On Message

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To follow up Jesse's post about that interesting Stars and Stripes article, here's Iron Mike Kinsley on President Bush's media defiltration strategy:

Bush's beef about news from Iraq is a variation on the famous complaint that the media never report about all the planes that land safely. And it's true: Many American soldiers have not been killed since the war officially ended. You rarely read stories about all the electricity that works, or the many Iraqis who aren't shouting anti-American slogans. For that matter, what about all the countries we haven't invaded and occupied in the past year? And what about the unreported fact that Saddam Hussein has been removed from power? Well, maybe that isn't actually unreported. But an unfilterish media would surely report it again and again in every story every day, in case people forgot.

Every president complains that the media are blocking his message, and the media complain that every administration wants to manage the news. It's not only presidents. Everyone who has something to say in our media-saturated culture (and who doesn't?) longs for ways to get that message out unmediated by someone else. In this media cacophony, the president probably has more ability to deliver his message without a filter than anyone else on earth. Anything the president says is automatically news. If he wants to commandeer all the TV networks for a speech in prime time, he can usually do it. The president can even hold a press conference, although this president rarely bothers.

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  1. Why do you keep quoting Kinsley? He hasn’t written anything interesting since he moved to Seattle.

  2. I suspect he’d bother to hold more press conferences if the press didn’t keep showing up for them.

  3. Kinsley has a bit of a point, but is missing the larger issue. Sure, the media doesn’t report every plane that lands safely, but when discussing and making public policy about air safety, it’s essential to know more than simply the news about the few planes that crash.

    Currently, the media is so obsessed with every bit of bad news from Iraq that it’s missing the big picture and giving a very distorted impression, one that plays into the hands of the media’s favorite political party. (Surprise!) Plus, they’re missing or underplaying lots of real stories that aren’t purely negative.

    When we have Democratic members of Congress returning from Iraq and unanimously reporting that the situation is not as bad as media reports led them to believe, even Kinsley should admit something is wrong.

  4. But is there light at the end of the tunnel?

  5. I agree with PapayaSF whose comments about media bias and the misleading coverage about Iraq are dead on. I think it is rather notable that Bush?s move to begin doing more interviews with mid-level media outlets to get the message out is the inverse what Carter did (President Carter used to have press conferences with smaller and more local media outlets to get an idea of what sort of concerns people might have before he did some of his press conferences with the national media).

    That fact that our progress is Iraq is months ahead of what it was in post-war Germany and Japan is a lot more significant and representative of what?s going on in Iraq and I think a truly honest and accurate reporting of the situation should include that for a context of its reports IMNHO.

  6. So is it “Librul Bias,” when the media reports that US Army soldiers are killed in ambushes? Do we need news media that down plays these events because it “distorts,” what is going on there?

  7. Kinsley commits several errors … first, by focusing on the President, he ignores a broad range of critics who say media coverage on Iraq is incomplete. Basically, Kinsley is turning the President into a straw man — the man who has self-serving biasis that color his criticism of the media. This is a bald attempt to discredit criticism of the media via a logical fallacy. Kinsley doesn’t address any of the specific criticisms of the media. He merely sets up his straw man and knocks it down.

    Second, this is not a variation on an old compliant. It is a unique complaint. Unique to this time and place. It is newsworthy that the electricity is on because the MEDIA made such a big deal about it being OFF previously. It is newsworthy that Iraqis are getting MORE electricty now than they did when Saddam was in power. It is newsworthy that MOST Iraqis support our efforts because it stands in stark contrast to the deadenders who are getting their acts of violence recorded in the police blotter. To argue that this isn’t news is to argue that “man bites dog” isn’t news.

    Third — who, precisely, is asking that it be reported everyday as if it were news that Saddam is removed from power. Again, STRAW MAN!!!

    Fourth, another straw man — Bush is not asking to manage the news. He’s asking that the news media REPORT THE TRUTH. Those two notions are world aparts. Again, Kinsley is commiting a logical fallacy, misstating the opponents argument, to bolster his own.

    Kinsley is completely ignoring the legitimate criticisms of the media. It’s as if truth and accuracy just didn’t matter to him. Gee, why is that surprising?

  8. Kinsley is completely ignoring the legitimate criticisms of the media. It’s as if truth and accuracy just didn’t matter to him. Gee, why is that surprising?

    I know this is hard, really Copernican/Darwinian/Einsteinian hard, to conceive, but not every article is about whether the media are biased. This article was about President Bush’s views on filtering and not filtering information, and it was a pretty interesting (though biased!) assessment. That’s why Kinsley talked about President Bush, and his views about and comments on information, rather than talking about all the other things you would have preferred he talk about.

  9. “So is it “Librul Bias,” when the media reports that US Army soldiers are killed in ambushes?”

    I don’t know if its liberal bias, shoddy, lazy reporting, a herd mentality, “if it bleed it leads”, purblind oppositionism, or what.

    I just know its crappy reporting because it results in a distorted picture of the facts on the ground in Iraq.

  10. Suppose the liberal media reported “Things are going well here. A few soldiers die now and then, but it’s still going pretty well all things considered.”

    I’ll bet Fox News would run a segment where a tearful family says “How can you say things are going pretty well when our son/brother/husband/father is dead? It’s as if the papers don’t care what happens to our brave troops. Their attention span for this has long since run out, and now it’s ‘everything’s fine, never mind the casualties, back to Kobe Bryant’.” Some pundit might even say that most soldiers don’t come from the handful of big cities where the major media is concentrated, so of course they wouldn’t care about what happens to the troops.

    There’s no real way to test that prediction, but I’m going to throw the possibility out there. Discuss amongst yourselves.

  11. Thoreau – lovely, you invite people to discuss something that more than half of the posts already addressed. Go visit your mom and have her do your laundry.

  12. Anon @ 5:08 pm:

    First, I don’t see any earlier posts raising the possibility that the media would face harsh criticism for being anti-military if it didn’t give much coverage to troops dying. I’d say that’s an original point. And the “discuss amongst yourselves” is just a fun little figure of speech. I don’t actually see myself as a moderator who can direct this discussion.

    Second, I haven’t done any personal inults on this forum (unless you count carping about “purity police” or calling some statements “ridiculous” or similar adjectives). I don’t know why you’d resort to insults against me. But if you want to know whether I do my own wash, even my wife will say that I do more than half of the household chores.

  13. In this media cacophony, the president probably has more ability to deliver his message without a filter than anyone else on earth.

    This is an extremely silly claim. The President doesn’t get to choose which soundbites get put on the news, what quotes get used in newspapers, etc. Editors, producers, and reporters get to decide that.

    People like Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner (or whoever runs CNN these days) have far greater power to get their message out to the world — because they, unlike the President, actually have final authority over what message goes out over the air.

  14. thoreau,

    Those kinds of insults usually come from anonymous chickenshits. Apparently the ethos of conservatism has evolved all the way from “unbought grace of life,” to behaving like a vicious guttersnipe. Ain’t it wonderful living in the age of Morton Downey and Rush Limbaugh!

    But in the interest of not filtering out positive news:

    Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

  15. Now, now, Kevin. Franco gave us lots of dead commies, leftists, anarchists, fellow travelers, useful idiots and true believers. You’re starting to sound like a PAF.

    Anyway, didn’t he make the trains run on time? Wait, that was the other bald guy….

  16. Tom,

    The commies also gave us lots of dead anarchists in Spain, unfortunately. I guess they considered Franco the lesser of evils.

  17. I’m prepared to believe that reporting on Iraq is worse than the reality in Iraq, but have those who think this is because of a big liberal media conspiracy ever looked at their local television news?

    Local Atlanta news makes the place look like a war zone. At least the first 20 minutes are devoted to stories involving some kind of crime, unless there is a really big traffic accident on I-285 or the Georgia Bulldogs win a big game.

  18. By the way, several posters in Slate’s own Fray have pointed out that Kinsley does none of the things he commends to Bush as far as interacting with his audience, responding to questions and so forth now, nor did he when he was Slate’s editor. I just thought I would mention that.

  19. … and richard blane fought on the side of the loyalists in spain…

    .. wait a sec… Sylvia de Leon is bald???
    amtrak.com/about/board.html

    oh wait… that’s about this other guy…

    fordham.edu/halsall/mod/mussolini-fascism.html

    (where this comes in, “Fascism denies, in democracy, the absur[d] conventional untruth of political equality dressed out in the garb of collective irresponsibility, and the myth of ‘happiness’ and indefinite progress” — B.M. 1932 — i guess he told us…)

    thoreau,

    very nice kawfee tawk reference above! 🙂 (and excellent re-framing of the iraq question, too!)

    and you’re a physicist, right? cool!

    cheers,
    drf

  20. Things ALWAYS look worse in the media than they do on the ground. Has nothing to do with bias.

    I lived in Paris in ’85-’86. Had a swell time. Years later I picked up a magazine at the doctor’s office and saw an article about how Paris had been hit by a wave of terrorist bombings. I was shocked at first, until I realized that this magazine issue dated from around the time I was living there. The bombings were going on that whole year, scaring away American tourists, but to those of us living there life seemed perfectly normal.

    The other fact, which I think the administration is trying to obscure, is that it takes a relatively small number of determined people to undermine and destabilize a country. We can be doing really well in rebuilding Iraq, but if we don’t do something about the non-stop attacks it can still turn into another Vietnam. Both the American revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks in Russia were a minority.

  21. “X has learned” implies that the speaker endorses the truth of what was supposedly “learned”. In this case, the truncation did not create an inaccuracy.

    You would be right if Bush had said the British government “is convinced”, or something like that, but that’s not what he said.

  22. Well, arguments over “X has learned” or “what is the meaning of ‘imminent’?” make me want to ask whether oral sex is really sex. It’s all so Clintonian.

    It seems to me that if a war is justified then it shouldn’t be controversial, at least not controversial in the nation that is fighting the war. The validity of our cause ought to be obvious to the public. The fact that a significant minority of the public (I freely acknowledge that the war had majority support) is still skeptical means one of two things:

    1) The case for the war was not strong enough to win overwhelming support (i.e. not just a simple majority, a very significant supermajority).

    or

    2) There’s a significant faction in this country that is dead wrong and can’t grasp self-evident moral truths. In other words, maybe some of us have our heads up our asses.

    Personally, I have a lot of faith in most people but very little faith in the government. So I’m inclined to believe the government failed to make its case.

  23. About two weeks ago ABC news ran a story about the Wilson/Plame leak investigation. They said the controversy was caused when the Ambassador invalidated the Predisent’s State of the Union claim that (roll tape of the speech) “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

    They cut out the “The British government has learned” part. Presumably because it would tend to make the viewers wonder what the big deal was all about.

    It’s clear that in the presitige press, when the fact don’t fit the story, they edit the facts, not the story.

    As this example shows, why should the President make his case to the nation through media that will edit his message so that it says what their story demands, and not what he actually said?

  24. The question isn’t whether the news, or White House PR, is or isn’t filtered, or should or shouldn’t be, but how competent and trustworthy are the filters. Al Franken – who in many ways does indeed have his head up his ass IMHO, nevertheless points out some fatal flaws in many current media “Melittas” ( a shout-out to you Seattle java-hounds, including Michael Kinsley ), and for that I am very grateful as well as amused.

    Which goes, once again to media bias: I personally love it. As long as the particular outlet is fairly up front with its bias, I can then absorb it, knowing I’m getting a certain point of view. Then I can go seek out its counterpart. They both report, I decide. But when BOTH left and right in the media deny their bias, dissemble about it, make me go to the trouble to figure it out THEN try to sort out the truth, I have a problem.

    Used to be there were Liberal papers and Conservative papers – folks knew which was which and no bones were made about it – and “fair and balanced” meant you read both. How I long for those halcyon days of yore.

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