A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Very Last Post On Conservative News Bashing, I Promise

I solemnly promise it. Both you and I are getting a little punchy with this foolishness.

First there was the conspiracy that wasn't, a rumor started by Pajamas Media about the purported failure of the Mainstream Media to cover a massive anti-terrorist protest, supposedly staged by 200,000+ people, in Amman, Jordan.

Then there was the infamous one-seventh of a second that a black X accidentally appeared in front of Dick Cheney's face on CNN. Nothing is more indicative of the hyperacusis of attention and the hysterical thinness of skin of conservative media vigilantes than the mountain that was made out of this molehill.

Now there is the firestorm over the Iraqi car bombing on Thanksgiving Day. That heinous and dirty liberal rag the New York Times, failed to report the fact that U.S. soldiers happened to be giving out candy to Iraqi children when the bomb exploded.

I kid you not. These people went ballistic over this.

Here is a sample from them:

Here's a hypothetical question for the "anti-war" readers of this site. Suppose you have a terrorist in your custody. He tells you a similar attack is planned for tomorrow, but refuses to divulge additional information. Would you:

A. Bush lied!

B. Fire Cheney!!

C. The US used white phosphorus in Fallujah!!!

D. How dare you question my patriotism!?!!!

Write your answer on a 3x5 card and send it to someone who gives a damn. The rest of us have a war to fight.

I really wonder how long indignation will sustain the efforts of people like this to micromanage the news business over trifles. If they don't like the filter, they should find one they do like. If they can't find one, they should read the wire reports directly. I do. And if the wire reports fail to satisfy them, they should hop on a plane and go cover it themselves.

I myself prefer macromanagement. If a news source does not cover what I want to know, I find another one that does. But I can see why my micromanaging friends would not like it--they would then have to confront the implications of the news rather than heaping vituperation on the news source. And the implications of the news are not very reassuring.

If you look at the bombings, all the bombings, together, you have to actually confront the question of whether what we are doing in Iraq is working. It isn't.

It is both much more entertaining [and less disturbing] to get all in a huff about whether a major newspaper actually reported the GI candy distribution.

The most compelling thing about the stories of car bombings, when looked at globally, is the fact that the car bombings haven't stopped. They haven't even slowed down. There was a new one in the news the morning following the candy incident.

After years of tooling around destroying cities [Baghdad with Shock and Awe bombs, Fallujah with white phosphorous, ect. ect.] and ruining the lives of all the people who live in them and not just "the terrorists", the bombings haven't even slowed down.

Now a reflective man might think that if you destroy the lives of whole cities worth of people, who weren't your enemies before, they might just become your enemies, then. An occasional Hershey Bar distribution is not going to materially change this.

Nor, say, is Cindy Sheehan camping out in Crawford, Texas.

Nor is the coverage of news, whether or not it puts our troops "in a good light" or "in a bad light". It is a matter far beyond fiddling with the lights.

We have just enough troops in Iraq to maintain a stalemate with the insurgency and nowhere near enough troops to suppress it. We are also frilling away the military readiness of our volunteer forces by making them do a job they were never organized or manned enough to do: military occupation.

Senator Joe Biden has put his finger on the problem:

"That is because we cannot sustain 150,000 Americans in Iraq without extending deployment times, sending soldiers on fourth and fifth tours, or mobilizing the National Guard."

Both John McCain and John Murtha have made sensible suggestions about this: either finally send in enough troops to actually occupy Iraq, rather than merely visiting it to distribute some ordinance or some candy bars, or withdraw the troops and put them to work doing something more productive.

Unfortunately, both of those suggestions come with long term costs that we may not like and are not willing to face. It's much better, really, to pretend that these alternatives aren't there, that all us roughshod patriots of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists "have a war to fight".

Except, of course, our Dick Cheneys of the future who still have "other priorities".

They have a war to fight, all right, but it's a war with the Copy Editor of the New York Times over a few pieces of candy.

We have turned Iraq into a fancy new live fire and bomb construction training ground.

It is a training ground which we have created by kiting out 150,000 easy targets and leaving the borders of Iraq so porous that explosives and non-Iraqi fighters (who need the practice so they can go to places like London or Amman or maybe even here) can come in by the truckload.

The two alternatives above, Murtha's or McCain's, are about the only way I can see to stop this. And, frankly, I'm actually much more inclined to look at the McCain solution than people might think. I notice also that my good conservative friends don't touch on the McCain solution at all, for all their anti-terrorist ferocity.

This is what comes from refusing to open your eyes to the problem.

I don't see any of the media warriors on the net making any serious effort to even address the issue, which is perfectly plain to anyone with eyes if you stop reading the newspaper to castigate its bias and start reading it for the news.

Then, of course, there is the problem of our own borders to consider, which also leak like a sieve. Why is this such a big deal? Consider the number of hazardous chemical plants which are upwind from major American cities and have no serious security around them at all.

A chemical cloud released by an Oklahoma City sized Ryder Truck bomb would kill thousands.

Of course, the lobbyists for the chemical industry think this is just fine, so apparently our Republican government does also. I don't. And the 101st Fighting Keyboardists haven't even thought about it at all.

How do we secure our incredibly long borders? The same way you deal with things like Hurricane Katrina--with the state National Guards. Oh, oops! They're busy helping to hone bomb making skills in Baghdad. Sorry.

And, of course, the people who are scheming and planning new outrages are actually in places like Saudi, Iran, eastern Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and so on.

There's a whole band of places they might be that stretches from Morocco to the Philippines. Not to mention possible pockets and havens in Europe. How do we deal with them? Well certainly not by tooling around in Iraq in humvees, waiting for the next car bomb to explode. You need spooks, and plenty of them, and you need a spookhouse that is in good repair.

If the media warriors read the news, instead of the newspaper, they would see it is perfectly plain that our own spookhouse is in devastating disarray. The mistakes the spooks made prior to 9/11 have not been addressed in any significant way, and are actually being covered up in such cases as the Able Danger affair, which you can find out about by reading the news instead of the newspaper. Or watching the news, instead of watching the Cable News Network.

Anyone interested can track down the story in Lou Dobbs' transcripts.

Moreover, the morale of the people doing the work in the spookhouse has been completely undermined by the very clear standard that if the policymakers don't like the message you bring, even if it is true, they are likely to destroy your career as a messenger. This is the most devastating long term result of the Plame Affair.

This is the sort of thing you can read about in the news. This is the sort of thing that is actually material to "fighting terrorism". And this is the sort of thing you almost never see on the webpages or the comments of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists.

It's a real shame. The web is so great an opportunity to air out the relevant public issues and actually digest the meaning of the news that we all lose out with these distractions of how this paper or that paper covers a story.

John Cole of Balloon Juice, whom I respect a lot, covered the "candy war" quite sensibly, from a Conservative perspective rather than a wingnut one. [The two are different.] In the course of the discussion, it was pointed out that when the answers of the general public are compared to the News Media with questions such as Efforts to Establish a Stable Democracy in Iraq will succeed/fail? the discrepancy between appears horrendous, and probably due to the political bias by newspeople.

In this case,while 56 percent of the public believes efforts to establish a stable democracy in Iraq will succeed, 63 percent of the News Media think it will fail. When connected to the incidents [such as candy reporting] that so exacerbate the BigDealitis of the media warriors, the case for a liberally biased media appears patent and obvious.

But if you go back to the actual Pew Survey, you find that News Media are only one of eight categories of "opinion leaders" surveyed:

News Media, Foreign Affairs, Security, State/Local Government, Academic/Think Tank, Religious Leaders, Scientists/Engineers, and Military.

I hardly think that the people in all of these categories have a self-evident "liberal bias", though perhaps the 101st Fighting Keyboardists would disagree.

What is characteristic about the groups chosen is that they all can be expected to be more knowledgeable about broad public issues than the general public itself, and a majority of them will be more knowledgeable about any given public question asked.

When asked: Efforts to Establish a Stable Democracy in Iraq will succeed/fail? the opinion leaders, every last one of them, except the Military, are significantly more pessimistic than the general public, with by far the highest degree of pessimism among Scientists/Engineers (84%) followed by Foreign Affairs & Academic/Think Tank (71%) Security (70%) and News Media coming in a paltry fifth (63%) in degree of pessimism.

Moreover in only two categories, Military and State/Local Government, are a majority of the opinion leaders optimistic about Iraq's democracy prospects. But even then, the State/Local Government category is significantly less optimistic, by 5%, than the overall public score.

Finally, and most tellingly, only the Military category is more optimistic than the general public, and this by a full 8%!

This would prompt me to ask, what separate planet are the Military personnel surveyed living on? And it makes me nervous that the actual success or failure of Iraq's democracy depends so much on our Armed Forces.

For I can see no other realistic interpretation of these figures than this: the more you actually know about public affairs, the less confident you are that Iraq will succeed. Unless of course, you happen to wear a uniform, which apparently functions as intellectual insulation.

Now, of course, there is a school of thought which consistently equates knowledge itself with "liberal bias" and perhaps the media warriors will hole up there like Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora.

But we don't have to hole up with them.


Blogger Joe Katzman said...

There is another possible conclusion: that rather than acting as an insulator to thought, the military uniform offers more exposure to the situation itself through personal experience, acquaintances, reports (you yourself note the frequency of deployment rotations as a problem - but that also means a higher percentage of troops who have been there), et. al. As such, they are drawing their conclusions from primary evidence rather than an "insulated" source.

What is the common denominator of the information sources for the pessimist groups? What's the largest difference between their information sources and those of the high delta group?

The situation you describe may indeed be a classic case of the insulation being somewhere other than the location you thought it inhabited - and your instant dismissal of that possibility rather than rational consideration of it doesn't elevate you above the behaviour you condemn in the rest of your post.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

Well, Joe, I'm honored you've stopped by, and even more honored that you took the time to dig so deeply into my post history.

I have never claimed to be anything but partisan. I have my biases, but I think my blog stands the test of truth in advertising.

What I do not do, however, is read the news sources instead of the news, however sharply and tartly I may comment upon it.

My overall point was that my good Consevative friends in the media police have lost all sense of proportion about what is important to cover. Hence, the candy war and the infamous X. They also do not bother to check very deeply into facts, as my earlier blog post A Classic Case Of Detachment From Reality clearly demonstrated. I linked to Classic Case in this post, by the way.

As for the military men doing the fighting being more in a position to know about Iraqi democracy, it never occurred to me that Pew had called the men doing the actual fighting, and I'm a little startled that this occurred to you.

After all, these are "opinion leaders" in the survey and not ordinary soldiers. I hardly thought anyone below the rank of a General, based on the description alone, would qualify. There are, perhaps, a few such Generals on site in Bagdhad, but it is the combat brigades that are rotated.

Besides, I did provide the Pew link, and it stated that the military population polled was exactly the sort of thing I would have expected, so I didn't bother to bring it up.

The survey population was made up of retired Generals and Admirals quoted in the press, and officers in the Council on Foreign Relations Military Fellowship Program, since 2000. The total population sample was 47.

Very little more digging will show you that the CFR Fellows are selected across all services and are colonels and naval captains on the fast track to becoming Generals and Admirals.

There are 20 of them in all, and 11 of these are USA or USMC and so a couple of them might possibly have been on site in Iraq, but I seriously doubt all 11 have.

This sample has no more special knowledge, really, of the possiblity of Iraqi democracy's ultimate success than any of the others.

There are more considerations to the matter than the strictly military ones, so the fact that Military score was so skewed is still noteworthy and and quite troublesome.

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