Tuesday, November 04, 2003

An Old Meme - Thoughtless Reporters Kill Soldiers

Dean Esmay wants a new slogan: Thoughtless reporters kill soldiers. His WWII model is: Loose lips sink ships. I can't speak for Vietnam vets, but the one who defended my right to say stupid things for over twenty years thought the press lost Vietnam, so this is not really a new meme.

Ara thinks the meme is lousy. He wants Dean to prove it. I cobbled this post together from two comments to his post.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that sloppy reporting risks wasting soldiers lives by sapping our resolve and causing us to fail in Iraq. I want America to win, I don't like Copperheads, and I want the Democratic Leadership to want to win. I took the trouble to restate Dean's position to show that I agreed with the general sentiment and not that reporting was directly causing any actual deaths. I think the direct cause of death will always be a car bomb, missile, bullet or some other weapon. We have no casualties from paper cuts. Dean was trying to come up with a slogan, like 'Loose lips sink ships'. I think you will find the ships in question were bombed, shelled or torpedoed. None were actually sunk by careless conversation. As slogans go, the big problem with Dean's is that it isn't catchy, not that it fails to carry its meaning.

Sloppy reporting, by overemphasizing the American casualties and never mentioning our opposition's casualties, gives a real morale boost to the enemy, which causes American deaths. Sloppy reporting, by underemphasizing casualties among friendly Iraqi policemen and soldiers, misleads the American people into believing the Iraqis aren't helping out and don't deserve our assistance. That could prevent the US from providing the help needed to win over Iraqi hearts and minds leading them to join the holdouts, which will cause American deaths. Sloppy reporting, if it causes America to lose its nerve, could cause us to reduce our forces too rapidly, over-exposing the remainder, which will cause American deaths.

I think you will find many thoughtful people who believe sloppy reporting was a significant factor in the way America lost the Vietnam war and that it cost many American, Cambodian and Vietnamese lives. The Tet offensive was such a battlefield failure that the North Vietnamese General staff was planning big concessions in the peace talks until the American press convinced them it was a strategic victory. Imagine if the war had ended in 1968. Would any lives have been saved?

Ara often says he wants Bush to win the war, but it isn't his job to say how. Well, I want the media to get out of Bagdhad, get out of their habit of molding every story to a familiar theme and report the war. I am not trying to intimidate the mainstream press. I am trying to get it to report the things I get from non-mainstream sources. I say this as part of my job as a consumer of media and as an American citizen.