Skip to comments.Journalists and Their Fallacies
Posted on 05/15/2004 1:04:12 PM PDT by RWR8189
Journalists and Their Fallacies
SINCE KOSOVO IN 1999--through 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq--I've noticed, as the producer of a television program on international affairs, three common assumptions that cloud the minds of some otherwise good journalists and academics charged with reporting and explaining major events as they unfold. Reliance on these assumptions--all of them seemingly designed to help one escape the hard work of sifting through evidence and thinking through ideas--explains the way stories like the war in Iraq are framed and simplified in the media and for the public.
The first assumption is that universal fairness, if achieved, would result in world peace. One is not surprised when such sentiments are uttered by children. Around Christmas, my son's kindergarten class was asked how to make the world more peaceful. "Talk nicely to each other," said one kid. "Be everyone's friend," said another.
If we tried hard enough, the children were saying, we could do away with conflict by just getting along. A recent email from the head of an English think tank devoted to global cooperation expressed this notion perfectly: "Time has come for all the world's politicians to come together. . . . The solution of eradicating terrorism can only be achieved by building a new world" where everyone is equal.
This utopian tautology--only when there are no problems will there be no problems--ignores the fundamental question of why conflict exists in the first place. "We need to get beyond the them and us, the good guys and the bad guys, and seek a genuinely collective response," urged the Guardian, following the 3/11 attacks in Madrid. But a world without us's and them's is inconceivable. And the lesson of Madrid is clear and simple: Well-meaning appeals to "collective" understanding cannot do away with the profound cultural differences that are now exploding in conflict.
The second common fallacy I've come across is that "my country"--in my case, Canada, though it applies to some others--is a nation apart. Somehow, it can stand outside the turbulent currents of contemporary international events.
Quite a few of my countrymen see Canada's (alleged) neutrality as a sign of our longstanding "idealism." Any decent history book will contradict this fiction, but the fantasy that we are, and will continue to be, neutral on the world's stage persists. There was no overwhelming majority here either for or against joining the Iraq war. Consequently, the government did not feel compelled to come down firmly on either side. This ambiguity may be nothing more than self-interest. Or it may be a window on our own cowardice in the face of today's security threats.
A few days after voters in Spain elected a new prime minister--a mere three days after bomb attacks killed 191 people in Madrid--a young Spaniard told the New York Times that "maybe the Socialists will get our troops out of Iraq, and al Qaeda will forget about Spain, so we will be less frightened." A Canadian columnist recently urged our new prime minister to "keep your Canadian distance" from the United States. "Kow-towing to [Bush] and doing his bidding in the Middle East and elsewhere will only bring you grief." Such sentiments are not the stuff of principled policy differences, but a calculated effort to stand outside the history that is being written today.
Bad Assumption Number Three: The world is divided into strong and weak. Being weak is a source of virtue. Being strong is suspect.
The United States is accused of being in Iraq (and Afghanistan) to control oil, to enhance its own power, and/or to subjugate friendless, defenseless Muslims. Muslims "are treated with contempt and dishonor," said outgoing Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad last October. "Our religion is denigrated. Our holy places desecrated. Our countries are occupied. Our people starved and killed."
However, as Bill Clinton recently pointed out, between 1991 and 1999, the United States freed Kuwait, intervened in Somalia, resolved the Bosnian conflict, and went to war for Kosovo's Albanians. In each case, the United States helped Muslims and did so (except for the Gulf War) despite the absence of any traditional national interest requirement.
The David-and-Goliath lens was similarly used to distort the fierce battle of Jenin in 2002. "Rarely, in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life," wrote the Times of London's Janine di Giovanni. When the deaths of 32 to 38 armed Palestinians and 14 to 20 Palestinian civilians--not to mention 23 Israeli soldiers--are compared to the tens of thousands who were raped, mutilated, or killed in those other conflicts, something other than clear-eyed analysis is going on.
Some editorializing on the prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison reveals this same tendency. Salim Lone, the former communications director of the United Nations mission in Baghdad, recently wrote that "Iraqi fury will, in fact, be uncontrollable if the infinitely more depraved images circulating on the Internet of what was done to women prisoners are authentic and get wider publication." There are no excuses for the sadistic acts of sexual humiliation and torture committed at this notorious house of horrors, but the Abu Ghraib abuses in no way confer victimhood on all Iraqis. Yet, as victims, Lone suggests, Iraqis are entitled to react with uncontrolled fury. This infantilization of Iraqis and their reactions--collective, undifferentiated, irrational--unduly and tellingly simplifies a much more complicated reality.
By leaning on these dull and often meaningless assumptions, journalists betray a preference for simplicity and tidy lessons at the expense of reporting and analysis. Some of this distortion may stem from a desire among commentators to be on the side of peace and goodness, but it would be much easier to take seriously their hopes for a better world if they appeared ready to confront the messy one we have.
Dan Dunsky is producer of Diplomatic Immunity, a Canadian weekly foreign affairs show on TVO in Ontario.
PRESIDENTS AND WARS
FDR led us into World War II. Germany never attacked us: Japan did. From 1941-1945, 450,000 lives were lost, an average of 112,500 per year.
Truman finished that war and started one in Korea, North Korea never attacked us. From 1950-1953, 55,000 lives were lost, an average of 18,333 per year.
John F. Kennedy started the Vietnam conflict in 1962. Vietnam never attacked us. Johnson turned Vietnam into a quagmire. From 1965-1975, 58,000 lives were lost, an average of 5,800 per year.
Clinton went to war in Bosnia without UN or French consent, Bosnia never attacked us. He was offered Osama bin Laden's head on a platter three times by Sudan and did nothing. Osama has attacked us on multiple occasions.
In the two years since terrorists attacked us, President Bush has liberated two countries, crushed the Taliban, crippled al-Qaida, put nuclear inspectors in Lybia, Iran and North Korea without firing a shot, and captured a terrorist who slaughtered 300,000 of his own people. We lost 600 soldiers, an average of 30 a year. Bush did all this abroad while not allowing another terrorist attack at home.
Worst president in history? Come on!
The Democrats are complaining about how long the war is taking, but...
It took less time to take Iraq than it took Janet Reno to take the Branch Davidian compound. That was a 51 day operation.
We've been looking for evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq for less time than it took Hillary Clinton to find the Rose Law Firm billing records.
It took less time for the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines to destroy the Medina Republican Guard than it took Teddy Kennedy to call the police after his Oldsmobile sank at Chappaquiddick.
It took less time to take Iraq than it took to count the votes in Florida!
Our military is GREAT! PASS IT ON.
The people who hated us in Iraq hate us still, the people who remember their friends, families, or themselves in prison and how they were treated under Saddam are laughing at the media storm, most of the people outside the Sunni triangle are just wanting improvements in their lives.
People want security and an end to the danger. There is a war to win...that war is to help Iraqis achieve representative government and security.
Excellent article, except it assumes that the media is slanting the stories only because journalists are lazy and naïve. While there is certainly truth in those assertions, I'd argue that the majority of journalists are dyed-in-the-wool Leftists who are actively opposed to principles upon which America is founded. Thus, the propaganda they force-feed to the international public has more to do with their deliberate attempt to subvert the United States and our Constitution, than it does with their inability or unwillingness to understand what is really going on.
This brings up a fourth common assumption of the leftist: results don't matter, it's the intent that counts. Uh, make that five common assumptions, character doesn't matter in a leader if the leader is a flim-flam man of the left.
it would be much easier to take seriously their hopes for a better world if they appeared ready to confront the messy one we have.
I think the author is a bit naive. I think the problem is not lazy "journalists." IMO mainstream media employees are not journalists, they are activists. Their "issues" are not issues. They are weapons. There is only one issue: the end of the United States in whole or in part.
There were festivals in small Iraqi towns where the children were invited to paint on the concrete barriers that surrounded the coalition forces. They painted clapsed hands, Iraqi and American flags, and faces of smiling children. Did you read about that? No, of course not because it was not reported.
If the reporters don't see in on the TV of the bar in their Baghdad hotel, it didn't happen.
What's the link?
Right. The interest in Clinton behaviors is Clinton advantage (or gratification). Better to have pointed out that President Bush has demolished two tyrannies and liberated many millions of Muslims...REGARDLESS of any consequences to him politically.
And I quite fail to see the virtue of spilling American blood in adventures which are not in our national interest.
You should find this Canadian journalist's observations on the state of the profession agreeable...
You overlooked the mainstream media's other major source of news in Iraq: press releases from al-Qaeda.
Oh, that's right, that and Al Jazeera. These guys collect HUGE paychecks for being in a combat zone yet they only interview each other and grab some quick news off the Al Jazeera website.
Spot on. Unless we as a people recognize the left for what it is instead of letting them off the hook with "they just want peace" we are in mortal danger. The left is neither naive or benign, it is smart and dangerous.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.