases for their information. Still, combining those sources with the ability to direct a large reportorial staff to cover specific events, or to dig up more information on a story, is critical, and beyond the abilities of bloggers as a corporate entity, notwithstanding the efforts of Pajamas Media. Even the ability to get interviews with senior administration officials or Congressmen, or to embed with the military (Bill Roggio had to be sponsored by AEI, I believe), is difficult for bloggers, but simple for reporters from virtually any news outlet.

But news organizations have been having serious problems. Not only is their readership and viewership generally declining, and with it soon their advertising revenues (apparently subscription revenues have already fallen dramatically), but their credibility is going down the tubes as well. (Which follows the other, or whether they are coincident, it is not my purpose to explore here.) This is, ironically, largely a failure not of the reporters, but of the very things the media companies claim make them the gold standard: the editors and fact checkers. In actual fact, the editors more often insert opinion than excise it, and the fact checkers generally don't check. This combination leads to a downwards spiral in reliability, because no well-gathered and contextualized fact outweighs the failure of the organization's quality control, and one inserted (by the editor, or despite the editor) adjective, like describing a wholly legal and normal activity as "technically legal", can destroy the reliability of a report otherwise laden with useful information.

As far as I, and apparently many others, am concerned, punditry on television or in the newspapers no longer interests me. I can find in blogs a more articulate, more subject-aware and more eloquent set of commentators on all sides of any issue than the media can produce: they have to recycle the same set of pundits for every issue. I would, for example, rather listen to Phil Carter or Austin Bay on Iraq than, say, Daniel Schorr, who is paid to have opinions on any issue that comes to hand and apparently knows very little about history, foreign policy, the military or political theory (as opposed to insider political events). But the media is still essential because, despite these flaws and shortcomings, it is only the media organizations that have the resources to gather the raw data in bulk and to filter it together into a single source.

The moment that the blogs develop this ability, or that some media organization decides to publish raw facts and reports, well indexed and permanently maintained, rather than polished stories, the utility of the established media will rapidly drop away.

And it is that realization, even if unconscious, that makes reporters so afraid of bloggers.

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December 28, 2005

Fake and Inaccurate

From the same paper whose media critic opined on the MSM's superiority due to multiple layers of editors and fact checkers, I give you this.

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November 23, 2005

The NY Times and Iraq

Marc Schulman is demonstrating a point I've long held: the NY Times opinion page is nothing more or less than a mouthpiece for the American progressive movement. I suspect that this traces back to long, long before Viet Nam, even, back to the late 1800s. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does kind of put the lie to statements often heard from the Left that the media is basically conservative. In any case, I'd love to see this analysis expanded to cover other issues that are very dependent, in policy terms, on which party holds power at any given time. I suspect that you would find, for example, that the Times is relatively hard-line on the Iranian theocrats when Carter is in power and when Clinton is in power, and not so much when Reagan or either Bush is in power.

UPDATE: Part 2 is here.

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November 15, 2005

The Old, Gray Lady Has Alzheimer's

The New York Times continues to rewrite the history of how the war began.

The White House continues to set the record straight.

Meanwhile Robert Kagan at the Washington Post reminds us of where the NYT editorial page stood on Iraq and WMD between 1998-2000. The significance of these years? It was after weapons inspectors left Iraq and before George W. Bush was elected.

From 1998 through 2000, the Times editorial page warned that "without further outside intervention, Iraq should be able to rebuild weapons and missile plants within a year" and that "future military attacks may be required to diminish the arsenal again." Otherwise, Iraq could "restore its ability to deliver biological and chemical weapons against potential targets in the Middle East." "The world," it said, "cannot leave Mr. Hussein free to manufacture horrific germs and nerve gases and use them to terrorize neighboring countries."
Times editorials insisted the danger from Iraq was imminent. When the Clinton administration attempted to negotiate, they warned against letting "diplomacy drift into dangerous delay. Even a few more weeks free of inspections might allow Mr. Hussein to revive construction of a biological, chemical or nuclear weapon." They also argued that it was "hard to negotiate with a tyrant who has no intention of honoring his commitments and who sees nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as his country's salvation." "As Washington contemplates an extended war against terrorism," a Times editorial insisted, "it cannot give in to a man who specializes in the unthinkable."
Another Times editorial warned that containment of Hussein was eroding. "The Security Council is wobbly, with Russia and France eager to ease inspections and sanctions." Any approach "that depends on Security Council unity is destined to be weak." "Mr. [Kofi] Annan's resolve seems in doubt." When Hans Blix was appointed to head the U.N. inspectors, the editors criticized him for "a decade-long failure to detect Iraq's secret nuclear weapons program before the gulf war" and for a "tendency to credit official assurances from rulers like Mr. Hussein." His selection was "a disturbing sign that the international community lacks the determination to rebuild an effective arms inspection system." The "further the world gets from the gulf war, the more it seems willing to let Mr. Hussein revive his deadly weapons projects." Even "[m]any Americans question the need to maintain pressure on Baghdad and would oppose the use of force. But the threat is too great to give ground to Mr. Hussein. The cost to the world and to the United States of dealing with a belligerent Iraq armed with biological weapons would be far greater than the cost of preventing Baghdad from rearming."

So between 1998-2000 the Times was greatly concerned about Saddam's desire and ability to create more WMD's and the systems with which to deploy them. The Times was adamant that Saddam's acquisition of WMD's would be terribly dangerous to the United States and the world. The Times was worried about the UN's lack of resolve for keeping the sanctions in place. The Times had little faith that the UN was determined to have an effective inspections process.

My how the Times has changed!

What else has changed since then? Everything the Times was concerned about was still relevant prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Nothing had changed to make us believe Saddam wasn't still trying to acquire WMD's. His possesion of WMD's was even more dangerous to the US and the world following the events of 9/11. There was still ample reason to doubt that the UN inspections process was effective.

But there has been one rather important change since the 1998-2000 time period - the election of George W. Bush.

President Bush used pretty much the exact same arguments of the NYT in the runup to Operation Iraqi Freedom. But the Times would have you believe that the history of Iraq and WMD began with the election of Bush - that Bush created this Iraqi menace out of whole cloth to justify war. He misled us all; he lied.

But as Mr. Kagan concludes:

As we wage what the Times now calls "the continuing battle over the Bush administration's justification for the war in Iraq," we will have to grapple with the stubborn fact that the underlying rationale for the war was already in place when this administration arrived.
Posted by Brian at 6:38 PM | TrackBack

Media as Weapon, not Theatre

The Officers' Club addresses the idea of the media as an instrument of war, but Brian points out in the comments something that is vitally important to understand, and often lost on bloggers: the media is not a theatre, but a weapon. (hat tip: InstaPundit) This is a fact often lost on bloggers, who tend to view the media as a thinking enemy of the US.

To an extent, that view is correct: many in the media seem to be actively working against the US war effort. But that view is not complete: the media has motives, incentives and goals beyond simple anti-Americanism or transnationalism, and the media is not a unified body, either. It is precisely these different motives, incentives and goals that jihadis exploit: frequent bombings on the road to the Baghdad airport tweak reporters' incentives to show spectaculars, while the fact that the road has been safe for many months now has not been worthy of a single report, so far as I can tell. Similarly, by attaching the victim label to themselves, the jihadis get a free pass on atrocities, while by not being the victim, the US is blamed even for the acts of the jihadis. (This happens in domestic politics as well.)

To really understand how the press can be used as a weapon of the West, though, you have to understand one key fact: the only way to defeat an enemy (in the strategic sense) is to defeat his will to fight. The only way to defeat an enemy's capacity to fight is to kill him, if necessary to the last man. In practice this pretty much never happens, because human willpower is not infinite. As the Iraq campaign shows, even an enemy incapable of resisting on conventional ground can, if he is determined enough, continue fighting long after any rational analysis tells him he can prevail. Even at the very end of WWII in Europe, with all of Germany in flames, there were millions of Germans who could have taken up arms, and the arms were available. But the Germans had lost their will to resist. Indeed, the German people and even military would probably have been willing to surrender much sooner, but one of the drawbacks of totalitarianism is the inability of the people to bend the leaders' wills.

So to make the enemy stop fighting, or never fight in the first place, requires you to defeat the enemy's will to fight. For less rational enemies, like the Nazis or the jihadis, this is a task that requires the almost complete destruction of the enemy. For more rational groups, like the US or the Germans of WWI, once you demonstrate to them that winning is not possible, there is generally a point at which a negotiated settlement is preferable to continued fighting. Note that you don't have to convince a rational actor that he will lose a fight, only that he will not win it, to eventually force him to concede the field. This is, at its heart, the way that the jihadis use the press (and the way that anti-Americans, anti-capitalists and anti-Republicans in the press itself use the press): as an attempt to defeat our will to fight. Hence the boasting price; hence the videotaped beheadings; hence the endless accusations of the evil nature of all Americans and American institutions; hence the endless comparisons to Viet Nam. All of this makes using the media as an aid to war, or even neutralizing its effect, difficult for Americans in general and almost impossible for Republicans.

But we don't have to necessarily win the same way our enemies do. All we have to do is show ourselves to be strong enough to not lose our will because of excessively negative press coverage; that is, to convince the enemy that the press is not a sufficient weapon to defeat us. We don't have to use the media ourselves as a weapon, though it would be nice if we did, since it would shorten the war. That is why the 2004 election was so important: it denied a significant hope of the enemy. And the 2006 and 2008 elections will be important for the same reason. If the enemy comes to believe that he cannot defeat our will, then his own will will be weakened. In combination with the morale losses from field attrition, and the loss of supporters as media stunts staged for the West, like the attacks in Amman, result in a loss of respect among the semi-neutral Muslims the jihadis want to recruit, the enemy will have a very difficult time maintaining his will to fight, and many of the enemy's fighters will in fact stop fighting.

In the end, there are still jihadis who will only stop fighting when they die, but I suspect that that number is not sufficient to maintain an international campaign against us, and that the jihadis' will can be beaten sufficiently to not necessitate actually hunting down and killing each of the most fanatical of the enemy. Or if we do, it will be more like the Israeli hunt for Nazis than it will be like open warfare.

Posted by jeff at 5:26 PM | TrackBack

October 25, 2005

Wrong Word

Bill Roggio used the wrong word:

The attack on the Palestinian Hotel has created a media backlash against violence directed against journalists, but not against al Qaeda in particular. Media giant Reuters weighs in on yesterday's multiple suicide assault. While Suicide bombings have been the calling card of al Qaeda in Iraq and its Islamist affiliates and allies, incredulously, Reuters feigns ignorance of the origin of the attackers; "Until now, the perpetrators remain unknown." Reuters does not even hazard an educated guess.

The word "incredulously" means "not able to believe" or "not able to credit". As in, Reuters is incredulous at the advance of freedom in Iraq.

The word "incredibly" means "not able to be believed" or "not able to be given credit". As in, Reuters is, even more than most of the MSM, incredible.

Posted by jeff at 8:50 PM | TrackBack

October 22, 2005

I Wish This Were Funny

Sadly, it's just apropos.

Posted by jeff at 7:31 PM | TrackBack

October 6, 2005

Naming Things, Logic, and Humanity

I'm a big believer in calling things by appropriate names. This is not mere sophistry: the naming of a thing tells us how to respond to that thing. To name a thing is to assign a moral role to that thing. The enemies of clear understanding, the Derridas and Chomskys and Zinns, use names to blur the moral nature of otherwise repugnant people or activities, as did Markos Zuniga when he called contractors working for the military in Iraq "mercenaries", and said "screw them" when they were killed and treated barbarously. It's why our external enemy are called "freedom fighters" by those who view us as their internal enemies: freedom fighters are morally legitimate, and thugs and terrorists are not.

Setting aside for the moment how this abuse of language leads words to become meaningless, and thus leads to the inability to clearly articulate moral choices, we come to another term that is meaningless and needs to be abandoned: "suicide bomber". A person who goes into the middle of the desert and kills himself by detonating explosives is not what we mean by "suicide bomber", even though he used a bomb to commit suicide. Similarly, a person who goes into the middle of a crowd, and sets of his bomb killing many, but who somehow survives (it has happened) is what we mean by "suicide bomber". But what to call such a person? The point of the act is not suicide, but homicide and "martyrdom" (a term that needs an essay or two to do justice to, particularly in the jihadi sense of the term) together — or frequently just homicide.

But "homicide bomber" doesn't work. Tim McVeigh, in destroying the Murrah Federal Building, certain committed homicide using a bomb, but that is not the same thing as what we mean, because McVeigh did not intend to die in the act. (This is why Fox News calling the Madrid train bombings the first homicide bombings in Western Europe was so ridiculous; clearly Fox missed the entire era of Communist terrorism in Western Europe, and for that matter the Irish bombings in England over several decades.) So what term does express the act itself: the intentional killing of others with a bomb, in order to attain a goal (terrorizing others into cultural and political surrender, these days), with the intent of killing one's self in the process? The only term I can come up with is "kamikaze". It expresses both the intended suicide and the intended homicide aspects of the act, and is morally neutral for the most part. It is understood to be a tactic, rather than a cause. And so it can be equally applied to attacks on military or government targets (morally legitimate) or attacks on civilians (morally illegitimate).

And now to some logic, and current events. Joe Hinrichs killed himself with a bomb at OU last Saturday. Was he or was he not a kamikaze? I tend to think not, for a few reasons.

  • First, he doesn't fit the profile of today's kamikaze's. As Fran Porretto ably pointed out, the next one or ten or one hundred of these attacks are not going to be committed by middle class non-Muslim white guys. (Don't worry; we'll come back to this point.) As far as I can tell, Joe was a middle class non-Muslim white guy.
  • There were several easy, spectacular targets nearby (including both the ongoing football game and a popular and crowded Irish pub) where, were Joe a kamikaze, he could have killed many, many people.
  • In many ways most importantly to me, Joe was a member of the Oklahoma Chapter of Triangle Fraternity, an organization I am also privileged to be a member of. I know the kind of people involved in the fraternity in general, and the Oklahoma chapter in general. I know, as an initiate, the central mystery and ethics that are assumed as a part of becoming a Brother. Joe would have had to utterly renounce that creed — would have broken every part of it — to kill himself and others in this way.

Now that last point isn't logical. It is an intuitive feeling based on things that I know that are not amenable to logic. And as such, I'm perfectly ready to abandon (with accompanying grief and disappointment) that last point if it turns out that in fact Joe was intending a kamikaze attack. In fact, if it could be shown that Joe was a Muslim convert, I would have to acknowledge the likelihood that in fact this was a kamikaze attack, intended to kill numerous of my fellow citizens.

But let's pause there and look at the logic of many whose opinions I otherwise respect, who claim that Joe was a kamikaze. There are many examples, but I'm going to pick on The Jawa Report, because the format is easiest to deal with:

1) Hinrichs seems to have converted to Islam and attended a nearby Islamic center. (see map at Zombietime) However, the president of the University of Oklahoma Muslim Studeant Association denies that Hinrichs was a Muslim. Other witnesses, though, claim Hinrichs was a frequent visitor to the mosque.

2) It appears that the Islamic center is affiliated with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a group with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and which has been investigated for funding terrorism by Congress.

3) The ISNA linked mosque may have been the same one attended by Zacharias MOUSSAOUI. Much more on the Zacharias MOUSSAOUI link at Cao's blog.

4) Hinrichs' roomate, Fazal M. Cheema, was a Pakistani national and neighbors claim the apartment was a center of activity for Middle Easterners. He is described as a 'really nice guy' by his friends. Unfortunately, all terrorists are described this way by their friends. NEIN now reports that Cheema and his associates may have been on the FBI's terror watch list.

5) Hinrichs attempted to buy a large amount of ammonium nitrate, a key ingredient in large explosives such as the first World Trade Center bombings or the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing.

6) Hinrichs was later known to the FBI because of his attempted purchase.

7) Evidence at the scene of the bombing suggests that shrapenel was part of the bomb. This is a strong indication that Hinrichs planned to kill more than himself.

8) Witnesses now report Hinrich may have attempted to enter the OU football game, but that he fled when security attempted to check his backpack

9) Northeast Intelligence Network, who's earlier reports we had dismissed because of that website's long track record of alarmism but who are increasingly looking like they got this one right, claims a source is telling them:

It appears that HINRICHS was part of a larger plan that included members of an Islamic terrorist cell based in and around the Norman and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma area. As a Caucasian, it was much easier for him to obtain the materials needed to create a large bomb, act in concert with members of the local terrorist cell, and strike when relative calm was the word of the day.
All of this evidence suggests that there may have been a wider plot by Islamic terrorists to use Joel Henry Hinrichs III as a suicide bomber in exactly the same way as terrorists use suicide bombers around the world: to kill civilians. Hinrichs, like so many other suicide bombers, failed in his attempt and killed only himself.

OK, so let's look at this. Point one might be convincing, if in fact it turns out that Joe was a convert to Islam. But was he? The only sources I've seen that say he was are either unreliable (I think NIN is as surprised as anyone any time they get something right; they're like the American Debka) or refer only to "anonymous sources", which I've learned not to trust. In contrast, named people will go on the record saying Joe was not a member of the mosque. Does anyone have a source that is not anonymous, and that is not NIN or WND or some equally untrustworthy site?

The most ridiculous evidence I keep seeing is the map showing the proximity of the local Islamic Center to Joe's apartment, the blast site, etc. Um, guys, the College Republicans, the office of the local Representative, and a lot of other things (including bars and bookstores) are equally close. That's not only unconvincing; it's blatantly illogical.

Points 2 and 3 are irrelevant if point 1 is unproven.

Point 4 is based on NIN "reporting", which I will not take without corroboration elsewhere (involving named sources).

Points 5 and 6 are essentially the same point (of course you're known to the FBI if you try to buy a large quantity of ammonium nitrate; they're not idiots, and learned to watch that after the OKC bombing), and certainly show that Joe might have intended to build a bomb. Of course, the fact that he killed himself with a homemade bomb showed that already, so I'm not sure how this is evidence of anything that isn't already proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Point 7 might be convincing, but there is no attribution and this is not something I've seen elsewhere. Is it from a reliable site, and a named source, or is it just rumor or third-hand reports?

Point 8 is a secondhand report, which is also known as "rumor", if you want to go back to the topic of naming things. The library security guard may be telling what he knows accurately, but given that he is telling about something he did not witness, it's not reliable testimony of what actually happened at the stadium, nor whether the student mentioned as running from the stadium guards was even male, never mind whether the student was Joe.

Point 9 is more rumors and unnamed sources from NIN.

So it comes to this: my prejudices lead me to believe that Joe was not a kamikaze, and a lot of people's prejudices lead them to conclude that he was. But the "evidence" being bandied about is not very convincing on either side, and perhaps it would be better to remember that no matter what else, Joe has a family and friends who are very badly affected by Joe's death. In the absence of good evidence, isn't it a bit better to wait to pronounce from on high, so as not to unfairly smear a possible innocent and his family? Otherwise, just how are conservatives any better morally, any less conspiracy-addled freaks, than the DU moonbats?

To Rusty's credit, he does at least have a disclaimer: "A word of caution is necessary here. It is definitely possible that Hinrichs did act alone and was just a sad nut with a death wish. Some of the facts presented above could turn out to be untrue, and even if true could be interpreted in a number of ways. We'll just have to wait and see. But, as of this writing I am inclined to believe that Hinrichs was part of a larger plot." I wish others were at least as responsible.

UPDATE: Lewy14 notes in the comments: "I recall reading something last year to the effect that _real_ kamikaze pilots (there were a few who went through the training and survived the war) were indignant at being compared to terrorist suicide bombers. Calling the latter "kamikaze" elevates them to the dignity of soldiers. It effectively claims that their civilian victims are legitimate combatants. Whatever else the Japanese kamikazes were, they were not murderers or terrorists."

I actually considered that. The problem is that our enemy doesn't think like we do, while the Japanese basically did. Our enemy does not have an idea that separates soldiers from civilians; they are tribal. But when a "suicide bomber" attacks a military or government target that we would regard as legitimate, then they are doing exactly what the kamikazes did. The only difference is that our enemy doesn't regard civilians as non-combatants.

UPDATE: Classical Values has great coverage of this story, by the way. I have gone through the last few days of posts, and it's exactly the tone I was trying to hit (except without the emotional involvement I have): skeptical of unsourced claims from any site.

UPDATE: Cathy Young has an interesting post today, 10/18, where she takes apart Michelle Malkin, Powerline, and Jawa Report for basically the same reasons I did. Here is the graf that had me saying, "yep":

Malkin, Powerline, and The Jawa Report claim that the blogs have not made any assertions, merely asked questions. First of all, that's a common, and rather poor, excuse for irresponsible speculation. If a prominent left-wing blog ran an item titled, "Did George W. Bush know in advance about the 9/11 attacks?", I doubt that Malkin & Co. would consider the question mark to be much of an attenuating circumstance.

I do have to say one thing in Powerline's favor: they didn't consistently refer to Joe as "Joel Henry Hinrichs III", as the other blogs did. That full legal name thing just screams "suspect", and I'm happy that not everyone jumped onto it.

UPDATE: Turning off comments, because I'm getting really weird ones now, that are complete junk (just a few words) rather than real comments.

Posted by jeff at 6:20 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

October 5, 2005

Get the Picture?

Need more evidence of significant parts of the media being on the other side? Sir Humphrey's has it. (hat tip: InstaPundit) Note the long history of Bilal Hussein's generation — and AP's willing use of — enemy propaganda.

It seems to me that the military should find this guy, and track him. He would probably lead us to interesting places.

UPDATE: Wizbang also noticed, as did Jawa Report and others.

UPDATE: Michael Yon describes one aspect of the media's culpability as spreaders of enemy propaganda:

It was not a long or particularly hard battle to recover the [police stations abandoned in Mosul after an enemy attack], but what made the news lead that day was the Mosul police abandoning their stations.

To an enemy in need of assets, a press that is increasingly disengaged is like an empty car with keys in the ignition--begging to be stolen. How the keys came to be left in the car, and how the inevitable theft managed to go unreported are questions for a different dispatch. To really understand the dynamics of the Battle for Mosul, it suffices to say the enemy started with a media advantage that they continue to exploit even now.

Insurgent leaders must have spent hours watching western television, particularly news broadcasts. They planned attacks that would create dramatic footage for the nightly news, and in many cases, they provided the camera crew and made the footage available for streaming and downloads on the internet.

Posted by jeff at 7:26 PM | TrackBack

September 29, 2005

Getting it Wrong

Jeff Jarvis, a blogger and journalist, completely misunderstands the utility of press freedom to a free society. (hat tip: Francis Porretto) A local New Orleans official gave a tear-filled interview on Meet the Press, which cannot be conveyed with a summary. When Broussard, the local official, blamed the Federal government for the problems in response to Hurricane Katrina, Meet the Press host Tim Russert asked whether local government should not bear some responsibility. Broussard answered:

Sir, they were told like me, every single day, "The cavalry's coming," on a federal level, "The cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming." I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry. The cavalry's still not here yet, but I've begun to hear the hoofs, and we're almost a week out.


The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, "Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday." And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.

The problem with this story is that it is factually incorrect. The woman in question died the night of the hurricane, before the city even flooded, rather than a week later. Tim Russert did the right thing: he had Mr. Broussard back on the show to correct the record. When Broussard tried to dodge, Russert called him on it, and it is this that Jarvis objects to. In the process of that objection, though, Jeff Jarvis lets out the most astonishing statement on media responsibility and method since Rather's infamous "fake but accurate" remark:
Too much of journalism is turning this way today: If we nitpick the facts and follow some rules some committee wrote up, we'll be safe; we're doing our jobs. No, sir, our job is to get more than the facts. Anybody can get facts. Facts are the commodity. The truth is harder to find. Justice is harder to fight for. Lessons are what we're after.

Exactly, totally wrong.
  • "No, sir, our job is to get more than the facts."

    Nope. Reporters' jobs should be to collect and convey facts, so that everyone else can make up their mind on what story that conveys. Telling people the story, and selecting and arranging the facts that support your story, is called spin, and it's something that journalists tend to decry from politicians and other non-journalists. Taken to it's logical "fake but accurate" extreme, in fact, it's not spin so much as lying.

  • "Anybody can get facts."

    Anybody can get some of the facts local to them, and can report them on a blog or what have you, certainly. But I cannot get facts about things that are not local to me, or that I do not have the time to gather. Nor can I afford to sit at, say, every city council meeting in order to catch that one important moment that comes along after a decade of nothing interesting. Nor can I get, say, the world's foremost expert on levees to answer my call in the middle of a hurricane so that I can get my questions answered. Only an organization dedicated to the purpose of collecting those facts, willing and able to spend money to have hundreds or thousands of people actively collecting those facts, can get the facts in the non-local sense, or can get a significant amount of the facts on any given issue that is not geographically confined.

  • "Facts are the commodity."

    A commodity in great demand and short supply, in fact. Jarvis is right in that facts are a commodity that is used to form opinions. Where he is wrong is in the implication that we cannot form our own opinions, but must be handed them by a journalist.

  • "The truth is harder to find. Justice is harder to fight for. Lessons are what we're after."

    But the people will find the truth if given the facts. The people will fight for justice if they have the facts of justice denied. The people will learn lessons if they see everything about the events. And these will be more complete and generally more correct than if a particular person, organization, or trade decides that it should have complete control over matters of truth, justice and lessons. Indeed, the reason journalism is dying away in readership and viewership is that there are now alternatives, and we the people are beginning to realize how much information, how many facts, what kinds of justice, and what lessons we've been denied by the all-pervading monopoly media institutions.

Journalists decry political spin (particularly conservative political spin) all the time, but what they frequently do — what Jarvis is pretty much demanding they do — is to spin the information themselves to convey the story they desire to be perceived. I don't think journalism is worse in this respect today than 15 years ago, but I've become aware enough of it that I usually tune out journalists. The New Orleans story was different: so much detail was conveyed as if by people actually observing, that I gave the press the benefit of the doubt; in fact I did not doubt at all. My mistake. If reporters cannot confine themselves to the gathering and conveyance of facts, then reporters become not reporters but opinion shapers. And that's fine, but don't expect the rest of us to passively accept being shaped.

And if our refusal to accept the news at face value causes us to search for alternatives, and if finding those alternatives continues to deny resources (readers, viewers, advertisers, etc) to the current media empires, and if they find that cuts their budget for gathering facts and using them to form opinions for the rest of us, well, too bad so sad. At least they should be able to dig up where their decline came from. After all, they're journalists.

Posted by jeff at 5:53 PM | TrackBack

September 27, 2005

Everything You Know is Wrong

Shame on me. Shame on me for believing anything that the media reports, even in the US, even when there are dozens or hundreds of purported witnesses and even when there are government officials saying the same thing. (And shame on me, too, for believing anything government officials say without checking up on it first.) What is the topic that inspired this thought? Well, it turns out that not only were most of the horrible conditions reported in New Orleans false, they were off by orders of magnitude. Large numbers of rapes, including children? Nope. Hundreds of dead in the Superdome? Nope. Murders and attacks on rescue workers by the boatload? Nope, just a few isolated incidents. Looting on a grand scale? Well, there was obviously some, but at this point I'm going to guess that the looting was far more confined than reported.

Why did I fall for this? Well, when you have the media and the politicians both reporting the same thing, over and over again, it sounds pretty plausible. They are, after all, on site or getting information from people on site (like police officers and rescue workers). That's pretty heavy evidence. I already discount any story with known poisoned sources (that is, sources with a known agenda whose purposes would be served by the story in question), or with only a single source, or with only unnamed source or only one named source. But these stories appeared to have dozens of sources behind them.

But here's what apparently actually happened to generate those news stories:

  • Something bad happened. A person died at the Superdome, or a person was raped, or looters fired at rescue workers in one place.
  • In the fragmented connectivity of the rescue community, with the police radio system underwater and the other services frequently not being able to talk directly to each other, tales of such an event spread by the telephone system, one person to another with some level of distortion (generally embellishment) at every stage, and many stages.
  • Eventually, a horrible rumor was to be heard in the lunch lines where the police or rescue workers were grabbing a bite and taking a break: 200 bodies were in the Superdome (there were 6, plus 4 more in the surrounding streets) or 40 bodies in the freezer at the Convention Center (there were 4, only one of which was murdered), or kids were being raped (unsubstantiated at this time), or rescue workers were getting shot at (wildly exaggerated).
  • Reporters passed the rumors on as established fact. I can remember at least one case, I think on CNN [UPDATE: Nope, Times-Picayune report], of a reporter saying he had seen the bodies in the freezer at the Convention Center. Again, the "reporters" were not filing reports, but telling stories, with their own embellishments added.
  • Government officials, unable to communicate with their own people with any speed or reliability or clarity, would ask them if the reports were true, and get something like, "I heard that from some of the Coast Guard guys." The politicians would then confirm the story to the press.
  • The press would then report the story as confirmed.

Like I said, shame on me for believing that our incompetent press could get a story right even in our own country.

UPDATE: Just to drive the point home, it's not just the stories, but the photographs, too. (And, certainly, the video.) Thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for that link.

Posted by jeff at 3:38 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 23, 2005

On the Other Side

I suppose I should be reassured that the media are not utterly stupid, and actually know they are being manipulated, but are OK with that. I probably would be reassured, except that at least some, and likely almost all, of the reporters know that what they are doing is helping the enemy to win. If you don't believe me, read this excerpt of an interview with the author of one of Time's latest hit pieces against the war effort.

Posted by jeff at 4:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 22, 2005

Understanding Iraq

While Time Magazine asks if we've already lost in Iraq, Bill Roggio shows the intricate series of attacks we are mounting on the enemy in his centers of strength. Note where we are fighting now: not in the South-central part of Iraq, but deep in the terrorist and insurgent rear areas. And note the kind of fighting we are doing: no longer simple sweeps, but targeted strikes on leaders and key infrastructure, combined with clear and hold operations (that is to say, denial of territory to the enemy) in enemy strongholds.

Chester, meanwhile, demonstrates the disconnect between real events and the reporting of the events, and Belmont Club explains the disconnect more succinctly:

The news coverage of Iraq frequently fails to convey the cumulative linkage of military events in that country. Operations are often reported in a disconnected fashion, as if some operations officer got up in the morning and asked 'what are we going to attack today?', and then troops rush out to do whatever just occurred to them. Worse, definite types of military operations on both sides, whether car bombing, cordon and search, precision strike, etc. are often described according to some political theme -- 'standing up for freedom', 'deepening quagmire', 'the body bags mount', 'reduced to high altitude bombing' -- and the reader gets no sense of the logic behind the events. Both the US Armed Forces and the enemy are led by experienced professionals schooled in the operational art; and if we can be sure of nothing else, we can be certain that their acts have a specific military intent which often does not correspond to the themes articulated by some talking heads. Whether one is on the Left or the Right, it should be abundantly clear that we are watching the battle for the Syrian border and for the control of the Euphrates and Tigris river lines. No matter whose side you're on, you should know what game you are in.

I don't understand, really, why it is that the MSM is not learning from its mistakes. They should have realized after Afghanistan that the narrative being conveyed (aggressive and incompetent US bogged down in hopeless mountain war against hardened native defenders) did not match the reality. Instead, they found flaws and imperfections to nitpick. They should have realized after the Iraq invasion was completed that the narrative being conveyed (aggressive and incompetent US bogged down in hopeless desert war against hardened defending troops) did not match the reality. Instead, they found flaws and imperfections to nitpick. They should have realized by now that the battle to defeat the terrorists and Ba'athist remanants in Iraq does not match the narrative (aggressive and incompetent US bogged down in hopeless desert war against hardened insurgents fighting to defend their freedom [to kill the rest of the Iraqis, but that's never stated] aided by heroic foreign fighters [terrorists who slaughter women and children in houses of worship, but that's never stated]) does not match the reality. Instead, they focus on police blotter coverage and disconnected incidents while avoiding any systematic look at the big picture.

Eventually, reality overwhelms narrative, and the media has some huge narrative failures to account for.

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August 2, 2005

Defending ABC

I almost hate to do it, but I have to defend ABC, which has been banned in Russia for interviewing the head of the Chechen terrorist/insurgent movement, Shamil Basayev. I don't like that ABC or other media outlets tend to interview monsters like Hussein or Basayev (responsible for the massacre of children at Beslan, among other things) more respectfully than they interview our own leaders or those of our allies. I don't like media organizations reporting enemy propaganda in exchange for access either, and here are the horns of our dilemma.

On the one horn, ABC is doing something vile: interviewing a terrorist and treating his claims with undeserved respect. On the other horn, the government of Russia is doing something even more vile: using the power of the state to silence criticism by the media. If this were not a pattern of Russian behavior, I would probably tend to lean in their favor. But it's becoming clear that Putin is a tyrant, of the "one man, one vote, one time" kind. And let's face it: a free society can tolerate a badly behaved press to some degree, but no society can tolerate a tyrannical government, and the silencing of criticism of a tyrannical government is simply unacceptable.

UPDATE: Ron Coleman takes the other side. (via InstaPundit)

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August 1, 2005

Dick Cheney, Please Run for President

Courtesy of Drudge:

White House press doyenne Helen Thomas is plenty peeved at her longtime friend Albert Eisele, editor of THE HILL newspaper in Washington, D.C.

In a column this week headlined "Reporter: Cheney's Not Presidential Material," Eisele quoted Thomas as saying "The day Dick Cheney is going to run for president, I'll kill myself. All we need is one more liar."

Promises, promises, Helen.

In a related noted, surprisingly unreported by Drudge and leaving her last sentence above lacking its true context, Helen's next words were "And that's why I'll be voting for another Clinton! Eeeeeyahhh!"

But Thomas said yesterday at the White House that her comments to Eisele were for his ears only. "I'll never talk to a reporter again!" Thomas was overheard saying.

Again with the promises Helen.

I've never wanted Cheney to run for president more. Of course, maybe if Karl Rove runs, Helen will never talk to anyone again! Ah, we can dream...

Posted by Brian at 1:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 29, 2005

Media Credibility Goes Boink

Ever since the end of major combat operations in Afghanistan, just a few months after 9/11, there have been two major media themes: the US is failing in the war on terror because of George Bush, and the US is failing in Iraq (which has nothing to do with the war on terror) because of George Bush. But the media has a serious problem now, because of two developments with the latter theme. The first development is that the US has apparently turned the corner in Iraq: we could be reducing troop levels in Iraq next year, and without the country falling apart. The second development is that the terrorists keep insisting on linking their terrorism to the "provocation" of Iraq, as once linked their terrorism to the "provocations" of East Timor, the Gulf War, the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the fall of Andalusia (hundreds of years ago).

As the Iraqi political process moves forwards, and the terrorists continue to be beaten down or driven out, and the US begins drawing down troop strength in Iraq, the media will have to report these things, even if they put a decidedly negative spin on events. (If? Of course they will!) With the war in Iraq clearly being won, there will be no way to look at the media coverage of the last few years and see how it happened. How did a series of negative events, coupled with a few minor successes (like the January elections), lead to a positive outcome? And there will be, at that point, a huge drop in media credibility.

Let me pause here for a moment, because there's something that we in the blogosphere frequently forget: we aren't normal. Most Americans don't follow news obsessively, and don't seek out multiple alternative sources of information to tease the strands of truth from the mass of reporting available. Most Americans barely watch the evening news. For the vast majority, news comes mostly second hand. And so only the surface flows of the news story make a real impression on most people. While the non-news obsessive public has already been discounting much of what the media says, and their credibility has already been dropping, this will massively accelerate with events so obviously opposed to the media narrative.

And this will cause the second part of the media template to bite: how will the media be taken seriously on their pronouncements of how badly the war on terror is going, when the media was so wrong on the war in Iraq? And the media will have a hard time pulling the two apart, because the terrorists themselves are linking Iraq to their actions.

So the most dangerous theater of war for the US - public opinion as formed by the media - may not be a danger for too much longer.

UPDATE: This kind of crap doesn't exactly help the media, either. Far too many reporters (not the one named in Mark's piece) are ghouls, and far too many MSM news organizations feed off of the ghoulishness. And that's going to haunt them (no pun intended) in a world where they no longer have the only loud voice.

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July 21, 2005

Flooding the Area

Wizbang points to something interesting, in relation to today's attacks in London: the BBC reporters' notes are available online. This brings up two very interesting points, in fact.

The first is that I wish reporters would always do this, would always show the raw material. These are the reports, as opposed to the stories. The stories - in the newspaper, on the radio or on TV - are built from these reports; they are a synthesis. But in with synthesizing the points into a coherent narrative, a point of view is also inserted, and it is from that that most media bias arises. In fact, it is possible to draw multiple narratives from most large sets of reports about related incidents, and by making the raw reports available, a person can read the reports and synthesize their own narrative understanding. This is a good thing.

The second point is that this is what the blogs cannot yet do: flood an area or a sector with reporters and gather information. Blogs are more like the editors who put together a story: they gather information from a variety of places, then inject their own viewpoint and form a narrative structure around the component reports. But there is no coordinating structure to gather the information in the first place, which puts bloggers at the mercy, largely, of the traditional news media for gathering information. But when only the parsed stories are available, not the raw reports, the information gathered can be partial and presented in a biased way. Developing such a capability is far more important to the ability of blogs to bypass the mainstream media than anything else blogs could do. Particularly because, since people with access to computers are just about everywhere, bloggers could potentially develop a news source much more vast than any conventional news organization. But again, this requires a system to coordinate the gathering and dissemination of information, and we don't have that yet.

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July 16, 2005

The Memory Hole II

Think about how, say, just about everyone on the Left is constantly saying there was no link between Saddam and al Qaeda. Then note that this is an ABC report, from 1999, detailing those links. (I've seen this in several places, so I'm not sure whom to credit.)

But I suppose, once the news becomes politically incorrect, it, too must go down the memory hole.

Posted by jeff at 9:10 AM | TrackBack

July 14, 2005

The Karl Rove/Valerie Plame Kerfuffle

I am already sick and tired of this non-story! For those of you unclear on the particulars, let me sum up, because I don't want to talk about this again, barring an actual story emerging.

In the 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush uttered these words: "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa .” (Interesting to note, Bush wasn't basing this on Joe Wilson's report, but on British intel. Some good info in the link under the "The Senate Intelligence Committee Report" and the "We No Longer Believe" headings.)

A little over five months later, Joe Wilson wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times saying that a year earlier the CIA had sent him to investigate the claims of Saddam trying to buy uranium in Niger, and that he could find no evidence to support the claim. (Interesting that it took him five months to publicly dispute this part of Bush's speech...)

A few days later, according to Michael Isikoff's story in Newsweek, Time's Matthew Cooper contacted Karl Rove and had a brief discussion in which he asked Rove what to make of Wilson's op-ed piece. Rove corrected a misinterpretation brought on by Wilson's article. Rove told Cooper that Wilson's trip had not been authorized by CIA Director George Tenet or by Dick Cheney (as some were claiming at the time), but instead had been authorized by Wilson's wife 'who apparently works at the agency on wmd issues'. (Note, Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame was a CIA analyst. There is no way you can infer from Cooper's purported e-mails to Time's editors that Rove knew she was anything more than that, specifically a covert agent. In fact the first mention I can find of Valerie Plame as a "covert" agent comes from this New York Times article, almost a month after the Rove-Cooper conversation. Bob Novak used the term "operative", but when looked at in context, he is simply referring to her CIA work on WMD [actually counterproliferation] which wasn't covert, and never called her a "covert" operative, as the Times erroneously states.)

So there's the story. Karl Rove, while setting the record straight, mentioned Wilson's trip was authorized by his wife. There is no evidence that Rove knew she was a covert agent or that he was intentionally blowing her cover. Thus, there appears to be no illegality in Rove's conversations. Thus, there is no story here (at least no Rove is a criminal angle). This is nothing but blind partisanship of the left and their willing accomplices in the (we're not biased!) MSM, notably NBC's David Gregory and ABC's Terry Moran.

Now excuse me if I stop paying attention to the MSM's latest anti-Republican obsession.

Posted by Brian at 1:04 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 12, 2005

The Memory Hole

In the aftermath of the London bombings, the BBC did something amazing: it called the perpetrators terrorists. Without even using scare quotes. Given that the perpetrators of such attacks in the past - with the same background, ideology, methods and targets - have been called militants, gunmen, fighters and even activists by the BBC, this is nothing short of stunning. But that was when the targets were in Israel. Of course, once the immediate reaction of being targeted wore off, the BBC has been pushing 'terrorist' down the memory hole again.

Thing is, Europe has a problem: they are beginning to approach the point in some countries where the Muslim immigrant minority is large, unassimilated and radicalized, and it's a good bet that Europe could be in Israel's position (interleaved large radicalized Muslim population willing to kill and die randomly while posturing as victims) within a decade or so - and the position is actually worse, because Europe is not as segregated as Israel and the territories are. Will they simply wall off the European cities and evacuate the non-Muslims from them?

As long as this reality continues to be denied and minimized, the odds increase that Europe will slip into disaster. And the BBC, Reuters, AFP, the European Left and pretty much all of the involved governments seem content to travel that path, hoping that the obvious can be wished out of existence, that the lessons of history are irrelevent because history has truly ended, and that at least if they keep their heads down and feed the crocodile, it won't be they themselves targeted by the terrorists...yet.

Posted by jeff at 9:45 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 10, 2005

What's in a Name?

So it seems that news organizations have a problem figuring out what to call the forces fighting against the US and Iraqi governments in Iraq, as well as against the government of Israel in Israel. The media frequently calls these loathsome individuals insurgents (generally correct for the Ba'athist remnant in Iraq, but not for the other forces fighting us there) or militants, and sometimes even activists (I kid you not). It seems that, at least for US and British media, the choice would be simple: the enemy.

Nah, I suppose it's not "nuanced" or "balanced" enough. But then, that's why it's so easy to slip into thinking that the media is on the other side.

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June 29, 2005

Baby Steps

Captain Ed points to a NY Times article with some very good news about Iraq:

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani [] outlined a proposal that would scrap the system used in the January election....

Under the proposal, voters in national elections would select leaders from each of the 19 provinces instead of choosing from a single country-wide list, as they did in January. The new system would essentially set aside a number of seats for Sunnis roughly proportionate to their numbers in the population, ensuring that no matter how low the Sunni turnout, they would be guaranteed seats.

This is an excellent development, for a couple of reasons. The most important thing that this would do is to ensure that the central government could not simply weld its power base to one faction, and use that to dominate the rest of the country. Almost as important, it means that those who would boycott elections would diminish their influence with the politicians elected in their area, meaning that the insurgents and Ba'athist holdouts would not have the propaganda weapon of having no one really represent the Sunni, and at the same time would have little or no influence with the Sunni elected officials. Since the Ayatollah Sistani is the most powerful religious figure among the Iraqi Shi'a Muslim majority in Iraq, his proposal carries great weight, and is very likely to be adopted in some form.

This is a good sign that Iraq is moving to a Federal system of some sort, which is the only type of democratic governance yet shown to be capable of running a democratic country without trampling the rights of minorities into the dust. Perhaps some day, we'll move back in that direction ourselves.

On an unrelated note, though apparently not to the Times, why is it that there can be no story with any good news about Iraq that does not also include every bit of bad news that can be dredged up?

The violence has cut deeply into Iraqi society, with about 1,200 Iraqis and more than 75 American soldiers killed in the past two months. The attacks have taken on increasingly sectarian overtones, raising fears that Iraq could be headed toward civil war.

At least 10 Iraqis were killed and more than 36 wounded in attacks across Iraq in the past 24 hours.

A car bomb exploded late Sunday outside a barbershop in the New Baghdad district of the capital, killing the shop owner, a customer and a 4-year-old boy, an Interior Ministry official said. Barbershops have been singled out by Islamic attackers because they offer Western-style shaves and haircuts. On Monday, at least 4 Iraqis were killed and 29 wounded when a car bomb exploded outside a restaurant in the same neighborhood.

Also on Monday, two American soldiers were killed when their Apache helicopter crashed about 11 a.m. near Taiji, a large air base northwest of Baghdad, said Master Sgt. Greg Kaufman, a military spokesman. It was the third loss of an American helicopter in about a month.

The military did not say what caused the crash. The Associated Press quoted an Iraqi witness as saying a rocket had hit it, and other witnesses heard heavy gunfire. Sergeant Kaufman could not confirm any of the details.

OK, certainly it's news about Iraq, but it is unrelated (or only incredibly tenuously related) to the lede of the story. It's as if stories about Chicago were written like this:
The City of Chicago let a new contract to firm X to polish the giant new mirrored bean in Millennium Park.

The Mayor, in speaking about the new contract, did not mention the murder of two homeless men on the South side of Chicago, the ongoing trucking scandal, police corruption, or the seemingly invincible hold on power by the Daley family which, our lawyers advise us, is completely and totally unrelated to any corruption you may or may not have heard about.

I mean, it's silly. Why is it that only in events where some good news might be afoot in the war - or in some other thing where the good news might benefit non-progressive Americans - that all sorts of unrelated bad news must be featured in every single story about the event? Second off-topic bit: did the decline of journalism begin when journalists stopped writing reports and began writing stories?

Because of the tendency of mainstream media articles to disappear, here is the entire text of the article:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 27 - Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric appeared to offer a major concession to the Sunni Arab minority on Monday when he indicated that he would support changes in the voting system that would probably give Sunnis more seats in the future parliament.

In a meeting with a group of Sunni and Shiite leaders, the cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, outlined a proposal that would scrap the system used in the January election, according to a secular Shiite political leader, Abdul Aziz al-Yasiri, who was at the meeting. The election had a huge turnout by Shiites and Kurds but was mostly boycotted by Sunni Arabs.

Such a change would need to be written into Iraq's new constitution, which parliamentarians are drafting for an Aug. 15 deadline. Although there has been little public talk about what form elections might take under the constitution, Ayatollah Sistani has been highly influential in Iraq's nascent political system.

Under the proposal, voters in national elections would select leaders from each of the 19 provinces instead of choosing from a single country-wide list, as they did in January. The new system would essentially set aside a number of seats for Sunnis roughly proportionate to their numbers in the population, ensuring that no matter how low the Sunni turnout, they would be guaranteed seats.

Sunni Arabs welcomed news of the suggestion. "This should have been done from the beginning," said Saleh Mutlak, a member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni Arab political group that has pressed for a more active role in politics. "That election was wrong."

The January elections ended in a decisive victory for Shiite Arabs and Kurds, leaving just 17 seats for Sunni Arabs in the 275-seat National Assembly. Voting in largely Sunni areas was extremely low, depressed by threats from insurgent groups who opposed the election.

Iraqi and American officials say feelings of disenfranchisement among the Sunni Arabs, who ruled Iraq for decades, may be fueling the insurgency. The violence has cut deeply into Iraqi society, with about 1,200 Iraqis and more than 75 American soldiers killed in the past two months. The attacks have taken on increasingly sectarian overtones, raising fears that Iraq could be headed toward civil war.

At least 10 Iraqis were killed and more than 36 wounded in attacks across Iraq in the past 24 hours.

A car bomb exploded late Sunday outside a barbershop in the New Baghdad district of the capital, killing the shop owner, a customer and a 4-year-old boy, an Interior Ministry official said. Barbershops have been singled out by Islamic attackers because they offer Western-style shaves and haircuts. On Monday, at least 4 Iraqis were killed and 29 wounded when a car bomb exploded outside a restaurant in the same neighborhood.

Also on Monday, two American soldiers were killed when their Apache helicopter crashed about 11 a.m. near Taiji, a large air base northwest of Baghdad, said Master Sgt. Greg Kaufman, a military spokesman. It was the third loss of an American helicopter in about a month.

The military did not say what caused the crash. The Associated Press quoted an Iraqi witness as saying a rocket had hit it, and other witnesses heard heavy gunfire. Sergeant Kaufman could not confirm any of the details.

Another American was killed Monday in central Baghdad while he helped Iraqi policemen investigate a burning car, the military said.

In a Pentagon briefing on Monday, the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., confirmed that American and Iraqi officials had been meeting with Sunni leaders in Iraq in hopes of defusing the insurgency and drawing their followers into the political process. General Casey denied that the meetings constituted negotiations, and said he was unaware of any direct contacts with insurgent fighters.

"They're discussions primarily aimed at bringing these Sunni leaders and the people they represent into the political process," he said at a briefing with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "But to characterize them as negotiations with insurgents about stopping the insurgency, we're not quite there yet."

Both General Casey and Mr. Rumsfeld have said there have not been any contacts with foreign fighters like the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is believed to be responsible for some of the most deadly suicide attacks in Iraq.

The statements by Ayatollah Sistani are the latest foray into Iraqi politics by the Shiite leader. Pressure from him was a major factor in establishing an accelerated timetable for the elections in January. That pace, however, largely dictated the election's countrywide system, because United Nations organizers considered it the simplest and quickest way to organize the vote.

When United Nations officials met with the ayatollah in March, he chastised them for choosing the system, and said he favored setting assembly seats aside district by district, a preference he reiterated Monday. Mr. Yasiri, the Shiite politician, said Ayatollah Sistani had characterized the January election as flawed.

In the past, the ayatollah has reserved his efforts to pushing for measures, like nationwide elections, that were likely to enhance the power of Iraq's Shiite majority. His endorsement of a new voting system seemed to be made out of concern for the delicacy of the current political situation here.

"He said there were a lot of mistakes," Mr. Yasiri said. "He said this election must be different than the old one. He said we prefer that all the people share in it."

In other news, Iraq's foreign minister under Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz, in a videotape of his interrogation that was released Monday and described by Agence France-Presse, said Mr. Hussein had personally ordered the crackdown on a Shiite uprising in 1991 without consulting top aides. The testimony could help prosecutors build a case against Mr. Hussein for his trial.

Posted by jeff at 1:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 17, 2005


I had an idea this morning, and I figured I'd run it by everyone and see what you think. It seems to me that there are a huge number of stories in the media that cover important events, but that do so in a limited and biased way. On the other hand, there are millions of bloggers, many of whom critique what the media reports, and add additional material. There are also so many web resources like actual remarks from actual people who actually attach their name to what they say.

Do you guys think that there would be a market for re-reported stories? That is, say a week after a big story, getting several major accounts together, extracting the facts from the stories and discarding the cant and bias, incorporating the critiques and the additional facts/transcripts and producing a more balanced and complete and less biased account? Or would this be too little, too late, or would it just be duplicating what Pajamas Media intends to do?

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June 13, 2005

Secrets in a Time of War

There is a very, very frightening report in Time. It details the interrogation methods used on a particularly valuable detainee at Guantanamo. What is fightening is not the methods - which are mild by the standards of civil police work, never mind fighting terrorists - but that they were reported. (hat tip: Captain's Quarters for the link; I also heard this, in somewhat different terms, on NPR this morning)

One of the least recognized aspects of war among non-warriors is the role of chance and of accumulations of small events. We tend to focus, as do most histories, on big events, like the battle for Midway. But how many people realize that the reason we had our carriers off Midway, instead of Southwest of Pearl Harbor, was because someone had the bright idea of sending a fake message about a routine mechanical problem on Midway, to see if their hunch was right about a code-group's meaning in intercepted Japanese military signals? When the message was repeated along the Japanese military networks, the code group (AF) appeared in reference to where this supposed mechanical problem had occurred, and since we already knew from decyphered enemy messages that there were carriers heading to "AF", we sent our carriers to Midway to meet the enemy.

The protection of military secrets is vital to winning a war. If the enemy knows everything you have, where it is, what it can do, and what you plan to do with it, he can counter your force with his own, and knowledge multiplies his power tenfold. Let's say that the military is planning a raid in a particular neighborhood. If the terrorists holed up in that neighborhood know it, they can simply not be there when the troops come.

But what about this Time report? Well, every enemy combatant we capture from here on out will know about the tactics that we use, and will therefore be prepared to resist them. (The fact that even these mild interrogation techniques are already being decried as against American values is another post all of its own.) That means that we will no longer be able to get as much information out of newly-captured combatants. And since we cannot (for political reasons) ratchet up the stress of the techniques we use, the odds are that the well of information will dry up for those enemy we don't decide to send to countries that are less, um, sensitive in how they handle enemies.

So why does it matter, in the long run, if we don't get bits of information from the enemy, even though he's getting serious amounts and quality of information about what we have and how we operate? Well, it matters because of the second factor I mentioned above: the accumulation of small incidents.

There is an old story, of whose provenance I am unsure. A messenger had vital information about the enemy's movements, but because a blacksmith had failed to put the last nail in one of the messenger's horse's shoes, the shoe was thrown and the horse lamed. The messenger was unable to get to the King with the message, and thus the King was ignorant of the enemiy's movements, and was surrounded and defeated. Or consider Shakespeare's Richard III: "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

As in Viet Nam, the US will not lose large battles in this war. (This is pretty amazing in general: the US is expected not only not to lose wars, but not to lose battles, and to do this under the most restrictive conditions ever imposed upon men in battle. And we do it.) We will have setbacks, yes, and these will be equated by the enemy and by the media with great defeats, and will be rhetorically amplified until many people believe that they are defeats. We hear every day a constant drumbeat of DOOM! DOOM! even while we are crushing the enemy abroad, blocking (so far) his attacks on us here in the US, and democratizing several countries in the process.

So if we will lose battles, we could still lose the war. As in Viet Nam, we can at any time snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The real battlefield in this war is the morale of the American people. The government's ability to impact this morale is limited: if the government were to start a service of optimistic press releases, what kind of coverage would it get in the rest of the media? So with the press daily beating down the US will to fight, it is up to non-traditional media like bloggers, and ultimately up to each individual American, to maintain this will.

But will is a fickle thing; it is subject to constant questioning. And it is the daily accumulation of car bombs deliberately planned to obtain the most coverage in the West; the deliberate, brutal filmed beheadings of innocents to demoralize the civilian population; the constant stories on all of our faults, no matter how trivial, combined with the utter indifference to and lack of reporting on our enemy's brutalities, no matter how outrageous - it is these events which batter at our will to fight.

Churchhill said that in war, the truth is surrounded by a bodyguard of lies. That is still true. The media seem to be intent on us losing this war. This seems to be more from ignorance of the consequences of their actions than from actual malice (in most cases), combined with a preference for attention and advertising to victory. This is not an excuse: people will still end up dead because of Time's actions, like Newsweek's actions before them, and sadly and undoubtedly like others to follow.

UPDATE: Wretchard covers the same Michael Yon post that I did, and ends with this observation:

In summary the situation can be described as follows. The Coalition is on the strategic offensive, probably inflicting a multiple kill-ratio on the enemy, capturing its leadership, improving its intelligence capacity and generating ever larger numbers of indigenous combat forces. It is basically ascendant in every measurable military category. On the other hand, the insurgents are counting on making America tire of of serial combat victories without apparent end in the belief that if they simply do not admit to loss they will eventually win -- not on the battlefield as Fester and Kos would have us believe -- but on the political front, as they always aimed to do.

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June 6, 2005

Ed Murrow had a Child ...

Most Americans today don't trust the media as far as they can comfortably spit a rat. And there's good reason for that, as Eason Jordan, Linda Foley, Dan Rather, Jayson Blair and others have demonstrated their and their organizations' weaknesses while loudly proclaiming themselves innocent, correct, or above the fray. It would be easy to simply write off the media as a whole, and many people have done just that, in some ways including me.

But it's not a good idea to write off the whole of the media, for a couple of reasons. First, the news media is not monolithic; there are a variety of perspectives, competencies, points of view and areas of interest in the media. This makes it hard to generalize. Second, the media have an organization capable of gathering information that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to get. If the media were not sending reporters out to the corners of the Earth, and watching all of the wires and press releases looking for items of interest, people who want information about what's happening in the world would have to work much harder to get it.

Yet there remains a problem: the media are not distrusted randomly, but because they have become untrustworthy in many ways. As an experiment in proving this to yourself, pick an area about which you know a great deal. Find a couple of news stories about it. How accurate are they? Do they miss a lot of information? Do they get basic facts wrong, and make unwarranted assumptions? Why would journalists be any more competent at some other issue, say international affairs, than they are about the issues you know well enough to doubt them on?

It seems to me that if we want to use the media to learn about the world, it's not enough to just cry "bias" and ignore what's reported that we don't agree with. It's also not enough to say that it's the media's job to fix the problem: all institutions have inherent reinforcements and punishments that makes a bias very difficult and time-consuming to correct. As with our dealings with other people, we have to understand not if we can trust the media, but when and to what extent we can trust the media. Understanding what drives media outlets allows us to vet their reports and properly credit or deny their reports.

It seems to me that there are four dimensions to the way any given media outlet reports a story, or chooses not to: domain, scale, template and perception.

"Domain" refers to what the story is about, whom it involves, and where and when it occurs. Every person and institution has areas in which they are interested, and those in which they are not. Some reporters and media outlets cover domestic news extensively, while ignoring international news. Others cover international news well, but largely ignore domestic news. Some areas of interest are unexpected: Fox News has an (unaccountable, to me) interest in gossip and celebrity trials, which is why they tend to gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Michael Jackson trial, or large numbers of "runaway bride" stories. A story in an institution's or reporter's domain is likely to be covered, while a story outside that domain is unlikely to be covered.

"Scale" refers to the size or importance of the event. A minor event within a domain, or one that's well-covered elsewhere, may not elicit a response from an organization or reporter you would expect to be interested. A major event in a domain - and an important enough event outside a domain - will draw coverage.

"Template" refers to how well the story fits the reporter's or organization's preconceived story line. People are pattern-finding animals: we attempt to find a comprehensible shorthand story that explains events, so that we don't have to think about it any more, but can react to events more quickly because they match the story line we've developed. These templates are pervasive: they effect every aspect of our lives. The media is no different; if a reporter has a template that says the US military always lies, you'll eventually be seeing them compared with Eason Jordan and Linda Foley. It is here that the charges of bias come in, and for good reason. Everyone is biased in some way; we all have templates.

For the media, their goal is not to find the truth in the news, but to make the news comprehensible and acceptable to the widest possible audience. This leads them to create templates that serve the desires of that audience. And these templates skew everything that the person or organization reports. They control which stories are deemed important, which not; what angle to take on the information gathered; which information to even attempt to gather in the first place; whom to trust; what to emphasise and deemphasize in a story, and so forth. This is not deliberate, in most cases; reporters don't set out to spin and shape and mislead (well, generally not, Jayson Blair is the poster child for someone trying to do exactly that).

So a story that is within an organization's domain, but doesn't fit the template, doesn't get widely reported. A story that fits the template, even if there is no evidence or all the evidence goes against it the story's veracity, will get reported; it's fake, but accurate. Similarly, the stories themselves - there's a reason that they aren't generally called "reports" any more - are heavily slated to fit the template, even when that involves leaving out decisive evidence and putting in questionable information. It's not generally even a conscious process, I think; it's just human nature.

"Perception" refers to how the reporter/institution wishes to appear to others. The only reason that the templates and their implied bias is even a problem for the mainstream media is that the mainstream media constantly trumpets itself as not conforming to templates. How often do the media claim that they are "fair and balanced", "objective", and so forth? All the time, of course.

This myth of media objectivity is in some ways a corrective, and in other ways a club. It can induce reporters to put in opinions that dissent from the template, and can induce them to cover stories they otherwise wouldn't. It can also be wielded to accuse others of trying to spin and distort the news when they disagree with the reporter's story. Again, Dan Rather is the poster child: he takes the attitude of "you can't handle the truth" as if he's telling it. He's not alone: many reporters get offended when confronted with templated reporting, usually as charges of bias, because it chips at their underlying perception of themselves.

These perceptions are important beyond the effect on biases though. NPR and PBS, for example, have more fair news (though not necessarily editorial) coverage than they likely otherwise would, because their funding in part depends on their perceived impartiality; otherwise Republican administrations would likely defund NPR and PBS. Similarly, Newsweek wants their templates known, so that they can appeal to a specific audience and gather advertisers, but not so well known that people who are not in that audience will simply discount them.

Yes, all of these factors apply to blogs and bloggers as well.

By looking at these four factors and how they apply to any given reporter or media outlet (or blogger), a much better sense of when and how to trust the source becomes possible. For example, the lamented Steven Den Beste could be counted on to speak eloquently and truly and with authority on many subjects; but I tended to ignore his rantings about computers because of his obvious anti-Mac bias. I would trust Newsweek to accurately report intra-Party spats among Democrats, but not spats between Democrats and Republicans.

This brings up a final point: each of us, individually, applies these characteristics (except perception, in most cases) when we decide which news to read, and which news to trust and why. We each individually apply our templates to a news report, which is why Democratic Underground can have such a widely disparate view from Free Republic on the same issue, and why each can feel the other totally unhinged.

We make decisions on which news sources we trust in large part by checking them against our own bias, and deprecating those that don't fit. What we decry in others, we often practice.

Posted by jeff at 10:03 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 24, 2005

The News from Iraq

Michael Yon, embedded with the troops in Iraq, has a really interesting report on how newsgathering works outside of the embedding program, and why the news we see is so tilted towards mayhem. The problem seems to be structural: too much of an attempt at serving reporters on the military's part, combined with cheapness and risk-aversion on the media's part. But it's a critical problem, because the effect is to not tell the stories of our troops helping people in ordinary ways under extraordinary conditions, to not tell about finding homes for puppies after arresting a suspected terrorist.

And that skewed perspective eats at the heart of America's one weakness, our one demonstrated way of losing wars: public resolve. If all we see are the body counts, the lies, and the abuses (which are rare enough that two major incidents have been the touchstones for anti-military sentiment for two and over one years, respectively) - if that's all we see, then it's easy for those of us who are only barely convinced that the war is worth it, to become convinced on balance-of-harm or utilitarian grounds that the war is not worth the effort and the side effects.

Once that happens, we have lost. Even when, as in Viet Nam, we had already won militarily. And if that happens in this war, the next 9/11, the next 3/11, will not be a van loaded with explosives, or an airliner, or a series of suicide bombings. Those would happen, yes, for some time and with increasing severity. But if we stop prosecuting the war by ceasing to aggressively work to eliminate tyranny, then the next attack that shocks us will be nuclear, and it will be New York, or Chicago, or Seattle or Paris burning in ruin.

So to win this war, should we play down atrocities committed by Americans? No, but we shouldn't play them up, either - or in the case of Newsweek, make them up. Should we lie about how great the military is? No, we should tell the truth about how great our military is. Right now, our media is primarily telling only one side of this war: the enemy's side. And that has to stop.

Posted by jeff at 1:20 PM | TrackBack

How Newsweek Completely Botched the Story and Libeled Our Troops

So Newsweek is back, but far too late. Where was this story before they reported the now-retracted Koran flushing story?

According to (Defense Department spokesman Lawrence) Di Rita, when the first prisons were built for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo in early 2002, prison guards were instructed to respect the detainees' religious rituals. The prisoners were given Qur'ans, which they hung from the walls of their cells in cotton surgical masks provided by the prison. Log entries by the guards indicate that in about a dozen cases, the detainees themselves somehow damaged their Qur'ans. In one case a prisoner allegedly ripped up a Qur'an; in another a prisoner tore the cover off his Qur'an. In three cases, detainees tried to stuff pages from their Qur'ans down their toilets, according to the Defense Department's account of what is in the guards' reports. (NEWSWEEK was not permitted to see the log items.) The log entries do not indicate why the detainees might have done this, said Di Rita, and prison commanders concluded that certain hard-core prisoners would try to agitate the other detainees by alleging disrespect for Muslim articles of faith.

In light of the controversy, one of these incidents bears special notice. Last week, NEWSWEEK interviewed Command Sgt. John VanNatta, who served as the prison's warden from October 2002 to the fall of 2003. VanNatta recounted that in 2002, the inmates suddenly started yelling that the guards had thrown a Qur'an on or near an Asian-style squat toilet. The guards found an inmate who admitted that he had dropped his Qur'an near his toilet. According to VanNatta, the inmate then was taken cell to cell to explain this to other detainees to quell the unrest. But the incident could partly account for the multiple allegations among detainees, including one by a released British detainee in a lawsuit that claims that guards flushed Qur'ans down toilets.

In fewer than a dozen log entries from the 31,000 documents reviewed so far, said Di Rita, there is a mention of detainees' complaining that guards or interrogators mishandled their Qur'ans. In one case, a female guard allegedly knocked a Qur'an from its pouch onto the detainee's bed. In another alleged case, said Di Rita, detainees became upset after two MPs, looking for contraband, felt the pouch containing a prisoner's Qur'an. While questioning a detainee, an interrogator allegedly put a Qur'an on top of a TV set, took it off when the detainee complained, then put it back on. In another alleged instance, guards somehow sprayed water on a detainee's Qur'an. This handful of alleged cases came out of thousands of daily interactions between guards and prisoners, said Di Rita. None has been substantiated yet, he said.

In December 2002, a guard inadvertently knocked a Qur'an from its pouch onto the floor of a detainee's cell, Di Rita said. A number of detainees protested. That January, partly in response to the incident and partly to provide precise guidelines for new guards and interrogators, the Guantanamo commanders issued precise rules to respect the "cultural dignity of the Koran thereby reducing the friction over the searching of the Korans." Only chaplains or Muslim interpreters were allowed to inspect detainees' Qur'ans. "Two hands will be used at all times when handling Korans in a manner signaling respect and reverence," the rules state. "Ensure that the Koran is not placed in offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet, or dirty/wet areas..."

So let's review:

On the American side

1. Prison guards were instructed to respect the detainees' religious rituals.
2. The prisoners were given Qur'ans.
3. Guantanamo commanders issued precise rules to respect the "cultural dignity of the Koran".

Allegations of Koran mistreatment by Americans

1. A guard allegedly knocked a Qur'an from its pouch onto a detainee's bed.
2. Two MPs, looking for contraband, felt the pouch containing a prisoner's Qur'an.
3. An interrogator allegedly put a Qur'an on top of a TV set, took it off when the detainee complained, then put it back on.
4. Guards somehow sprayed water on a detainee's Qur'an.
5. A guard inadvertently knocked a Qur'an from its pouch onto the floor of a detainee's cell. (This apparently provoked the most protests of the incidents listed.)

Allegations of Koran mistreatment by detainees

1. In one case a prisoner allegedly ripped up a Qur'an.
2. A prisoner tore the cover off his Qur'an.
3. In three cases, detainees tried to stuff pages from their Qur'ans down their toilets.
4. An inmate admitted that he had dropped his Qur'an near his toilet.

Now which side really seems to be abusing the Koran?

It's amazing to me that all these hysterical allegations of Koran abuse by Americans at Gitmo turn out to be so innocuous. Remember that the next time you hear about disrespecting or mishandling of the Koran.

The big question is, why didn't Newsweek do this much investigation before reporting the retracted story? Why were they so quick to believe the worst of our soldiers?

Sadly, the damage has been done. Most of the people who heard the original allegations will probably not hear this story. I doubt most of the mainstream media will report this news prominently; it doesn't fit their anti-military, anti-Bush template, unlike the original story.

Posted by Brian at 12:45 AM | TrackBack

May 16, 2005

More on Newsweek's Role in Afghan Riots

So what is Newsweek's role in the deadly riots in Afghanistan in recent days?

From a Fox News story on Newsweek's reaction:

He (Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker) also implied that the story had no causal effect on the recent riots in Afghanistan, in which 16 people have died and dozens have been injured.

"The riots started and spread across the country, fanned by extremists and unhappiness over the economy," Whitaker wrote.

And piggybacking on Jeff's noting of Kevin Drum's post:

I note that the conservative blogosphere, usually not one for root causes and blame shifting, is pretty unanimously convinced that last week's riots in Afghanistan are Newsweek's fault, because they began shortly after the Koran flushing story made it into the Arabic language press.

So why is the "conservative" blogosphere convinced the riots are Newsweek's fault?

From AP via Fox News on May 11:

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — Shouting "Death to America!" more than 1,000 demonstrators rioted and threw stones at a U.S. military convoy Wednesday, as protests spread to four Afghan provinces over a report that interrogators desecrated Islam's holy book at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.


The protests may expand into neighboring Pakistan, where a coalition of hard-line Islamic parties said it would hold nationwide demonstrations Friday over the alleged desecration of the Quran .


President Hamid Karzai, who travels to Washington this month for talks with President Bush, played down the violence.

"It is not the anti-American sentiment, it is a protest over news of the desecration of the holy Quran ," Karzai told reporters after talks with NATO officials in Brussels, Belgium.


The source of anger was a brief report in the May 9 edition of Newsweek that interrogators at Guantanamo placed Qurans on toilets to rattle suspects, and in at least one case "flushed a holy book down the toilet."

Now, I could report about the ensuing days of coverage, and I could include reports from other wire services, but it would be redundant.

Kevin Drum would have you believe the two incidents are unrelated, but I have not heard any other explanation for the timing of the riots. Oh wait, yes I have! Mr. Whitaker claims the riots are over "unhappiness about the economy". Riiiight. Funny that no other news report has mentioned economic unhappiness at all, but they have all mentioned Newsweek's story.

It is possible (perhaps even probable) that economic unhappiness has angered some Afghans and pushed them to the brink of civil unrest. And it is certain that the riots have been fanned by extremists. But the causal effect, the tipping point, was Newsweek's faulty story. It was the blood in the water that started the frenzy. That is why Newsweek has a good deal of culpability for the riots.

Posted by Brian at 2:42 PM | TrackBack

Newsweek's Disastrous Lie

I was going to write a post on Newsweek's disastrous lie that is getting people killed, but really Glenn Reynolds has it covered well and succinctly here and here (UPDATE: and here). It's worth reading.

It comes to this: a substantial proportion of Western media is on the other side in this war, objectively if not in their own minds. They want us to do badly. They want us to lose. If not, they have a lot of proving to do at this point. Question their patriotism? You bet. The alternative is to question their humanity.

UPDATE: And if you think I'm hard on Newsweek, you should read Betsy's Page:

Were they just careless? Or did they like the idea that, if there were violence, all the stories reporting it would have to mention their publication as the source? Or, were they more malevolent? Did they like the idea of sparking violence across the Muslim world and making American gains in that part of the world more difficult?

Which brings me to Bismarck's deviousness to get France to declare war on Prussia. Bismarck knew exactly what he was doing and got the outcome he desired: France appearing to be the aggressor and declaring war on Prussia. Could Newsweek be getting exactly the reaction that it hoped for?

...Newsweek acknowledges that it reported dangerous rumors and then proceeds to report some more in the same mea culpa.

It's as if to say, "Sorry, we got those other rumors wrong, folks. And it's a shame that people died. But, here are some more unsubstantiated rumors to chew on while you're rioting against the Great Satan."

I'm sure that is just carelessness too, right?

UPDATE: Kevin Drum's point:

I note that the conservative blogosphere, usually not one for root causes and blame shifting, is pretty unanimously convinced that last week's riots in Afghanistan are Newsweek's fault, because they began shortly after the Koran flushing story made it into the Arabic language press.

Wrong on all counts. I don't blame Newsweek directly for the riots - I blame the rioters for that. What I blame Newsweek - along with seemingly most of Western media organizations - is for being objectively on the other side in this war. Reporting every fact and rumor negatively reflecting on the US extensively and hyperbolically, putting out puff pieces about the enemy, and suppressing both atrocities committed by the enemy and good acts done by us - these behaviors are consistent parts of the media's story line, and they are damaging to our war effort and aid the enemy's war effort. There is a word for that, and there's an old saying, too: If you lie down with dogs, don't be surprised if you get up with fleas.

UPDATE: LaShawn Barber has a roundup of much of the blogosphere commentary.

Posted by jeff at 8:09 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

May 15, 2005

What Makes Time Better Than Me?

Why does Time Magazine feel that it is better than me? What gives them the right to violate US law by revealing (using anonymous sources) that a given person is an agent of the CIA, in violation of the law, while still binding me? In other words, why does Time think that it is somehow privileged? Is there somewhere in the Constitution or in US law that states that journalists are those people who work for an organization that claims to report the news, and that they have some special privilege that separates them from me? If so, then what is that characteristic that differentiates them? I have the same privilege of publishing to the Internet that they do, and people may or may not read what I write and may or may not believe it, as they may or may not read what Time writes and may or may not believe it. Can I simply publish the names of confidential employees of the government, claiming freedom of the press? If not, why not? And if not, why should Time be able to do so?

By all means, let's take this to the Supreme Court. Time deserves to have it's ass handed to it by the Supreme Court. They are no better - indeed no different - than me. (OK, they have more money, and can buy their way out of all kinds of things. But they're not better or different in any moral sense.)

Posted by jeff at 9:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 17, 2003

It Could be Worse

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Bill Kristol has a Weekly Standard column up on the Democrats' and media's attempts to turn President Bush's State of the Union comment, on Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium from Africa, into a scandal. He is pretty dismissive of the media coverage:

American journalism's frenzy over the thing--the hyperbolic, rush-to-judgment, believe-the-worst character of the coverage--has been plenty bad enough. But the Democratic party has been even worse. Here, for example, is what unsuspecting Internet visitors learn from the Democratic National Committee's website: There has been "a year-long campaign of deception involving a bogus intelligence report on Iraq's nuclear program." And who has directed this deception, for reasons so terrible, apparently, that they cannot be identified? DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe has cracked the conspiracy: "This may be the first time in recent history that a president knowingly misled the American people during the State of the Union address," he says. And "this was not a mistake. It was no oversight and it was no error."

OK, let's face it, this is still more entertaining and less gruesome than the Chandra Levy story of two years ago, or last year's Laci Peterson story. IfWhen the media is going to be lazy, at least they could dohave recently done worse than to focus people's attention on a story where, should they choose to do followup reading, they could learn something meaningful.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

May 20, 2003

Criticism of Military Technology

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Porphyrogentius has some comments on military technology, which reminded me of an incident in the mid-1980s. At this time, the M2/M3 Bradleys were new equipment, and not yet proven on the battlefield. A report on 60 Minutes examined the Bradley, and found that it presented too large of a target on the battlefield, didn't hold a large enough number of troops in each unit, was too heavily armed for an infantry carrier, was not heavily enough armored for a tank, was too heavy to move around on the battlefield, and outpaced the truck-based supply convoys. In other words, it was too big, too small, too powerful, not powerful enough, too slow, and not slow enough - all at the same time!

I never watched 60 Minutes again. I figured if that was all they had, they weren't worth the hour.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

May 19, 2003

Journalism and War

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Phil Carter at Intel Dump points to this fantastic article by David Zucchino, who was an embedded reporter in the war. (use laexaminer/laexaminer to read the article) The article makes a few interesting points:

Not since the Vietnam War have journalists worked so closely with soldiers in combat. The embed, in which reporters live 24 hours a day with their assigned units, was instituted on a limited basis in Afghanistan after the heaviest fighting had ended. Expanded, it was to be the grand journalistic experiment of the Iraq war

Actually, it was pretty rare in Viet Nam for reporters to work closely with units in the field. Instead, the reporters would usually drive out from Saigon or wherever they were based (at least some were in other cities) to find a firefight to report on, then drive back in the evening. Obviously, there were exceptions to this rule.

The coverage of the blatantly anti-war reporters in Viet Nam (possibly it would be more accurate to note that there were decent reporters there as well, who frequently were edited out by the newsrooms back in the States) led to the military deeply distrusting the media. Of course, the military had been in a position of lying to itself through much of the Viet Nam war, because of political pressures from the Johnson White House, and so the military also lied to the journalists. There was bad blood both ways. In the end, though, it was the American people who lost out. There were no reporters at Desert One, or with the troops in Panama or with the troops in Desert Storm or with the troops in Mogadishu. Because of this, the American citizens lost out on the ability to really see what our military was doing. I think that a huge amount of credit has to go to Secretary Rumsfeld for overturning this long-established animosity and integrating journalists into the forefront of combat operations.

During seven weeks spent with half a dozen units, I slept in fighting holes and armored vehicles, on a rooftop, a garage floor and in lumbering troop trucks. For days at a time, I didn't sleep. I ate with the troops, choking down processed meals of "meat, chunked and formed" that came out of brown plastic bags. I rode with them in loud, claustrophobic and disorienting Bradley fighting vehicles. I complained with them about the choking dust, the lack of water, our foul-smelling bodies and our scaly, rotting feet.

Frankly, I think that this is the genius of the program of embedding journalists. It will be more true in the future than in any generation since WWII, that our journalists will empathize with the troops. While those journalists may disagree with some future policy, it will be very hard to get someone who has served alongside the troops to criticize those troops themselves unless there is serious cause. This can only be a positive for our nation.
Most important, I wrote stories I could not have produced had I not been embedded -- on the pivotal battle for Baghdad; the performance of U.S. soldiers in combat; the crass opulence of Hussein's palaces; U.S. airstrikes on an office tower in central Baghdad; souvenir-hunting by soldiers and reporters; and the discovery of more than $750 million in cash in a neighborhood that had been the preserve of top Iraqi officials.

Yet that same access could be suffocating and blinding. Often I was too close or confined to comprehend the war's broad sweep. I could not interview survivors of Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. soldiers or speak to Iraqi fighters trying to kill Americans. I was not present when Americans died at the hands of fellow soldiers in what the military calls "frat," for fratricide. I had no idea what ordinary Iraqis were experiencing. I was ignorant of Iraqi government decisions and U.S. command strategy.

Embedded reporters were entirely dependent on the military for food, water, power and transportation. And ultimately, we depended on them for something more fundamental: access. We were placed in a potentially compromised position long before the fighting began, and we knew it.

This is a tradeoff of course. The viewpoint that the embeds brought to the public was one which most of us hadn't seen before, hadn't even in most cases read about. The thing to remember is that there are still reporters who are not embedded, who are capable of reporting on the broad sweep, on policy issues and so forth. And if the journalists are skilled and resourceful, there will be journalists reporting from the enemy trenches as well. Reporters have proven that they will take risks to get the story. It is surely a greater risk, and also a rarer story, to be in the enemy positions under American attack. Such an enterprising reporter could find stories about civilians after being caught in a fight, or of the defeated (or even victorious, in some cases) enemy.

The US military has provided reporters with that which the military can provide: access to US military operations. It's a bit of an overstretch to ask the US military to provide access to the enemy military operations. It's also possible to cover the grand sweep of the story - but not while you are embedded. That viewpoint brings home the immediacy of operations, not the sweep of vision of the war planners or the civilian strategists. The article points this out, in fact.

This newspaper, like many, also assigned reporters and photographers to Iraq who were not embedded with U.S. troops. They covered what we could not -- the Iraqi government, civilian casualties, humanitarian crises, military strategy, political fallout and everything else beyond our cloistered existence.

I think that, as we begin to unravel the unprecedented access journalists had to cover this war, we will find that we have the most personal story we've ever before had of a war. I believe that this can only be for the good.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

May 13, 2003

Missing Margo

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

Tim Blair needs to leave Blogger, so I can permalink to this post:

GIANNA asks:
How many weeks can webdiary say "Margo Kingston will be back on deck next week". Should we send a search party?

The Bunyip also misses Margo. My theory: the tragically successful war in Iraq has destablised the batlike sonar Margo uses to make her way to the Sydney Morning Herald each morning. She's probably bouncing off parked cars in Lithgow or Bathurst. If you see her, contact a licensed journalist trapper.

No, Tim, some animals are just too dangerous to attempt to capture, and just need to be put down.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

April 25, 2003

The Dangers of Media Consolidation

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Tim Blair has a great post about media consolidation. Since Tim's on blogspot, and their archives are frelled, I've copied the whole thing below.

TED TURNER, the vice chairman of AOL Time Warner CNN Sports Illustrated People Entertainment Weekly Fortune Money In Style Real Simple Time For Kids Sports Illustrated For Kids Teen People People en Espa�ol Fortune Small Business Business 2.0 Southern Living Progressive Farmer Southern Accents Sunset Cooking Light Coastal Living For the Love of Cross Stitch For the Love of Quilting Parenting Baby Talk Health In Style U.K. In Style Australia In Style Germany Time Asia Time Canada Time Atlantic Time Latin America Time South Pacific Wallpaper* Who Weekly Popular Science Outdoor Life Field & Stream Golf Magazine Yachting Motor Boating Salt Water Sportsman Ski Skiing Freeze This Old House TransWorld Stance TransWorld Surf TransWorld Skateboarding TransWorld Snowboarding TransWorld Motocross TransWorld Surf BMX Ride BMX Skiing Trade News TransWorld Skateboarding Business TransWorld Snowboarding Business TransWorld Surf Business BMX Business News Amateur Gardening Amateur Photographer Angler's Mail Cage & Aviary Birds Chat Country Life Cycling Weekly Horse & Hound NME Now Shooting Times & Country Magazine Woman Woman's Own Woman's Weekly Woman's Feelgood Series Woman's Own Lifestyle Series Woman's Weekly Home Series TV & Satellite Week TVTimes What's On TV Mizz Mizz Specials Webuser Caravan Magazine The Guitar Magazine VolksWorld World Soccer Beautiful Homes Bird Keeper Cars & Car Conversions Chat Passion Series Classic Boat Country Homes & Interiors Creating Beautiful Homes Cycle Sport Decanter Essentials Eventing Family Circle Golf Monthly Hi-Fi News Homes & Gardens Horse Ideal Home Land Rover World Livingetc Loaded Marie Claire MBR-Mountain Bike Rider MiniWorld Model Collector Motor Caravan Motor Boat & Yachting Motor Boats Monthly Muzik 19 Now Style Series 4x4 Park Home & Holiday Caravan Practical Boat Owner Practical Parenting Prediction Racecar Engineering The Railway Magazine Rugby World Ships Monthly Soaplife Sporting Gun Stamp Magazine The Field The Golf Uncut What Digital Camera Woman & Home Yachting Monthly Yachting World Aeroplane Monthly Superbike Women & Golf Shoot Monthly Hair Wedding & Home Women's Weekly Fiction Special International Boat Industry Farm Holiday Guides Jets Time Life Inc. Oxmoor House Lesiure Arts Sunset Books Media Networks, Inc. First Moments Targeted Media Inc. Time Inc, Custom Publishing Synapse Time Distribution Services Time Inc. Home Entertainment Time Customer Service Warner Publishing Services This Old House Ventures, Inc. TimePix Essence Communications Partners European Magazines Limited Avantages S.A. CompuServe ICQ MapQuest Moviefone Netscape AOL Music Little, Brown and Company Adult Trade Books Warner Books Little, Brown and Company Children's Publishing Bulfinch Press Warner Faith Time Warner AudioBooks Time Warner Books UK HBO Cinemax Comedy Central HBO Asia HBO Brasil HBO Czech HBO Hungary HBO India HBO Korea HBO Ole HBO Poland HBO Romania A&E Mundo E! Latin America SET Latin America WBTV Latin America Latin America History Channel New Line Cinema Fine Line Features Bay News 9, Tampa, FL Central Florida News 13, Orlando, FL News 8 Austin, TX NY1 News, New York, NY R/News, New York, NY News 14, Carolina Time Warner Telecom, Inc. inDemand Kansas City Cable Partners Texas Cable Partners TBS Superstation Turner Network Television Cartoon Network Turner Classic Movies Turner South Boomerang TCM Europe Cartoon Network Europe TNT Latin America Cartoon Network Latin America TCM & Cartoon Newtwork Asia Pacific CNN International CNNfn CNN en Espa�ol CNNRadio CNN Newsource CNNMoney.com CNN Student News CNNSI.com Cartoon Network Japan Court TV CETV Castle Rock Entertainment Telepictures Productions Warner Home Video Warner Bros. Consumer Products Warner Bros. International Theatre Looney Tunes Hanna-Barbera DC Comics MAD Magazine The Atlantic Recording Corporation Elektra Entertainment Group Inc. Warner Bros. Records Inc. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. Alternative Distribution Alliance Giant Merchandising Rhino Entertainment WMG Soundtracks Ivy Hill Corporation, claims that too few people own too many media organisations.

"It's not healthy," Turner added.

Posted by jeff at 9:22 AM | TrackBack

April 16, 2003

One Person at a Time

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Read this article from Arab News where the journalist recounts her experiences as an embed with Marines. (Hat tip: InstaPundit)

Posted by jeff at 10:19 AM | TrackBack

April 15, 2003

More on CNN

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Part of what bothers me about the whole scandal that CNN is in is that their defense simply has no credibility. They can say that they were trying to save lives, but it is apparent that they only wanted access. They even would go so far as to read a straight summary of the Iraqi Information Minister's talking points in hopes that it would help them get an on-air interview with Saddam Hussein. I wonder what Rather did to get his?

(Thanks to InstaPundit for the links.)

Posted by jeff at 1:18 PM | TrackBack

April 14, 2003

Maybe if we Tortured Wolf Blitzer?

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

OK, so CNN broadcast from Iraq for years, deliberately concealing acts of torture they knew to be occurring. This is, in their judgement, fine, though not exactly what they want. But when given a chance to broadcast freely in Iraq, and report whatever they want, they decline?

The second channel, which the White House decided to fund yesterday, also will include about two hours of Arabic-language news from the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the government agency that oversees Voice of America. The channel might show White House, State Department and Pentagon briefings, officials said.

Norman J. Pattiz, chairman of the Westwood One radio network and a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, said the new channel's mission will be to give Iraqis "an example of what a free press in the American tradition actually is."

CNN declined to have its newscasts included. "As an independent, global news organization, we did not think it was appropriate to participate in a U.S. government transmission," spokeswoman Christa Robinson said.


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April 10, 2003

Betrayal of Trust

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

American media prides itself on its ethos. Among the ethical rules which journalists claim to abide by are:

  • Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
  • Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
  • Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.

CNN appears incapable of or unwilling to live up to these standards. No doubt, Mr. Jordan faced difficult choices. However, the ethical response would have been to pull all of their reporters out of Baghdad, report the offenses honestly, and refuse to remain in a position where their reporting was compromised by the Hussein regime's brutality. All of the above rules were violated in CNN's conduct:

  • The voiceless remained mute in the face of their torture, because CNN refused to give them voice.
  • CNN put itself in a position of being dependent on the good graces of a thuggish despot.
  • In order to continue reporting from Iraq, and having access to Iraqi government officials, CNN compromised their ability to report the truth of what was happening.
  • Having done this, CNN then failed even to disclose that they were unable to report the truth of what was happening.
  • CNN certainly saw, by their own admission, what was happening, but their behavior was in no way courageous, and in no way sought to hold accountable those in Iraq who wielded power.

Yet through all of this behavior, for over a decade, CNN would have us believe that they did everything they could to bring us the truth? Shame! Shame on CNN. They cannot now be trusted with any news from any nation willing to brutalize its own people, because they have shown that in such a situation, they will sell out any principle for the opportunity to get stock footage and meaningless interviews. Worse yet, by not reporting these events, CNN encouraged them to continue, and thus became complicit in torture, attempted murder and suppression of the truth.

Hat tip to the Command Post for the story.

UPDATE (4/11): Sgt. Stryker has more.

UPDATE (4/11): Winds of Change is all over this as well, and has links to others who are.

Posted by jeff at 10:48 PM | TrackBack

April 8, 2003

Not Since the Iran-Iraq War

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Tim Blair contrasts a quote from Robert Fisk and one from Mark Colvin, who was on the same inspection trip. Fisk says that "Not since the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War have I seen the Iraqi Army deployed like this."

I believe that this is the first time I've ever seen Fisk get it right:

Here is an Iraqi tank from the Iran-Iraq war.
Burning Iraqi tank from Iran-Iraq war.

Here is an Iraqi tank from the current campaign.
Burning Iraqi tank from current Iraq campaign.

Posted by jeff at 12:03 AM | TrackBack

March 30, 2003


Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

I used to think of the BBC as a great way of getting news that American sources didn't cover. Now, though, I just wonder how reliable they are. Here is an only slightly off version of a story I heard on the BBC World Service while driving around tonight:

Anchor: Today near Basra, British soldiers fought against fierce resistance for twenty hours. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers fought valiantly against the supposedly-superior Coalition forces. Hundreds of Iraqi troops were captured, and the bodies of their comrades littered the battlefield. One British soldier was injured when he fell off his armored vehicle in a fit of giggles. And now we go to our correspondent on the scene 850 miles away from Basra, Priscilla Upton-Stuckly. Priscilla, how long until the inevitable defeat of the Coalition, and more importantly, until the cowboy Bush gets his?

Posted by jeff at 10:42 PM | TrackBack

March 26, 2003

The Media Picture

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Instapundit blogs about how difficult it is at this point to determine what's going on from the media reports, how many tiny slices of information confuse, rather than clarify, the big picture. He hints that this is the point of the program, to give much information and little knowledge.

He's probably right, but there are other angles to this as well. For one thing, we have reporters on the spot to dispell the kind of myths that arose around the Israeli fighting in Jenin. We have a fantastic set of slices to fill out the story, once the war is over and the outline is known, which will make the history of this war much easier to capture, at least from our side. And finally, we have lessened the most dangerous enemy the US can face: Western media hysteria.

Obviously, we haven't eliminated the last, and won't as long as the BBC is around. Oh, and the French. And colleges in general (hat tip: LGF). And the New York Times. Oh, hell, it would be easier to list the media institutions that are generally on the side of Western Enlightenment culture!

Posted by jeff at 10:44 AM | TrackBack

March 21, 2003

Journalists and the War

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Eric Burns, at the Fox News website, has a good essay on why journalists should remain unbiased when reporting the news, particularly news of such import as a war. Money quote:

Ultimately, journalists should care less about measuring the war’s outcomes than they do about providing information so that Americans can take their own measurements. They should add up the casualties and costs, calculate the time involved to achieve the stated goals, provide a variety of viewpoints about the eventual political consequences — and then turn the facts and figures and informed opinions over to their audiences.

As Glenn Reynolds would put it: indeed.

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