Bloody media. Always complaining. Thus Rumsfeld at the end of last week, himself complaining about all the newspapers featuring looting instead of liberation.
Last night, I caught John Simpson of the BBC opining that the fall of Saddam is of no significance to any country outside of Iraq, and I don’t know where to start, so hopelessly mistaken does that strike me as being. The argument was that because Saddam’s regime was a “dead end”, it couldn’t therefore be of any greater consequence when this inconsequential regime was toppled. And then various other Talking Heads took it in turns to agree. They didn’t seem to understand that there could possibly be anything between America invading a country and smashing all its statues and bombing all its bunkers and decapitating all its leaderships, and having no effect on a country whatsoever, despite having lots of bases in a newly liberated country right next door. Twats.
# of important news stories Glenn Reynolds broke during war: 0
# of important news stories journalists broke during war: All of them
It’s from these same media people that I get the evidence in the light of which I choose to regard their editorial biases as biased, their conclusions and prophecies and prognostications as mistaken, or not as I please. The media are still the people supplying the news, even as they try to spin it in ways that the samizdata related blogosphere mostly disapproves of.
The media are, I think, rather like Windows. There are all sorts of things wrong with them, but, with occasional cock-ups and catastrophes, they get the job done, approximately speaking. If you are prepared to put a bit of effort into learning how they work, you can usually dig below the surface and get what you want, if you really do want it.
When that CNN guy revealed that they’d been concealing the truth in order to keep the flow of nice TV footage, I can’t say that I was especially surprised. Only the candid way he admitted to it struck me as in any way out of the ordinary.
As to the present coverage of the Iraq war that Rumsfeld was so irritated by, I would far rather have the media biased against what the powers-that-be are doing than biased in their favour, even when I agree, approximately speaking, with the powers-that-be.
Suppose our newspapers and TV screens had indeed swamped all mention of looting and pillage with falling statues and cheering crowds and nothing else. Would the world in general, and Iraq in particular, really be better places? I say not.
Perhaps the problem is that the media do several different jobs. Two in particular have been seen colliding with one another in recent weeks, namely reporting, and complaining.
The complaining, as is natural just before a military campaign is being embarked upon, has taken the form of prophecying a succession of disasters. And the reporting has consisted mostly of admitting, sometimes through gritted teeth, that most of these disasters have not occurred. Iraq has not proved to be Vietnam. Baghdad has not been Stalingrad. When Baghdad fell with hardly a skirmish, we were told. When that statue fell, we saw it. When the Iraqis finally felt sure enough to smile and cheer, we saw their smiles and heard their cheers. And we drew our own conclusions, to the effect that our original conclusions about all this had been right, and that the media’s had been mostly wrong. Are we really going to begrudge the media one genuine disaster, one which neither the blogosphere nor they foresaw, in the form of the looting that is now still going on?
They may be exaggerating this story, but it is definitely a story and they are quite right to be telling it.
Non-looter Iraqis have been shouting at camera crews that the bloody looters are making their lives a misery, and doctors have complained that their hospitals have no drugs or security guards. Well, good. Good for the camera crews and good for the Iraqis. Who suffers from these complaints? Coalition leaders impatient for their triumphs and their rounds of applause? Tough. Who benefits? The good citizens of Iraq and the wounded of Iraq and their carers, who get their law and order and their drugs about two days quicker than they would have done if the media had merely been blowing fanfares of praise to the soldiers and their commanders. There’ll be plenty of time for handing out testimonials and retractions and apologetic analyses concerning what went right, albeit mostly from different people to the original Cassandras. Meanwhile, things are not completely perfect and the Cassandras are still complaining. Quite right. That’s one of their jobs. And another part of their job will be to say: oh it’s stopped, and oh, it wan’t that bad, as and when it stops, and if it turns out that it wasn’t that bad.
Meanwhile, you can interpret the complaints about looting very differently to the way that the complainers are mostly interpreting them now. One way of discussing Iraqis cursing the Coalition for screwing up the first few days of the peace is to say: the Coalition is screwing up the first few days of the peace. Which they did. But another is to say: well, thank God the Iraqis feel safe enough to call the Coalition a bunch of arseholes for screwing up, and to do it on camera. Maybe law and order is a couple of days away yet, but civilised politics, the sort where you can call Bush and Blair a couple of wankers without having your tongue cut out and bleeding to death in a basement, has started as of now.
The media are rather bad at dealing with important problems where the problem is knowing exactly what the right thing to do is. Most of what most of them know about such things ain’t so. But when the problems are urgent, and the answers are pretty obvious – subdue looters, anaesthetise the wounded when they are being operated on, feed the starving, switch on the damn lights, comfort the bereaved – the media are at their best. Instead of the murderously sedate solving of the problems (or not as the case may be) away from the glare of the TV lights that those in authority would prefer, unaccompanied by any embarrassing questions about why they hadn’t thought this through a month ago, there must instead be an undignified scramble to sort things out, accompanied by the lies and contradictions of press officers. It must be galling to get onto world-wide TV to complain about not knowing where in hell your next thirty meals are going to come from, but still not to get a meal. But such arrangements save lives, nevertheless.
Rejoice, rejoice, says the blogosphere about this war, now winding down. I say, with the media and against the blogosphere: hold the rejoicing, there’s still work to be done. Now, Rumsfeld, about those anaesthetics …
Stepping back and looking at the larger picture, would all that military planning – the stuff that mostly went very right indeed – would have been done so well had the soldiers not known that failure would involve not just the hell of battlefield reverses but the further hell of being sneered at by those media arseholes? And were they not further encouraged in their work by the thought that success would means far fewer friends dying, and wiping the smug sneers off the faces of the arseholes? That’s a big stick, and a big carrot. The media tried to destroy the military attack on Iraq. But they didn’t destroy it. And because they didn’t destroy it they made it stronger.
Looking at the even bigger picture, for “military attack on Iraq” read: everything. The media, the complaints department of capitalism. They demand the impossible, and sneer when they don’t get it. When they do, they move immediately on to the next impossibility. Hurrah for capitalism. It finds creative uses even for socialists, which is more than you could ever say for socialism.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and the price of vigilance is the arseholes who do it mouthing off about what they think about what they see on their various vigils. It’s a price well worth paying, I say.