Tuesday, January 16, 2007
PEER PRESSURE ACKNOWLEDGED
t long last, a bona fide and respectable member of the establishment media has verbalised what many consumers of these media have long suspected. Peer pressure has an enormous effect on how things are presented to the public, which questions are asked of those in authority, and which are not.
Pamela Hess, the Pentagon correspondent for UPI, is a reporter for whom I've long had respect. I know her mainly through her occasional appearances on C-SPAN's Washington Journal, and there just isn't a more informative hour to be found on television than Pam, sitting at the desk with Brian Lamb, discussing current affairs and fielding questions and comments from viewers.
What I like best about these occasions is that with Pam Hess (and this applies to Brian Lamb as well), one can expect an intelligent and informing discussion without any partisan agenda (apart from the callers of course, ranging from the mooniest moonbat through to the nuttiest wingnut). No cheap scoring of points against one "side" or the other, as is usual with most of the other journalists who appear, whose personal politics can often be easily determined within the first five minutes. Reporters like "Just the Facts, Pam" are rare enough these days, and are greatly appreciated from this corner.
Hess was a guest with Howard Kurtz the other day on Reliable Sources, and one particular passage received much attention in the blogosphere:
KURTZ: Pam Hess, has the sending of 20,000 additional troops gotten a fair hearing in the media or has it gotten caught up in this wrenching, emotional debate about whether the war itself was a mistake?In a time when the highest responsible officials, such as the Secretary of State, cannot attend a congressional hearing without being yelled at in a deranged manner (as Condi was last week, as I recall by some Hawaiian named Abercrombie), or lectured to that she doesn't have any 'skin in the game' because she hasn't had children (from the "progressive" Boxer of California), it's obviously not only the public which is distracted by shiny political knives.
PAM HESS, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL: I think it's gotten caught up about it, and the debate about it is actually all wrong. What reporters know and what Martha says is that 20,000 really isn't that big -- isn't that big a jump. We're at 132,000 right now. It's going to put us even less that we had going in going across the line.
What we're not asking is actually the central question. We're getting distracted by the shiny political knife fight.
What we need to be asking is, what happens if we lose? And no one will answer that question. If we lose, how are we going to mitigate the consequences of this?
It's so much easier for us to cover this as a political horse race. It's on the cover of "The New York Times" today, what this means for the '08 election. But we're not asking the central national security question, because it seems that if as a reporter you do ask the national security question, all of a sudden you're carrying Bush's water. There are national security questions at stake, and we're ignoring them and the country is getting screwed.
For much of the public, and most of the political elite and media, all questions and issues boil down to whether or not they can discredit President Bush. The narrative which gets adopted by large swathes of the public is determined by the aggregate picture presented by the media, and this presentation is shaped in large measure, according to Pam Hess, by peer pressure. If a serious journalist wants to ask a serious question about the national security implications of an issue, he or she can expect to be shunned by their peers as a water-carrier for King George.
She makes another important point regarding the policy adjustment announced last week. Isn't it strange that an increase in strength of just over 20,000 troops is now met with hand-wringing over the "escalation of the war," when no such whining was in evidence in December '05, and troop levels were even higher then (to help secure the national elections)? What could be the reason that some politicos, as late as last month were criticising Bush for not having enough troops on the ground to do the job, and this month telling him, "We have no more troops to send to your war escalation."? Is it politically correct to increase forces to safeguard an election, but not to try and save Baghdadis' lives from terrorists and criminal thugs?
The only logical answer I can think of for these questions, has nothing to do with Iraq at all, and everything to do with simple hatred of the President. That hatred was put in abeyance for a month or two after Sept. 11, but it never went away. The origin, I believe, was the manner of settling the 2000 election -- and it was only deepened when he won a second term. The only known cure will come two years from now. Talk about holding grudges.
Hot Air has the short video clip of Pam Hess on CNN.
I often wonder what those who are actually doing the hard and dangerous work to defend Iraq's fragile freedom are thinking about all the shiny political knife fights back home. This blog's good friend Gaius had a moving little article yesterday, which I encourage everyone to read and listen. Gaius has a son over there, doing that tough and dangerous work right now. Even the "progressive" Madame Boxer could not accuse him of not having skin in the game. Gaius writes that his son, and all those other volunteers, are keeping the faith. They believe they can succeed, for the benefit of this young democracy fighting for its life against a cruel, depraved ideology. They are keeping the faith, while too many of those comfortably at home will not reciprocate.
Have a little faith in them. Is it too much to ask? My answer for Gaius is no, it isn't too much to ask, or to expect. I think it's the bare minumum that his son and his comrades should expect from those at home. The fact that this even needs to be asked for, is what is troubling. So click the link, scroll down a bit and start the video loading, pause it and read the article. When you're finished, watch / listen to the video, and think of Gaius' son and his mates.
On another note, my trip to Indonesia had to be postponed for now. So no dispatches from there for at least a few more months.