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Military Blindness in the Media - And Beyond, v1.5

| 56 Comments | 10 TrackBacks

(Originally posted June 9, 2004. Last updated Nov 8, 2006)

Writing in Reason Online, Chris Bray pens an excellent article full of telling bon mots. From the journalist who is awed by the fact that Army Rangers carry machine guns and grenade launchers, to the Wall St. Journal colleague who asked if the Marines fought in WW2, Bray's article is worthy for its anecdotes alone. But he also has a serious point, and it's one worth paying close attention to:

"Schneider's piece is symptomatic of news media that often don't have the foggiest idea how the military works, and don't really appear to care.... "To many young reporters these days," said longtime journalist James Perry in a 1997 lecture at Washington College, "wars and soldiers and serving your country are vague concepts....

Reporters who cover the military without understanding it don't just muff a few basic facts about what kind of soldier carries what kind of gun, or which service does what. They also fail to apply the right skepticism in the right places, or even the right credulity in the right places, and so end up swinging in a wild arc between breathless adulation and naive condemnation. They surrender many of the necessary tools for questioning the authority of the armed forces, and render nearly useless the check and the balance of the Fourth Estate on a major power of government. They create confidence where there should be wariness, and fear where there should be strength.

They get it wrong, and it counts."

They do, often - and it does. Dale Franks of QandO has the links. It seems like a simple problem that could be cured by some basic diligence, research, and professional standards that demand real subject expertise to the same level as, say, sports journalism. But that doesn't seem to be happening, which leads one to wonder why not.

So it's doubly interesting to note that this problem may extend beyond the media. Former Clinton NSC staffer (and current blogger at Democracy Arsenal) Heather Hurlburt leveled an eerily similar criticism at the Democratic Party back in November of 2001:

"Since then, there's been plenty of hand-wringing among the leadership and rank-and-file Democrats about how politically inept the party appeared in the face of Bush's saber rattling. But that's the problem. Democrats are in this position precisely because we respond to matters of war politically, tactically. We worry about how to position ourselves so as not to look weak, rather than thinking through realistic, sensible Democratic principles on how and when to employ military force, and arguing particular cases, such as Iraq, from those principles. There are a lot of reasons for this failure, including the long-time split within the party between hawks and doves. But we will never resolve that split, nor regain credibility with voters on national security, until we learn to think straight about war. And we will never learn to think straight about war until this generation of professional Democrats overcomes its ignorance of and indifference to military affairs."

(Heather Hurlburt, "War Torn," Nov. 2001 Washington Monthly)

Or Joe Biden's anecdote (Hat Tip: WSJ Best of the Web, March 15/05):

"[Biden] told me about a recent visit to Los Angeles, where he met with a group of wealthy liberals and laid out the following scenario: "Assume you're the President, and I'm your Secretary of Defense or State or C.I.A. director, and I come to you and tell you we know where bin Laden is, he and four hundred of his people, and they're in this portion of Pakistan the Pakistanis won't go into, and they told us not to go in. This is going to cost us five hundred to five thousand lives, of our soldiers, but we can get him. What do you do?" Biden said they had no answer. "The truth is, they put their heads down," he said."

(Jeffrey Goldberg, "Unbranding: Can the Democrats Make Themselves Look Tough?," March 21, 2005 New Yorker)

These insider's accounts point to chasms of understanding whose common signatures should be a matter of grave concern. Gary Farber's recent "Donkeys in the Desert" article was both a hopeful sign, and a quiet reminder of just how deep the chasms have become. Again, one asks why. What is really going on? How did we get here?

There is no shortage of answers on offer.

Are these consistent and similar failures of understanding simply the local manifestations of a global battlefield, where editorial rooms are also a front line of a many-sided conflict, the news process is simply ill-equipped to cope, and too many reporters simply lack the necessary expertise?

Or are they, perhaps, the natural result of skewed Pew surveys and other indications of a biased liberal media that make one ask if discussing the Democrats, academia, and the media is largely an examination of the same niche population? Even centrist commentator Morton Kondracke is wondering about coverage patterns he's seeing in Iraq, and Pejman is more eloquent still in his plea for reporting all of the news. Is the blindness to military and national security matters more than simple ignorance? But then, how to explain Bray's Wall St. Journal story?

Or is the divide really about class, and an American white-collar elite steeped in what Victor Davis Hanson calls luxus; a class that increasingly sees the military as something other people's children do, and also sees journalism as the proper preserve of that educated elite?

There's certainly strong anecdotal support for this idea in some of the links like "My Ivy League Solider" and "My Heart on the Line," both referenced in our April 2003 article "Where They Get Young Men Like This." robert Kaplan took up that very theme in his Nov. 2004 Atlantic Monthly article, "The Media and the Military." Maj. Donald Sensing (ret.) also believes that class plays a role in several of the media's prominent disconnects, and he's not alone; American Digest even suggests some interesting avenues for studies along those lines.

I hope someone takes up the challenge.

Actually, I hope many people take up this challenge, in many ways and from many different directions. For the custodians of the American Republic in a world beset by war and real threats, the manifestations of similar blind spots and flaws in one half of its political class and far too many of those who tell its stories is a matter for more than casual concern.

If there is a connection here, it behooves Americans to understand it and fix it as best they can. Human nature has not changed, and the world remains a dangerous place. America need broad, sustained, and informed participation if she wish to direct her own destiny with the skill that survival demands.

History is not kind to those who believe they can forget this.

UPDATES

  • Some fine comments, as usual. See esp. Jeff Hendrickson's Yale Law School experience. Bart Hall also has an interesting thesis.
  • You want more "no way they said that!" stories? Brian Dunn of the Dignified Rant has a recent one for you. Unfortunately, it fits with a pattern of press decisions and behaviours. Personally, I believe there's more at work here than simple political bias, as these 2 links show... but that doesn't mean bias isn't an issue.

10 TrackBacks

Tracked: June 9, 2004 11:26 PM
Recommended reading from On The Third Hand
Excerpt: Military Blindness in the Media - And BeyondJoe Katzman has a good, if frightening, roundup on people who don't seem to understand how the military works. Frightening because some of those people are in our government.
Tracked: June 10, 2004 4:00 AM
Military Coverage In The Media from small dead animals
Excerpt: Inspired by Reasons Chris Bray, Joe Katzman at Winds of Change discusses the ineptness of the media when reporting on matters military. Great round up of links to illustrate how bad it can get. It seems like a simple problem...
Tracked: June 10, 2004 12:15 PM
Also Not To Be Missed from Dean's World
Excerpt: Be sure not to miss Joe Katzman's roundup on widespread military blindness, and the problems it causes us at times as a nation....
Tracked: June 10, 2004 1:17 PM
Blindness In The Media from The Laughing Wolf
Excerpt: Blogfather Joe Katzman has an excellent media post up. In addition to the article here that he linked to, this is a subject I’ve also discussed here and here. I’ve been working on a post about specialization in the media,...
Tracked: June 14, 2004 6:54 AM
JOURNALIST SUCK from chiasm.blog-city.com
Excerpt: While some might lament the proliferation of political commentary and analysis by amateurs as a dilution of the quality of information in our public sphere, this recent post by Jason "Iraq Now" Van Steenwyck 'fisking' one to the New York Times's weir
Tracked: May 17, 2005 6:50 PM
Excerpt: Chris Bray takes the media apart for its sloppy coverage and its often complete lack of basic grounding and preparation when covering the military. The problem is serious, resulting in both misapplied skepticism and misapplied credulity, failure to ask...
Tracked: May 19, 2005 9:44 AM
New York Times' Space War Story Shredded from Defense Industry Daily
Excerpt: Over at DefenseTech.org, Noah Shachtman notes that the New York Times May 18, 2005 article Air Force Seeks Bush's Approval for Space Weapons Programs is unfortunately riddled with major errors and distortions from beginning to end. He then proceeds to ...
Tracked: June 9, 2005 11:17 AM
Excerpt: Regular readers now that I have been a strong critic of Newsweek in its recent media scandal. So there’s no love lost here when the Newsweek Baghdad Chief takes parting shot at...
Tracked: June 10, 2005 6:13 AM
Military Blindness in the Media from Security Watchtower
Excerpt: Joe Katzman at Winds of Change has a solid post today titled, "Military Blindness in the Media" that is well worth the read. I think Katzman's bottom line point is to highlight the existance of a disconnect between segments of our population and the mi...
Tracked: July 27, 2005 11:27 PM
Excerpt: The distain the New York Times holds for Christian values and conservative principles is well known, they've long been a champion of liberal social issues like gay marriage, abortion, higher taxes and more welfare programs. What often slides under the ...

56 Comments

I tend to agree with VDH. The liberal elites are so isolated from military culture they can't help but develop prejudices about the military. These prejudices carry on into everything they do.

I enjoy reading the articles on this site. I'd like to see more articles on Bush vs. Kerry as I still don't know who to vote for. Does anyone know if the following applies to Kerry?

"Democrats are in this position precisely because we respond to matters of war politically, tactically. We worry about how to position ourselves so as not to look weak, rather than thinking through realistic, sensible Democratic principles on how and when to employ military force, and arguing particular cases, such as Iraq, from those principles.There are a lot of reasons for this failure, including the long-time split within the party between hawks and doves. But we will never resolve that split, nor regain credibility with voters on national security, until we learn to think straight about war. And we will never learn to think straight about war until this generation of professional Democrats overcomes its ignorance of and indifference to military affairs."

If this is Kerry then I'm voting for Bush.

Mahsheed, rather than say it is Kerry, I would say that it is the Democratic Party. It is experiencing some severe problems because a large part of its base, the most active part, in fact, is so decidely anti-war/anti-military they can't see a role for force anymore. Sure, most of them saw Afghanistan as necessary. But they don't understand the prinple that the best defense is a good offense. Many have this false moral impression that you have to be attacked first in order to defend yourself. They fail to see that this philosophy will kill far more people than a more active approach will.

Kerry is an opportunist. My fear is that he will not risk alienating his party by doing the right thing. I think that he won't ruin Iraq, he probably can't do that (he won't want to and will fear the consequences of doing so). However, I don't trust him where other areas are concerned. Iran. Syria. Saudi Arabia (there are some concerns about Bush here, it should be noted). I also fear that his party base will force him to toe the UN line, which could prove disastrous to the US and the world.

One would think that there are plenty of veterans who could be hired as reporters if quality military reporting was really a priority.

I think the main reason that the press gets the military so wrong is that they don’t really cover it until a 'big story' comes along, and then they tend to treat the story as a political event so they send their staff reporters whose expertise is in politics.

But is the press's coverage of the military any worse than their coverage of other specialized topics? Say science or religion?

My impression of journalists' training generally is that it focuses on the 'how to' of journalism and writing and not on gaining substantive expertise in the field they will cover.

Of course even when the reporter knows his stuff his editor probably doesn’t and the story gets mangled in editing.

Of course class, partisan and regional condescension all play a part as well.

Thanks FH, you have expressed my fears exactly. I also worry that he learned the wrong lessons from Vietnam. Even though he has so many other good qualities, I'm going to vote soley on foreign policy. And I still have no clue what it will be. Actually I don't know what Bush's foreign policy will be either.

"I'd like to see more articles on Bush vs. Kerry...."

That's largely up to Joe, but I'm not so interested, myself. That's because comment threads on that topic tend to immediately slide into partisan bickering and claims which, even if kept courteous, tend to be tedious and unenlightening; either they are clashes of people shouting past each other, or echo chamber proclamations of The One True Candidate's Obvious Superiority.

There are plenty of blogs to find those sort of posts and comment threads; there's no shortage. (One blog I'd recommend for courteous discussion, and a set of intelligent bloggers across a centrist spectrum, is Obsidian Wings.)

I'm more interested in less partisanship, and seeing where people can reach across partisan lines to find policy agreements, and shared perspectives, when political topics arise, myself.

"I'd like to see more articles on Bush vs. Kerry...."

That's largely up to Joe, but I'm not so interested, myself. That's because comment threads on that topic tend to immediately slide into partisan bickering and claims which, even if kept courteous, tend to be tedious and unenlightening; either they are clashes of people shouting past each other, or echo chamber proclamations of The One True Candidate's Obvious Superiority.

There are plenty of blogs to find those sort of posts and comment threads; there's no shortage. (One blog I'd recommend for courteous discussion, and a set of intelligent bloggers across a centrist spectrum, is Obsidian Wings.)

I'm more interested in less partisanship, and seeing where people can reach across partisan lines to find policy agreements, and shared perspectives, when political topics arise, myself.

I think there's a much bigger issue, nibbled at by Kevin above. The media almost always get it wrong about science and religion, choosing to consult only liberal sources in domains with a much wider range of valid opinion.

More to the point, most media types simply don't understand basic science, or for that matter, basic faith. They also have no clue about agriculture, forestry, mining, energy, construction,police work nor most other nuts and bolts aspects of building a society and its economy.

More abstractly, they rarely show any understanding of important distinctions, for example: precision vs accuracy, association vs causality, inference vs implication, observation vs interpretation, or even celebrity vs importance. Media ignorance of basic statistics and evaluation is amazing.

My /interpretation/ of what I observe is that people in the media have spent so much time exclusively in the realm of ideas that they really have very little idea about what is necessary to make the world work. This is also often true in regard to basis business management and economics, but that't another topic.

We've now got teachers who know all about /how/ to teach, but know very little about what they're teaching. And we've got journalists who know all about how to 'journal,' but know very little about what they're journaling.

My personal opinion is that the idea-types in academia, education, and the media have created a climate quite hostile to people who actually do things, and have therefore self-selected into an inbred little coterie that doesn't even realise how very little they know or understand.

Hence they deal in information, which is a sort of dis-embodied knowledge, lacking context. Knowledge itself must be framed by wisdom, and wisdom comes from /experience./
.

Here's an off-the-wall idea. The military reaped enormous public information benefits from embedded reports in OIF; what if they embedded reporters in the stateside military? Oh, not everywhere, but in key places like basic training, Red Flag, survival school, jump school, and the staff colleges. Hell, I was a major for 2 years before I really understood the breadth of capabilities our armed forces had, and that took damn near a year of hard schooling. The reporters would get a heck of an education, find a lot of interesting stories along the way, and--just maybe--keep the military a little more honest.

I think the problem runs deeper than just the media or just the democrats. As VDH and several of these posts have suggested, ignorance of war, the military mind and the management of violence are common among elites generally, includig the elites in the media and in both parties (though more so among Democrats).

My experience is anecdotal but, I think, not atypical - undergrad at Duke, where I did ROTC with a very small sub-strata of the students (mostly the sons and daughters of career military officers), then 4 years as an Army officer, then Yale Law. Much to my surprise, I was the ONLY US military veteran in my entire class of 150+ law students (there were actually more vets of the Israeli Defense Forces at YLS than US vets). This is a law school, mind you, that considers itself a sort of training ground for the future masters of the universe - senators, cabinet-level undersecretaries, congessional chiefs of staff, international lawyers, judges, etc. There was a lot of curiosity about the military - wow! you drove a tank! - and I rarely felt outright hostility for my service. But the ignorance was palpable, and near-universal, and no one was doing a darn thing to remedy it. This was something that 'other people' did; maybe all those people who grew up in fly-over country (as I did).

Of course this lack of personal experience, this lack of historical or even academic perspective on the military profession (even the people fascinated by national security issues seemed unfamiliar with seminal books like Huntington's The Soldier and the State) never prevented anyone at Yale Law from having an opinion - on women in combat, gays in the military, free speech while in uniform, the draft, the ICC, etc etc. I was once asked, in constitutional law, to lead a 2 hour class discussion about the don't-ask, don't-tell policy. The tone of the conversation was civil enough (with a few exceptions from the token Marxists) but it quickly degenerated into a lengthy Q&A about what basic training is like, how soldiers live and work in the field, how units are organized and discipline is carried out, etc. These are all mere details, but as every good lawyer knows, that's where the devil lives.

Thank God most of my peers are more interested in the Kyoto Protocol and prosecuting Sharon for war crimes than they are in running the Pentagon...

As VDH & others have suggested, the problem of elite alienation from the military probably has been a historical constant, to one degree or another.

Think of the 1863(?) draft riots in New York City. The riots were spurred at least in part by the fact that you could avoid military service, if you could pay the reqisite bounty and find someone to replace you. The poor could almost never muster the bounty, much less find someone to replace them in the draft (finding a replacement usually invovled paying someone else, almost always a poor person, to take your place.)

The people who could afford the bounty? Well, one obvious group who could afford it were the Congressmen who enacted the legislation that allowed the bounty.

And, you know, it was only a civil war, where the whole country was at risk of being torn in half!!

This is, I believe, the article Joe is referring to, by the way.

I think it's a mistake to think of elite alienation as a single party's problem. A generation or so ago, when the parties sprang from distinct cultural milieus, that might have been true. However, the remarkable thing about today's Republicans and Democrats is how similar we all are.

Are the Democrats out of touch, locked away in Washington think tanks and universities? Well, the Republicans have got Heritage, AEI, Cato, and a whole host of others. Have Democratic cabinet members spent too much time in academia, like Madeleine Albright? Well, the Republicans have got Paul Wolfowitz, who was Dean of SAIS. Have Dems got overly low rates of Congresspersons who've served in uniform? The rates on the Republican side of the aisle are about the same.

One might recall the election of 2000, where one party ran a Harvard-educated son of a distinguished politician whose family made its wealth in oil, and the other side ran ... a Harvard and Yale educated son of a distinguished politician whose family made its wealth in oil. There are distinct differences between the parties, but there are far more similarities than most political types like to remember.

The failure of the media to comment accurately on the military has been well commented on by Jason at his Blog Iraq Now. A very readable blog mixing his military experience with more than a little background knowledge of Journalism and finance.
Unsolicited plug.

Max

Most journalism today seems to be regurgitating press releases. No skill, no effort involved. You see that most with business news, secondarily with political news.

Why should military news be any different?

At Iraq Now http://iraqnow.blogspot.com, Jason Van Steenwyk -- who returned from Iraq in March -- focuses on the media's coverage of the military.

He's very good at calling journalists (a group to which I belong) on their errors.

Oops, somehow missed Max's comment. Sorry for the duplication.

I have only been personally involved in 4 or 5 stories that hit the media. I work in a pretty technical field, and in each case the reportage was so grotesquely wrong that it was hard to even match up real events to the mis-reports. A typical problem was completely misunderstanding the terms of what they were told, then writing a story based on the misunderstanding. For example, when reporting on the loss of computer source code, they write a story on cryptography, because that's what they think of when they hear the word "code". The entire context of the discussion was lost, as they respond only to one keyword. And their reportage on cryptograhic security was incorrect, BTW.

While the infamous "Total Information Awareness" project richly deserved an early death, the reportage on it was similarly totally garbled.

I agree with Nathan. The media is completely dysfunctional. You guys notice the poor quality of the military coverage largely because you guys are very concerned with military matters. But really, their coverage of everything is awful.

There's a huge amount of talk on liberal websites these days about how to restore the media.

Basic information that every journalist covering the military should know.

The differece between a company, battalion, brigade and division sized element.

An M2 Bradley is not a tank!

The difference between an officer, an NCO and an enlisted soldier. What those differences mean when it comes to responsibility and the types of jobs they do.

Unless you are on the receiving end, depleted uranium is harmless.

An M-16 is not a "gun"

One quibble: most sports journalists don't know what they're talking about either. (And as a lawyer, don't get me started on journalists trying to write about the law). But I'd agree that ignorance of military matters is particularly egregious.

Josh,

This is a conversation that should cross party lines, and we'd be interested in links to some of that stuff. In a democracy, a dysfunctional media is the equivalent of MS for the polity.

"The media is completely dysfunctional. You guys notice the poor quality of the military coverage largely because you guys are very concerned with military matters. But really, their coverage of everything is awful.

There's a huge amount of talk on liberal websites these days about how to restore the media."

The question is, what can be done about it.

Does the US military offer any programs for journalists to familiarize them with basic military equipment, history (important!), tactics, doctrine, etc.?

We're not going to change the whole model for journalism (where they're generalists who, at most, learn indoctrination at J-school) so we might as well try to fix this area of coverage a bit.

While Chris Bray's diagnosis of ignorance in the media is correct, I disagree with the other themes in the essay - that the traditional warfighting focus of the military is incorrect. While there is a need - obvious, now - for an expansion in what we might call "nation-building" the need for a strong military capable of facing a conventional army has not gone away. Whether the next war is in Iran, Syria, North Korea, or someplace on the dim horizon (China, Europe), we will require a conventional military that can win quickly and decisively.

A better analysis than Bray's is being pushed by ( href=http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/published/wsj.htm) Thomas Barnett. Barnett argues for a two pronged approach to national security, a traditional (albeit high tech) military and a military/civilian array of forces capable of building national infrastructures (engineering as well as political).

As to Bray's other thesis, though, and the criticism written here - we expect better reporting from sports columnists and editors. The media brings this about not by making sure every reporter knows the rules of football, but by specifically hiring sports writers and having the other reporters steer clear of the subject. This should be the approach to military matters - hire journalists, writers, and editors with military experience, or at least strong exposure. Don't assign someone who doesn't know the difference between an M1 Abrams and an M2/3 Bradley to report on the Army any more than you would send a reporter who couldn't tell a field goal from an extra point to report on the Steelers.

-BF

Uh, oh.

I'm a journalist currently trying to write about the law.

(Pray for us!)

Jason Van Steenwyk

Josh: "There's a huge amount of talk on liberal websites these days about how to restore the media."

Joe: "This is a conversation that should cross party lines, and we'd be interested in links to some of that stuff."

Here's my favorite: "PressThink"

http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/

It's one of those "one article every week or two" blogs, but the article is inevitably worth it. Add it to your RSS reader.

Aside from that blog, the articles tend to be scattered all over the place. If you like, I can start compiling a list of the ones I think are interesting.

I should also mention: a lot of people think that part of the solution is to slam the media, hard, when they report badly. Here's a liberal group that does that:

http://mediamatters.org/

By the way, please don't hassle me about the fact that they're biased. Yes, they're obviously extremely biased. But that doesn't change the fact that the lies they point out do exist, and are pernicious, and that it's good to call them out.

Two words:
Combat Cameramen. Stand them back up, assign them to the line. Don't create a "pool" for non coastal journos to dip into (they'll be dismissed as toeing the Pentagon line). Instead, kick up a couple of servers, and release the footage. (Of "resitance" fighters using woman and children, mosques, etc.....).
The only way to get the info out, is to "route around the damage."

Joe, do you think the media (TV news, anyway) acknowledged to some extent that they are clueless to military things by bringing in retired military officers during the three-week war? The news services could offer these in-the-know people "to help the public understand," when it was probably more of a "we have no clue how to interpret what is going on" CYA move.

Secondly, given how poorly (in my judgment) the bulk of the retired military officers on the news channels did in interpreting what was going on, I'm not sure there is a good answer for media interpretation. The number of former generals and majors I saw that failed to apply the appropriate levels of credulity or skepticism at times makes me wonder if they can't get it, who can? The answer in terms of our current five-minute-politics state of things is probably no one. But for more thoughtful, longer-looking analysis this approach might have promise.

Note, I'm not disagreeing with Bray's or your points. It doesn't begin to address the disconnect between the media and armed services. But for once it appears a portion of the media tried to address this issue and still failed miserably.

I believe that the reason reporting sucks in general is that it's become a celebrity career field. Only beautiful people need apply. As such, it has nothing to do with serious reporting and everything to do with posturing and preening. Thus, they tend to report for each other, not for the public. It's become an inbred career field with its own internal dynamics and logic. Subject matter expertise is not necessary.

Gary said:
""I'd like to see more articles on Bush vs. Kerry...."
That's largely up to Joe, but I'm not so interested, myself. That's because comment threads on that topic tend to immediately slide into partisan bickering and claims which, even if kept courteous, tend to be tedious and unenlightening; either they are clashes of people shouting past each other, or echo chamber proclamations of The One True Candidate's Obvious Superiority.
There are plenty of blogs to find those sort of posts and comment threads; there's no shortage. (One blog I'd recommend for courteous discussion, and a set of intelligent bloggers across a centrist spectrum, is Obsidian Wings.)
I'm more interested in less partisanship, and seeing where people can reach across partisan lines to find policy agreements, and shared perspectives, when political topics arise, myself."

Hi Gary, Thanks for the blog reference. I don't mind the partisan bickering on the comment threads if the analysis is objective. Since I believe the election will be close I am getting anxious that I still don't know who to vote for.

I could simplify things by simply voting the opposite of what the militant Islamists want, but that would be conceding that they have a better grasp of US politics than I do. But really, in the last election the Islamic groups supported Bush simply because Gore's running mate was a Jew, so it's wrong to assume that they would know which party is better for them.

BTW, I just finished reading: Kerry Faces the World: What would a John Kerry foreign policy look like? In some ways a lot like one the current President's father could endorse
by Joshua Micah Marshall
http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2004/07/marshall.htm
which I think is cautiously optimistic about Kerry, but I have to read it again carefully.

Regarding the inadequacies of modern journalists that ties in with my own concerns is the following article: http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2004/06/green.htm
which according to it the journalists are relying more and more on special interest groups to feed them the stories even in Presidential campaigns, which makes the journalists lazy stooges. So now if I read an AP story I won't know where it came from or what it means. I think the journalists should be required to mention if a story source came from a candidate's campaign.

Oh, in writing my previous post, I think I also may have solved this week's Sufi riddle! :)

Go figure. I say "the liberal websites are concerned about this issue" and CFA posts an article today:

http://www.changeforamerica.com/blog/archives/000432.html

also, I forgot about this watchdog:

www.fair.org

"I don't mind the partisan bickering on the comment threads if the analysis is objective."

That is, however, relatively uncommon. Alas.

"Since I believe the election will be close I am getting anxious that I still don't know who to vote for."

Relax, you've got more than four and a half months.

"I could simplify things by simply voting the opposite of what the militant Islamists want...."

Indeed, that would be silly, not least of which because determining that would actually be quite difficult, no matter what partisans will assert via the messages from their teeth.

It's actually quite difficult to tell what Presidents' policies will be, in advance. It doesn't even matter when it's a second term.

That's because they change their minds in response to events, to trying policies that fail, and because of bringing in new advisors.

FDR's policies in his first term were quite different from the balanced budget he campaigned upon, and his specific policies in innumerable areas actually changed quite significantly in each subsequent term, if you look closely.

Reagan was anti-tax, but supported the biggest tax increase in U.S. history, and several more.

Clinton was alleged to be a liberal, but balanced the budget, signed welfare reform, and warred on Serbia over Kosovo.

George W. Bush campaigned on a humble foreign policy, against nation-building, against Presidents who let the usability rating of a military division drop because they were actually being used, and as someone who would end divisiveness and harsh tones in Washington (yes, I know, it's all the other side's fault; perhaps, however, not).

We really don't know for sure what President Bush would do in a second term, in many things, and we can also only take guesses at what a President Kerry will do.

In the end, all we can be dead sure of is that there will be significant differences, and those differences will be exaggerated in claims before the election. And, no matter the extreme partisans, the nation will likely survive either one.

To fully disclose, I'm extremely dissatisfied with President Bush in many areas, and will not vote for him. I am not at all an enthusiast of Senator John Kerry, am quite sure I'll have problems with various acts and policies of his if he becomes President, and am still doing little more than hoping he continues to explain himself better, clarify what he thinks his policies will be, and keeping an open mind. Beyond that, I'm much more interested, as the sidebar of my own blog notes, in finding solutions, and dealing with specific issues, and not very interested in being partisan; I don't at all like politics as a team sport, nor do I choose my opinions from anyone else's menu; I'm an a la carte guy. I am also unimpressed with the politics of demonization. (If Senator John McCain were the Republican candidate, I would have no problem voting for him.)

I forgot about media prizes. This one was reported on Tapped:

http://www.livawards.org/awards/2003winners.html

It's a $10,000 prize for good investigative journalism. There are three prizes awarded each year. It says it is the "largest all-media, general-reporting prizes in the country."

If that's true, that's pathetic. People spend millions of dollars on the dumbest things. Surely, somebody can afford to spend a million a year on investigative journalism prizes?

Some of the guest bloggers who claim to want less partisanship in discussions turn out to be big partisans themselves.

It's nice to have all the guest bloggers, but try to keep the quality up.

Mahsheed,

I don't know if it's really possible to 'solve' a Sufi riddle (they tend to be like onions... peel one layer off and find yet another) but I believe you certainly did get one of its points.

Thank you again Gary, this time for your illuminating examples that takes the pressure off a little. I believe that Kerry would certainly make an excellent peace-time President (not to mention that he looks like Abraham Lincoln). I can't find anything to disagree with you on. I do hope you write on this issue precisely because you are non-partisan.

You are right, Kathy K. I was just inordinately proud of myself for having made a connection.

"I do hope you write on this issue precisely because you are non-partisan."

I wouldn't go that far. But I try to keep what partisan opinions I have as specific as possible, and as balanced as possible, and I try my best to clearly label my opinions when I perceive them as partisan. Being human, I'll fail from time to time.

"Some of the guest bloggers who claim to want less partisanship in discussions turn out to be big partisans themselves.

It's nice to have all the guest bloggers, but try to keep the quality up."

It's possible this is in reference to someone other than myself, who is not technically a "guest blogger" (let's leave it there for now), but if you believe my stating that I would not be voting for President Bush makes me more of a "big partisan" than someone who is, instead, quite sure they will vote for President Bush (or would if they could), that would be illogical, so I'm sure that can't be what you mean.

As to how "big" a partisan I am, you are welcome to read the endorsements on the lower left sidebar of my home blog, Amygdala and see what people of a wide range of political persuasions have said about my writings, and you may peruse my writings of the past two and a half years there and come to your own conclusions.

I shall endeavor to not let the quality down, which doesn't mean tailoring my opinions to suit you, or anyone else, however. It does mean I'll try, as ever, to not make assertions that I cannot ground in fact, save those that are purely personal in nature.

Y'all,

Just to echo something from Slimedog:

You say that the media is woefully ignorant in military/etc. matters. I say, it is a problem with people in general. Even military officers have a very limited understanding of military matters, at least on the O1-O3 junior officer level.

In my 7 years w/ ROTC, OBC, and nat'l guard, I've found that army officers do not know things you think they should know. Certainly officers know how to fill out administrative paperwork and conduct infantry manuevers to protect their people (but they are not a given, either.) Officers do not know things you think they should know. For example, in air defense artillery (i'm an air defender), officers are not required to be able to visually identify foreign fighters. Many of them have trouble distinguishing between SU-27/F-14/F-18/F-15/MiG-29/Tornado (planes of ours & enemy's), even given close-up color pictures. Granted, this is not very easy, but officers are not paid to do easy things. 99% of 2nd Lieutenants, fresh from OBC, supposedly prepared to lead soldiers into battle, cannot tell you the attack profiles of fighter-bombers(the way they fly to drop bombs on target) for the life of them. The subject of air mission planning, important to the air defender because that's how the enemy air force thinks, is not even a part of the OBC curriculum nor the professional development plan. In short, junior air defense officers are not at all prepared to conduct air defense operations without handholding from the US Air Force.

Patrick Wright's "Tank!: the Progress of a Monstrous War Machine" has similar insights. During his visit to the US Army Armor Center at Fort Knox, Mr. Wright observed that officers in the armor branch were very good salesmen for their tanks. If you were a congressman looking to spend money, they could convince you to buy a couple more M-1A2s. However, few of them could hold an intelligent conversation on the revolution in military affairs. If you ask them why we need M-1A2s in a battlefield filled with anti-tank weapons, they'd mumble some buzzwords such as mass, shock effect, firepower, etc. [Of course, with the insurgency in Iraq, the officers will just point at Iraq as justification for M-1A2s, but we can accomplish the same mission with an M-113 w/ applique & reactionary armor, which costs less than 1/10 of an M-1A2.] Armor officers are probably good tank drivers, and probably good salesmen, too. But we probably cannot depend on them to think about armored warfare.

This problem is not isolated to the Army. Given the pathetic state of knowledge among military professionals, how can we be surprised when the media gets it wrong?

Bullseye for Jimmy Wu!

Back in my day (says LtCol Slimedog, sipping on his brandy and soda at the Retired Officers Club...) the level of ignorance among the Air Force officer corps was appalling. Almost none had read any military history--unless it was required in college--and no one had studied history or geopolitics. Even in the technical specialities, many officers did not do continuing education, read journals, or even tinker with things. Professional military eduction is done primarily by correspondence or local seminars, and the dodges folks came up with to avoid studying were ingenious in the extreme. Oh yeah, it was common knowledge that you needed a Master's degree to get promoted beyond captain (O-3), but the majority opted for quickie evening programs in business or public administration, just to get the square filled. When I started a graduate degree in geography--my job was making MAPS of targets--my fellow officers thought I was some kind of freak. Of course, that was back then. BUT...these same guys are senior colonels and generals NOW. Want a revolution in military affairs? Get every member of the officer corps to read a franken' BOOK once in a while!

The blindness involved isn't just informational... although that certainly exists. It's also experiential and cultural. To give an unusual but enlightening example that just about anyone can relate to, take... JAG:

"After seven years, CBS' "JAG" (Tuesdays; 8 p.m.) still gets treated like a buck private by the media. Despite regularly scoring in the Nielsen top twenty, the series generates all the buzz of a basic cable cooking show. Catherine Bell, the 33-year-old London-born actress who plays Lt. Colonel Sarah "Mac" MacKenzie, talks with EW.com about why the media just doesn't get it...

This is from that hotbed of right-wing radicalism, Entertainment Weekly.

Which also has photos of Catherine Bell, so there's a bonus for everyone right there. FYI, Bell's response:

"There's been a boost in 'JAG'''s ratings over the last month. Do you attribute that to post-Sept. 11 patriotism?
I think that's definitely helping. But even though world events are working in our favor, I don't think that's entirely the reason. I keep reminding people that last season's finale was the number nine show that week. We've really been just about the same in the ratings, just a little more consistent. And even though we had older demographics at the beginning, now we're doing great with 18- to 49-year-olds, especially young men. If you look at the last seven years, [JAG] is the little show that could. It keeps going and growing.

So why is ''JAG'' a covert operation when it comes to media coverage?
We've been going along with our 17 million viewers watching all the time, but no one writes about us. It drives me nuts! I'm not sure why that is, but the only thing I can think of is that we're not getting naked and having affairs. We do have storylines that feature those elements, but it's definitely more PG. I mean, we've had a story about someone who was gay in the military, but it's never going to be, ''Hey, lesbian kiss tonight on 'JAG'!''

Well, how about this one. So few media people (esp. in the entertainment side of the industry) have any experience in, feel for, or personal interest in the military, that JAG could run for 10 years as a very, very successful show and receive very, very little coverage in proportion to that success.

Just an hypothesis. Bur given everything noted above, probably a pretty good one.

Hard to imagine an Ernie Pile or William Shirer arising out of today's rabble, but it could happen again. You really have to take a look at the culture those guys came out of and compare that to today. America (or Britain) during and after the depression was a tough, almost stoic. While the government veered left with the New Deal, the culture solidifed into something more conservative. Compare that to today and the pampered atmosphere the media exhudes; anchors and pundits fit seemlessly into the commercial segments and the last message to ever come across is one of sacrifice.

Interestingly enough one of the reasons JAG was cancelled was that it was the oldest skewing show on CBS (median age was IIRC 58 years old). So obviously the media drumbeat against the War certainly helped drive away younger viewers.

It's spin-off NCIS had to be retooled despite being a top show #21 in the ratings, because it was far too low in the 18-49 demo. The producer was told by CBS to dump the uniforms and Military themes and focus on copying "24" including terrorists who work for the Government. Note that "24" had significant audience declines this year and finished a full ten-fifteen spots lower in the ratings, but had a much higher ranking in the demographics key slot of 18-49.

Part of this is a vicious circle, the elite wish "edgy" entertainment featuring protagonists indistinguishable from the bad guys, the FX series "Rescue Me" with NYC Firemen being a-holes is a good example, or if you like the Sopranos. This is what is pushed (or reality pablum) so the audience responds. At the same time, G-rated movies though they only constitute about six percent of release 1989-2003, make about 11 times as much money as R-rated movies (about 50% of releases during the same period).

So I would argue culturally there is a huge divide, between ordinary folks who have a hunger for the usual decency and patriotic values, including information about the military, and the cultural elite who have not processed or rather refused to acknowledge the reality of 9/11.

With all this shadowy talk about the media elite, it's worth pointing out that a veteran NYT reporter earns about as much as a 24-year-old who did well in law school. And has to live in NYC...

Jeff,

As noted above in Kaplan's article et. al., it's a social class, not a money class. In fact, David Brooks' "Bobos In Paradise" has some very interesting looks at the tensions this creates.

Jim,

Fine points, though I think anyone writing off a 58 age demographic viewing audience these days is insane. Her point was that the show's coverage during it success years never matched or even approached its rating performance.

And JAG is a trend, not an anomaly. To illustrate the class/cultural disconnect at work, this is from TAE back in 1999:

The Wall Street Journal recently outlined more evidence of Hollywood’s biggest commercial blind spot: The industry’s inability to comprehend the widespread American longing for traditional family life and religion.

The case in point is “Providence,” NBC’s new sentimental, spiritual family drama. Produced by one of the creators of “Touched by an Angel,” the show has become a runaway hit: NBC’s best-rated show since the debut of “ER” four years ago. This despite nearly fatal foot-dragging among network executives—who wanted the show to be “hipper,” “more urban,” less about family roots, less “sappy”—and harsh contempt from critics (Entertainment Weekly called it “a wrist-slitter disguised as an upbeat series”).

Despite this disdain dripping from the entertainment suites, the show is now drawing 15 million viewers a week and single-handedly making NBC the dominant network on Friday nights.

“Like ‘Touched by an Angel’ and ‘Promised Land’ on CBS, and ‘7th Heaven’” on the WB network, Journal writer Kyle Pope notes, “‘Providence’ is the latest in a string of TV shows with strong family values or spiritual themes whose out-of-the-blue success illustrates just how out of touch network programmers have become.”

Yeah, all "out of the blue" hits. While an huge, dedicated Christian TV and publishing industry flourishes away from their studios. But of course, you'd have to hire some of "those people" to know.

mMeanwhile, how many people who report on international conflicts are veterans of combat arms, or carry real domain expertise? Damn few. How many consider themselves to be from the same cultural strata as military families? Tim Russert, and...?

Michael Medved reports that “I always ask Hollywood people, ‘What percentage of Americans go to church each week?’ In years of asking, I’ve never found one who guessed as much as 10 percent.”

Because, as award-winning CBS journalist Bernard Goldberg argued, they use their social set as a yardstick for "normal" - not their viewing audience.

The military aren't "their people". Church-goers aren't "their people". It affects what they cover, and when they cover, and how they cover.

Great article. It swelled my Amazon wishlist, too.

WRT JAG, I thought it was pretty weak TV.

LOL only because the same conversations took place during the First Gulf War. Try to find some of the press briefings that Powell and others gave and not laugh at the questions.

Yes, I think the basic premise that the media is out of touch with military culture is accurate. But this can be said for most segments of our modern American culture - but with journalists it is so obvious. So how do we change it? I see two reasons for this 'ignorance' within the media. First is the fact that since Nixon's day the military has been all voluntary - prior to that the military was a mixed bag (with some exceptions, of course)it was made up of people from all segments of our society. This 'mixing' does not take place in our society anymore. Unless one reports for jury duty one is likely to only work with others on a similar education/career path. The second problem is based on the first in that journalists only mix with other journalists. And who becomes a journalist today? Someone who went to college with the intent of becoming the next Woodward or Bernstein. And given how 'hostile' the college environment is to the likes of ROTC would journalists form any positive opinions of the military?
So, quite simply, I think it is up to the news media to stop pretending to get the military's side of the story by having a retired general as a guest panelist and instead hire a former military guy (or woman) and train that person to become a journalist? Sort of like what many networks do with medical stories - they have trained medical staff working on those stories.

Joe -- the dynamic at CBS and the other nets, but especially CBS, is very interesting. Previously CBS had been the ratings winner and had not actively discouraged older viewers. However, winning the 18-49 Demo for Fox led to something on the order of an extra $500 million in the Upfronts Ad orders, so it's pretty clear that the sponsors at least are more than willing to trade raw audience share for much smaller sets of viewers as long as they are the "right" age; even though on average older viewers are wealthier with more disposable income.

This effect led CBS to basically dump older skewing shows, particularly those with family themes.

And just exactly who are the folks making the decisions about how much money to spend on advertising on the nets? Why it's the Media Buyers who are mostly young, mid twenties to early thirties, mostly female, and live in NYC or LA. These are folks with an appetite for "edgy" entertainment and a marked disdain for anything family oriented or patriotic. These folks seem to be part of the "trustafarians" as well, they tend to have fairly high turnover (lasting 3 years or so) and move onto something else.

I do believe it's a social class, backed by inherited wealth (even if those working are not wealthy themselves they stand to inherit). Journalism seems to be the same thing; hard to break in if you don't have family connections.

There's also again a huge disconnect between the Media Buyers wanting the nets to be essentially, HBO, and the vast viewing public. I find it astonishing that with a much smaller population, CBS's show Beverly Hillbillies drew 60 million viewers (admittedly with much fewer choices); today the top shows are lucky to draw 20 million viewers.

I think that's true as well with the news media; that the divide between the social class and the populace is huge. I do agree that Bell was correct, during it's success JAG was ignored, cult shows hyped all out of proportion. It's true that classes don't mix; far too much of the Media/Hollywood (the same class that Summers in the Hamptons, essentially) seems like Pauline Kael puzzled as to why Reagan won, since no one she knew voted for him. Hardly designed to broaden one's perspective.

Left-Liberal media .. aid to Commie Murder A-OK

Link

If you wanted to see the perfect example of the ethical and moral collapse of the Mainstream Media, you could not do better than a long article in the New Yorker of May 23, 2005. The article is entitled, "The Spy Who Loved Us."

He even helped the Communists win large battles by directing Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops against American and South Vietnamese forces. He helped plan the Tet Offensive of 1968, including helping the man who planned the attack on the U.S. Embassy. This was the offensive where thousands of innocent civilians were massacred by the Communists.

Great stuuf very impressed lol

Yes! This effect led CBS to basically dump older skewing shows, particularly those with family themes.

I want to address this topic about liberals twisting things up about the defence industry. I live in Denmark and if it hasent been for Oncle Sam I would have spoken german or russian by now. And I think that the eastcost liberals dont take into account that the US simply needs a big military mashine. It´s simply not an option to let "things" up to the chinese, or the russians. And who the hell should else do the "job" of patroling the wast corners of the wold either than Oncle Sam ???. So thank you all very much for defending us here in europe, because we wont bring up the saccrifice to a large military complex our selves. So keep in mind that somebody has to do the job, and the estern establishment think that doing this job dont belong to their sons.

Hans-Ole From Denmark.

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