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October 13, 2007

Headlines Vs. Content

I'm always struck by how the headlines of a story can misrepresent the story itself. Take the latest criticism of the Bush Administration by retired General Ricardo Sanchez.

NY Times: Ex-Commander Says Iraq Effort Is ‘a Nightmare’

YahooNews: Ex-general: Iraq `nightmare' for US

YahooNews: Ex-general: 'No end in sight' in Iraq

And even the Washington Post highlights the most extreme phrases in its subtitle and its opening paragraph.

But interestingly enough, what you get when you read deeper is a different story, one in which Sanchez says the following:

"The American military finds itself in an intractable situation ... America has no choice but to continue our efforts in Iraq."

Gee, I wonder why that little tidbit didn't make the headline -- and why the Washington Post, among others, left that assessment out of their coverage of the story. I guess it didn't fit the "retreat now" template.

When all is said and done, Sanchez reveals nothing new. Everyone recognizes that there were overly optimistic assessments made of what would happen in Iraq. But I find it difficult to take seriously the words of General Sanchez when he criticizes current strategy in Iraq, at least in part because we see it working and he has admitted that he was willing to be less than honest in his statements in the past.

Asked following his remarks why he waited nearly a year after his retirement to outline his views, he responded that that it was not the place of active duty officers to challenge lawful orders from civilian authorities. General Sanchez, who is said to be considering a book, promised further public statements criticizing officials by name.

I'll set aside the issue of the book deal and note one key thing here -- if Sanchez really believed that the strategy and the orders were so fundamentally flawed, he had an obligation, both moral and legal, to tell that to his superiors. Furthermore, he had a moral obligation to step forward -- whatever the personal consequences -- to speak up at the time if he really found things that bad. Heroism is doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason, no matter the personal cost. It should be expected of our commanders no less than our troops in the field.

And remember -- this is the same Sanchez who said this in 2004:

"I really believe that the only way we are going to lose here, is if we walk away from it like we did in Vietnam."

He was right then, and this assessment is correct today -- and we should listen to those still in the field who continue to say this, from infantrymen to non-coms to junior officers to senior commanders.

H/T Don Surber

UPDATE: It is interesting what elements of the speech that these journalists chose not to report on.

Almost invariably, my perception is that the sensationalistic value of these assessments is what provided the edge that you seek for self agrandizement [sic] or to advance your individual quest for getting on the front page with your stories! As I understand it, your measure of worth is how many front page stories you have written and unfortunately some of you will compromise your integrity and display questionable ethics as you seek to keep America informed. This is much like the intelligence analysts whose effectiveness was measured by the number of intelligence reports he produced. For some, it seems that as long as you get a front page story there is little or no regard for the "collateral damage" you will cause. Personal reputations have no value and you report with total impunity and are rarely held accountable for unethical conduct.

Given the near instantaneous ability to report actions on the ground, the responsibility to accurately and truthfully report takes on an unprecedented importance. The speculative and often uninformed initial reporting that characterizes our media appears to be rapidly becoming the standard of the industry. An Arab proverb states - "four things come not back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, the past, the neglected opportunity." Once reported, your assessments become conventional wisdom and nearly impossible to change. Other major challenges are your willingness to be manipulated by "high level officials" who leak stories and by lawyers who use hyperbole to strengthen their arguments. Your unwillingness to accurately and prominently correct your mistakes and your agenda driven biases contribute to this corrosive environment.

All of these challenges combined create a media environment that does a tremendous disservice to America. Over the course of this war tactically insignificant events have become strategic defeats for America because of the tremendous power and impact of the media and by extension you the journalist. In many cases the media has unjustly destroyed the individual reputations and careers of those involved. We realize that because of the near real time reporting environment that you face it is difficult to report accurately. In my business one of our fundamental truths is that "the first report is always wrong." Unfortunately, in your business "the first report" gives Americans who rely on the snippets of CNN, if you will, their "truths" and perspectives on an issue. As a corollary to this deadline driven need to publish "initial impressions or observations" versus objective facts there is an additional challenge for us who are the subject of your reporting. When you assume that you are correct and on the moral high ground on a story because we have not respond to questions you provided is the ultimate arrogance and distortion of ethics. One of your highly repected fellow journalists once told me that there are some amongst you who "feed from a pig's trough." if that is who I am dealing with then I will never respond otherwise we will both get dirty and the pig will love it. This does not mean that your story is accurate.

Seems like he had his audience pegged -- for the pigs at the trough picked out the elements of the speech they wanted to report upon, and left out the sharp criticism of the pathetic practices of journalists more interested in headlines and bylines than upon accuracy and truth. Seems to me that the coverage of this story reflects exactly what Sanchez is talking about -- the manner in which the media selectively covers the news to fit the desired spin, regardless of the consequences. Where is the story on this part of the speech?

OPEN TRACKBACKING AT Blue Star Chronicles, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, and Wolf Pangloss, Stop the ACLU, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, The Virtuous Republic, The Random Yak, AZAMATTEROFACT, 123beta, Nanotechnology Today, Stix Blog, Right Truth, The Populist, Phastidio.net, Adeline and Hazel, Nuke's, Faultline USA, The World According to Carl, The Pink Flamingo, and Dumb Ox Daily News, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.





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