Interesting perspective on the media coverage:
December 21, 2004
Attack on the Dining Hall in Mosul
First, want to read the real story of what happened today? You won’t get it from any of the national outlets. You need to go to a regional paper, the same one given copyright for the stills everyone is using: the Richmond Times Dispatch. ( http://www.timesdispatch.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=RTD%2FMGArticle%2FRTD_BasicArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1031779796661 )
What do I keep arguing? That embedding produces quality reporting, and the only outlets interested in embed slots are the regionals who view it as part of their responsibilities to the communities they serve to cover local units when those units deploy.
Well it just so happened that the 276th Engineer Batallion of the Virginia National Guard is Richmond based, and they were eating in that particular chow hall. And so despite the fact that every outlet was reporting that Mosul was the next big story of the war, the Richmond Times Dispatch got this story, while the Times, the Post, the networks, the cable outlets, are all left buying the stills and trying to interview this reporter by cell phone.
Second, let me note that this week has seen a shift in the criteria by which the press is judging the war’s progress (and this incident is not the beginning of this shift, but it certainly does feed into it.)
I’ve been waiting and waiting, and I still haven’t seen it reported that in his major press conference last week, the commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq, General Casey, said:
[Begin press conference excerpt] Q: General Casey, if you – if indeed, as you say, the terrorists and insurgents have lost the ability to operate with impunity, they’ve lost their safe havens, then how do you explain the fact that they continue to take such a toll, to be so effective against the Multinational Forces?
And what – a second question – what, if anything, will the Multinational Force be doing differently between now and January 30th to improve the situation and instill confidence in the Iraqi people that they can safely go to the polls and vote.
GEN. CASEY: To be clear, I said that they could operate with impunity inside the safe haven. They are clearly operating elsewhere around Iraq.
Now these levels of violence since Fallujah have dropped dramatically. And they are actually now down at the levels prior to Ramadan and really right where – back where we were at transfer of sovereignty. So the levels of violence have come way down.
I do not – they are not necessarily operating effectively against coalition forces. In fact, when we look back, the numbers of attacks don’t necessarily produce a very high volume of casualties. In fact, a lot of the attacks are in fact ineffective against coalition forces. They are frankly more successful against civilians and in some cases against Iraqi security forces. (My emph.) [End press conference excerpt]
Casey is talking about both the success of the attacks (their ability to produce casualties) and the level of violence, that is the number of attacks, which recall had been the measure just a short time ago, back when media reports were filled with the fact that there were over a hundred attacks every such and so time period.
Now we aren’t hearing about the level of violence anymore, and we certainly aren’t hearing that the asault on Fallujah might have had a positive affect on the level of violence: if anything, what we’re hearing is that since it was the assault on Fallujah that dispersed the enemy, it was that effort that might be responsible for what’s happening now (with no consideration for whether or not they are more or less effective without a genuine safe haven.)
The lead article in yesterday’s Times made note not only of how many were killed in two horrific attacks, but of where that placed the day in the record book:
[Begin NYT excerpt] Taken together, the attacks represented the second-worst daily civilian death toll from insurgent mayhem in Iraq since the American military occupation transferred formal sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government nearly six months ago. [End NYT excerpt]
By the same token, every outlet I saw tonight, noted that today’s mess hall attack was the worst since two helicopters collided, which was in turn the worst since a helicopter had been shot down, making it all about rank order of bad days, not number of attacks anymore, but number of casualties per attack, while only Fox noted that if, as the military thinks likely, this was a mortar round, this was a ballistic weapon, a one-off, with rounds constantly being lobbed at the American facilities, and this being a once in a lifetime bad luck shot hitting something that counted.
Taking this, and other things, to levels of absurdity, CBS noted that the mess tent was, like many temporary structures used by the military in the area, soft sided, despite the fact that it was known for some time that mortar shells had been aiming at American troops and that if such a shell had hit a soft sided structure the result would be disaster. (I’m sorry the story in question isn’t on the web yet, because I can barely believe this myself.)
Why, CBS’s National Security correspondent asks ominously, were soldiers allowed “to congregate in such a vulnerable location?” Everyone knew such shelters were too flimsy to withstand a direct hit. It was only a matter of time. Indirect fire was a well-known threat. Yet a sturdier concrete building is still not ready.
This is presented as if it is some kind of enormous breech of trust and responsibility towards American personnel. One can only wonder what CBS will ever do if they actually get a look at the conditions America’s fighting forces are actually asked to endure in order to, uh, you know, fight. Why, on the march to Baghdad, they were right out in the open air and everything.
The idea that it is we who need to protect the poor, vulnerable, abused military is starting to get a little out of control here. I don’t want to sound glib, but the whole reason that war is so horrible is that you cannot protect people from the fact that when they go out to fight to defend us and our interests, the other side will generally want to fight back. The only thing we can really do about that is permit them to fight back and win, but on the way to winning that fight – we cannot make our forces invulnerable. That does not, I’m sorry, mean that our government is negligent in the particulars.
I’m not saying that there are not instances where governments are not or have not been negligent. But the mere fact that American soldiers in a combat zone have been in a structure that was temporary, and therefore susceptible to attack seems to me to be suggesting that putting soldiers into a combat zone was negligent. Not this combat zone, mind you. This isn’t an argument about whether or not we should be in Iraq. This is an argument that putting soldiers into a setting where they could be fired upon without sufficient protection to be invulnerable was negligent.
Well, how do you build up those invulnerable structures? You fight your way to them, take the territory, build the structures.
You kind of see the problem with the logic here?
Increasingly there is, in a variety of ways, the suggestion being made that it is war itself that is the war crime.