Weathervane War Coverage

I don’t typically dwell on the past. For instance, while I still don’t understand how the Vikings could idle the most potent offense in NFL history in it’s 1998 NFC Championship game loss to the mediocre Falcons, I don’t rehash that debate. Anymore. Much.

But I have to admit every time I get into a discussion about the current conduct of the Iraq War, I lapse back into the reasons we never should have gone to war in the first place. Every time. Instead of a debate about 2007, I find myself still wanting to rehash the 2003 debate. You know, the one that never really happened.

But I need to move on. Really. We all do. We need to learn from the mistakes of the 2003 non-debate, and the blunders of the early “win the peace” non-strategy so we don’t repeat those mistakes in the future. But the fact is we’re there, it’s a quagmire and we have to figure out what to do next.

Just as the media did a poor job stimulating a national debate in 2003 about whether to invade, because support for invasion was strong, it is now doing a poor job stimulating a debate in 2007 about whether to immediately evacuate, because support for immediate evacuation is strong. Instead of covering “whether to evacuate,” it is almost exclusively covering “how fast to evacuate.”

That debate about whether to evacuate can’t be skipped. In 2003, it was simplistic and dangerous to say “Saddam is bad, so invading Saddam is automatically good.” Likewise in 2007, it is simplistic and dangerous to say “The war is bad, so immediate evacuation is automatically good.”

As much as I oppose this war and would love to bring our troops home, Colin Powell’s words haunt me: “You break it, you buy it.”

America needs to have an honest debate whether most Iraqis will be better or worse off with us occupying their country. We need a debate about whether the region will be economically and politically more stable with us in or out of Iraq. We need a debate about whether terrorism will get better or worse if we evacuate abruptly. We need a debate about whether any of this is likely to change if we give the Generals more time. And we need a debate about the opportunity cost of diverting so much time and money away from other critical national security needs to address this one.

The news media and Congress need to prove they are more than simply a windsock of contemporary “evacuate now” public sentiment, and stimulate a more thoughtful national debate in 2007 than it did in 2003.

– Loveland

16 thoughts on “Weathervane War Coverage

  1. Absolutely. So much war issue coverage is just quoting one side, then the other. So few journalists — and almost no screaming pundits — do what Joe is asking.

    My view — that everything gets worse, for Iraq and the US, every day we stay there, so we should get out this afternoon — could be way way wrong. But I don’t hear the clear-eyed reporting that would help me check my own thinking and open up to other views. Mostly it’s just “he said, she said” journalism.

    I actually heard a good interview on Stephanie Miller’s show on Air America yesterday, with a veteran, the head of one of the vets group, perhaps Iraq Veterans Against The War (I couldn’t find his name on her site or searching the web). He is against the war, but was very thoughtful about the repercussions of several possible moves we could make. Miller even listened. Anybody know this guy? I’d like to hear more reporting with this thoughtful, yet still passionate and involved, discourse.

  2. All so very true.

    OK, so the following is an honest question — no sarcasm, condescension, political bullshittery or anything of the sort intended:

    Did the media really fail to “stimulate the debate” in 2003, or did they simply fail to find the truth about what was going on? Those are two very different things. One is “we seriously fudged up and didn’t do our job,” and the other is “we tried and failed but at least we tried/what can we learn?”

  3. jloveland says:

    Good question, and introduction of the term “bullshittery” into the Rowdy lexicon.

    Both in 2003 and 2007, market driven news directors give the people what they want. When the public is waving the flag and hankering for a bloodless video game war, market-driven reporters don’t want to be a buzz kill by questioning whether the “Great Satan” will really be greated as a liberator. And when the public is frustrated with a bloody war with no end in sight, market-driven reporters don’t want to be a buzz kill by questioning whether premature evacuation could lead to more bloodshed in the long-run. Killing the buzz would hurt the party, but help the debate…because having a healthy debate often means being presented with information and ideas outside your comfort zone.

    Reporters magnify politicians who follow the polls, and reporters themselves follow the polls, in pursuit of market share. Those two things both lead to a over-magnification of the prevailing majority opinion.

  4. randi says:

    Joe, you said, “America needs to have an honest debate whether most *Iranians* will be better or worse off with us occupying their country. ”

    Are we skipping something important here, a la 2003?

    I do not remember this flag-waving excitement for war in 2003. Maybe I need to get out more, but no one I knew back then supported this war. So where did news directors get the idea that the we were all in?

    I have my ideas but there are entirely too cynical for this mother of teenaged boys to think about.

    I like the discourse.

    Back to you in 2007….

  5. jl says:

    My bad on “Iranians.” And that’s a really bad bad. I’ll fix. I’m such an ugly American.

    Here’s what it looked like in 2003: “A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll shows 59% of Americans in favor of invading Iraq with ground troops in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power. That level of support is unchanged from last week, and is generally similar to what it has been for months. Roughly half of the public says their mind is made up on invading Iraq, while about half say they could change their mind. The outcome of the U.N. debate on Iraq remains pivotal to Americans’ thinking about Iraq. Thirty-eight percent of Americans favor an invasion even if the United Nations does not approve the new resolution that would authorize war, but 40% oppose an invasion if such a resolution is not forthcoming.”

  6. Chuck says:

    the media did a poor job stimulating a national debate in 2003 about whether to invade

    Therein lies your problem. The media’s job isn’t to “stimulate national debate.”

    That’s what talks shows, columnists and pundits are for. And if you’re a journalist who thinks your job is to stimulate national debate – like Mary Mapes, except she fabricated news – you should change jobs and join the McLaughlin Group.

    Where the hell do journalists get off thinking they are the catalysts for anything? That’s why they’re held in such contempt by the public.

  7. jloveland says:

    Reporters choose which questions to ask leaders and experts. Isn’t that almost the definition of stimulating a debate?

  8. Loveland, I’m touched that you appreciate the use of “bullshittery,” but I must also express my admiration for the phrase “premature evacuation” (I had to type carefully there).

    Chuck says: “The media’s job isn’t to ‘stimulate national debate.’ ” Yes, it is — at least in part.

    You say, “That’s what talk shows are for.” No. In theory, journalists stimulate and fuel the debate, and talk-show hosts *have* the debates. Big, big difference.

    And this stuff that Benidt refers to as “he said, she said” journalism (loose with the language on the J-word, eh?) is hardly fuel for debate. It’s more like fuel for what John Reinan referred to (in a different discussion on this site) as “a bunch of guys & gals spewing out the same practiced 30-second sound bites they’ve been using on the campaign trail. [It’s] just a yelling match — loudest one wins.”

  9. Chuck says:

    journalists stimulate and fuel the debate

    No, real journalists cover what people do. In reality they function as court reporters, recording mostly dialogue, which a primate can be trained to do.

  10. jloveland says:

    So Stephen Colbert had it right during his Press Club speech?

    Colbert: “Let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know – fiction!”

  11. Chuck: You’re right, but so am I. 🙂

    Real journalists cover what people do. If they do more than that, they risk getting into “pundit territory.” But if they “cover what people do” well enough and thoroughly enough, they should be fueling debate by covering and exposing interesting, meaning information. Right?

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