Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Glenn Greenwald on American Journamalism

This New York Times article today, by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and John M. Broder, on the debate among Congressional Democrats over how to end the Iraq War, encapsulates so much of what is wrong with our national media. These are the first two paragraphs of the article:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 -- Congressional Democrats, divided over how to press President Bush to alter his policy in Iraq, are wrestling over whether to use the power of the purse to wind down the war, and they seem headed for a confrontation among themselves, possibly as early as next week, over a proposal to revoke the 2002 resolution authorizing the war.

Some Democrats acknowledge that they are in a sticky situation as they try to map out a strategy that will appease the antiwar left, which is pushing for conditions on war financing, without alienating moderate Democrats and Republicans who fear being painted as unsupportive of the troops.

There are so many lazy and fact-free assertions in these two paragraphs -- which shape the entire article and which, in some sense, are also shaping the overall Iraq debate -- that it is hard to know where to begin.

The insularity of these reporters means that some conventional premise arises among them, typically based in long-standing political stereotypes that they themselves created and perpetuated, and they are then incapable of thinking about issues in any other way even when facts make inescapably clear that their premises are false (the premise that Democrats are politically endangered by their "antiwar left" was the basis for an entire Fox show hosted by Wall St. Journal ideologues last week, and that theme then arrives unscathed in the pages of The New York Times this morning).

In what universe is it the case that demands for an end to the Iraq War are emanating from the dreaded and cliched "antiwar left"? According to the latest Pew poll:

Public support for the war in Iraq continues to decline, as a growing number of political independents are turning against the war. Overall, a 53% majority of Americans believe the U.S. should bring its troops home as soon as possible - up five points in the past month and the highest percentage favoring a troop pullout since the war began nearly four years ago.
That's not a majority merely against the war, or against the surge, or wanting a gradual withdrawal. Those numbers are much higher. This is a majority of Americans favoring "bring[ing] troops home as soon as possible." That's quite an "antiwar left" we have here. And:
[I]n the current survey, 55% of independents say they favor bringing the troops home as soon as possible, compared with 40% who believe the troops should remain.
And, for good measure: "Among Democrats, roughly two-thirds (68%) want Congress to stop funding in an effort to block the troop buildup" and "more Democrats also support a troop withdrawal than did so in January (74% now, 66% then)." So apparently, 3 out of 4 Democrats -- along with a majority of independents -- are now part of the "antiwar left."

And they're not the only ones: "By roughly three-to-one (71%-23%), Republicans believe that U.S. forces should remain in Iraq until the situation there is stable." So almost a quarter of Republicans are now part of the "antiwar Left." And this December, 2006 CNN poll makes the point clearer still.

The national media continues to depict demands for an end to this war as the by-product of the fringe "antiwar left," and perpetuates the banal myth that Democrats face political peril because they have to satisfy this fringe element of their party. In fact, the true fringe group is the group of hard-core war supporters who support the President's desire that the war continue indefinitely. Did Stolberg and Broder happen to notice the results of the 2006 midterm election?

The Times article discusses what appears to be the genuine debate taking place among Democrats over the best strategic option for ending the war. Some, for instance, favor Jack Murtha's plan of incrementally increased limitations on funding tied to troop readiness, while others, such as Rep. Joe Sestak, favor (as his quotes from the article make clear) a different legislative strategy for ending the war -- namely, "setting a date for withdrawal of all forces from Iraq." And Harry Reid and Joe Biden are identified as advocating "rewriting the war authorization."

But those are not left-right conflicts or the by-product of some sort of self-destructive demands from the "antiwar left" that Democrats are being pressured to satisfy. Instead, these are just healty and encouraging tactical debates among Congressional Democrats who share their same objective -- namely, finding the most effective legislative weapon for compelling an end to the war, because that is what not only the overwhelming bulk of Democrats want, but also a clear majority of Americans.

To enable their lazy and fictitious storyline -- "Democrats are in trouble due to shrill demands from their radical leftist fringe" -- Stolberg and Broder invent a complete fiction: namely, that the dreaded "antiwar left" is "pushing for conditions on war financing," and such measures "will alienat[e] moderate Democrats and Republicans." But to the extent there is such a thing as the "antiwar left," it is not in any way attached to the specific tactic of imposing conditions on war funding.

Instead, war opponents favor whatever Congressional measures will work to compel an end to the war -- whether that be a recission of the AUMF or a modification of it or anything else. And that is what a majority of Americans want, according to virtually every poll. Who are the people on the "antiwar left" demanding a funding cut-off as opposed to other binding measures to end the war? They don't exist -- at least not in any substantial degree, if at all -- so Stolberg and Broder just made them up and then depicted these unnamed, imaginary de-funding absolutists as representative of the "antiwar left" which, in turn, became the basis for their whole "antiwar left" article.

The entire theme of the article is factually false and fictitious. It is designed to perpetuate a cliched drama where none exists, and to depict war opponents, rather than war supporters, as a small and radical fringe whose unreasonable demands are -- just as happened in 1972 -- endangering the Democrats. There is not a word about the danger to Republicans of continuing to tie themselves to one of the most unpopular wars in our nation's history.

And this NYT article presents the perfect opportunity to make the only response worth making to the self-defense offered yesterday by Newsweek's Richard Wolffe, who continues to claim that the media criticisms voiced by bloggers are misguided because bloggers are supposedly demanding that reporters act as "partisan advocates." That is just a complete distortion of the criticisms of the press made by bloggers.

Virtually no bloggers call for journalists to advance partisan storylines or advocate partisan views. Rather, they want them to report on matters with factual accuracy, and not slothfully pass on claims from government officials without investigating them for truth or perpetuate lazy storylines that have no basis in fact. That means that reporters should not disseminate anonymous government claims about Saddam's bulging weapons arsenals and expansive alliances with Al Qaeda, nor should they recklessly repeat patently false claims about Nancy Pelosi's demands for large private planes, nor should they falsely attribute anti-war views or demands for the war's end to the "antiwar left."

The laziness of reporters and their insatiable quest to curry favor with government officials continuously causes them to uncritically pass on false information, to protect the officials over whom they are supposed to be exercising scrutiny by granting them anonymity to disseminate government propaganda, and to perpetuate myths which their inside-government sources want to maintain. The complaint about journalists is about inaccuracy, gullibility and sloth, not a lack of partisan vigor. This New York Times article illustrates the fundamental deficiency in our nation's press -- as well as a principal element of media criticism -- quite vividly.

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