Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Their Finest Hour?

Hugh Hewitt interviewed Michael Ware today about his job as a war correspondent for Time magazine in Iraq. Some of it reminded he of an old soldier telling some green corporal about "the things these old eyes have seen"--sort of like the narrator in Gunda Din, the great poem by Rudyard Kipling.

Of course, Ware isn't that old, but he seems to have seen a lot and built up a list of exploits that would impress anybody. If he'd ridden horses on these exploits, they'd have been shot out from under him. There's no doubt that he has taken some hairy risks in order to report on the the insurgents as well as the Coalition.

What bothered me about his attitude toward the war, which seems quite negative, is that he doesn't seem to have any basis for judging it a failure. He spouts lists of our failures without any concept of how long the transformation we are trying to bring should take. He stated that he hadn't been there under Saddam, so how could he know whether things are better or worse than what went before? This is quite surprising, considering the times I've heard journalists talk about "context." Three years in and we haven't turned Iraq from a broken down thugocracy into a model of democracy yet?! Yes, Zarqawi is still at large and there are a variety of groups out for revenge, power, civil war, etc., but is that a reason to give up--to abandon what we've accomplished? We are working toward the goal of a government amenable to its people and an Iraqi Army and Security Force capable of dealing with such groups, and we're seeing that happen, but you'd never know it from our largest newspapers and TV news networks.

I wonder if he'd ever spent any time just traveling around to various towns to see what the soldiers not engaged in shootouts with resistance guerillas are doing. He seemed dismissive of the military. He definitely didn't seem too interested in our efforts to rebuild the infrastructure and economy of the country. Not enough adrenaline, or just the knowledge that anything he wrote about the peaceful things going on would never get published.

He's worked hard to form what CNN describes as "exclusive access to the Iraqi insurgents, spending months with them for [a Time magazine] cover story." Well, he knew he could get a cover story out of it, didn't he. But what else did that story do besides provide a sympathetic portrait of these people. He admitted that he'd received death threats for publicizing a tape of Zarqawi he'd gotten hold of. And he claimed that he had written his reports in such a way as not to make himself into a target, but without lowering his journalistic standards. Yeah, right.

Hugh asked him at one point if he didn't see these fighters as the bad guys, since they were bombing innocent civilians and policemen, and he sidestepped the question, with the suggestion that if he said yes, his ability to continue reporting might be endangered. The thing is, that people here in the U.S. do see these people as bad guys, with the exception of the Chomskyites who think that any enemy of America is a noble freedom fighter. To the extent one feels that he has to be careful in how he writes so as not to make the terrorists angry is not objective anymore no matter what he says.

Another thing that struck me was his "us versus them" attitude toward the military, as though he were in competition with it somehow. He has to have picked that up from other journalists, since he wasn't trained for journalism but for law. It seems de rigeur for journalists to believe that anything from the government or military HQ is a lie. He emphasized the number of lies he'd been told by our military. Is this just to dramatize his own superior news-gathering skill, or just an anti-establishment bias?

Update: Wow! The transcript is already up at Radioblogger. Nice work, Generalissimo!

Hugh has made this a symposium topic with some specific questions. I didn't address them specifically above but I will below:

Q: Is Michael Ware doing a good job as a journalist?

AST: There's a big difference between what journalists think their job is and what I think it is. In their view, it's to tell the stories the government doesn't want told. He's probably doing that. In my view, the job is to give readers and viewers a real feel for how the war is going for our side, and I think they're failing badly.

Q: Is he helping or hurting the effort to pacify Iraq and help it towards stable democracy?

AST: I think that Time-Life Inc. is hurting our efforts by making stories like this one its magazine cover stories. The whole point of terrorism is to attract attention, theoretically to a groups goals and demands, and to incite fear. To the extent these groups are given publicity, they are encouraged to keep at it. Ware isn't an American, but he's an Australian and his fellow Aussies are fighting to defeat these criminals. If these tactics were being used by Arabs in Australia, I doubt that he'd see them as colorful warriors, because at home he'd see them as criminals. To me that's all they are.

Q: Should Time recall him? Should there be a time limit on all journalists in a theater of conflict like Iraq?

AST: What's the point? They'd just send someone just like him in to take his place. The problem is with the publication and its editors, not necessarily with Mike Ware. He's trying to get his reports published. They're the ones who demand that they contain moral equivalence. Meet the new guy. Same as the old guy.

I have to like the guy. He talks like Crocodile Dundee and he looks like his nose was shoved to one side in a rugby scrum or a bar fight. He's tough and hard driving, and I doubt the fairness of putting all the blame on him. He's a creature of those he works for. You can't blame him for writing what he knows will get printed.

But all of that just emphasizes what's wrong with our press and television news. They're so worried about looking American that they practically root against us. They are entitled to criticize the war if they want to, but they have no right to shade their reporting, and lend comfort to the criminals in Iraq.


At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I listened to Hugh's coverage of the interview. I read your comments. I would say that I appreciate the bias that you both say he has - just as both of you have a pro-war bias. I was very unimpressed with the analogies that Hugh used - comparing Ware's journalism to traveling behind enemy lines to Nazi Germany or trying to trap him with an analogy between prewar Iraq and Stalinist Russia.

And how may times have we cringed when the left compares Iraq to the Vietnam conflict?

Ware's reporting is valuable because is it more information about a conflict that will shape US foreign policy for the next 20 years.

At 6:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No basis for judging it a failure? You are kidding right? No wonder you Bushies have lost all credibility on Iraq: you simply refuse to acknowledge reality, in favor of some pro-war spin.

Let's see: insurgent attacks at the same rate as last year and two years ago; morphing of disgruntled Ba'athist soldiers into a domestic insurgency; multiple kidnappings of the lucky reporter . . . these are signs of success in your mind?

You obviously miss what I think are the two most important points of his interview. First implicit point: without some first hand understanding of the structures and motivations of the various forces sowing mayhem in Iraq (the Sunni insurgency, the Baathists, the foreign al Queda operatives), we cannot know HOW to fight them or turn them, if possible. Indeed, how do you fight for the hearts and minds of the people, if you don't know what is in their heart or on their minds? This type of intell. is precisely what has been sorely missing in the Bushies grotesque mishandling of the Iraq situation.

Which leads me to his second explicit point: if the US military had ANY problem with what he was doing (i.e., wandering the streets of Iraq, meeting with anyone and everyone and reporting his findings), do you think they (a) might have arrested him, or (b) at least denied him inbed privileges? C'mon, people. THINK! Ware has risked his ASS both with the troops and in the streets. It is easy for Bush apologists to sit in their "comfy offices", as Ware put it, and tut-tut about what he should or should not be doing, where he should or should not meet with, and his "appropriate" posture for reporting. By reporting what he sees, he gains the trust and confidence of the Iraqi insurgency . . gee, do you think THAT might be useful to us at some point? Further, by telling it like it is, he also gains the confidence of the US troops. They know where he is coming from, obviously, otherwise he would be a pariah among the soldiers. Clearly he is not.

In short, if the people on the ground have no problem with what he is doing (and I have no evidence that they do), then neither Hewitt or any US based blogger has any moral authority to pass judgment on Michael Ware. I say: keep safe, keep reporting, and Godspeed, Michael. You are a braver man than I am!

At 8:51 PM, Blogger AST said...

Point taken. It was kind of odd that Ware didn't seem to think he should know any history, though.

The real point, though, isn't so much whether we support the war as whether the news media are giving us sufficient information to know how it's going. I don't think so.

Here's an example. If we didn't live in America and saw the L.A. riots after the Rodney King verdict, we might imagine that it looked that way all across America.

The interview did exemplify the way foreign correspondents view their jobs. They love the image of heading into danger, hell bent for leather, taking chances "to get the story," etc. Remember Dan Rather going into Aghanistan with the mujahadeen? Posing in native costume. Rugged. Handsome.

Have you ever noticed how, when archeologists discuss societies they study, they bend over backward not to be judgmental? The Aztecs would sacrifice thousands of captives at their temples by carving their hearts out and throwing the bodies down the steps, but we aren't supposed to think of that as a bad thing? The same thing is at work in the news business. These 'insurgents' set off bombs in the midst of crowds of pilgrims, and we're not even supposed to call them terrorists. The adage that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter just baffles me.

Terrorists kill civilians because they know they can't stand up to the military. Their whole strategy is to cause so much carnage that the enemy will get tired of it and leave. Hey, it worked in Vietnam! And when we left the "freedom fighters" came in and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people as collaborators and threw more hundreds of thousands into re-education camps.

Anybody who helped us or worked to establish democracy in Iraq would be butchered, if the terrorists win, just as Saddam killed hundreds of thousands of Marsh Arabs and Kurds when they were "insurgents." But Ware doesn't seem to care about what these people he's getting friendly with would do if they succeed. He wants to impress his editors and fellow reporters, and that kind of reporting does it. They think it's more objective to show what it's like on the other side of the lines.

I think Ware is a smart, gutsy guy. He's practicing journalism as his employers want him to. I don't really condemn him personally so much as see him as an example of what our media wants us to read. They want detachment, but that quickly turns into moral equivalency, and they don't seem to get it. It's the product of the postmodern intellectualism that doesn't believe in good or evil, right or wrong, with the exception that all underdogs are the good guys.

At 2:53 AM, Blogger AST said...


Thanks for commenting.

We've deposed their dictator and killed his sons, captured most of his top level officials. He's being tried before an Iraqi court. They've had free elections. They have more freedom than they've had for 30 years. They're gradually assuming the role of defending their own country. Those aren't failures.

As to your "implicit point," I don't see any evidence that Ware's reporting is helping us fight these people. He's not about to give us any militarily useful information about them because if he did, he'd be dead.

Your comment demonstrates one of the major reasons for criticizing the press. You wrote: By reporting what he sees, he gains the trust and confidence of the Iraqi insurgency . . gee, do you think THAT might be useful to us at some point?

Sure, maybe after the war is over and these guys are dead or have given up.
But having him give their message to our populace in our media is not the way to make that happen. He doesn't care if we win this war. He's a journalist -- above all that "good guy bad guy nonsense." Wouldn't want to appear to be taking sides, after all.
That's the kind of moral equivalence that saps our confidence and resolve.

He and Time are free to print whatever they like, but then so are we who think they're hurting our cause and making our task harder.


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