Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"Some Iraqis Express Doubts About New US Strategy:" why, who woulda thunk it?

Here's a wonderful headline that caught my eye, from, of all things, the Voice of America: "Some Iraqis express doubts about new US strategy."

Why, goodness gracious me my, they do? I'm so astonished I hardly know where to begin. But I'll try.

I've noticed lately (and by "lately," I don't mean in the last few days, I mean during the last decade or so) a growing propensity for the media to chew, swallow, digest, and excrete a story before it has even happened. A good example of the genre was the ISG report--remember that? Heard much of the report lately? No; despite the pre-report hype, it died a merciful death shortly after its release because it was so--to be blunt--profoundly stupid and misguided in its suggestion of negotiation with Iran and Syria, the biggest of a couple of whoppers that didn't sit well most segments of US public, political, or pundit opinion.

And now it remains to be seen whether Bush's new plan for Iraq, when announced tonight, will be the same one the media has been discussing endlessly. My guess, by the way, is that at least the broad outlines will be similar; I'm not sure about the details. Maybe it's just me, but wouldn't it be awfully nice to wait and see what the man actually says before we get incessant, 24-hour a day, worldwide coverage of the reaction to it?

In addition, this particular story struck me as especially meaningless, and transparently so. It is the quintessential "dog bites man" story--after all, a certain segment of a population is going to have an opinion pro or con virtually anything. Just listen to the late-night program "Coast to Coast" (I seldom do, but every now and then I turn it on for a moment) to get an idea of how many people believe, oh, in just about any wacky theory anyone can dream up.

Now, don't get me wrong. Having doubts about the new US strategy is most definitely not akin to thinking the earth is flat, that we never got to the moon, or that Jesus was a mushroom (the latter was the subject of one especially flabbergasting "Coast to Coast" segment I happened to flip onto late one night. Ten minutes were quite enough, thanks you, but they were memorable.)

And as for doubts--well, even I have doubts about Bush's strategy, whatever it might be. Doubts are part of human existence, especially in war. I've quoted Helmuth von Motke the Elder's (love that name!) famous dictum before, but I'll do it again: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

And I am certain that the average Iraqi has plenty of doubts at this point about a plan he/she doesn't know the details of yet, that hasn't been implemented, and that follows so many dashed hopes raised by previous campaigns and promises. This is news?

The Voice of America article hits some sort of reporting low--at least, I hope it's a low. It quotes three average unnamed Iraqis as expressing some rather reasonable-sounding reservations, then mentions the official Iraqi government line that states the plan will succeed (surprise, surprise!).

Why am I picking on this particular obscure story? Well, for one thing, I found it in the first place because it was highlighted by Google as one of its top stories for today, so it's getting an awful lot of attention relative to any merit it might have. For another, even though it's an extreme example, it shows the naked media tendency towards shaping the news in a negative and often meaningless way: write a headline that makes it look as though Iraqis have already rejected Bush's plan (and perhaps they have, but you wouldn't know it based on the evidence in this story), do a cursory job of interviewing a couple of people who subscribe to the views you're seeking, and call it a day.

Powered by Blogger