Saturday, July 21, 2007

Media Missing In Action

As a member of the media, I'm disappointed in the coverage of government and politics recently. There's been a slow, downhill slide for a while in the quality of the coverage overall. It became very noticeable during the Clinton administration and the emergence of the "permanent campaign," but it's a problem that's been brewing for a while. Every political dispute is reduced to a "he said, she said" formulation. Instead of analysing the true state of affairs modern journalism seems to believe it's being fair by trotting out two hacks to yell at each other. Most of the time you could turn off the sound, because you already know what each hack will say.
Along with this has been the abandonment of principle -- and nearly even the abandonment of a pretense of principle -- in favor of blind partisanship. Our side can do no wrong, your side can do no right. The other side can't possibly have a point, because it would be a sign of weakness to agree with them, even partially.
This has been a poisonous way of doing business and it's gone on too long anyway, but the Bush administration demonstrates what happens when the gatekeepers don;t do their job. Any lie, no matter how bald-faced, transparent and ridiculous becomes a sufficient retort to any criticism, no matter how reasoned, sober and reality-based.
The failure of the Republican Congress to provide any meaningful oversight at all over the executive branch has caused a lot of damage to the country in ways large and small. However, it has also caused a lot of damage to the Republican Party as well. Any political party is going to go off track now and then. Honest internal debate and criticism can help pull a party back on track and avoid the worst disasters. One of the problems the Democrats have had (and they haven't completely shaken it off) is the undue influence of some of their more extreme elements. When Al Sharpton says something stupid, Democrats don't call him on it.
It's in the nature of things that the opposition party can't perform that task for you. For one thing, partisans tend to automatically discount anything the other side says without thinking about it. (Which is dumb. It defies logic and human experience to believe that one side is ALWAYS right and the other side wrong) For another thing, the opposition may not be in a big hurry to rescue you from your follies.
The American public, for the most part, isn't intensely engaged in politics. People prefer to lead their lives as best they can. They work, love and survive. They interact with the government when they must and generally prefer to be left alone by it whenever possible. Wonks, pundits, politicians, journalists and bureaucrats are NOT the public. The best of them have a steady finger of the pulse of the public, but only to the extent that they are intellectually honest about what they know and how they know it.
When an issue hammers itself into the public consciousness the public deals with it and then goes on with life.
The Iraq War has forced itself into the public consciousness and the public has made up its mind. It was a mistake and poorly-executed to boot. Only an unimaginably dramatic turnaround could possibly change that dynamic.
This is why the administration's attempts this week to "move the goal posts" on Iraq and say that September is too soon to know if the surge is working, now it should be November. Of course, this is merely a variation on the "next six months will be critical" argument that's been made for the last four years. And six months go by and nothing changes -- or at least nothing changes for the better. People are tired of that game and it's not going to work any more.
Now, it just so happens that Petraeus and his generals are right that September isn't enough time to turn things around. But where he is wrong is thinking that any amount of time is going to be sufficient. There are, indeed, promising aspects to his new approach. But sometimes it's simply too late. Creighton Abrams had a superior approach to Westmoreland in Vietnam, but he couldn't change the outcome. Rommel was right about the best way to defend France from and Allied invasion in 1944, too, but it was too late to change the outcome of that war.
Had elements of Petreaus' approach been tried in 2003 or 2004 maybe things would have been better. On the other hand, it's more likely it still would have been overwhelmed by the botched handling of every single other thing. (Has Bush waged any part of this war right?)
Unfortunately, little of this reality shows up in media reports, especially electronic media. Instead shallowness reigns. This provides fertile ground for executive branch mischief.


  1. Hard to make comments when you fail to make outrageous statements. This all seems to be pretty true in my estimation.

  2. It's hard to be more outrageous than this administration. They are almost beyond parody.