Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Meme: The media ignores good news

This is not a new meme per se. When Bush was gearing up for his second bid, the White House downplayed the growing insurgency with claims that the media was only reporting the bad news. This worked great with the base of the Republican party that thinks that the press is too liberal. Besides distrust of the press is not exclusive to conservatives, liberals often claim that the press is in the back pocket of right wing corporate interests.

The beauty of this meme is its simplicity. It relies on assumptions of the major media outlets' political biases that are firmly entrenched in the target audience and thus puts a filter onto their eyes. If there is a bombing reported the response of those infected with the meme will be "why aren't they reporting on the schools that have opened." In essence the worse the news gets the more one's views of the shamelessness of the media and the strides made in the war are strengthened.

It is an interesting approach to spinning the news which some are all too eager to take up. Instead of trying to make lemons out of lemonade when the Golden Dome Mosque's dome was obliterated by saying this will spur on the formation of a coalition government, now every car bombing is diminished into the same old news. The picture that the meme creates of the media is of lazy liberals drinking cocktails in the green zone waiting for the next bomb to go off so they can distort reality.

The problem with this meme and why it probably won't last beyond the November elections is for one, it ignores reality. The fact that Jill Carroll was released from captivity after several months of being threatened with murder belies the idea that reporters are completely safe to report from the streets and should focus on good news. There is an insurgency that is killing civilians, a low level civil war between sectarian militias, an internecine conflict developing among the Shia, a stalled political process and members of al Qaeda training in Iraq and traveling to parts unknown.

amongst all this there are schools and hospitals being opened which is good news. There is also a shortage of good teachers and physicians since many have left the country over security concerns, which is bad news. Very rarely does one consider the nuances involved. As it has been pointed out a reporter can look ridiculous if their positive report is aired at an inopportune time.

Yet that is another threat to this meme. One of the memes intended or unintended consequences (depending on your political leanings) is that reporters are likely to bend over backwards to do positive portrayals. In the next few weeks Fox won't be the only networks still showing pictures of the chocolate and roses era right after the fall of Baghdad media will take up this positive agenda to show they are not beholden to any agenda. It is very likely that any school they show will be targeted as happens now (part of the reason the State Department doesn't allow too many positive stories to be filmed), positive stories are going to turn negative very soon. The next meme may be the media is covering these events to tip off the terrorists.

Finally the main reason this meme isn't long for this world is the Bush administration itself. If they truly want to follow through with the Middle East transformation strategy than it will take decades of sectarian reconciliation and economic assistance for Iraq to even be a stable proto-democracy. There are centuries of old wounds and tribal conflicts to work through and basic problems of demographics and the location of oil reserves. If the meme truly took hold and its corollary that things are going far better that is being reported than there would be pressure to withdraw. Put simply Bush is in a Catch-22 if the American people believe things are going well they will see no reason to stay. If the American people think things are going poorly they may want to cut their loses.

This meme will have outlived its usefulness if the Republicans maintain control of the House and Senate if they lose control it won't matter. This meme resonates best with those who know service people in Iraq, assuming they are in relatively quiet areas. The soldiers and marines I know were in heavy fire areas and are pretty pessimistic. This also resonates with the widows, orphans and armchair hawks. The more people die the more important it is to see a positive outcome. A few people close to the family have died in this war and I am comfortable with them dying in a pointless cause. Wars have been successful in delaying future wars but have rarely prevented war. Diplomacy and communal interaction has done that. On that front there is no good news.

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