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Newsweek – Weak news

By Brian | May 17, 2005 | Share on Facebook

I was going to say something about this yesterday, but held my tongue (fingers?) since it all seemed to be a lot of posturing on all sides. After doing some more reading on the subject, though, here are a few thoughts:

First of all, Newsweek didn’t cause the death of anyone if Afghanistan. What they did was provide a spark that some seriously crazy killers used to incite anger and fan it into violent rage. Let’s always remember that it was the killers who caused the death, not Newsweek. Blaming them for these deaths is akin to blaming George Bush for the September 11th attacks.

That’s not to say that Newsweek didn’t do anything wrong here. Their first mistake, of course, was printing something that they couldn’t confirm to be true. That’s just bad journalism, and whether it incites terrorists, sways elections, or ruins reputations, it’s still a bad (and easily avoidable) move.

Their second mistake is a bit more subtle, and also more endemic to today’s media: they jumped on a bandwagon and underestimated the consequences of their actions. There’s no doubt in my mind that had the Abu Ghraib scandal not occurred, this story would never have been printed. “Abuse by American Guards” is a hot story right now. It has “legs.” Someone at Newsweek heard an accusation about mistreating the Koran, and saw an opportunity to play “gotcha.”

The problem here is that media is cheaper and more global than it’s ever been before. They can read Newsweek in Afghanistan now. They have CNN and BBC in Iraq. Anti-war protests are visible to our enemies. Our media still has an obligation to report the facts and investigate the news, but we need to be prepared to face the full consequences of the free press we hold so dear.

In the first Gulf War, the Iraqi army seemed to fold up at the very sight of American troops. This time around, they fought back. I firmly believe the news coverage of the war protests and the various commentators who called the U.S. and the President “evil” had a lot to do with this. Our enemy, who had been too scared to fight 12 years earlier, had been enboldened by the appearance of a divided America – an America that appeared unsure of its commitment to the fight. Soldiers probably watched 250,000 people marching in Times Square and figured that some percentage of the American soldiers in Baghdad would surrender or run when the fighting got hot.

As they say, freedom isn’t free. We should never stop expressing our opinions, but we have to take our heads out of the sand and understand what happens when we do. Our actions have more consequences today than they used to.

Topics: News and/or Media | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Newsweek – Weak news”

  1. Jeff Porten says at May 26th, 2005 at 12:48 am :
    Oh, PLEASE.

    Such thinking was nicely discredited thirty years ago, unless you stiil want to believe that the hippies were why we lost the Vietnam War. (After all, it couldn’t be the fault of the leaders.)

    I think it’s fairly accurate to say that the war up until the “fall of Baghdad” phase went very similarly to Gulf War I, and it’s also fairly accurate to say that the continued fighting since is attributable to factors that have as much to do with protests as a ham sandwich has to do with a goldfish.

    Sorry, but this kind of thinking falls into the Ari Fleischeresque “Americans need to watch what they say” tar pit. No, we don’t. As soon as we do, then we’re degrading the very things we fight for.

    You have the right to burn the American flag precisely because the American flag symbolizes your right to burn it.

  2. Brian says at May 26th, 2005 at 5:48 pm :
    I see two flaws in your logic here.

    First, if my premise is “the world has changed dramatically in the last 10 years,” you can’t argue against it by claiming that my thinking was discredited 30 years ago. The hippies were not why we lost the Vietnam War – most of the people in Vietnam didn’t know about the hippies. There was no Internet and no CNN to clue them in.

    Second, when I take special pains to say, “We should never stop expressing our opinions, but we have to take our heads out of the sand and understand what happens when we do,” you can’t catalog me in the “Americans need to watch what they say” meme. I totally agree that we have the right to burn the flag (and speak out against the war, and post comments in blogs…), but that doesn’t mean we can claim that doing so has no consequences.

    I also said that freedom isn’t free. If protesting the war emboldened one Iraqi soldier to shoot at us rather than run & hide, then the protest cost an American life. Given that the (US) soldier in question is fighting precisely for the right to do things like protest the war, this might be a cost we’re willing to pay. But let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen…

  3. Jeff Porten says at May 27th, 2005 at 1:50 pm :
    The flaws you see in my argument are theoretical. The ones I see in yours are pragmatic.

    First, I thought the whole point was that the oppressed Iraqis under Saddam didn’t have access to free media, and were subjected to propaganda throughout. People in such situations don’t lose their cognitive abilities, any more than you believe the spam you read. So from that perspective it won’t make a bit of difference what is aired on CNN.

    Second, for post-Saddam communications (in those parts of Iraq with electricity, televisions, and satellite feeds), I tend to think that the motivating force of “these people have invaded my country” has a heck of a lot more impact than seeing some high school kid waving a sign in Times Square. I’d also suspect that the kind of morale where you’re cheered by your enemy’s political divisions, and the kind of morale where you don’t leave when people are shooting at you, are two very different things.

    Third, yes, speech has power. This is why we speak. But the idea that a protester has anything directly to do with a dead American soldier strikes me as beyond all credulity. You want to point to individual actions that had much more to do with the death of that soldier, IMO, just check your nearest gas tank. Which is to say, *both* are negligible on the individual level.

    Finally, you seem to be promoting the celebration of the right to free speech by choosing to not actually, you know, speak. That puts you back in Ari’s camp.

  4. FamilyGreenberg.Com - Taxing our Patience says at February 4th, 2009 at 4:21 pm :
    [...] tax problem for an Obama nominee. And once again, the media is news cataloging – lumping all three of these tax-related issues together as if they are the same thing. [...]

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