Sunday, March 26, 2006

Editorial decisions

If you were an editor, and one reporter pitched a story about a new water plant and another pitched a story about 30 headless bodies piled up on the side of the road, which would you give the resources to?

I'd pick the headless bodies, and I don't care what country their found in.

And even if I were following the White House's press guidance and I picked the reconstruction project, I couldn't write that story. CBS's Lara Logan explained why to CNN:

You don't think that I haven't been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let's see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on? Oh, sorry, we can't take to you that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked about, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack.

Oh, sorry, we can't show this reconstruction project because then that's going to expose it to sabotage. And the last time we had journalists down here, the plant was attacked.

I mean, security dominates every single thing that happens in this country. Reconstruction funds have been diverted to cover away from reconstruction to -- they've been diverted to security.

Soldiers, their lives are occupied most of the time with security issues. Iraqi civilians' lives are taken up most of the time with security issues.

So how it is that security issues should not then dominate the media coverage coming out of here?

…we used to be able to drive to Ramadi, we used to drive to Falluja, we used to drive to Najaf. We could travel all over this country without having to fly in military helicopters.

That's the only way we can move around here. So, it's when the military can accommodate us, if the military can accommodate us, then we can go out and see.
In other words, reporting on the reconstruction means reporting on the failure to pacify Iraq, which means reporting on the deaths and violence going on. According to another story in today's Times, the murder rate in Baghdad (population 6 million) is up from 11/day to 33/day. The murder rate in New York City (population 8 million) is 1.56/day (570 murders in 2004). Reporting that fact isn't liberal or conservative, it's just honest.

The White House clearly feels beset by this sort of honest reporting, and has taken to complaining about the media, rather than trying to fix things on the ground. It's much like the incident Jon Mandle reports at Crooked Timber. In a conversation between two ROTC soldiers coming back from a speech, an anti-war speaker asked rhetorically "When has war ever solved anything?” The two soldiers were apparently fuming about that "they all say they believe in free speech, but never want to hear opposing views." Of course, it was their choice not to ask a question of the speaker and present such an opposing view, and it's rather hard to believe that two officers in training would be unable to defend themselves against the crowd's dissent.

As Jon says "This is what so much of the right is reduced to: crying that they’re being oppressed – these guys genuinely believed that their rights had been taken away – whenever they don’t find themselves in the majority." It happened with Ben Domenech, it happens with judicial rulings, it happens with criticism of media coverage of Iraq.

The fact is, this is the basis of the whole "liberal media" meme. The liberal media consists of The Nation, The American Prospect and – sometimes – the New Republic. The conservative media consists of Fox News, The American Spectator, and The National Review.

Everything else of national import is just reporting. The outlets I mentioned all do actual reporting, but mostly for the purpose of supporting a particular claim, and they aren't shy about it.

Other outlets go out and try to find out what's happening. There is no massive liberal media, it just so happens that the facts on the ground tend not to support the conservative claims.

If I may, I'd like to extend this to creationism. Science doesn't take side in the struggle between theism and atheism, gnosticism and agnosticism. If someone cooked up a God-o-meter and made God a testable hypothesis, I guess science would, but in the meantime, all we know is that science doesn't offer any evidence of God.

Some people take that to mean that science is "atheistic." This is as false as saying that the media are "liberal." The intent isn't atheistic or liberal. The intent is accuracy. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. If conservatives are tired of losing, they should stop making the same arguments that failed last time.