Little Green Footballs links to an astounding article by Greg Mitchell, publisher of Editor and Publisher. It illustrates precisely the way in which MSM journalism has become openly activist in the “good” cause of “peace.” It also illustrates the condescending (indeed anti-democratic) attitude that the MSM takes towards its public: let us keep from them any information that might lead them to the “wrong” political conclusions. We’ve already seen this principle openly adopted in France:
“Politics in France is heading to the right and I don’t want rightwing politicians back in second, or even first place because we showed burning cars on television,”
said M. Dassier, owner of France1 TV last November during the Frantifada. As I noted then, this sudden awareness of how media coverage can inflame or douse the fire came curiously late for the Israelis who had the ugliest (and often most dishonest) claims about them regularly splashed in front of the European public.
Will Press Put Out Fire on Iran?
The media dropped its guard in the run-up to the attack on Iraq. Will they redeem themselves if pressure builds for an air strike or war against Iran? There are some indications that some lessons may have been learned.
By Greg Mitchell
(April 13, 2006) — If you have watched any baseball at all, even the occasional World Series game, you are probably familiar with the concept of the bullpen ace getting a chance for “redemption.” That is, he can blow a game one night and come back the next in the ninth inning and save the day, or even the season. Announcers always say, “he got a chance to redeem himself.”
Newspapers may be in the role of bullpen stopper right now, with the current Iran “semi-crisis.” In baseball lingo, they should try to “put out the fire” there, after losing one for the home team in Iraq three years ago.
Most interesting imagery which may, just may, confuse the fireman with the pyromaniac and vice-versa. This is written in high BDS style: Bush the pyromaniac, Iran the innocent by-stander.
To those who would say that this inflates the power or even role of the press in America today, I would reply: You don’t expect the Democrats to keep us out of war, do you? Just as they would not stand up to the president on Iraq for fear of appearing “weak on terror,” they would likely be wary of appearing “weak on the Tehran Bomb.” Let’s face it: All the Democrats want to do right now is stagger through to November with an unpopular president in office, and hope that, maybe, they can re-take at least one house of Congress — without having to stick their necks out.
So the media, usually only a middle-reliever or in a mop-up role on this playing field, might have to pitch with the game on the line.
This is nothing short of a full “advocacy” position. We, the MSM, represent another “warrior for peace.” The extensive use of sports imagery — where the zero-sum nature of the game and the clear identity of the enemy (W) — is astoundingly simplistic. It’s harder to get a more open embrace of the PCP principles that we have been arguing for some time permeate our media. Obviously we, enlightened progressive journalists, are for peace. That such thinking, since 2000, has become openly counter-productive does not cast the slightest shadow over the untroubled brow of our journalist.
Surely the public would not go for a U.S. attack on Iran, given the Iraq disaster?
As I suggested in a comment to Joel Fishman noted earlier, this is precisely our dilemma. The case for an action — a joint action of all sane nations — against Iranian nuclear armament could hardly be more compelling, and yet, because we have allegedly screwed up in Iraq, such an action should be unthinkable. Again, Greg Mitchell does not even pause to contemplate the meaning of a millenarian fanatic who openly embraces using such weapons as something worthy of mention. (This is similar to the presentation of the Palestinians as people who are subject to an occupation where “if anyone in your family does anything, your house will be destroyed,” where “anything” is actually “suicide terrorism” (but we can’t mention that lest we demonize them, or call into question the dignity of their “freedom fighters”).
Think again. A new Los Angeles Times poll–taken before the nuclear news from Tehran this week–found that 48% said they would support military action if Iran continues to produce material that could be used to develop nuclear weapons; only 40% said no. One in four would back use of ground troops.
And if people knew more of what was going on — which, thanks to MSM, they don’t — then the numbers would be still higher.
Thankfully, there are signs that the press may be ready to douse a few flames. Recent media accounts have often cast a skeptical eye on the trumped-up Iran threat, and reporters are already asking probing questions at White House briefings — before the war this time, not months after an attack.
Today, for example, a trio of New York Times reporters (banishing the ghost of Judith Miller) declared, right at the start of a front-page piece, that “Western nuclear analysts said yesterday that Tehran lacked the skills, materials and equipment to make good on its immediate nuclear ambitions, even as a senior Iranian official said Iran would defy international pressure and rapidly expand its ability to enrich uranium for fuel.”
Nuclear analysts, they noted, “called the claims exaggerated. They said nothing had changed to alter current estimates of when Iran might be able to make a single nuclear weapon, assuming that is its ultimate goal. The United States government has put that at 5 to 10 years, and some analysts have said it could come as late as 2020.”
“They’re hyping it,” David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, told the Times. “There’s still a lot they have to do.” Anthony H. Cordesman and Khalid R. al-Rodhan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington called the new Iranian claims “little more than vacuous political posturing” meant to promote Iranian nationalism and a sense of atomic inevitability.
Here is a perfect example of when the basic principle enunciated at The Second Draft — that what we need above all is “accurate and relevant” information, comes into play. How do we know that the “experts” are telling us what we need to know, and how much are they telling us what they want us to know. Anyone moved by the arguments of Zbigniew Brzezinski about fearing the anger of the Muslim world is likely to tell us what they think we should know. No doubt the anger of over a billion Muslims is something to worry about, and we don’t want to pick a fight over nothing. But as serious a concern as it might be, it must be placed alongside the fear of a nuclear-armed apocalyptic Muslim world, and the increased aggression we invite by backing down on fundamental principles like not allowing madmen to get nuclear arms.
I’m not a specialist in this, and so I can’t judge the scientific details, but the dismissive language the authors cited in this article use — “hyping,” “vacuous political posturing” — does not inspire confidence. I’m sure a brief look at the language of the appeasers of the 1930s would deliver a host of such estimates about the Germans’ rearming.
An analysis today by The Washington Post’s Peter Baker implied that the crisis was cooling, since military leaders, among others, supposedly feel the U.S. air strikes are not really in the offing and America might, after all, learn to stop worrying and “live with” the Iranian bomb.
Wait a minute. First it’s, “don’t worry they’re years away…” to “we can live with them getting it.” So is the “cool your jets” a way of sliding into this? And if so, can we live with an Iranian bomb?
But Baker also noted Condoleezza Rice’s statement yesterday calling on the United Nations to take “strong steps” against Iran and Karl Rove complaining during an appearance in Houston that it is hard to find a diplomatic resolution because Iranian leader Ahmadinejad “is not a rational human being.”
And I suppose that’s demonizing and posturing.
We also have to remember that Bush administration officials asserted, three to four years ago, that there was, of course, no firm inclination to invade Iraq.
Characterically, Baker’s own newspaper, on its hawkish editorial page, proceeded to hike the temperature by raising the specter of Iran wiping Israel off the map and claiming that while “some” in Washington say the Iranian bomb is 10 years away, “some independent experts say three.” So there’s an equal chance of either? It’s like saying “some” scientists say global warming is a fact but “some” disagree.
Bingo. Hence the importance of reliable, accurate, and relevant information… not spinning the news to bring about the results you want. Just as, presumably, Mr. Mitchell would not want us blindly believing the “expert” who tells us not to worry about global warming, should he not show more seriousness and discrimination in discussing whether we need to worry about Iranian nuclear weapons? Or am I missing something here?
All of this bullpen talk may be nothing but “bull.” But let’s hope this game does not get out of hand, and the ace in the bullpen, the U.S. press, can just do its job, day by day, winning a few, losing a few, without having to get the American team out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth.
Greg Mitchell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of E&P.
David Paulin of The Big Carnaval discusses this article in great detail. While I agree with the vast majority of his telling criticisms, he has one final remark that I’m not sure I agree so fully with. Pointing out that the online editor of E&P, David Hirschman has an article on how the “Creeping democracy of Web influences Print Coverage, takes a parting shot at one of Hirschman’s comments.
What caught my eye, however, was this zinger: “So what can newspaper editors and publishers do to reclaim their power as arbiters of public taste? So far that’s unclear.” David, I see why Greg hired you.
Presumably, that last bit of sarcasm indicates that Paulin disapproves heartily. I disagree. It is precisely the job of MSM to be arbitors of taste.
We certainly do need people to filter out the demopathic propaganda, the deliberate lies, the mad paranoid fantasies that any culture readily produces. The point is not that that shouldn’t be the MSM’s job, but that they should do it well, and that right now they are not, most decidedly not.
Right now they — and Gregg Mitchell in particular — are acting like the courtiers in the Emperor’s New Clothes, where instead of being tagged a fool, the courtier who can’t “see” and praise the emperor’s new clothes — the PCP — is tagged a warmonger and a racist. (Ironically, because they’re in the opposition, they often enough think of themselves as dissidents.)
As for the web/blogosphere as a site of reliable news, that’s a hard sell. Cyberspace abounds with the most virulent madness, and anyone venturing into the blogosphere is just as likely, if not more, to fall into the dream palaces of self-brainwashing, as to land on their feet. If 30,000 people downloaded Pallywood in its first three months, millions download the snuff movies put out of Jihadi executions.
I have great faith that the blogosphere will produce the most important, insightful and creative responses to our current crises (they sure don’t seem to be coming out of academia)… but that will only happen when the MSM begins to realize that their loyalty is not to a political agenda, but to trusting the public to respond to the challenges of our situation by informing them. Ultimately it will be the MSM who will help to introduce the best of the blogosphere, and the symbiotic — if necessarily conflictual — relationship between the blogosphere and the MSM will form a key element of a stable 21st century global civic culture.
I look forward to the day when the MSM does reclaim their rightful positions as responsible arbitors of public taste. But that will come from modesty and discipline, not whining about wacky free-lancers in their PJs.
As Blake put it so succintly: “Opposition is true friendship.”