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January 27, 2005

More Media Bias

Thomas Sowell takes a few whacks at the 'unbiased media':

THERE ARE still people in the mainstream media who profess bewilderment that they are accused of being biased. But you need to look no further than reporting on the war in Iraq to see the bias staring you in the face, day after day, on the front page of The New York Times and in much of the rest of the media. If a battle ends with Americans killing a hundred guerrillas and terrorists, while sustaining 10 fatalities, that is an American victory. But not in the mainstream media. The headline is more likely to read: "Ten More Americans Killed in Iraq."

This kind of journalism can turn victory into defeat. Kept up long enough, it can even end up with real defeat, when support for the war collapses at home and abroad.

Every day I talk to neighbors, friends, and even family members who get their news from the WaPo and NPR, and they all think we're losing this war. Nevermind that the Spousal Unit recently returned from Fallujah or just talked to the 1MEF commander - he doesn't know as much as some reporter riding a desk in Washington, DC. Journalism changes minds - it shapes opinions. It determines votes. And it can influence the outcome of a war:

Whether the one-sided reporting of the war in Vietnam was a factor in the American defeat there used to be a matter of controversy. But in recent years, high officials of the Communist government of Vietnam have admitted that they lost the war on the battlefields but won it in the U.S. media and on the streets of America, where political pressures from the anti-war movement threw away the victory for which thousands of American lives had been sacrificed.

Too many in the media today regard the reporting of the Vietnam War as one of their greatest triumphs. It certainly showed the power of the media - but also its irresponsibility. Some in the media today seem determined to recapture those glory days by the way they report on events in the Iraq war.

But there are chinks in the media's armor. Perhaps, in some small way, the criticism is beginning to have an effect. Cori Dauber jotted down a few notes during a recent Dan Rather interview with some Marines. To his credit, their complaints about the media (and their positive take on how things are going) made it into the print article. When asked about the dreaded IED attacks, one Marine said:

Are those kinds of incidents increasing, decreasing or about the same as when Abbott first got there? "I believe they are definitely decreasing since we have been here," says Abbott.

Is the election, scheduled for Jan. 30, going to come off well? "I believe we are going to make it happen," says Abbott.

So does the commanding officer, Col. Ron Johnson, a 25-year Marine veteran. "I don’t think it will be spot-free incident," he says. "But I think you’ll see you’ll be pleasantly surprised about the number of Iraqi citizens who want to put their name on a piece of paper."

And the Marines weren't shy about expressing their displeasure with press coverage of the war:

Johnson says the Marine presence has changed life in Hasweh. His convoys are being attacked much less frequently. The market is busy. Schools, which were closed last year, are open now. And there is water and electricity most of the time.

But Johnson doesn’t think that story is getting out. Neither does Sgt. Lewis. "I am tired of hearing the crap," says Lewis. "The whole, well, 'We are barely hanging on, we're losing, the insurgency is growing.' All that. We are doing fine. It's just a small, a small amount of people out there causing the problems. I mean, it is a small number, and we’re killing them."

I never thought I'd say this, but "Nice going, Dan". On the flip side, the Washington Post is politicizing reporters' stories after they go to print, and even the author can't get the straight scoop about his own work. According to Power Line:

Reader Richard Banyard pointed out this remarkable paragraph in the Washington Post's story on the vote in the Senate on Condoleezza Rice's nomination:
Some of the Democrats who opposed Rice were centrists from states in which President Bush won or ran strongly in November, including Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), Mark Dayton (D-Minn.), Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

"Centrists"?? Mark Dayton? Robert Byrd? Carl Levin? And Tom Harkin?? These are some of the most far-left politicians who have ever served in the United States Senate. At the Post, "centrist" apparently means "someone who isn't any more liberal than we are."

When questioned about the term "centrist", the WaPo removed the term from the article. The author then denied it was ever there in the first place, blaming the brouhaha on "a cut and paste job that rearranged paragraphs in order to attack the story."

After several more rewrites by the WaPo, the author finally emailed back to admit that his story had been altered...and not by him:

You are quite right... The website folks updated the morning story after the vote, and combined some paragraphs... I should have read over their shoulder, my mistake. I did get them to fix it. The story i wrote for the morning paper did not use "centrist" to describe Byrd, Harkin, etc... Thanks for the heads up . cb

Curiouser and curiouser...

Posted by Cassandra at January 27, 2005 08:18 AM

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The war reporting is very sad. The recent comments from Vietnamese officials only supports that notion. We really need to publicize this information and admissions more to get the public to scrutinize the medial. I will drive around and let Cassandra place a big bullhorn speaker on my roof it is will help.

Posted by: Hummer at January 27, 2005 10:05 AM

For a somewhat different view from a generally reliable source and a thoughtful blogger.

Posted by: George at January 27, 2005 01:01 PM

I respect John Burns, but how is this any different from what I linked to just yesterday, George? It pained me to put that up, but it was the truth. No one's denying that people are dying over there:

Two very fine young men were shot in front of the shop they owned as they were closing down to go home, they were distantly related to me. The Assistant Dean of the medical college of Baghdad, a relative of a close friend of mine was gunned down as he drove his daughters back from college. This was a fine and brilliant man and only 45 years old, and besides he was the only man in a house full of old and young women and girls. The women are now left without anybody to look after them and horribly traumatized. Another old friend of mine, a prosperous and successful engineer and contractor was murdered near Abu Ghraib leaving a big family behind.

Thus, the daily massacre of completely innocent people goes on. The very best people in society are targeted. The hardest hit is the professional middle class. Many Doctors and professionals are closing down their very profitable businesses and escaping outside the country.

But trumpeting that 10 Marines were killed when they won the battle is NOT balanced reporting.

Your point?

In a city of a million people, if 99% of the people are able to go about their daily business everyday and all you ever hear about is the fewer than 1% who are not, you still get a skewed impression of the state of affairs.

And constantly saying the Iraqis hate us when the polls show (and the Marines who come back tell me) their feelings are considerably more nuanced than that is downright dishonest.

Is it bad? Yes.

Is it worse than it should be? Undoubtedly.

Is it worse than other places, some in the US? No, according to murder statistics.

It's all about perspective, which is what the media are intentionally distorting. The media were wrong - FLAT WRONG - about how the elections in Afghanistan would turn out. You don't hear them admitting that, do you?

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2005 01:20 PM

Cass - An editor politicizing a reporter's story is nothing less than an editor lying through his teeth. Printing it under the reporter's byline only compounds the sin.

Case in point: In early 1970, my unit inserted a platoon of Regional Force / Popular Force (RF/PF--the Vietnamese equivalent of the National Guard) into an area for a routine sweep. They bumped into a company-sized unit of local nasties and NVA regulars and started mixing it up. By day's end, we'd flown five (or more--I lost count for a while) additional insertions and, by nightfall, the fight was over.

Debrief: We had two aircraft with a single bullet hole in each; RF/PF casualties were six walking wounded; bad guys suffered double-digit KIA and an unknown number of wounded evaders (RF/PF captured five--one local and four NVA).

A reporter was there and did a nice, one-page writeup of the action, and it was accurate--he wrote it while we were sitting in my helicopter (relax, we were shut down) and I read it before he filed it.

My Dad sent me the clipping when it hit the papers: Who, Where, When were correct, but the What read something like "NLF Trounces Government Forces in Delta Battle; Two US Helicopters Shot Down, Crews Missing." No mention of the four NVA in the hoosegow, no mention that the RF/PF came through like champs, just another resounding Allied defeat in Nixon's War.

I tracked the reporter down (it wasn't hard, since everybody hung out in my tent--*cold* beer) and the only thing he said was, "I already know. My editor changed it."

The Fourth Estate's Prime Directive was, is, and ever shall be, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."

Posted by: cw4billt at January 27, 2005 01:35 PM

Your point?

There you go again, Cassandra.

That there is biased reporting from Iraq is indisputably true. But just because most of the reporting is biased doesn't mean that things are going as well as they must for the forces of freedom to succeed. The report from Burns and the analysis by Gregory are (I thought) significant because we might presume they are not biased.

Btw, I don't know what you posted yesterday. Monitoring your site is not my MOS.

Posted by: George at January 27, 2005 02:16 PM

There I go "again"?

George, the only times I have ever heard from you lately, you have seemed somewhat adversarial. If I seem argumetative in return, that is perhaps the reason.

First of all, I do not presume Greg is not biased. I've read him for a while and he's about as biased on his side as I am on mine. What I hear on a daily basis coming back from the people who are over there is mostly good, in response to the continuing rain of negativity from the media.

And much of it directly contradicts some of what I've read on Greg's site. Who's right? Pardon me if I have a bit more faith in the people on the ground. That's my bias and I'll freely admit it.

It's not like I don't read and entertain other opinions, George - and I don't say everything I think here. It's not appropriate, frankly.

And you don't need to be snarky - of course monitoring my site isn't your MOS. You seem to want to pick a fight every time you comment. I don't really understand that one. I merely pointed out that I had acknowledged the same violence the day before - if I honestly expected you to have read it, why would I have quoted a part of it?

I don't see where that merited a snotty rejoinder.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2005 02:28 PM

George, the only times I have ever heard from you lately, you have seemed somewhat adversarial. If I seem argumetative in return, that is perhaps the reason.

That you consider my first comment above to be "adversarial" says more about you (imho) than about me.

I spent 26 years in the Army, including two years in combat (I think you know that already). So my credentials as an "arm chair general" are maybe as good as the next guy's, and perhaps even a little better. When I comment about war, I'm not just talking through my hat.

I think it's unfortunate for your site (which has important things to commend it) that you feel compelled to "counterattack" when a view is expressed that might diverge from your own. Worse still is the implication you sometimes leave that your "adversary" (as you put it) must have perverse or nefarious motives.

Hell, you might as well go ahead and ban me: save both of us some indigestion.

Posted by: George at January 27, 2005 02:53 PM

George, why on earth would I ban you?

And I didn't consider the first comment adversarial. It was the second one that was. And I wasn't "counterattacking" - one can argue a point without "attacking", can't one?

It was the sarcasm in the MOS comment that seemed advesarial to me, and if you look at our last two interactions, you have been a bit critical, which would give me reason to take things that way, if you're objective and fair about it.

And I think you're going high and to the right with the "banning" talk. You know I've only banned one person, and she really deserved it.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2005 02:57 PM

My comments here have been thoughtful (I believe) and well-written (I hope). Your bars for the "adversarial" and the "sarcastic" seem to me pathetically low.

If you don't want the aggravation, Cassandra, I'd suggest you turn off the comments -- like oxblog, Glenn and many others. If you don't want to go that way, then you could always decide to live with a certain diversity of opinion on your site -- something of the sort that those who are politically right-of-center (like you and me?) always claim we want to see in the media.

Posted by: George at January 27, 2005 04:00 PM

I dislike reporting from the media for the simple fact that much of it is biased in a way that is
intended to destroy morale, not to be balanced.

Cassandra's point is taken that while she is not advocating a Pollyanna approach to the stories, neither is she saying we need to wallow in grief and self loathing but instead, get the full story of why they died, and that was because of a victory.

That in spite of the casualties, the freedom the Iraqis will have will be worth the price paid.
Isn't that part of why we kicked England out of here, as well as France and Spain and even Russia?
(Oregon and No Cal were hotly contested in the 1840s by the Csar)

Given the fact that I have have questioned this war and every step this administration has taken since it began, the least that we can do is tell the story and tell it right.

Posted by: Cricket at January 27, 2005 04:24 PM

And your point George?

Well, there you go again.

Hiding a tinge off arrogance and cendesendion behind feigned incredulity.

If you have something to say, say it. You will not find anyone on the net more willing to engage in thoughtful give and take than Cass.

So far your bar for "thoughtful" is quite low.

Posted by: Pile On® at January 27, 2005 04:32 PM

George? Afraid I'm going to have to echo others; What IS your point? Are you saying that the MSM is NOT biased in their reporting and that Cass is full of it or are you espousing a different point of view entirely? It would help to know what your point is exactly!

The MSM is perpetrating the same BS on the American People that they did in the 60s and 70s. They are trying their best to CREATE the news. Not report it objectively. I even read Burns' piece George and he's definitely got tunnelvision which is unusual for him I must admit. Beware of Chicken Little!

Oh well, here's some great embed stuff from Edd Hendee with 1/23 at present. WARNING!!!: Several mentions of God and (gasp) praying so his opinions must be suspect. You know, like the young Marine Corps war correspondents, he's ACTUALLY ON OUR SIDE so it couldn't possibly be good journalism a la Mr. Burns et al. But still, y'all might find his reactions to our Marines fighting and dying as inspiring as I do. Enjoy!

Lonestar Times

BTW, yesterday's piece by Edd will rip your guts out and by all means scoll through his entire series, it's that good. Then you can scoll over to Al Reuters or the NYT to cleanse your soul and get real MSM "objectivity". OORAH!

Posted by: JarheadDad at January 27, 2005 05:06 PM

I haven't been reading comments as closely the last week or so, but based just on this thread, George, you are exactly as Cassandra described you. Her willingness to discuss and debate is unparalleled. Get over yourself. Your tone is condescending, and your interpretation of "adversarial" is unnecessary. Cass and I are 'adversarial' regularly. We don't agree, I "attack" and she "counter-attacks." I expect the counter-attack, or I wouldn't have attacked.

Posted by: KJ at January 27, 2005 05:19 PM

Can't we all just get a bong?

Posted by: Rozney King at January 27, 2005 05:32 PM

...I mean: can't well all just get along?

[Come to think of it, the former may be required to accomplish the latter]

Posted by: Rozney King at January 27, 2005 05:35 PM

We NOT well. Well, I can't speak for all of we, but I'm well. I just don't spell well.

Posted by: Rozney King at January 27, 2005 05:37 PM

During the Tet Offensive, we kicked butt from one end of South Viet Nam to the other. The Viet Cong, as a fighting force, ceased to exist. The North Vietnamese never again, while we were still supplying the South Vietnamese, conducted another major offensive. By any definition, enemy forces were soundly defeated during the Tet Offensive.

Thirty-one good men die in a helicopter crash the other day and how is it reported? They were flying because the roads are too dangerous to use, that's how it was reported. I felt like calling CBS and screaming, "lady, what the hell do you think the Army and Marine Corps have all those damn choppers for if not to transport troops around!" By the way, despite her being in such a dangerous place, not one hair was out of place and the makeup looked fine.

Now, we turn to Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, and what do we get. Well, we got our butts kicked, and there is no way we can win the war. To this day, I am ashamed of the way we left that country. Not so Walter Cronkite and his ilk. Nope, they're still frolicking around on the Vineyard and looking down their noses at the rest of us.

Posted by: RIslander [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 27, 2005 06:33 PM

By the way, the paragraph about Cronkite should go before the one about that poor soul from CBS.


Posted by: RIslander [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 27, 2005 06:37 PM

RIslander - It may provide you some modicum of comfort to know that, in his "background-gathering" just south of My Tho, poor Walter and film crew were inadvertently CSed by US Army helicopters operating in the area.

They bolted so fast, we had to inadvertently do it twice.

Posted by: cw4billt at January 27, 2005 09:44 PM

If you truly believe in "diversity of opinion", then why not actually think about what you are writing and reading, and address the questions that Cassandra has raised instead of resorting to ad hominem attacks? If you truly have a well-thought-out and reasonable argument I'd like to see it, not just "you're wrong and you want to get rid of me."
In other words, grow up.

Posted by: MrsPurpleRaider at January 27, 2005 10:20 PM

George, the last two comments I remember you making were "I'm bored with this post - Cassandra can do better" when we were in the middle of playing a music game after a long string of boring social security posts, which didn't strike me as particularly thoughtful (and some people might have taken as somewhat antagonistic) and the other comment you made on Jet Noise, which was to the same effect (something about your not liking that post either, which puzzled me as last time I checked, as this isn't American Bandstand).

I told you then that I thought if you don't like a post, don't read it. It's not good manners to critique it publicly and I doubt you need lessons in manners from me :). I would never dream of entering your home and making public comments on your decorating, your personal appearance, or your cooking. It mystifies me why you feel justified in offering them here.

The Good Lord in his infinite wisdom gave you a Back button.

I don't expect you to like everything I write, nor to agree with it. In fact, I am surprised and gratified every morning when I get up and there are ANY readers at all. But by the same token, I don't OWE you anything either.

If you disagree with a point I make, great. Say so.

If I disagree with your comment, I'm going to say so. That's my right, and if that bothers you, as you so aptly put it, perhaps you shouldn't comment. The point of comments is to have a discussion, and if people get bent out of shape when people disagree with them and start making sarcastic personal comments, the discussion degenerates into ad hominem instead of being interesting.

KJ and I argue, lots of people argue with me, and it doesn't get ugly. I'd like to feel that we could disagree without it turning personal. I've only banned one person, and that was because she continually swore and then insulted my husband and the Marine Corps after repeated warnings, and I won't tolerate that. But that was an extreme case.

Anyway, that's all I have to say.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 29, 2005 08:02 AM

To George: What you say about media coverage above comes dangerously close to the old line, "Just because we're biased against you, doesn't mean that we're wrong."

Or the koan: "Just because the world is biased against the U.S., doesn't mean that they're wrong."   (Who?   The U.S. or the world?   Exactly - even the way you parse the statement depends on your bias.)

So technically you might be right - the biased media could be getting some of the story right in spite of themselves - but why would you put any stock in their perspective on the situation?

I know it's dangerous (especially for foreigners) in Baghdad right now. That's because Saddam planned it that way before he went into hiding in 2003. There's also robust support from outside Iraq in the form of weapons and cannon fodder, and we haven't cut it off yet because we haven't been willing to engage Syria militarily.

It's not the data that Burns cites, it's the conclusions that he draws, the way in which he turns that data into 'information', that is at the heart of the bias (and hence the disagreement).

Posted by: Rob at February 2, 2005 10:27 AM

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