Moving On

Like a lot of bloggers, I have increasingly come to distrust the MSM since 9/11 because bloggers regularly catch the gatekeepers cheating. The most recent serious example I am aware of is how CNN translated a statement by the Iraqi foreign minister. Omar at Iraq the Model being an Arabic speaker caught a mistranslation that completely changed the meaning and the stance of the Iraqi government. The full post is here:

Yesterday Iraq’s and Iran’s foreign ministers had a joint press conference in Baghdad after which the CNN ran a headline that reads “Iraqi minister defends Iranian nuclear program” and wrote: Iran has a right to develop nuclear technology and the international community should drop its demands that Tehran prove it’s not trying to build a nuclear weapon, Iraq’s foreign minister said Friday.

I wasn’t there at the press conference but I was able to find an audio clip of the same part of minister Zibari’s statement through Radio Sawa, and what he said here is so much different from what the CNN claimed he did (my translation):
We respect Iran’s and every other nation’s right to pursue nuclear technology for research purposes and peaceful use given they accept [giving] the internationally required guarantees that this will not lead to an armament race in the region

Audio clip available here (Arabic)

Listening to the 2nd version of the story (in Zibari’s own voice) it is clear that Iraq recognizes Iran’s right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes exclusively and is moreover asking Iran for guarantees, not the other way around CNN!

If you pay attention to such things bloggers nail the MSM regularly for pretty serious falsifications like this one that clearly serve a political agenda – and are not just mistakes. I am not talking about obvious and easily checked mistakes like CBS recently calling Rep. Jefferson a Republican (the one caught on tape taking a bribe and who’s congressional office was searched). It certainly makes me wonder if CBS’s reporters are a wee bit partisan, but I don’t think for a minute anyone would try to put that one over on purpose. With the CNN mistranslation I am left wondering just how many of the stories we see are intentional distortions or even deliberate fabrications. Of course Omar could be making it up, but somehow I don’t think so.
So it with some relief that I have recently found some good performance from the MSM in the New York Times – a source I once trusted but which has repeatedly earned my distrust over the past few years. I’ve been reading the NY Times since about 1956 when I was a freshman in High School. I remember my father saying he believed it to be the best American newspaper followed by the Christian Science Monitor and the St Louis Post Dispatch. This was before the rise to prominence of the Washington Post. He also said the Times was the best because it was the paper of record where you could read the actual transcript of important speeches and that was important because a news story about a speech was often misleading or inaccurate and he advised me to always read the actual transcript.

So I tried it. I read the transcript of Bush’s commencement address at West Point at Good speech, in my opinion, comparing the early days of the cold war under Truman to the initial stages of the War on Terror. Then I read the New York Times article on the speech and to my surprise it was an excellent article and a fair presentation of the speech. No snide. No undermining – just reporting. The closest thing to sneaking in a dig is the following line at the end of the third paragraph:

He left it unsaid that Truman was deeply unpopular at the end of his two terms in office and that it took a generation to appreciate his achievements.

A bit of a dig perhaps, but it also makes the suggestion that Bush too may be judged more favorably in time. I don’t think my father would have said what he did if he never found discrepancies between the report of a speech and the transcript as he followed the turbulent politics of the thirties and forties. I have to give the Times full marks on this one for doing a straight job of reporting.

A few days ago my sister had sent me a lengthy report by Scott Anderson on a group of Pennsylvania guardsmen who had recently returned from Iraq after seeing some nasty fighting. It was an article about the effects of PTSD and was more an article about the costs of war than simply an anti war article. It focused in on one soldier who had a particularly hard time and who had lost a close friend. The article gave an compelling and detailed description of a real case of PTSD which, as a real cost of war, should be reported. There were a couple of spots where I thought that the reporter was unfairly pursuing an anti war agenda but I wouldn’t put any energy into critiquing the article on those grounds. However, if I were a returning soldier I might feel differently. I have certainly read articles I thought were antiwar opinion pieces masquerading as news stories in the Times and elsewhere and so this article is worth noting as an example of negative reporting on the war that does not fall to the level of propaganda.

Then today I read a The Troops Have Moved On by Owen West, a reserve Marine major who served in Iraq, who is the founder of Vets for Freedom. It is flat out one of the most balanced pieces on the war that I can recall reading in a major news outlet. It’s an opinion piece and labeled as such. Major West nails both sides:

We are at the outset of a long war, and not just in Iraq. Yet it is being led politically by the short-sighted, from both sides of the aisle. The deterioration of American support for the mission in Iraq is indicative not so much of our military conduct there, where real gains are coming slowly but steadily, but of chaotic leadership.

Somehow Operation Iraqi Freedom, not a large war by America’s historical standards, has blossomed into a crisis of expectations that threatens our ability to react to future threats with a fist instead of five fingers. Instead of rallying we are squabbling, even as the slow fuse burns.

One party is overly sanguine, unwilling to acknowledge its errors. The other is overly maudlin, unable to forgive the same. The Bush administration seeks to insulate the public from the reality of war, placing its burden on the few. The press has tried to fill that gap by exposing the raw brutality of the insurgency; but it has often done so without context, leaving a clear implication that we can never win.

That last sentence is particularly important because he nails the press and my hat is off to the Times for printing it. I agree with Major West that ‘we can never win’ has been the primary impression that the great bulk of the press has given us. As I’ve said before Iraq is not Vietnam and losing is not inevitable.

But Major West has his own clear sense of where we are stuck

First, in battle you move forward from where you are, not where you want to be. No one was more surprised that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction than the soldiers who rolled into Iraq in full chemical protective gear. But it is time for the rest of the country to do what the military was forced to: get over it.

And what we have to do to move forward:

If we can put 2003′s debates behind us, there is a swath of common ground on which to focus. Both Republicans and Democrats agree we cannot lose Iraq. The general insurgency in Iraq imperils our national interest and the hardcore insurgents are our mortal enemies. Talking of troop reductions is to lose sight of the goal.

Second, America’s conscience is one of its greatest strengths. But self-flagellation, especially in the early stages of a war against an enemy whose worldview is uncompromising, is absolutely hazardous. Three years gone and Iraq’s most famous soldiers are Jessica Lynch and Lynndie England, a victim and a criminal, respectively. Abu Ghraib remains the most famous battle of the war. Soldiers are sick of apologizing for a sliver of malcontents who are not at all representative of the new breed. But they are also sick of being pitied.

So congratulations to the Times – it is beginning to regain some of the respect I’ve had for it over the past 50 years. I hope the publication of such an opinion piece from a combat soldier is a symptom that the Times is beginning to move on. The question before us now is no longer if it was right to invade Iraq or winning arguments about what has gone wrong or right – it is about how to move forward from where we find ourselves. Because I believe focusing on how we should go forward will increasingly be the issue as the 2008 elections approach I was particularly pleased a couple of months ago to hear Bill Clinton responding to a questioner here in Australia about the Iraq war. He said that whatever we might have thought about the right and wrong of the war going into it, the question now is what is the best outcome we can work for from the current situation. I would hope that the next president – Hillary or someone else – approaches the situation in that spirit.

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