Sunday, June 24, 2007

Truth or Propaganda?

When the Iraq war is being reported, it's critical that we get our news from trustworthy sources, and not from the sources that support our political opinion about the war. It's not uncommon for US news sources to parrot untruths that originate with sources friendly to al Qaeda.

While I was serving in Iraq, it was common to wonder why the news was being reported the way it was, because it didn't seem to be a good picture of what was really happening. Sometimes it was just lazy reporting, or an attempt on the part of the reporter to report that which was most sensational. Sometimes it was fear on the part of the reporter to get outside of the Green Zone to find out what was really going on. In many cases, US news relies on news 'stringers' or local reporters that do the reporting for them. It makes me wonder if they rely on stringers more than they do the military for such reporting.

John Hughes, former editor of the Christian Science Monitor tells of one such story.

A Marine officer whose credibility I trust cites an operation of success in the Fallujah region earlier this month that was reported as a disaster by US and British media companies. His unit had established a new precinct headquarters for Iraqi police, Army troops, and US Marines to patrol and protect a dedicated area. It was well received by the local populace and almost 200 Iraqis volunteered for police recruitment. Insurgents sought to disrupt it but were routed.

Meanwhile, in a separate firefight at a makeshift suicide vehicle factory, three separate suicide bombers were killed, two suicide trucks were discovered and blown up, and foreign and other fighters were killed or captured. On the defending side, one civilian and one policeman were wounded, with no US or other casualties. "The enemy was killed in his tracks; his best weapon was discovered before it could cause any harm," says the officer, "but Western media reported no enemy killed in these operations, 28 civilians killed, and 50 civilians wounded. We are getting demolished," the Marine officer says, "by nefarious enemy media outlets … 'reporters' or 'sources' for Arab and other news agencies either on insurgent payrolls or who have known sympathies with insurgent operations, and by collective Western media that are often being manipulated by enemy elements. What incredible economy of effort the enemy is afforded when US media is their megaphone. Why spend precious resources on developing your own propaganda machine when you can make your opponent's own news outlets scream your message louder than you could ever have hoped to do independently?"

Do we think it's important to know the truth, or to propagate those ideas that most closely match our opinion of whether we should be in Iraq? I think that, regardless of what our opinion is, what's true is true. That's what should be reported.

Al Qaeda and al Jazeera are not reliable sources of news. And reliable news sources shouldn't rely on them. Even if it is more exciting than the truth.


Dan Gubler said...

The sad truth is that you are right on the money. As I watch the political debates take place, and listen to politics on the radio etc. I can't believe the bold faced lies that get reported daily. I was under the impression that reporters were trying to get down to the facts and report the truth of it. The sad reality is that this doesnt happen. On accusation from one side, whether based on facts or not, is believed by those in support just because someone said it. This is hsappening more and more all the time. I'll bet that as we get closer to the next presidential election, this type of thing will increase. It happens all the time now regardless of which side or whom you support. While at Walter Reed recovering, I talked with many people about what we experienced in Iraq. I was truely surprised to hear their opinions, which unfortunatley reflected the sad lies and deciet that has been perpetrated by the news. I agree wholeheartedly with your assesment. God bless those in harms way doing the hard things they've been asked to by their gov't.

rmwarnick said...

What kind of a journalist would rely on the military for factual information? A bad one. Our armed forces are not a news-gathering organization. Propaganda (emphasis on "duh") is a tool of war. Unfortunately, some news organizations are lazy enough to repeat what military spokespeople tell them. That's why all of a sudden the Sunni insurgents in Iraq are being referred to as "Al Qaeda."

Frank Staheli said...


It's hard to believe, if I infer correctly, that you trust al Qaeda, al Jazeera, Sunni insurgents, or whatever you call them, over the US military.

rmwarnick said...

Frank, do have any clue about how journalism is supposed to work? No responsible reporter gets information from only one source. Especially in a propaganda-heavy environment such as Iraq.

I don't fault the US military for putting out one-sided information as long as they don't flat-out lie. Nobody expects them to reveal information that undermines their mission. But to say that reporters ought to rely on the military's version of events is not responsible.

Frank Staheli said...

But to say that we should rely on al Qaeda/Jazeera for what's happening is much less responsible.

rmwarnick said...

I didn't say that, or even imply it.

Frank Staheli said...

Let's just put it this way: it was easy for me to infer it by your comparative silence on the subject.

rm said...

but the good news is, that nowadays there are many sources of information (like e.g. internet).
it's like a puzzle (do you say "puzzle" in english?). you can take the pieces and try to figure out, how the complete picture could look like.

WE decide, if we believe everything, that we see on tv or read in newspapers.
i kown, it's not that simple, but there are much more ways of gathering information, than 20 years ago.

Frank Staheli said...


That's a great point. It is like a puzzle that we can assemble the pieces of what really happened, as long as we do the research and don't just take one source's word for it. The situation in America is actually improving greatly. The formerly dominant news services (CBS, NBC, ABC) are losing viewership like crazy, because people realize that they generally have a liberal slant to their newscasts and they often report silly items that really aren't news.

rmwarnick said...

CBS, NBC and ABC have a liberal slant? You can't say that, you just can't.

CBS anchor Katie Couric put Rush Limbaugh on her so-called newscast. She lied about presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), saying: "Hi, everyone. Is America ready to elect a president who grew up praying in a mosque?"

NBC's Brian Williams is the "go to" network anchor for the GOP. Republican pollster Frank Luntz wrote a memo to the Republicans in Congress saying that "Williams has emerged as the 'go-to network anchor' because of his brains and 'lack of detectable ideological bias.'"

Charles Gibson on ABC has a reputation for being liberal, but this is the same network that aired "Path to 9/11," a right-wing quasi-documentary chock full of falsehoods.

Don't get me started on the subject of Sunday morning talk shows.

rmwarnick said...

Here's a link to an interesting post about Iraqi insurgent propaganda.

IMHO the insurgents don't need or receive any help from western journalists. They distribute CDs and cell phone videos throughout the Middle East to people who don't have much access to unbiased reporting.

Frank Staheli said...

And I'm sure they're pretty good at picking and choosing the ones that further their agenda. I'll admit the US military does this from time to time. But if I had to pick one and only one source for my news of the Iraq war, it would clearly be the US Military over al Qaeda.

Elizabeth said...

Hasan Nasrallah definitely gets my vote for sexiest opponent of foreign occupation.