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April 29, 2005

The Enemy Within

The fog of war: I have always found this a particularly apt term for the confusion and chaos that result when men contend on the field of battle. As the daughter of a Navy captain and wife to a Marine, war has been a constant refrain in my life, a song playing in the background: mostly quietly, at times receding to a barely-heard whisper; then suddenly, without warning growing to a menacing roar before subsiding to a gentle murmur again.

I grew up with Vietnam. If anyone asked me a few years ago, I'd have told them it had little effect on me. I was just a child, you see. I'd have been wrong.

During the election when John Kerry simply would not shut up about Vietnam I was surprised to feel a growing anger. Where did it come from, this cold rage, this bitter sorrow that overtook me when I least expected it? Why did I care? I was so small then. I didn't really understand it until Laura Armstrong, another service junior, contacted me and I did something very strange for me: I decided to attend the KerryLied rally in DC. I didn't want to go, really - I can't stand that sort of thing. But I felt compelled, somehow, to be there. And standing in a crowd of people I did not know that sunny day, at times with tears running down my face, it all came flooding back. How I felt as a little girl, watching my parents' black and white TV set as the news anchor read the body counts.

Because that was the war, for me. The magic of television brought the war home, right into my living room. Through the fog that permeates battles going on half a world away, that is all we can ever know of bloody struggles taking place in places we will never see. And it was enough. It was more than enough.

I remember, at times, leaving the room silently and curling up in my bed and trembling, just thinking of all those brothers and daddies who would never come home. I wasn't afraid, really, for my Dad: he was 10 feet tall and bullet-proof. Dads are that way. They fish monsters out from under your bed and fix your bike when it doesn't work; a tiny country in SouthEast Asia ain't no big thang to a dashing hero with a battleship and gold braid on his uniform.

I cringed at the body counts and sterile recitations of battle statistics. But towards the end of the war when journalists began to discover activism, I discovered there were worse things. I hated the napalm pictures and the graphic pictures of the wounded and the way nothing good ever seemed to be reported. I noticed that, even as a child, because my Dad was in the Navy.

Today's coverage of the war is so different. It's even more pronounced because as an "insider" I know more about the successes we're having and I see so few of them reflected in TV and newspaper accounts of the war. Where does this "news" go? What filter separates the good from the bad, allowing only the dismal and discouraging details to penetrate the fog of war? Bob Herbert is disturbed about this filter, too:

The vast amount of suffering and death endured by civilians as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has, for the most part, been carefully kept out of the consciousness of the average American. I can't think of anything the Bush administration would like to talk about less. You can't put a positive spin on dead children.

Mr. Herbert is a master of the anecdotal, fact-free rant. He has a recipe. He churns out editorials with cookie-cutter precision. Take a single sob story (this week it's the sad tale of Marla Ruzicka, a humanitarian aid worker killed by a suicide bomber) and expand it into a metaphor that encompasses all the agony and pathos of an intrinsically unfair world. Now for the killer twist: a dash of bitter irony only the NY Times can bring to our doorsteps each morning. Though Marla died at the hands of terrorists, by the time Bob gets done with the story we know who's really to blame: the Bush administration. Bam! She placed herself in danger to draw attention to the sad plight of innocent Iraqis. Now let's kick it up another notch. Rub some salt in the wound: the indictment of an uncaring silent partner who, through inaction, must share the blame. The press is complicit in her death - according to Mr. Herbert - because they don't care enough about "tens of thousands" of innocent Iraqi war victims.

Jason van Steenwyk refutes Herbert in detail, but I have a simpler question for him. He celebrates the heroic life and sad death of Marla Ruzicka, who travelled to Iraq to bring attention to the sad plight of "tens of thousands" of innocent Iraqis who he says are dying (at the hands of terrorists). Why, then, does he not celebrate the heroic lives and deaths of the American military, who travelled to Iraq to bring attention to the sad plight of 400,000 innocent Iraqis? And those are just the ones we've found, so far.

Don't they matter, Mr. Herbert?

As we sit in our homes, all we know of war is what they tell us: the media. Mr. Herbert believes they're not telling us the whole truth. I happen to agree. After 9/11, the media decided we shouldn't see images of people falling - jumping, really, in an act of mad desperation - from the Twin Towers. They said it was out of respect for the dead, which is odd since they seem to have no compunction about showing images of our dead servicemembers. Some said it was because the images were too "shocking".

Too shocking. Really? Then what explains the decision to air this footage:

The man in the dark blue flight suit lay face-up in the tall scrub grass looking up nervously at the video camera. Above him stood men with Kalashnikov rifles who had tracked him down to the only cover near where his helicopter had been shot down in the desert.

"Stand up! Stand up!" a voice in Arab-accented English said from off-camera. "I can't. It's broken," the man in the flight suit answered, also in English, with a soft Eastern European accent. The man, in his 40's, with graying hair, raised his head slightly as he spoke and motioned to his right leg. "Give me a hand," he said. "Come here, come here," the off-camera insurgent said, reaching out a hand to pull him up.

Insurgent groups in Iraq have made heavy use of the Internet, posting videos showing ambushes, bombings and beheadings. Many of the videos have been chilling, showing in graphic detail the killings of captured Iraqis and foreigners. In this helicopter crash, the importance attached to videotaping was clear when the pilot was discovered lying in the grass. "Is the recorder on?" an off-camera man asked in Arabic.

These videos obviously have enormous propaganda value to the terrorists. They're not making them as souvenirs: they are calculated to put political pressure on coalition governments and increase opposition to the war on the domestic front. More than one coalition nation has already withdrawn due to the efforts of the kidnappers after widespread public protest forced a showdown. The strategy is working.

All due to the videotaping (and subsequent broadcasting of these videotapes) by the media.

All of which raises disturbing questions about the role of the media during wartime. DOD has made unprecedented efforts to allow embedded journalists liberal access to the military. This implies a certain trust, and a corresponding responsibility on the part of the media since they are, by their very presence, endangering the lives of US forces. Recently a CBS cameraman was arrested on suspicion of insurgent activity. Dorrance Smith asks some hard questions about media culpability during wartime:

As the war continues, more hostages will be taken and acts of murderous violence committed -- leading to more videos for Al-Jazeera and the networks. Isn't it time to scrutinize the relationship among Al-Jazeera, American networks and the terrorists? What role should the U.S. government be playing?
Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and al Qaeda have a partner in Al-Jazeera and, by extension, most networks in the U.S. This partnership is a powerful tool for the terrorists in the war in Iraq. Figures show that 77% of Iraqis cite TV as their main source of information; 15% cite newspapers. Current estimates are that close to 100% of Iraqis have access to satellite TV, 18% to cell phones, and 8% to the Internet. The battle for Iraqi hearts and minds is being fought over satellite TV. It is a battle today that we are losing badly.

The collaboration between the terrorists and Al-Jazeera is stronger than ever. While the precise terms of that relationship are virtually unknown, we do know this: Al-Jazeera and the terrorists have a working arrangement that extends beyond a modus vivendi. When the terrorists want to broadcast something that helps their cause, they have immediate and reliable access to Al-Jazeera. This relationship -- in a time of war -- raises some important questions:

What does Al-Jazeera promise the terrorist organizations in order to get consistent access to their video?

Does it pay for material?

Is it promised safety and protection if it continues to air unedited tapes? (No Al-Jazeera employee has been killed or taken hostage by the terrorists. When I ran the Iraqi Television Network, seven employees were killed by terrorists.)

Does Al-Jazeera promise the terrorists that it won't reveal their whereabouts and techniques as a quid pro quo for doing business? Is this bargain in the guise of journalism a defensible practice?

What it all boils down to is this: are American networks protecting, aiding, and abetting the terrorists in return for easy access to terrorist tapes?

During the election, ABC withheld 15 minutes of tape from the CIA on which there was a credible threat of a terrorist attack. Their "rationale" was that if the word got out, it might throw the election to George Bush. A private news network chose to place the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk to satisfy a political agenda. There was no media scrutiny of how ABC got this tape, the ethics of paying terrorists for video during wartime, or why they felt they had the right to imperil the lives of their countrymen.

We hear a lot from the media about the public's "right to know". Strangely, the media seem to feel entitled to decide for themselves what we are entitled to know: a major terrorist threat to our lives is, apparently, not something we have a "right to know".

When young men and women, our sons and daughters whose salaries we pay with our tax dollars, win battles and perform feats of astounding bravery on the field of battle, when they build schools in Iraq or teach children to play soccer or bring a deformed baby to America for desperately needed surgery, this too is something we all too rarely have a "right to know". If they make a mistake in the heat of battle, if ten Marines or soldiers are killed in a firefight, the death count is, of course, page 1 news. The fact that we killed 50 insurgents and won the battle is not.

Images of our brothers, sisters, fathers leaping from a tall building taken from a distance after a horrific terrorist attack are "too shocking" for our consumption. Images taken by psychopathic killers - our enemies - expressly to be used against us in a propaganda war somehow are not.

To paraphrase a famous character, I find the media's lack of faith in America disturbing.

I find their willingness to barter with our enemies unforgivable.

I question our "need to know" some of the things they show us. Did I need to see Margaret Hassan's humilation and fear as she begged for her life? Could they not have afforded her some dignity in the final moments of her life? The terrorists reduced her to a babbling semblance of a human being. I surely did not need to see that, not because it made me uncomfortable, but because, were I her, I would not want that to be anyone's final memory of me.

We can all break, under unbearable stress. This was not "news" - any idiot knows it. That the terrorists are animals, that they could do this to a human being was not "news". It was sensationalism.

And it was calculated to do one thing and one thing only: arouse a desire to rescue her at any cost. To weaken our resolve. To put fear and revulsion in our hearts. To make us question whether any of this is "worth it". And so we are left with this question: if it is not "news", if it conveys no new information, if the only purpose it serves is the one expressly designed by its creators, our enemies, why are American news media airing these videos?

Even through the fog of war, some things are crystal clear.

CWCID: Two things inspired this post. Many thanks to spd rdr for the WSJ piece that got me thinking in the first place, and also this post from CW4BillT.

To Fiddler's Green.

Posted by Cassandra at April 29, 2005 06:09 AM

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Tracked on May 2, 2005 02:59 AM

Comments

OMIGOD! How much coffee did you drink this morning? I am going to luxuriate in this post later, since I am supposed to be working at my actual job right now.

However, I did want to congratulate you for adopting the "CWCID" hat tip format, which is, I think, substantially more nuanced than the alternatives. The term "hat tip" both understates and overstates the significance of the links to which it is applied, whereas "CWCID" is inherently calibrated to extend only as much credit as is warranted under the circumstances. ;)

Posted by: TigerHawk [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 29, 2005 10:08 AM

OMIGOD! How much coffee did you drink this morning?

Ha! Actually I'm only on my 2nd cup since 4 am, but spd pulled my string Monday and this has been percolating in the back of my fevered brain all week.

And I won't tell you how long I stared at your CWCID before puzzling it out: I normally flash on acronyms right away but that one had me stumped. Then I secretly thought it was funny :)

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 29, 2005 10:37 AM

Wow, kid. You hit that one out of the park!
Now you know why I send you stuff that I know I could never do justice. I hope this post gets picked up far and wide. Excellent.

Posted by: spd rdr [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 29, 2005 11:05 AM

DANG Woman!!

"That dawg can HUNT!". Like spd, I hope some of that far & wide pick up includes Al Jazeera & their friends at ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, ................Yeah, like they're going to allow themselves to be publicly *humiliated* (although WELL deserved), like they do others when it serves THEIR sensationalistic, "America Meanies-"Insurgents" poor victims" implications.
Would someone please get this to WSJ! (we know Cass ain't gonna do it herself!) Whether or not you like him, Sean Hannity would probably like IT.(and give it muy exposure)

A standing "O" of applause on this one, Miss Thang!!

Doesn't this "enemy within" fall under the "those who harbor (and aid) terrorists will be brought to justice" category? (~;

Posted by: CKCat [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 29, 2005 11:20 AM

Cat, if you and spd like it, that is head-expanding enough for me.

Thanks, both of you.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 29, 2005 11:35 AM

Absolutely great post, Cass. You are starting to put these out with regularity. I agree with spd and CKC - home run.

Posted by: KJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 29, 2005 11:59 AM

harumph! I still don't get this typekey biz! My post was blitzed.

In case Deb @ MCM isn't able to make it here to read today, I sent it to her. I also sent it to Matt @ B5. Perhaps your other fans could post who they might send it to so as to avoid double coverage.

This piece, Cass, is one of those that's like that snap of the finger that wakes people out of the MSM/LSM induced hypnotic state!

I think of how often the POTUS deliberately distinguishes "The American People" from focus groups, polls, et al., in his speeches. I really have to wonder if non-politically motivated average Joe and Joleen America don't have an intuitive sense of "there's gotta be more going on than just this bad in the news". (This kind of article satisfies that curiosity!!) Thank God the internet is available to show that side, at least.

This one goes in "Best of Cass" archives, for sure. I just don't want to see this treasure remain too *hidden*, anymore than I would a cure for some horrendous disease!

Posted by: CKCat [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 29, 2005 12:50 PM

You'd better cut it out, you're going to make me cry, Cat. You guys know I couldn't do anything without you.

Some days I'm just so numb I just stare at my keyboard. I wouldn't have written this at all if it hadn't have been for mr. rdr, and Bill's post just seemed to click somehow the other day when I got back from Chicago.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 29, 2005 12:57 PM

Well, I tweren't tryin' to work some tears outta you. Homie don't play flattery neither!

As I'm STILL trying to head out to pick up some SERIOUSLY ON SALE blackberries (freezin a bunch), I remembered something from my blitzed post: I like to think my loathing of the MSM/LSM is justified in that, it simply can NOT remain unchecked that the MSM absolutely does have it's own fair amount of innocent blood on their hands in the WOT. Would that they could see their finger prints on some of the bodies that fall in the WOT. Military & civilian! If only I were engaging in nothing more than drama in saying that myself.

If you're not careful, you're gonna cause MadDog MoDo to..ahem...exorcise her right to turn her head around full circle and projectile spit pea soup!! OTOH, I think you do Peggy Noonan a disservice by not letting her hear from you. Michelle Malkin would concur. (~;)

Posted by: CKCat [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 29, 2005 01:23 PM

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