Thursday, August 18, 2005

Essential and Invisible to the Eye

Michael Tucker (of Gunners Palace) has started blogging again and will be heading back to Iraq in a fortnight. He recently attended a Directors Guild of America discussion on how Iraq should be depicted in fiction such as in JAG or ER and was struck by the absurdity of the subject.

At risk of sounding like a TV critic, I can say that it was odd sitting in an airconditioned theatre watching fictional representations of a subject that is so close to me--knowing that in two weeks I'd be back in Baghdad. At the same time, I realized that in this war, like in any other, fiction will play an important role is shaping perceptions of the conflict. Will we get it right? Only time will tell.

Except that it isn't absurd. For most people, the depiction of war is all they will ever know of it. Fiction will be their reality. Because it is so important, one of the issues Hollywood is wrestling with is how to portray Iraq without discussing it. Tucker quotes a Hollywood Reporter  story "about a WGA moderated event in LA entitled 'Televison Goes to War' hosted by Michael Kinsley".

Panel moderator Michael Kinsley, editorial and opinion editor at the Los Angeles Times, suggested that the lack of explicit discussion of the politics of the war in Iraq among the main characters in "Over There" was in and of itself an anti-war statement given the show's gritty portrayal of the chaos and carnage enveloping those grunts. But Bochco and Gerolmo disagreed.

"It seems to me that if we make an overt political statement in 'Over There' about the war ... then immediately the debate becomes not only about policy, but it becomes about our politics, Chris' and mine, as opposed to a discussion or a provocation about the human consequences of war," Bochco said. "The moment we become overtly political, half the audience dismisses us and doesn't pay attention to us because they disagree with our politics. And the other half discuss us ... in the context of our political leanings. And that's just not what my goal is with this show."

Grit and chaos without a neat storyline may be an indictment of war, but Kinsley's logical error is to assume anti-war necessarily means anti-American. Sometimes the bad guy is the enemy and sometimes reality just sucks. Tucker relates a message he got from a friend in-theater in a private email. "Today there were two car bombs explosions in one bus station. I mean who could be there except poor people who can't afford to travel by taxis, buses drivers, or tea sellers. You know what I mean? It just really made me hopeless. I feel that this war made me grow old." The power of documentary coverage -- of journalism in its truest sense -- is that it makes you grow old by narrating events without a script. And maybe that's why Michael Tucker is headed for Iraq: because he wants to see how it will turn out without knowing the ending in advance.

Michael Yon's widely covered interview on radio (hat tip: Greyhawk) repeatedly revolved around the proposition that on-the-ground 'citizen journalists' were necessary to provide a balance to standard press coverage. If Kinsley believed in the necessity to convey reality through fiction, Yon believed in the necessity of keeping fiction from being passed off as reality. Greyhawk flags an incident will illustrates the debate -- the struggle over perception.

From the NY Times, August 15 2005:

Rosemary Goudreau, the editorial page editor of The Tampa Tribune, has received the same e-mail message a dozen times over the last year.

"Did you know that 47 countries have re-established their embassies in Iraq?" the anonymous polemic asks, in part. "Did you know that 3,100 schools have been renovated?"

"Of course we didn't know!" the message concludes. "Our media doesn't tell us!"

Ms. Goudreau's newspaper, like most dailies in America, relies largely on The Associated Press for its coverage of the Iraq war. So she finally forwarded the e-mail message to Mike Silverman, managing editor of The A.P., asking if there was a way to check these assertions and to put them into context. Like many other journalists, Mr. Silverman had also received a copy of the message.

Ms. Goudreau's query prompted an unusual discussion last month in New York at a regular meeting of editors whose newspapers are members of The Associated Press. Some editors expressed concern that a kind of bunker mentality was preventing reporters in Iraq from getting out and explaining the bigger picture beyond the daily death tolls.

"The bottom-line question was, people wanted to know if we're making progress in Iraq," Ms. Goudreau said, and the A.P. articles were not helping to answer that question.

The interesting thing is that the battle for perception would never have occurred without the emergence of a competing meme. For the first time in the history of the mass media, some of the coverage is about the coverage.


Blogger Doug said...

"For the first time in the history of the mass media, some of the coverage is about the coverage. "
The MSM have always liked to talk about themselves, as though that is useful substance.
We can have some useful, substantive, CRITICISM!

8/18/2005 05:30:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

As Rush Limbaugh says, you know that the media have run out of things to say about a story when they start covering how they cover it.
In this case there is plenty more to the story, but they have exhausted their supply of bad things to say.

8/18/2005 06:13:00 AM  
Blogger Tony said...


"For the first time in the history of the mass media, some of the coverage is about the coverage. "

Not exactly.

The message of any medium or technology is the change of scale
or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs. The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure. This happened whether the railway functioned in a tropical or northern environment, and is quite independent of the freight or content of the railway medium. (Understanding Media, N. Y., 1964, p. 8)

News, far more than art, is artifact.

“I may be wrong, but I’m never in doubt.”

You mean my whole fallacy’s wrong?

8/18/2005 06:34:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

If you are lucky "Combat!" with Vic Marrow can be seen on Cable TV. Now there was a televison show worth the watching.

8/18/2005 07:11:00 AM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

You mean the Combat where all the country roads and the streets were perfectly manicured? I think you (considering your nom de plume) must be referring to "The Rat Patrol", where German hand grenades would explode at someone's feet and not hurt anyone, and the U.S. hand grenades would always kill at least 5 Germans, no matter how far away they landed!

On a serious note, there are no more "embedded" reporters, at least from major news agencies, are there? That is one thing that is needed here.

8/18/2005 07:19:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Conmbat! was based on the European Theater, where everything is nicely manicured.
"Rat Patrol", now that was one of the FINEST tv war show productions of all time. Those guys could take out a Tiger Tank with a 30 caliber machine gun. They knew their tactical limitations were, in reality, just the perceptions of their imagination.
Totally awesome, helo. Do not see that particular show on cable, yet. I'm not sure they had enough on the air time to float a syndication deal.

8/18/2005 07:31:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

One thing I do find interesting, the MSM describe the chaos of Iraq.
The Helo driver describes an Iraq operating at pre-war levels of infrastructure or better.

The case for withdrawal is better made by the helo drivers report, than the MSM's. Proof positive that the Authorization of Use of Force goals have been achieved.

Makes one wonder what the REAL goals of the MSM are, if there are any at all.
Victory or Defeat seem not to matter to the MSM, just the theme of the day.

8/18/2005 07:40:00 AM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

There is a gilded lens that is used by any media outlet. I remember seeing a local event first hand and amazed how the depiction of it in the media seemed not to resemble any thing that I had witnessed. The correspondent, armed with certain facts beforehand, is already bound by his prejudices. The story is filled in with foreknowledge of it’s form.

Human nature I suppose?

Kinsley is the least apt to tell any such story. Local talk show host have labeled the LA Times the Baghdad Times in it's stead.

8/18/2005 07:58:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Paine said...

Yes, Media Masturbation is the main so-far-unsolved strategic problem of this war.

“Media people” clearly don’t report what's really going on -- because they don’t have a clue about what’s going on. So instead, they report their own opinions, their own prejudices, and their own ignorance. And for that, they don’t need anyone else, just a good fantasy.

Jay Rosen (NYU journo prof) said recently that the real problem with “investigative reporting” is that so little of it is actually being done -- because the media has forgotten how to do it. Mark Steyn said that the media’s “guild mentality” has reached the point that it’s strangled essential skills -- even including “the nose for a story”. Both correct.

Maybe this development is due to lefty prejudice, maybe not. But it IS a no-longer-excusable FAILURE to keep the public informed. We are three years into this war and the media generally still haven’t figured out how to report on it. Most outlets are still almost exclusively doing “police blotter reporting” –- a lazy daily litany of “bombs, bodies, and blood” coupled with a complete failure to give any context whatever.

If the CIA was as incompetent at keeping the president informed as the media has been at keeping the public informed, we’d tear it down and start over.

And with luck, “tearing it down” is what’s starting to happen. It better be, because this war against the Islamic-Fascists is not going to end in Iraq, it’s generational, and it’ll morph in ways that require actual background knowledge and real reporting skills – not just a pretty face, smooth voice, and “good hair”.

8/18/2005 08:03:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Is Kingsley still at the LA Times? I was told he quit/was fired last month, after the Editor in Chief quit/was fired. The owners in Chicago are irate over drastically declining subscription numbers. Seems more and more people refuse to pay for the privilege of being lied to.

8/18/2005 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger John Aristides said...

If I were the business manager for the New York Times, I would be gobbling up Michael Yon and Michael Tucker, and Wretchard for that matter. For big media conglomerates, these men represent the face of the enemy. They are the wave of the future.

Much like Ebay quit competing with PayPal and finally bought it out and absorbed it, giant media, if they are smart, will do the same with these brave independents that eschew the bunker and guild mentality.

When the market gets rough, there is always a flight to quality. For the MSM, I think we will see only stormy seas ahead. And my goodness, do they ever need quality.

8/18/2005 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Aristedes outlines a field of opportunity:
Stay Tuned!

8/18/2005 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger buddy larsen said...

Trish, you're right--MASH isn't funny. In fact it's embarrassing to realize that we were laughing at it back then because we were stupid little smart-ass ingrates.

8/18/2005 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Abakan said...

I spend 2 to 3 hours a day trying to sample enough sources to find a small degree of confidence that I am seeing a complete picture in Iraq. On days where this kind of time consuming pain staking collection of the perceptions of others are impossible, I am confident that I can say nothing at all about what's going on in Iraq.

On those days when I have little time I am reduced to sampling all of the cable news outlets in five and ten minutes blocks at work, listening to the radio during commutes, reading emails from contacts now serving in Iraq, and if I can hitting a few of the Iraq blogs.

The real disappointment for me is that every day I have conversations with people at work and online who are absolutely sure that they know what's going on based on a single reading of a single article in a single newspaper, or a few minutes from the radio on the way to work.

It's absurd. I talked to a college educated woman only yesterday who talked for nearly 30 minutes telling me exactly what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. I kept asking her over and over. Are you sure what you are saying is true?

The only problem is that I've known her for years and she is a proud consumer of facts from a single news source. She isn't just proud to be a single source consumer, she actually believes that my efforts to sample as many sources of perception as I can find produces a distorted sense of the world.

She chooses only the news that tells her exactly what she believes is true.

8/18/2005 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger erp said...

david bennett. Citing links to what we usually refer to as the biased leftwing media doesn't do much to support your premise.

NahnCee. Last I heard Kingsley was demoted, but he may have been booted out entirely by now.

8/18/2005 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger al fin said...

Perhaps the media was always populated by circularly masturbating whores and twits. Certainly that is the case now.

Thanks to GW Bush and the Iraq war of liberation, the cm whores and twits have come out in the open where everyone can see them clearly. The blogosphere is here now, and is shining very bright floodlights on the cm whores and twits. They have nowhere to hide, so now they try to bluff it out. Too bad for them.

8/18/2005 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger Karridine said...

Not OT, more like a peripheral/tangential...

This link

has some EXCELLENT thinking about
"Thinking About Intelligence"

Correct me if I'm wrong.

"..Justice... by its light, thou shalt know of thine OWN knowing, and not through the knowledge of others..."

8/18/2005 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger GraysonHill said...

Of course, it's a polemic. Not a grievance or a statement. A polemic.

8/19/2005 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger Abakan said...

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Masked gunmen killed three Sunni Arabs in front of horrified witnesses outside a mosque in Mosul on Friday, after grabbing them as they hung posters urging fellow Sunnis to vote in a referendum on the new constitution.

As the Monday deadline to finish the constitution approaches, Sunni Arabs and some Shiites rallied in Baghdad and elsewhere to protest calls for a federated state — a demand of the Kurds and the biggest Shiite party but a key stumbling block to an agreement on the charter.

Talks continued into Saturday morning with U.S. officials intensifying pressure on the Kurds to accept Shiite and Sunni demands for a greater role of Islam in government and to abandon their demand for the right to secede, Kurdish officials said.

The three members of Iraq's largest Sunni Arab political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, were seized in a Mosul neighborhood where they were promoting voter registration for the Oct. 15 referendum on the new constitution, said party official Nouredine al-Hayali.

They were driven to another neighborhood, shoved against a wall near the Dhi al-Nourein mosque and shot dead while more masked gunmen blocked off a major street, witnesses said. The gunmen then fled in three cars, leaving the bodies behind.

It was the second armed attack in as many days against Sunni Arabs participating in the U.S.-backed political process, despite threats from insurgents and al-Qaida's wing in Iraq.

On Thursday, masked gunmen burst into the Sunni grand mosque in Ramadi, 135 miles south of Mosul, as religious, political, and tribal leaders were discussing the constitutional process. The gunmen demanded the meeting end and then opened fire, said Omar Seri, secretary of the governor of Anbar province.

Three members of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars and a bodyguard were injured, Seri said.

Many Sunni Arabs are considering taking part in the constitutional referendum after having boycotted the Jan. 30 national election ballot — a move that left the once- dominate community with few seats in a parliament dominated by Shiites and Kurds.

In recent weeks, various Sunni groups have been urging fellow Sunnis to vote in the referendum and a general election planned for December. The voter-registration deadline is Sept. 1.

The United States believes the key to defeating the Sunni-dominated insurgency is to encourage an inclusive political process that would encourage disaffected Sunni Arabs to lay down arms.

The entire process hinges on the success of the drafting committee in producing a constitution acceptable to all Iraqi communities by Monday's deadline. If parliament approves the draft, it goes to voters for ratification in October.

However, negotiations in the heavily guarded Green Zone have bogged down over such issues as federalism, distribution of Iraq's oil wealth, the role of Islam and Kurdish demands for the right to secede — a stand that goes beyond mere federalism.

Kurdish negotiators, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, told The Associated Press the Americans were pressing Kurds to accept Shiite and Sunni demands for a greater role for Islam at the expense of women's rights and civil liberties.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said he was not aware of results of the latest round of talks. If the Kurdish claims are true, it would appear the United States wants to please the Shiite majority in order to get a draft charter by the deadline. Kurds make up between 15 and 20 percent of Iraq's population, compared to an estimated 60 percent for the Shiites.

Last Monday, parliament voted unanimously to grant a one-week extension to finish the draft. Under the interim constitution, however, parliament must be dissolved if the draft is not completed by this final deadline.

Federalism appears to be the most contentious issue, drawing opposition not only from Sunni Arabs but also from some factions in the majority Shiite community. Opponents fear it would lead to the breakup of the country.

About 1,000 people including Sunnis and Shiite followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rallied in two Baghdad districts Friday, waving Iraqi and Shiite flags and chanting "No to separation, yes to unity."

A similar rally including Sunnis and Shiites was staged in the religiously mixed city of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

"After all, we are one united people whether we are Sunnis or Shiites, Kurds or Arabs," Hazim al-Aaraji, another al-Sadr aide, told worshippers in a Shiite mosque in Baghdad's Kazimiyah district during Friday prayers.

At a Sunni mosque across town, Sheik Ali Khudr al-Zand warned his congregation not to accept any constitution "that would rip away the unity of the nation."

Elsewhere, residents of Rawah, a Euphrates River town 175 miles northwest of Baghdad, reported gunfire Friday night between U.S. forces and insurgents. No other details were available.

Much of the final-stage constitution bargaining has been conducted among parliamentary leaders, which has placed the Sunnis at a disadvantage because of their weak numbers in the legislature.

The 15 Sunnis on the committee chose four of their number to represent them in the leadership meetings: Saleh al-Mutlaq, an agronomist; Ayad al-Samarai, a mechanical engineer; Kamal Hamdoun, former chairman of the Iraqi Bar Association; and Haseeb Aref, a political science professor.

Although the four are highly educated, they lack the political stature of their Shiite and Kurdish counterparts who won their mandate in elections. The Sunni negotiators answer to a loose association of about 70 tribal and political leaders; that raises questions about their ability to accept compromises that might be a hard sell within their community.

The Shiites and Kurds have their own factional differences. The biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has called for a Shiite federal state in central and southern Iraq, including the southern oil fields.

However, the Shiite Dawa Party of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is cool to federalism. Kurds say their demand for the right of secession was pushed by their regional parliament in Irbil, not by the Kurdish negotiators in Baghdad.

In other developments Friday:

• A roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy in the capital, injuring one civilian.

• Insurgents assassinated a city council member in the northern city of Hawija. Police said gunmen ambushed the councilman, Aswad Omar Nayef, en route to Kirkuk. Insurgents have killed dozens of government and local officials.

• One Iraqi policeman was killed in a pre-dawn raid in the Washash district of Baghdad.

The absurd component of this whole perspective based view of the world is that it must struggle with stories like this which clearly show that Sunnis are actively engaged in urging other Sunnis to vote, to become actively engaed in a political process and are being killed my masked thugs.

Yet many here insist on decribing that our presence is an occupation even though it ceased to be an occupation the moment the Coalition Provisional Authority in Bagdad disbanded after a constitutional body was elected.

It's all about words isn't it. It is all about news that you choose to ignore.

Further, if you take apart the above article you will find that the protesters were actually protesting the notion of the establishment of Iraq as federal state.

Also, you should note that the role of US officials was described in this way. "U.S. officials intensifying pressure on the Kurds to accept Shiite and Sunni demands for a greater role of Islam in government and to abandon their demand for the right to secede, Kurdish officials said."

I imagine this will make many Belmonteers uneasy. I personally find the 'and' in this sentence a bit misleading since the right for the Kurds to secede, and the desire for a greater role for Islam are clearly two separate issues.

One point that may be lost is that someone was killed because they were encouraging the act of voting.

The bottom line is that the news continues to be sloppy, devoid of real context, and misleading.

8/20/2005 01:39:00 AM  
Blogger Abakan said...

I should have separated the news story above from my comments. So, just to be clear I think the story above doesn't answer many important questions. I want to know much, much more about Sunnis killed by masked gunmen while hanging posters urging other Sunnis to vote. Why would I have to wait for it?

Further, I think that the rally attended by Sunni Arabs and 'some' Shiites in Bagdad and 'elsewhere' deserves just a bit more specificity. I wonder if the lack of specificity is the result of complete incompetency or by design.

Should I take from the story that Kurds are of common mind and want to secede, and want a decreased role for Islam in the constitutional process? I find that hard to believe. I think I need a bit more background.

Why in the hell do I learn in paragraphs 4,5,and 6 that the victims described in the first paragraph are members of "Iraq's largest Sunni Arab political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party"
and get more details of their murder? Why would a story be edited in this fashion?

Its a bit weird to splice news headlines from Thurday almost randomly into Friday isn't it?

Why don't we just put all related information from each of the incidents in serial fashion. Perhaps attach Thurdays news at the end to recap?

I love how they splice the following into a discussion of the constitution process, "Elsewhere, residents of Rawah, a Euphrates River town 175 miles northwest of Baghdad, reported gunfire Friday night between U.S. forces and insurgents. No other details were available."

When it gets this bad, it is by design.

8/20/2005 03:04:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger