web counter Media Lies: How bias and opinion creep into "reporting"

Friday, May 28, 2004

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How bias and opinion creep into "reporting"

There's an interesting article on Fox News today that addresses a number of issues regarding Iraq, including the recent negotiated ceasefire in Najaf and Kuf. The article discusses the mechanics of the negotiations that took place between Shia leaders and Muqtada al Sadr and the result of those negotiations. It also quotes the American military leadership's reaction to the negotiations and what role they will play in maintaining security in southern Iraq.

Then there's this paragraph of opinion thrown in:

"The agreement provides the Americans a way out of a standoff that threatened to alienate Iraq's Shiites — the largest religious community. But U.S. demands for al-Sadr's arrest and disbanding his militia were unmet — and the deal opens the door for a political role for a figure that President Bush had branded a 'thug.' "

This is quite typical of the type of "reporting" that has been going on with regard to the Iraqi war. However, it's nothing more than the "reporter's" opinion, which makes this, at least in part, an editorial, not a news story. Who said that the American's were looking for "a way out of a standoff that threatened to alienate Iraq's Shiites"? The press did. The military has never stated that. The administration has never stated that. "Looking for a way out" implies that one has gotten oneself into a situation, perhaps ignorantly, that one now realizes one needs to extricate oneself from with the least amount of damage.

Is that what the US is doing in Iraq? Looking for a way out? Clearly not. President Bush has repeatedly stated publicly that we will not be swayed, we will not abandon our mission, we will stay the course. The military leaders have clearly stated their goals repeatedly - to disband al Sadr's militia, bring al Sadr to justice in Iraqi courts and return southern Iraq to the stable security posture it had before al Sadr's misadventure. Not once has anyone said, "Man, we really screwed this thing up, and now we're just looking for a way to get out of it without pissing off the Shias."

The liberals have been looking for a way out for some time. They call it "an exit strategy", which is code for "how do we lose gracefully?" In fact, liberals have refined this philosophy to the point that they want a plan in place to lose gracefully before they get in to a conflict. (Of course they have ignored the fact that we are still in Kosovo 10 years after Clinton said we would leave, but that's a story for another day.)

Winners don't need exit strategies. Losers do. The liberal world, and by association, much of the press, devoutly wishes for an exit strategy. So, news stories get written about current events, and slyly inserted into the middle of the story is the exit strategy philosophy. If you didn't pay attention, you'd never even notice it. Yet it influences the way people see the conflict in Iraq, and it sets a tone that implies that the US cannot "win" (as if winning was what this is all about anyway. When the American flag was briefly draped over the statue of Sadaam and then replaced with the Iraqi flag, the symbolism should not have been lost on anyone.)

Ever since the flareup in Fallujah and al Sadr's self-indulgent attempts to take advantage of that situation, the press has warned repeatedly of the dire consequences of getting the Shia's upset, of uniting Sunni and Shia against the US, of the looming danger of civil war and resultant middle east conflagration. Yet the Iraqi bloggers haven't worried about it at all. More than anything they've complained about al Sadr's militia being thugs and thieves and screwing up their daily lives. They have expressed concern about the holy shrines being damaged, but that's a separate issue from dealing with al Sadr. The American military hasn't seemed to worry about it either. Despite the complaints of al Sistani and others, they pressed forward with their plan to rid Fallujah of the bad guys and to pry al Sadr loose from his stolen throne, and they've persisted (quite successfully) in killing bad guys until the bad guys finally gave up in both instances.

There is a story here, but you won't read it in the mainstream press. The imams are extremely worried about the al Sadr situation. Traditionally they have not had to respond to civil and criminal courts in their country. They are very concerned that putting al Sadr on trial for murder will set a, for them, dangerous precedent. The idea that they might not be above the law in a new Iraq terrifies them. It will be interesting to see how the Iraqis handle al Sadr's case, once they have assumed sovereignty.