12 december 2003
Returning from four weeks of holiday, in which I did my best to avoid all news, I find myself again somewhat shocked by the sheer malice of the mainstream media. The journalists themselves are overwhelmingly “liberal.” In the U.S., for instance, they have been shown to vote as a class for Democrats over Republicans by margins of more than ten-to-one; and further, that they tend to identify with the left wing of that Democrat Party. They want to bring down President Bush, at all costs; and if Iraq is turned back into a Saddamite killing field, or Al Qaeda is given a new lease on life, they don't particularly care. For they smell Republican blood.
So wrote Canadian columnist and foreign policy journeyman David Warren at the end of August this year.
It is almost no longer newsworthy when a Democratic candidate or spokesmouth makes the most audacious—and in some cases libelous—claims against the administration. Last week (on NPR, natch) Howard Dean reported the “theory” that the Saudi government may have given President Bush fair warning of the 9/11 attacks (“The most interesting theory that I've heard so far—which is nothing more than a theory, it can't be proved—is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis. Now who knows what the real situation is?” ). The real scandal, however, is that the media by and large refuses to hold the Democrats responsible: Charles Krauthammer has the goods on Dean's latest calumny, but apart from an occasional op-ed, how many news outlets even deigned to notice?
Such omissions aside, perhaps the best evidence of the media's agenda is the desperate search for something—anything—to prove the Administration's malfeasance. Let's review three examples.
(1) First came the “sixteen words” from the State of the Union address. This flamed out, only to be recast in September as the outing of the not-so-secret secret agent Valerie Plame. Both versions featured the overweening narcissist Joseph Wilson; not since the heyday of William Jefferson Clinton has the news media prostituted itself to such shameless self-promotion, for the sake of so little substance. The latest, of course, is a Vanity Fair photo spread featuring Wilson and a “disguised” Plame. The WaPo's putative media watchdog Howard Kurtz manages to both report the new developments and once again misrepresent President Bush's words from the State of the Union. So we have come full circle. (Hat tip: Instapundit.)
(2) The most ridiculous pseudo-scandal is “Turkeygate.” Say what, you ask? Go here. Then go here for a genuinely moving firsthand account of the event. Finally, go here, and decide for yourself if the fevered visions of the Democrats (the turkey was, in all likelihood, provided by Halliburton!) are so far removed from media attempts to besmirch the presidential trip to Baghdad.
(3) From the daft to the insidious: While channel-surfing just before Thanksgiving, I ran across CNN's Paula Zahn at the beginning of her broadcast, in time to hear this teaser:
Good evening. Welcome. Glad to have you with us tonight. By one account, since the war began, President Bush has been to 41 fund-raisers and no funerals for U.S. troops killed in Iraq. Is there something wrong with this picture?
Zahn has definitely mastered the zeitgeist; the level of contempt she managed to pack into the question was worthy of the Beeb. Yet she is not alone—the notion that a callous President is giving the cold shoulder to grieving families, while pursuing a war for political gain, is gaining traction. At this date the meme is more popular with lefty bloggers than with old-line media, in spite of several test runs in the New York Times. (Both Krauthammer and Andrew Sullivan have provided substantive rebuttals to the Times op-eds.) The only thing keeping the charge out of the mainstream right now is its transparent viciousness. But we are near a tipping point, and in the next few months this particular smear will almost certainly achieve the status of conventional wisdom.
It is in shaping conventional wisdom that the press exerts its most subtle (and often most pernicious) influence. The immediate catalyst for this essay was an article in the current Time, on upcoming films: Seven Holiday Treats. The final movie synopsis is of The Fog of War, a documentary in which director Errol Morris plays confessor for Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. The review—and hence the article—concludes with this:
The White House may not screen this film in the next year, but it should. This is spellbinding reality cinema about duplicity and, worse, ignorance at the highest level.
Note the implication: the Administration is deceitful, incompetent, or both, and watching a freaking movie might help lead them to repentance. And this to wrap up an article that also reviews the lowbrow comedy Stuck on You.
Examples of such insinuation are legion, but just as numerous are bald misrepresentations. A feature story on Cate Blanchett(!) in the November Jane magazine, for example, includes a matter-of-fact assertion by the interviewer that the rescue of Jessica Lynch was staged, even though this was thoroughly discredited six months ago. And ever heard that the Bush Administration claimed Iraq was an imminent threat? Wrong (and see the text of the State of the Union where the President says the exact opposite). Or how about the complaint that our actions in Iraq are unilateral? Wrong again—but unless one knows where to look, any reports to the contrary will be lost in the ceaseless repetition of media claims that are indistinguishable from DNC talking points.
Most of my friends are of a generally conservative temperament. Among these are a few who do not habitually follow current events, and casual conversations with them can be depressing: I'm told that the Administration more than likely lied about the motivations for war in Iraq; that the aftermath is a mess; that our current foreign policy is a disaster. To be sure, they don't hold these opinions with any particular passion, and they would be hard pressed to justify them. But the fact that they hold them at all testifies to the power of one-sided media presentation.
Warren is right: the motivation of our media in shaping conventional wisdom—both about the war and about the Bush Administration—is in large measure simple malice. Not in all cases, of course; I am not charging that Howie Kurtz deliberately misrepresented the President (again). But the consonance of voices emanating from the far left and from the mainstream punditocracy is not coincidence, and the venom of the former has clearly infected the latter.
The Democrats have all but lost the economy as a issue. Election 2004 will therefore be a referendum on the war against militant Islamic fundamentalism, as indeed it ought be. Note carefully how the lines are drawn: Any Democratic presidential candidate hapless enough to have been caught supporting the Iraq campaign—no matter how briefly—is toast. A few have proposed foreign policy initiatives, though these range from the daft (Wesley Clark suggesting that we employ Saudi commandos to hunt al Qaeda in Central Asia) to the dangerously misguided (John Kerry calling for United Nations primacy in Iraq, when that institution has never successfully overseen nation-building, not even in tiny Kosovo). But all the candidates, with the sole exception of Joe Lieberman, are locked in a desperate bidding war for the support of the most virulent anti-Administration factions. As such they are being defined not by any suggested policy alternatives, but only by who they are against—and given the astonishing rhetoric, one might conclude that President Bush is more an enemy than murderous insurgents in Baghdad.
The press is no mere bystander in this process. It may be too much to ask that media reports give a semblance of balance when quoting howlers such as Al Gore's claim that the Iraq invasion was the worst foreign policy decision in American history. But there is no excuse—none—for the failure to properly cover stories such as this week's biggest news from Iraq: thousands marching in Baghdad in protest of the insurgency.
The rallies today proved to be a major success. I didn't expect anything even close to this. It was probably the largest demonstration in Baghdad for months. It wasn't just against terrorism. It was against Arab media, against the interference of neighbouring countries, against dictatorships, against Wahhabism, against oppression, and of course against the Ba'ath and Saddam.
We started at Al-Fatih square in front of the Iraqi national theatre at 10 am. IP were all over the place. At 12 pm people started marching towards Fardus square through Karradah. All political parties represented in the GC participated. But the other parties, organizations, unions, tribal leaders, clerics, school children, college students, and typical everyday Iraqis made up most of the crowd. Al-Jazeera estimated the size of the crowd as over ten thousand people.
There is something very, very wrong when al-Jazeera scoops the New York Times.
More is at stake than the balance of political power, although the next election may well set this nation's course, both domestically and internationally, for a generation. The current Administration has decided upon the reformation of the Middle East through the establishment of democracy, using whatever means deemed expedient. By now this is hardly a secret; indeed, the two most recent major presidential addresses—November 9 before the National Endowment for Democracy, and ten days later at Whitehall—both outlined the vision in bold terms. The following is excerpted from the latter.
The stakes in that region could not be higher. If the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation and anger and violence for export. And as we saw in the ruins of two towers, no distance on the map will protect our lives and way of life. If the greater Middle East joins the democratic revolution that has reached much of the world, the lives of millions in that region will be bettered, and a trend of conflict and fear will be ended at its source. …
Arab scholars speak of a freedom deficit that has separated whole nations from the progress of our time. The essentials of social and material progress — limited government, equal justice under law, religious and economic liberty, political participation, free press, and respect for the rights of women — have been scarce across the region. Yet that has begun to change. In an arc of reform from Morocco to Jordan to Qatar, we are seeing elections and new protections for women and the stirring of political pluralism. Many governments are realizing that theocracy and dictatorship do not lead to national greatness; they end in national ruin. They are finding, as others will find, that national progress and dignity are achieved when governments are just and people are free. …
As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.
Now we're pursuing a different course, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. We will consistently challenge the enemies of reform and confront the allies of terror. We will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region, and we will meet our responsibilities in Afghanistan and in Iraq by finishing the work of democracy we have begun.
This is not mere Wilsonian idealism: it is a long-term plan to vitiate the appeal of violent Islamic fundamentalism, so that we do not have another September 11. Certainly there are arguments against this strategic blueprint—not least being that it might be too audacious to ever succeed. But critics ought to provide alternatives, and the vacuous and petty rhetoric of the Left shows that they have none.
Steven Den Beste provides an invaluable overview in which he explains why the invasion of Iraq was essential for the democratization of the Middle East. Yet for the Left—and for those factions of the press that share the same antiwar sentiments—this was a battle too far: we had had our vengeance in Afghanistan; time now to restrain our bloodlust, to learn from our moral betters the arts of international cooperation. As the evidence described above suggests, no tactic employed against the Bush Administration is ruled out, whether misrepresentation, baseless insinuation, or filtering of news reports to dilute evidence of Coalition success and Iraqi public support.
To a large degree, the mainstream media wants our efforts in Iraq to fail: if not utterly, then just enough so that President Bush can gain no advantage from the liberation of Saddam's subjects. Such antagonism makes the press a de facto ally of the Ba'athists and murderous Islamic extremists. Not that there is any conspiracy—no tinfoil hats here—but there is an indisputable confluence of aims. The Left and its sympathizers need the bloodshed to continue, if they are to have any hope of victory next November; and the insurgents need antiwar sentiment in this country to evolve into a popular movement opposed to continued US presence in Iraq.
It did not have to be this way: there might have been a rational opposition to President Bush's strategic vision. Yet the die is now cast, and a victory for the Left will mean defeat in Iraq. Then the war would indeed be over. But we will not have won.
UPDATE. So this is what an Instalanche looks like: one quick e-mail to Glenn at 3:00 pm, and I get 30% of my total December traffic to date in nine hours. I'm very grateful.
Also, in catching up a week's reading on the Professor's site this evening, I ran across more on last week's anti-terror demonstrations in Baghdad, and a link to a different, and much smaller, protest that the WaPo finds worthy of mention (anti-Coalition, of course).
post a comment