Tuesday, February 06, 2007

On Journalism 1101

Okay, so I’m not the biggest fan of the news media and haven’t been for quite some time. I can’t watch press gaggles for the lack of pertinent followup questions and the obedient – nay, enthusiastic – consumption of government crap. They push the idea that dissent is treason, that to call Tony Snow or even Dubya himself on a load of what is obviously pure bovine excrement is somehow un-American, that the truth will endanger our troops far more than everything the administration is currently doing to them. Not to mention the constant and inexplicable fellating of such figures as Joe Lieberman and John McCain as the Next Big Ones among statesmen and the advancement of patently false rumors like “Hillary’s campaign leaks that Barack Obama is a Muslim! OOGABOOGA!

That’s why it was downright pleasant to see Dan Froomkin (and thanks to Glenn Greenwald for the nudge) actually put down in writing what the press can do to – What is it called again? What are we looking for? Do their job. Froomkin puts down in writing all the ways the press can do their job and honor their responsibility to act as more than government mouthpieces with helmet-hair.

The whole thing is really worth a read, but here are a few of my favorite highlights:
How the press can prevent another Iraq

Ooh, good start.
Don’t assume anything administration officials tell you is true. In fact, you are probably better off assuming anything they tell you is a lie.

February 1, 2007:
WSJ: Was there a moment in the war when you said we have to make a major change in the way we’re doing things in Iraq?
GWB: Yes, there was.
WSJ: When was that?
GWB: September/October.
October 25, 2006:
QUESTION: Are we winning?
BUSH: Absolutely we’re winning. … We’re winning and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done. And the crucial battle, right now, is Iraq.
Just because they say it, doesn’t mean it should be make the headlines. The absence of supporting evidence for their assertion -- or a preponderance of evidence that contradicts the assertion -- may be more newsworthy than the assertion itself.

January 25, 2007:
In an interview, Pelosi also said she was puzzled by what she considered the president's minimalist explanation for his confidence in the new surge of 21,500 U.S. troops that he has presented as the crux of a new "way forward" for U.S. forces in Iraq.

"He's tried this two times — it's failed twice," the California Democrat said. "I asked him at the White House, 'Mr. President, why do you think this time it's going to work?' And he said, 'Because I told them it had to.' "

Asked if the president had elaborated, she added that he simply said, " 'I told them that they had to.' That was the end of it. That's the way it is."
Demand to know what happens if the war (or tactical strike) doesn’t go as planned?

February 4, 2007:
STEPHANOPOULOS: And in fact, your resolution lays out benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet. But critics of it say there are no consequences spelled out if they don’t meet these goals. There’s no teeth.

MCCAIN: Well, the consequences are obvious. I mean, if they’re not meeting those benchmarks, then obviously the new strategy isn’t succeeding. And I can’t tell you what the other options are, because there are no good options to this. If there was a good option to what we’re doing, to sending more young Americans in harm’s way, I’d tell you. They’re all bad options, in my view, if this one isn’t supported and succeeds
Demand to know what happens if it does? What happens after “victory”?

Keep an eye on how advocates of war frame the arguments. Don’t buy into those frames unless you think they’re fair.

Keep a particular eye out for the no-lose construction. For example: If we can’t find evidence of WMD, that proves Saddam is hiding them.

January 29, 2007:
MR. SNOW: ... But, more importantly, you've got ask yourself, what do you really want. If you want American forces out of Iraq, probably the best way to do that is to support the President and support the combatant commanders in doing what they say they need. We have seen already, in the wake of the President's announcing a new way forward, a shift in the way people are behaving in Iraq. We have seen -- apparently some terror groups are making their ways out of Baghdad. … It is important to realize that withdrawal from Iraq without success means that the President would be handing his successor failure. And failure could have dire consequences.
Give voice to the skeptics; don’t marginalize and mock them.

Listen to and quote the people who got it right last time: The intelligence officials, state department officials, war-college instructors and many others who predicted the problem we are now facing, but who were largely ignored.

February 3, 2007:
In a letter to the Sunday Times newspaper, the three former officers urged President Bush to open talks, “without preconditions,” with the Iranian government in a bid to find a diplomatic solution.

The signatories were retired Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard, a senior military fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington, D.C.; retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, former head of U.S. Central Command; and Vice Adm. Jack Shanahan, former director of the Center for Defense Information.

The officers said an attack “would have disastrous consequences for security in the region, coalition forces in Iraq and would further exacerbate regional and global tensions.”

“The current crisis must be resolved through diplomacy,” they said.
Historically, the real motives for wars have often not been the public motives. Try to report on the motivations of the key advocates for war.

Don’t assume that the administration is being forthright about its motives.

I think it’s excellent. I think this is the sort of thing you e-mail to members of the White House press corps who are all to enthusiastic to swallow obvious lies, or to Fox News anchors who… say things on the air. To Chris Matthews. To Tucker Carlson. To Bill Kristol. To Joe Klein. It’s the sort of thing you print out and frame and mail to all of your reporter friends and maybe even to your local paper if their accuracy and journalistic integrity isn’t what it should be.

And if you’re a reporter, particularly one in Washington, it’s the sort of thing you should print out and staple gun to your own forehead. Or get it scarred onto the inside of your wrist like Lindsey Lohan. Or stick it onto the back of the guy who sits in front of you in the newsroom. Because you people are starting to suck, and I don’t like it. Stop sucking.

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