By lex, on May 9th, 2007
As has been previously mentioned, Noah Schactman was the brave and unapologetic subject of many the hairy eyeball at the MilBlog Conference last weekend. Lord knows I’ve picked my own nits with the way the war has been covered in the past, and in fact the way that the media covers the military in general. In fact, there was time when I toyed with the idea of becoming a print journalist myself after my service is complete. Set the record straight, like. The reason I won’t will probably be revealed in due course, but for the bottom line up front folks, here it is: I can’t afford to.
No, the problem I’ve got with MSM bashing as a blood sport is that it’s hopelessly reductive. While I’m quite certain that there are people in the media who are so eager to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” that it blinds them to telling the “larger truth” – a truth that some of them might in fact deny the objective existence of – it’s scarcely fair to label all of them a “5th Column” as we all too often tend to do. After all, a certain senior senator from a mountainous mid-Atlantic state might well have once been Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, but that’s no reason to label his entire caucus or party as klansmen.
In order to rebut the notion that MSM journalists are hiding in the Green Zone taking face value copy from potentially compromised local stringers, Noah pointed out that more journalists have been killed covering Iraq than in any other recent war – a clear truth. But the fact that of the 101 journalists killed, 79 have been Iraqis doesn’t necessarily buttress his case, or at least the way he’s making it. His larger point – and one I agree with comprehensively, by the way – is that journalists cover things that happen. A bomb blowing up in a market is a “happening.” A school opening up in Diala province, not so much.
Face it: The media doesn’t report the planes that land on time, they report the ones that crash. They do that because that’s what the market – you and me multplied by 150 million – want to read about that. They print what we buy.
And if that doesn’t tell the whole story? Or help to win the war? It pays off those college loans, and sometimes a job is just a job.
All that said, there are some uncomfortable truths about what some of us have come to label the “mainstream media” – shorthand for the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, as well as the major network broadcasters and CNN but excluding Fox News by the general consensus of those who spit the initials “MSM” out from between clenched teeth.
While the media outlets themselves are owned and operated by ruthless capitalists, red in tooth and claw, the foot soldiers at the reportorial level are far more liberal than the country at large, as are their mid-level superiors at the editors desks and most of the Op-Ed columnists.
But we can scarcely claim to be surprised when people who think defending our existing liberties and institutions is the highest possible calling tend to be but cautious revolutionaries, or that people who think that the “business of America” is business tend to go into, you know – business, while those who want to help change the world or “make a difference” tend to gravitate into what’s commonly labeled the “progressive” camp.
It might or might not help from a “politics of envy” standpoint that – according to payscale.com – a Columbia University J-School graduate (BA) with 10 years of experience working in Washington, D.C. earns an average of around $61,000 per year. Contrast that to a Navy lieutenant commander of 10 years seniority – who may well have graduated from a far less prestigious school than Columbia – but who will in 2007 be making $67k per year just in base pay. Tack on (non-taxable) allowances for housing and subsistence for the D.C. area and our theoretical officer earns over $99k. An aviator whose fly gates are satisfied will be getting nearly $8k on top of that in flight pay, while the career-oriented aviator whose initial obligation has passed will be eligible for an additional annual retention bonus in a quantity I am rather too embarrassed to relate. Because I spent mine. Summat to do with wine, women and roses, I dimly recall. Worth every penny.
The point is not that our naval aviator living in the District of Columbia is over-paid (although his surface warfare officer brethren might well aver this to be so, the bassids), but rather that there are very few careers an Ivy League graduate might aspire to which pay so shabbily. If our politics involve any element of “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” well: You can always count on the ardent support of Paul.
Once safely ensconced in this self-selected milieu – especially in the cities culturally dominated by a soi-disant coastal elite – the tendency for many of these otherwise clear thinkers and clever boys is to form a part of a self-reinforcing echo chamber. When everyone you know and respect thinks exactly the same way you do, well, that’s a very comfortable place to be, psychologically. Amplify this only a little, and it is easy to come to the conclusion that people who differ from you politically are either dupes or are themselves duplicitous. This is not a vice restricted to the left.
We all of us have our own cognitive lenses, even if we’re actively aware of them. For my own part, I find the fact that President Clinton dismissed all his US attorneys – an act alleged to have been committed in order to get at one or two of them – much more interesting than the fact that President Bush fired eight. But I’m well aware that people who view the world in a different light might find that story line less compelling.
After all, he was such a beautiful, complex man. Who cared. And all.
So it’s not that the MSM – whatever that really means – is out to lose the war. It’s that they honestly think it can’t be won. No one thinks it can, or at least no one that they know does.
And it’s not that they seethingly hate the President and his party (although some of them certainly do) – it’s just that they think he’s wrong. Always has been. About everything.
And it doesn’t help that many of them are still sort of holding a petulant grudge about having “supported the war” back when everyone knew that Saddam had WMD, only to discover that they had been “tricked” by discovering – once we’d had the kind of look-around that the UN was denied – that maybe it wasn’t so.
Nor that, in their heart of hearts, they still think that the President “stole” the 2000 election in Florida. Despite the constitutional intervention of the highest court in the land, and the evidence that they themselves developed which points largely in the contrary direction. And despite the fact that he won the 2004 election with the largest number of popular votes ever cast. Original sin, and all that.
People are who they are, the see the world the way they see it. My only objection is the apparent fact that the editors aboard the major outlets are insufficiently aware of their own biases to efficiently counter-act them. We see this all too frequently, when Page 1 reporting starts to look increasingly like the Op-Ed page. In a more perfect world, their biases would conform to mine. That being a difficult assignment, it’d be cute if they could just report the news in the news section and save the opinion bits for the back end.
So as I’ve said before, it’s not that the media is acting as some kind of 5th Column – it’s that if they were doing so, and being clever, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference.
The good news is not that we now have an alternate media – bloggers will never replace the MSM, we simply don’t have the resources – but that we do have a nimble, responsive and democratized analysis process.
This is all to the good. Our predecessors didn’t have the benefit of that alternate view back in 1968, when US and South Vietnamese forces decisively defeated the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong by crushing their all-in offensive during the Vietnamese New Year – during Tet.
We sent the NVA formations reeling back across their border in a desperate attempt to reconstitute, leaving in the wake of their defeat a smashed VC insurgency which was never again capable of independent military action. The most respected journalist in broadcast television witnessed this victory for US arms, and the detailed destruction of an evil enemy and concluded – almost incomprehensibly – that the war could not be won.
You know what happened next.
Not this time. Not without a fight.