Friday, September 29, 2006

The Media We Deserve

[posted by Callimachus]

What's left out can be as telling as what's included. In a story such as this, for instance, which leads off with Bush's comments at a news conference speaking to some troops.

President Bush asserted Friday that critics who claim the Iraq war has made America less safe embrace "the enemy's propaganda."

It then goes on through many details and permutations of the war, the world scene, the political scene. It allows time for Bush's critics to respond:

With just over five weeks left before congressional elections, Democrats were quick to react. "President Bush's election-year attacks are the product of a desperate White House with no credibility left with the American people," said Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

"It was yet another example of how he is in denial over what is happening in the war on terror," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Now, what was entirely missing from this story -- astonishing, since it was another headline on the same day -- was the newly released barrage of "enemy propaganda" by Ayman al-Zawahri of al-Qaida. And sure enough, it sounds exactly like Bush's domestic critics:

"Can't you be honest at least once in your life, and admit that you are a deceitful liar who intentionally deceived your nation when you drove them to war in Iraq? ... Bush, you deceitful charlatan, 3 1/2 years have passed since your capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, so how have you found us during this time? Losing and surrendering? Or are we launching attacks with God's help and becoming martyrs?

... What you have perpetrated against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other Muslim captives in your prisons and the prisons of your slaves in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and elsewhere is not hidden from anyone, and we are a people who do not sleep under oppression and who do not abandon our revenge until our chests have been healed of those who have committed aggression against us."

Yep. He touched all the bases in Michael Moore Field. Does that guy watch CNN or what?

But you get not a whiff of that in the Bush story. All you'd get is Bush's remark and the political response from Democrats. Nobody even had the guts to ask, "well, is their rhetoric essentially the same as the enemy's propaganda?" The leading Democrats certainly aren't going to bring that up on their own. The similarity is rather embarrassing to them, I'd think.

But until you actually ask that question, and show the comparison, you won't know whether Bush is making an accurate comparison or not.

And then you can't ask yourself the next question: Whether having the same criticism of Bush as al Qaida has really is an embrace, or whether it's an unfortunate convergence. In other words, you deny the Democrats the opportunity to frame a response.

And then you can't ask yourself whether an awareness of that convergence, at a time when tens of thousands of us are fighting, and in some cases dying, and working for a better world and a safer America in the Middle East, ought to compel you to think about the totality of what you're saying and how you're saying it.

And then you can't ask whether you really trust a party that would rather flap its gums than win a war, if that's what it comes down to. And, well, that's probably my path. But there's a whole line of essential political awareness that the Associated Press, in this case and many others, would rather fudge and hide than allow.

The media draws the lines very tightly around some stories, as in this case. In others, it stretches them wide. If Bush made a speech about, say, increasing levels of safety in parts of Iraq, you can bet the AP version would include several paragraphs on the day's carnage (but little context on those crimes).

Here, it won't even point you to the essential companion piece. No connection. Move along. Whatever you do, don't think about it.

UPDATE (and probably more apropos of this): For instance, when the Associated Press quotes a prominent Democrat painting lurid pictures of American failure in Iraq:

“America is in deep trouble in Iraq,” said Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. “The continuing violence and death is ominous .... Militias are growing in strength and continue to operate outside the law. Death squads are rampant.”

does the AP also feel compelled to note that painting lurid pictures of American failure in Iraq is part of the party's political strategy?

A memo sent out to Democrats last week by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a strategy group led by former Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg, discusses Mr. Bush's "failure in Iraq, which energized Democrats and dispirited Republicans." It urges Democrats: "On Iraq, stress Bush/GOP 'mismanagement' and need for a 'new direction.'"

Good politics? Sure, probably, if politics is your highest measure of human activity. Good reporting? Not by a New York Times mile.