Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Media Spectacle

Sunday, Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, mindless cheerleaders for the Iraq War since day zero, published an op-ed in the New York Times, cheerleading for the Iraq War. In it, they described themselves as a critics of the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, the better to highlight their "good news".

Monday, the right-wing, corporate News Media catapulted the propaganda, and the blogosphere divided.

Glenn Greenwald, at Salon summarized:
I spent yesterday and today reading through virtually all of the writings and interviews of these two Brookings geniuses over the past four years concerning Iraq. There is no coherence or consistency to anything they say. It shifts constantly. They say whatever they need to say at the moment to justify the war for which they bear responsibility. It is exactly like reading through the writings of Bill Kristol, Tom Friedman and every other individual who flamboyantly supported this disaster and -- motivated solely by salvaging their own reputations -- are desperate to find some method to argue that they were right.

Even though I write frequently about how broken and corrupt our establishment media is, witnessing these two war lovers -- supporters of the invasion, advocates of the Surge, comrades of Fred Kagan -- mindlessly depicted all day yesterday by media mouthpieces as the opposite of what they are was really quite startling. After all, there is a record as long as it is clear demonstrating what they really are.

But in order to maximize the potency of their propagandistic Op-Ed, they proclaimed themselves to be "analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq" and -- just like that -- Americans hear all day about the magical and dramatic conversion of these deeply skeptical war opponents who were forced by the Grand Success they witnessed first-hand in Iraq, as much as they hate to do it, to admit oh-so-reluctantly that the Surge really is working! Well, if even these Howard-Dean-like War Opponents say it, it must be true. That was the leading "news" story all day yesterday.

I caught several carefully measured reactions at various magazine websites. George Packer, author of the Assassins Gate, and a recovering supporter of the war himself, wrote a note at the New Yorker, which basically invited people to consider whether O'Hanlon and Pollack, in their visit to Iraq, had been brainwashed by a carefully orchestrated dog-and-pony show, but concluded with this cya boilerplate paragraph:

O’Hanlon and Pollack have long been critics of the war. They are serious analysts and have nothing to gain by supporting the strategy of an Administration that they say has “lost essentially all credibility.” I don’t doubt that they believe what they saw and heard and wrote, and I’m certain that some of the gains they describe are real. I would like to know more about what they didn’t see and hear. At the heart of arguments over the war there has always been the question of what’s happening “on the ground.” It’s never been harder to find out than it is now, and in my experience, no news is generally bad news. Over the past four years, Iraq has humbled a lot of people. What’s missing from the Op-Ed is a necessary humility.

Matthew Yglesias, young and naive over at the Atlantic Monthly, initially snarked with abandon:

Meanwhile, it's worth noting the incentives that O'Hanlon and Pollack face. If they bow to reality and say the US should move rapidly to start cutting our losses in Iraq, then they're people who advocated in favor of a disastrous policy and this'll be bad for their careers. If, by contrast, they say the surge is looking good, and then work together with Bush administration officials and The Weekly Standard to construct a stab in the back narrative about Iraq, then they can hope to salvage their professional reputations at the expense of liberals.

(of course, haha, that's to imply that the policy analysis put forward by Brookings Institution foreign policy program people might be influenced by crass careerism rather than Very Serious Expertise but that's absurd, right, after all Very Serious People are above such things)

But, later in the day, Matthew was spanked by Jon Chait at The New Republic and Ross Douthat at his own Atlantic Monthly, and had to show humility. What did Jon Chait have to say?

Jon said:
It's hard for me to evaluate whether their argument is correct, but the on-the-ground evidence they present from their recent trip to Iraq deserves to be treated seriously.

In other words, Jon can't be troubled to be the least bit critical, but he knows that these Brookings guys are serious.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent at Horse's Mouth documents how the Associated Press has transmuted this one op-ed into a general narrative of critics seeing military progress in Iraq. And, how Anthony Cordesman's pessimistic, but very cautiously worded report on the same trip as O'Hanlon and Pollack, has been reported by the Washington Post as optimistic.

No comments:

Post a Comment