Rich Lowry of National Review Online, no less, goes all heretical:
First Lady Laura Bush spoke for many conservatives when she excoriated the media’s coverage of Iraq the other day. She complained that “the drumbeat in the country from the media ... is discouraging,” and said “there are a lot of good things happening that aren’t covered.”(My bolds.)
What are those things, one wonders? One can only imagine how Mrs. Bush can figure that they outweigh the horrors in Iraq. The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that more than 1.6 million Iraqis have fled the country, about 7 percent of the population. But that means that an overwhelming 93 percent haven’t left. Why doesn’t the liberal media ever report that? About 120 Iraqis are killed per day, nearly 4,000 a month. But most are still living. Couldn’t one of the morning shows do a soft feature on this heartwarming fact?
The conservative campaign against the mainstream media has scored notable successes. It exposed Dan Rather’s forged National Guard memo and jumped all over Newsweek’s absurd report of a Koran-flushing incident at Guantanamo Bay. The mainstream media is biased, arrogant, prone to stultifying group-think and much more fallible than its exalted self-image allows it to admit. It also, however, can be right, and this is most confounding to conservatives.
In Iraq, the media’s biases happen to fit the circumstances. Being primed to consider any military conflict a quagmire and another Vietnam is a drawback when covering a successful U.S. military intervention, but not necessarily in Iraq. Most of the pessimistic warnings from the mainstream media have turned out to be right — that the initial invasion would be the easy part, that seeming turning points (the capture of Saddam, the elections, the killing of Zarqawi) were illusory, that the country was dissolving into a civil war.
Partly because he felt it necessary to counteract the pessimism of the media, President Bush accentuated the positive for far too long. Bush allowed himself to be cornered by his media critics. They wanted him to admit mistakes, so for the longest time, he would admit none. They wanted him to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, so for too long he kept him on. They wanted him to abandon “stay the course,” so he stuck to it. In so doing, he eroded his own credibility and delayed making the major strategic readjustment he needed to try to check the downward slide in Iraq.
The “good news” that conservatives have accused the media of not reporting has generally been pretty weak. The Iraqi elections were indeed major accomplishments. But the opening of schools and hospitals is not particularly newsworthy, at least not compared with American casualties and with sectarian attacks meant to bring Iraq down around everyone’s heads in a full-scale civil war. An old conservative chestnut has it that only four of Iraq’s 18 provinces are beset by violence. True, but those provinces include 40 percent of the population, as well as the capital city, where the battle over the country’s future is being waged.
In their distrust of the mainstream media, their defensiveness over President Bush and the war, and their understandable urge to buck up the nation’s will, many conservatives lost touch with reality on Iraq. They thought that they were contributing to our success, but they were only helping to forestall a cold look at conditions there and the change in strategy and tactics that would be dictated by it.
Good boy, Rich, and only three years and a few months late.
The MSM was right, the rightwing echo chamber was wrong. Thus speaks the guy who once wrote a National Review cover story headlined, "We're Winning!" And, according to Lowry, he and his confreres were not just wrong, but wrong with a persistance that actively contributed to the mess in Iraq. Defeat looms in part because knee-jerk critics of the MSM simply would not or could not take off the blinders and see the truth.
I've done plenty of I told you so's on this already, so I'll confine myself to a single, "duh."
The fact that Iraq was handled incompetently is not something that only became clear last week. It has been clear for years. Years. Three of them. Almost four now. For all that time it has been obvious that we screwed up right from the start. Obvious. Right out there in the open for all to see. It wasn't the Fermat's last theorem of geopolitics.
"If you're asking me if I can defend the competence of the occupation so far, I don't think anyone can defend the incompetence of the occupation so far. But we just got there. Give it a while. Let's see." That's me, on videotape, in France, responding to a question about the ocupation from a Frenchman who foretold that it would be, "A nightmare." First week of May, 2003.
It wasn't hard to see -- from the beginning -- that the occupation was a mess. But of course I was wrong: there were plenty of people who could defend it nevertheless. And defend it. And defend it. And attack anyone who didn't defend it.
Why was it so hard for people to see what was right in front of their face? I wrote about one reason below: they were looking in the wrong direction, paying attention to side issues and not to the central question of whether we had brought enough power to bear.
But you have to add to this strategic myopia a prejudice against the so-called mainstream media that has turned the MSM into a modern version of the Jew: everyone's default scapegoat. Did the war go badly for you, Kaiser? Blame the Jew, er, the MSM.
The MSM: they mix the blood of gentile children with their matzoh. That's why the beet crop failed and your cow gave birth to a two-headed calf.
This is not to suggest that the media, like every human institution, is not fallible. They are often lazy, often stupid, and almost always move with the careful judgment of a herd of panicked wildebeest. But you cannot get at the truth if you start with the assumption that the truth must be the opposite of whatever the MSM claims it is. You cannot reverse-engineer the truth by assuming that everything Brian Williams says is wrong.
First, ask the right questions. In this case: did we bring enough power to bear to accomplish a very difficult task? Did we match means to goals? Did our plans make any sense? Then, having figured out the right questions, look at the information you have without regard to your preferences or your prejudices. See what's actually there, not what you think ought to be there. And not what you want to be there. And not what would most irritate your brother-in-law.
The irony here is that the critics of the MSM, who rail endlessly at the media's lack of "objectivity," and claim that the media views everything through a hazy mist of prejudices, could not see what was right in front of their noses because they themselves viewed everything through a hazy mist of their own prejudices.
Oh, well. We've all learned a valuable lesson in epistemology. Thank God nothing really terrible happened as a result.