Thursday, August 03, 2006

That's Entertainment: the seamless web of war and propaganda and media

I've been thinking and writing about the war in Lebanon lately almost to the exclusion of other topics. In this I'm not alone; much of the media and the blogosphere is focused on the conflict, and rightly so.

And much of this discussion and thought isn't just about the war itself--strategy and battles and goals--but on the coverage of the action.

At first this fact puzzled me a bit, including my own emphasis on the media coverage--after all, isn't the conflict and what's behind it far more important than how the MSM chooses to frame it? The answer is yes, it should be--but the latter isn't just an unimportant side issue, either. It is absolutely essential to the war itself and can be instrumental in determining its outcome.

Morale, will, the perception of how essential it is to win a certain war and the justness of the cause--all have been part of war since time immemorial. Leaders have always had to inspire their armies; and now, in democracies, they have to inspire their people as well.

Before the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, and certainly prior to the 60s, the media used to be both less ubiquitous and more supportive of government efforts. During the Vietnam War, the media found its power as an antiwar force and a gadfly (see this for my views on the matter).

And since then, the media has never looked back. The irony is that the war in Vietnam probably was far more tangential to our interests than the present wars in Iraq or Lebanon, which are vital. But the media, like a junkie on a high, keeps going back for a fix of action and sensation and visual effect and almost kneejerk criticism of the US and Israel, without realizing the destructive potential of its own actions.

And those elements--the pursuit of sensation and effect--have become, I believe, at least as potent a motivator for the media's actions as any possible political bias of journalists. Perhaps even more.

On this point, Betsy Newmark cites an article by Noah Pollak that appeared today in National Review, "Video Made the Terrorist Star." In the piece, Pollak comments on the decline of "serious journalism," which was embedded in context and history and facts, and the ascendance of journalism as entertainment, designed to entertain and stimulate, looking for interesting "stories" and personal dramas.

Pollak doesn't even see journalists as especially biased, but rather as ignorant of the consequences of their actions, and intent on telling telegenic stories. And in doing so they have become, as he points out, codependent enablers of terrorists themselves.

In a far less important arena, I've noticed the same thing in coverage of sports events such as the Olympics. Over the years, fewer and fewer minutes were spent just showing us the unadorned action, and more and more time was devoted to fancy features about the personal lives of the athletes, usually highlighting tearjerker soap-opera type details designed to make it seem all the more "up close and personal." Pretty soon the sport became almost tangential to the story.

Well, it doesn't matter much with the Olympics, does it? I liked them better the old way, but who cares, really?

But war is different, and it matters, terribly. Because the truth is that the stupidity and short-sightedness of the media has worked to change the face of war. When, as Pollak puts it, "Hezbollah does not have a military strategy; it has a media strategy that so far has been chillingly effective," we understand that his words are true: Hezbollah doesn't need a military strategy. Military strategy has become increasingly irrelevant in today's modern, limited wars, every sensational detail of which is beamed around the globe at lightening speed.

Of course, if Israel ever decided to pursue a goal of all-out, total, war, the issue might become irrelevant. Israel could utterly destroy Hezbollah and Lebanon and even Iran if it so desired. But that has not happened so far, and Hezbollah and Lebanon and Iran are well aware--despite their demonizing of Israel as Satanic--that it's unlikely to happen.

So the media, pursuing its own selfish ends, has become the handmaiden of terrorists. And, in its shortsighted pursuit of sensation and "stories," the media could well be a participant in sowing the seeds of its own destruction, since the protection of a free press is not exactly the goal of Islamic jihadis.

Ironic, indeed.

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