As the reports of the al-Sadr uprising, the Marine retaking of Fallujah and the kidnappings pour in a couple of influential bloggers have taken as look at the way news is being reported. Steve den Beste writes a longish piece on The Fog of War
" in which he takes the media to task for headline spinning and reporting Iraqi stories with maximum negatives. His post is full of examples and needs to be read in full. He suggests,
In this war, our enemies know they have no chance at all of defeating us strategically, tactically or logistically. All attempts to divert us from our objectives have failed. They perceive our greatest vulnerability to be morale, though not the morale of our troops.
They perceive our greatest vulnerability to be morale on the "home front". Even if they can't defeat us militarily, they can win if they convince us as a nation to surrender. If we come to believe we've been defeated, then we are defeated no matter how well or badly things are actually going.
That's how our enemies hope to win this war. But they can only gain such a victory if we citizens permit it. We are now and have always been their primary target. Each and every one of us is fighting this war inside their skulls, and that is where we have the greatest risk of losing. In this war, our enemies know they have no chance at all of defeating us strategically, tactically or logistically. All attempts to divert us from our objectives have failed. They perceive our greatest vulnerability to be morale, though not the morale of our troops.
He also points out that the anti-WAr folks who are trying to paint al-Sadr and Fullujah as the Iraqi equivilent of the war ending Tet offensive in Viet Nam have grabbed precisely the wrong end of a thorny stick.
there is a very clear lesson to be learned from the Tet Offensive (which was only reinforced by the 1991 Gulf War): civilians can give away politically what soldiers have won on the battlefield.
There is, I think another lesson to be learned from Viet Nam which needs to be hammered into the heads of the political side of the Iraq generals and administrators: don't attempt to manipulate the news.
Wretchard at Belmont Club goes a step further and details how the need Western journalists have for guides and translators combines with a significant degree of media savvy on the part of the jihadis to produce a highly spun version of events.
he enemy capacity to mould the news takes on particular significance because Hizbullah operations in particular, as well as terrorist actions in general, are aimed at conveying political statements through violent acts. With his power over news coverage, the enemy is not only in a position to choose the nature of the terrorist act, but is increasingly free in choosing how to portray it. Many of the recent events in Iraq, such as the murder of the Blackwater contractors, the abduction of American truck drivers, the demonstrations, the hostage takings and so on are literally made for television. If left unchecked, it will create a major collapse in the civilian intelligence system -- the system you and I employ to determine the state of reality -- that is, the news. No one without access to classified information has any alternative except to read the papers or switch on the TV to check on the progress of world events. Even analysts at the CIA rely to a large extent on "open" sources, which means the news. What happens when the "open" sources become polluted?
Ultimately, the Islamist strategy of spinning news is a self-defeating one. It portrays a false reality upon which they will ultimately founder. How many young Arab men in Fallujah are dead because they believed Al Jazeera? The real problem with lies is that ultimately, one lies to oneself. As a consumer of news like anyone else, the Belmont Club must flail away at the layers of disinformation, bad reporting or plain egregiousness that encrust the reportage. This is the fog of war.
The problem which den Beste finds produced again and again in the Western media, namely a strongly negative cast to virtually every story coming out of Iraq, is partially explained by Wretchard in so far as the jihadis have penetrated the logistics operations which big media believes it needs to field reporters in battlezones. If the penetration is as significant as Wretchard suggests then the stories will suffer first from relentless negativity and second from an increasing divergence from any sort of reality.
In Viet Nam there was a concerted effort to control the news directed more or less openly from the American Embassy in Saigon and the American military headquarters. For a variety of reasons, this media operation became less and less plausible as the war went on. Daily body counts were used as a metric and began to bear less and less resemblance to the truth on the ground. While American casualty numbers were usually pretty accurate, the estimates of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese casulties crept away from accuracy. Right down the chain of command there was a subtle pressure to goose the numbers of enemy dead.
Fairly quickly, this and a variety of other sytematic lies undermined the willingness of first the press and then the american public to believe much of what was being "reported" by the American government or the american military. (A view which to this day dominates the belief systems of the Left - if the government says it it can't possibly be true.) By the time the Tet offensive was launched and throughly defeated by the Americans, that defeat was seen as pure spin. The government's credibility gap had grown so large victory became another excuse to cling to defeat. The battle for the hearts and minds of the American people had been lost before the first shot of Tet was fired.
The hunger for defeat which is informing much of the anti-War left's reading, and realistically, writing, of the news is not going to go away. Iraq is a highly partisan war and one which the anti-Bush people in the United States have shown no scruples about losing. If this war was being waged in 1968 there is next to no doubt large media would declare defeat and begin to pressure the Administration to bring the troops home. In fact, the examples den Beste cites are of exactly this sort of defeatist spin.
The difference is that major media have ceased to have a monopoly on the news or on opinion formation in the United States and in the rest of the world. The internet has meant that virtually anyone can drill down to relatively unspun reporting and contrarian analysis.
The 1960's saw the emergence and growth of the alternative press. "Alternative" in the sense that while the Washington Post and CBS reported the Administration of the day's line pretty well straight, the alternative press was in the business of calling that line into question.
Much the same thing is happening on the internet. With Iraq, with the Clarke testimony to the 9/11 Commission, with the Spanish bombings and the war against terror, mainstream media has tended to follow a fairly strongly negative and anti-Bush line.