Haditha, The Gatekeepers and The Groundshift
Cross-posted at The Jawa Report
Much (not all) of what is contained in this post has been stated or articulated elsewhere in the blogosphere, so please forgive and indulge me for the sake of reflection on this important issue.
In its apparent zeal and fervor, the mainstream press may have shot itself in both legs with the outlandish and one-sided Haditha coverage over the past few weeks. It is certainly now evident that there have been glaring and troubling inconsistencies from the “eyewitnesses” to these alleged incidents. It is also evident that the “sources” for the TIME story were presented in a catastrophically misleading way. These corrections, backtracks, misleading statements, scrubbings, retractions and inaccuracies are now (thanks to the fact-checkers residing in the new media – the readers) surfacing on a daily basis. The mainstream press, it figures, can merely outrun the new media with their nightly news megaphone and printing presses; assuming quite correctly that irreparable damage to our image and our military has been done simply by printing allegations, misleading suggestions and hysterical “eyewitness accounts” from nameless, faceless sources who are turning out to be not-so-nameless, faceless or agenda-less.
There have also been rumblings in the blogosphere about the potential for this story to become a bigger referendum and embarrassment for the “old media” then the Dan Rather Memogate scandal. There has undoubtedly been a recent emerging of hasty and sloppy media coverage when it comes to certain incidents both tangentially and directly involving our war on worldwide Islamic terrorism (especially when it comes to the conduct and effectiveness of our military), but no proportional cynicism or distrust of the “sources” from which stories like Haditha emerge. Herein lies the root of the problem – the enemy gets the benefit of the doubt, and the military (by proxy, the US) gets smeared.
A few recent examples of this emerging pattern are in order. Newsweek published a completely bogus story of our troops in Gitmo flushing Korans down the toilet; the facts revealed that precisely the opposite was occurring on a daily basis. We often hear about how the military is broken and strained, and yet, we have stories indicating that the Army and other armed forces are meeting their recruiting goals. We have hyperventilating coverage of “alleged massacres” that come from hard-line Sunni insurgents bent on driving the US out of Iraq so that they can resume what they do best – slaughtering innocents. We have the incident at Ishaqi – released (intentionally released at the time this supposed story was breaking) to enhance the “pile-on” effect. Unfortunately for the anti-war left, that “massacre” turned out to be nothing of the sort, complete with acquittals. This is a partial and incomplete list, but there is an undeniable pattern of incompetence and gun-jumping now established.
Just what is it, then, that causes or allows for this hysterical and shoddy press coverage of the war? For one thing, it could be that the general political leanings of many in the media business fall on the left-of-center side of the aisle, and that these media have already “dug in” (starting after 2000) against the actions of the Bush Administration regardless of facts and reality. It could also be that the formative experiences (1960’s drug-addled hysteria, unmediated leftism and Viet Nam) of many of these media progenitors (think Pinchy, Bill Keller, Mary Mapes, Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, etc.) are disproportionately influencing their perspectives on modern events. It could very well be that the left’s go-to 40 year old narrative of “US bad, Military = baby killers, Vote Democrat or else" is deteriorating at a rapid rate. This rapid erosion of mainstream television and print media power and influence is causing the retaliatory emergence of tabloid-like sensationalism and “gotcha” journalism, sort of like how a fish desperately flails for dissolved oxygen on dry land. This is perhaps a predictable response from those who feel that their “integrity” and their “professionalism” is being challenged unfairly. As this current Haditha story is indicating, those criticisms are perfectly valid and are evidently getting under the skin of certain publications known by their “credibility.”
Whatever the collective and aggregate socio-psychological reasons that elicit such childish and knee-jerk reactions from members of the press on all matters military, it is almost irrelevant. For the most part, I’m willing to bet that the majority of members of the old media know that the ground is shifting as it did when they assumed power in the 1970’s. There is an entire world of information literally at the fingertips of anyone willing to look for it, and this is a terrifying prospect to media organs whose primary function is to act as what David Manning White termed the “gatekeepers” of information. Being the gatekeeper of information bestows upon said gatekeeper an inordinate amount of influence of power – for whatever reason you choose, you get to decide who talks about what, how much of it they can talk about, when they can talk about it , in what context, etc. These gatekeepers (reporters and editors, sometimes management and ownership) don’t necessarily tell the audience what to think (although this is debatable in many circumstances when linguistic biases within media writing are exposed), but the gatekeeper is essential in telling the audience what to think about. A recent Pew Institute report suggested that the Internet is now the most adhered-to source of information and news – surpassing long-time stalwarts like print and television.
To those who have built virtual empires on the commercial viability of television news and printed news, this is a potentially terrifying prospect. In response, the old media fires back with the only weapons in its arsenal that it knows how to use – their legacy influence over an unsuspecting audience and their ubiquitous “coverage” that permeates nearly every home and workplace in the country. It is during this loosely-coordinated counter-attack that the new media asserts its importance and relevance. For your convenience, I have assembled a representative roundup of counter-MSM Haditha coverage. Hopefully, this provides and continues to validate how the new media performs the editorial functions that those “gatekeepers” in the old media are either don’t perform or perform over-zealously at the expense of the entire story being laid out.
Sweetness and Light:
Haditha: Is McGirk the New Mary Mapes?The StrataSphere –
Haditha in the Context of History
Haditha, Just War Theory and the Press
The Haditha Stratagem