Tuesday, April 24, 2007

When No News is Good News

Atrios reminds us of a piece Lawrence Kaplan wrote in TNR in March 2005 in which Kaplan suggested that there was a positive trend in Iraq that the press was ignoring. And of course, the first place I checked was Juan Cole’s archive from March 2005, where he also seemed oblivious to any such trend.

In fact, if you read it yourself, you’ll see Cole wrote of all sorts of political and military woes, both before and after Kaplan’s March 25 piece; as well as our government’s insistence on only allowing positive propaganda to be reported from Iraq. But then again, Cole always was one to ignore the importance of painting schools and rebuilding hospitals, and only seemed to focus more on insignificant details like death, destruction, and doom. Perhaps some day we’ll have to show Cole the School-Death conversion table, which shows that one painted school is worth twenty American soldiers or one hundred Iraqi civilians; even if the school gets shot-up the next day.

Unfortunately or not, TNR made Kaplan’s piece subscription-only, and seeing as how I stopped subscribing several years ago when their sanity was too obviously in doubt, I won’t be able to critique his whole piece. But there was one piece of “good news” Kaplan wrote that I wanted to focus on:

Civilians have begun killing terrorists.

That’s good news? I mean, I guess it could be. If I saw a news story that said that vigilantes had killed a terrorist group here in America, I’d be happy. But before I celebrated, I’d kind of want to see some proof that they really were terrorists, and to find out why these vigilantes were doing the killing, instead of the government. And I sure as hell wouldn’t take it as good news if this was a recurring event. One vigilante group stopping terrorists would be good. But as a nightly story, I’d start to have serious concerns about our safety, as well as the abilities of our government.

And in Iraq, what does that mean? When most of the terrorists are also Iraqi civilians, and there is often no clear distinction between “terrorists” and the vigilante groups themselves. And when even the Iraqi soldiers and police we’re training are often little more than death squads being armed to attack and kidnap their Iraqi enemies; as well as our own troops. And when the “terrorist” label can be used to justify the killing of innocent people.

But I’m sure Kaplan didn’t care in the least about any of this. And let’s not forget that this was all known at the time, and that history has been even less kind to Kaplan’s “trend”. As with most conservatives, his only concern is cherrypicking news to prove that his Big Picture is validated. And as long as they can find one piece of good news among a heap of horrible news, they’re happy. Even if the good news really isn’t so good either.

After all, if there is no good news, then it’s best to simply attack the people who deliver the news, and that’s all Kaplan was really trying to do. At a minimum, you’ll rally your side into ignoring the bad news; and you might even be able to persuade the news orgs to tonedown their negative news. And as far as strategies go, that’s one of the few that the Republicans have actually gotten to work. But as we’ve seen, even that’s not enough any more. Sometimes, it really does help to have some truth on your side.

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