Shoutin’ at the TV

I have been thinking more about Norm Geras of Normblog pointing out that blogging is reactive. Specifically, how much of what bloggers write is in reaction to something they have read or heard. It certainly is true for me. The more I thought about it the more I realized how much having my own blog freed me from passively reacting to the mass media. You know shouting at the TV, or writing a letter to the editor in my head for two days.

I think a lot of people shout at the goggle box because TV is emotionally manipulative as well as intellectually manipulative. One example of emotional manipulation I’ve noticed is the way the media have used reporting war deaths to constantly press the case that the American effort in Iraq is failing. For the first part of the war they emphasized the deaths of American soldiers, which were, of course, available to report almost every day, to make sure that our guts wrenched regularly – all the time ignoring that the casualty rate in Iraq was historically minuscule compared to other wars. Almost no reporting of the strategy behind our military actions was provided to place the deaths of our soldiers in the context of what they were trying to accomplish – so the deaths were presented in a manner that made them appear purposeless and therefore futile. References to Vietnam and quagmires were also repeated on a regular basis. More recently, since the enemy has gone on the offensive by targeting Iraqi civilians, the daily reporting has emphasized suicide bombings framed by what I think of as the ‘you break it, you own it’ meme. That is, the mentality that puts all the moral responsibility for these deaths on the US for having invaded Iraq. Certainly there is some responsibility, but this daily recitation of disaster largely ignores the obvious fact that the primary responsibility rests with the people doing the killing. This reporting also ignores that the people doing the killing now are largely the same people who were killing their fellow Iraqis for 23 years under Saddam. But the point of both these media strategies is simple – to make their passive audience feel emotionally helpless and to make them feel increasingly hopeless about the war with every day that passes.

Blogs have changed all that for me. Even just reading blogs immediately breaks the monopoly of the MSM. If nothing else, I know when I am reading a blogger that I am reading someone who is speaking their mind who is not trained to present the story to a formula - is not part of a lager institution with multiple agendas - making money, advancing a particular point of view, or framing events according to a template or meme designed to build up a particular interpretation of events over time. I know I am reading someone like myself, who is saying what they think because the care enough about the issue to blog about it. In a way, blogging allows me to hear what my neighbors all over the world are shouting at the TV.

During 2003 and 2004 I quickly found that Iraqi bloggers and milbolggers provided a fresh and different view of the war sharply at odds with the monolithic story coming from the MSM. Interestingly I noticed when I was in the US in 2004 for about 6 months, that Fox news, while having different intellectual content about the war, pretty much delivered the same emotional message as their competition. Fox would hold pictures of burning military vehicles where US troops had been injured or killed on screen just as long as their competition. I also quickly discovered that neither Iraqi nor Milbloggers were always positive about the war. Far from it. Indeed some of the milbloggers, Chief Wiggles comes to mind, have provided criticisms of the coalition effort in Iraq that I have seen no where else. Specifically the mishandling of Iraqi generals who followed coalition instructions to surrender. They did so because they wanted to help us rebuild Iraq but were instead left to languish in prison. Conversely, the generals who didn’t surrender went home unmolested where some began to organize the insurgency we are still dealing with today.

Of Iraqi bloggers Zeyad, of Healing Iraq, is my favorite example of the emergence of a new kind of information broker and a first class monopoly buster. He scooped the MSM with both good and bad news for the coalition. For example, he reported a 10,000 strong anti insurgent demonstration in downtown Baghdad with pictures of the crowd in the autumn of 2003, yes 2003, that was suppressed by the MSM. He also reported how US troops harassed his cousin, who they believed was an insurgent, by throwing him into the Tigris where he drowned. That report was made well before Abu Ghraib, but the incident only investigated afterwards. I’d love to know if the Pentagon assigned so much as a corporal to read Iraqi blogs, while Rumsfeld’s frustration at being unable to win the information war was building . Zeyad also published a series of posts on Iraqi tribalism and how it functions across Shiite Sunni lines that would pay both critics and supporters of the war alike to read carefully. Zeyad, who already had a career as a dentist, is now attending the City University of New York to study Journalism on a scholarship raised by bloggers. Bottom line: for me reading blogs broke the monopoly of the MSM and therefore broke the hold of the constant message of defeat in Iraq.

Here is an example from a newish blog View from the Fruited Plains by Tom Donelson that exemplifies the new awareness about Iraq war reporting created by blogging:

Every bit of strategy that is being discussed is based on the idea that we are losing. The Democratic opposition is based on the idea that we are losing. The media mantra is that we are losing. What if we are not?

Donelson goes on to quote an MSM report from Newsweek that surprisingly reports that the Iraqi economy is thriving. He concludes:

Much of the reporting has been poor indeed and now it has taken the mainstream media a long time to notice the economic revival taking place among the Iraqis. Maybe it is time to re-evaluate what is really happening in Iraq, before we engage in wrong policy.

I began blogging myself just at the end of 2005 so I have been at it almost a year now. I am beginning to become aware of the long term effects on myself that come from being able to react to what is happening by writing about it. The biggest is that I don’t feel helpless and passive any more. And most of all I have seen my own ability to react grow. Instead of being stuck with my emotions being jerked around by an MSM, I am a tiny part of the fight. Specifically I am small voice in the information war that we may, indeed, be losing. There are people out there in the blogosphere that are doing their best – inadvertently or otherwise – to advance ideas that are helpful to the cause of al Qaeda and Islamic fascism generally who have no more resources than I do. I like to think of myself as, in Glenn Reynolds’ terms, a foot soldier in An Army of Davids, trying to help fathom this new challenge to Western civilization. The civilization that, not incidentally, invented computers and blogging software as well as the spinning jenny and nuclear weapons. Being able to talk back and see my thinking progress and see similar development in the thinking of people I would not otherwise know is so much better than being a powerless bystander shouting at the TV.

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