Ignoring the News – Cheaper Than Prozac, and Fewer Side-Effects

I’ve noticed something lately: the less news I read, the happier I am.

This actual headline from the weekend might help illustrate why that is: “Death Toll Rises to, Like, 12,553,942 in Iraq”.

    Although it’s very possible that I’m not remembering it exactly right.

    Still, the point remains: the news business thrives on two things: making a crisis out of every storyline, and on creating “narratives” to simplify things for us morons.

    Of course, by doing so, the news business also runs the risk of chasing away potential customers who might not enjoy being hectored with disinformation and bullied into feeling horrible all the time by all the crises, and the negativity, and the whining. Also, for the record: some of us are pretty knowledgeable on war and the military, and don’t need narratives. Some of the journalists? Not so much.

    We get it that bad stuff happens in war, and stuff gets blown up, and people die. We get it that war is chaotic, and exceedingly unpleasant, with long stretches of immense boredom spiced up by moments of intense fear.

    What we also get — if we’ve been following the war via other means — is that this war has had historically low numbers of casualties. And that all in all, most areas of Iraq are pacified now, including Anbar province, which is where Fallujah is, and where much of the terrorist haven had been. They had a 5k race in Fallujah the other day.

    And we get that convincing Sunnis to start turning in foreign Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) fighters was a huge, huge strategic step that allowed the “surge” to work. It’s not about numbers, it’s about a change in strategy.

    And we get that, quite likely, what finally convinced them to do that was the unbelievable barbarity and inhumane tactics of the nihilists that call themselves Al Qaeda in Iraq: using little kids, teenagers, and retarded people as bomb fodder.

    Consider: due to the increasingly barbaric tactics of AQI, it’s quite possible that a shorter war wouldn’t have resulted in this changing of hearts and minds. And, in turn, that might have resulted in a true civil war if we had cut out back in May of ’03, like the armchair generals that like to make fun of the Bush “Mission Accomplished” speech would have liked.

    So when I see some dumbass headline like “Death toll up to” some number, I just want to scream. Who cares? What possible meaning could a number have?

    For those who don’t follow the war at all — and I’ll resist here a temptation to ask why they don’t — is that headline informing them of anything useful? I think not. What does the number mean? Is that a lot? A little? Does it have some value to a citizen who knows nothing else about that war? What is the count of enemy dead? Are numbers rising or falling, outliers or trends? Etc.

    And for those, like me, who follow the war fairly closely, that headline is a major clue that the article is just another hit job. When I go to defenselink.mil and read the Pentagon’s coverage of these same types of stories, they never, ever, headline a story that way. With good reason; it is insulting to the memory of those who died in service to our country, and it is an obvious attempt to feed anti-war hysteria.

    No thanks, I’m trying to cut down.

    Let’s just put this out there: the press is generally pretty bad at reporting on war.  Trust me on this.  Read “Big Story” by Peter Braestrup if you have any doubts.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, read his summary.  It’s a virtual checklist of ways that journalists can screw up public opinion on an important issue.

    Speaking of the memory of those who died, and anti-war hysteria, today is 3/11/08, which marks the four year anniversary of the terrible bombings in Madrid in 2004, which killed 191 and injured more than 1800.

    Al-Qaeda specifically targeted Spain as a vulnerable nation politically, due to their strong support for America in the Iraq war, and timed their attack as a way to speak to the anti-war element in Spain, to say “this is what happens to nations that back the U.S.”. And the population concurred, and voted exactly the way the terrorists had planned, and elected a strong anti-war candidate.

    Since that time:

    Authorities say Spain remains under constant threat from Islamic terrorism. Al Qaeda reports regularly mention Spain — among other countries — as a target, and more than 300 suspected Islamic extremists have been arrested in the country since the bombings.

    Besides the train bombing trial, a separate trial concluded last month with the convictions of 20 men, mainly Algerians and Moroccans, for Islamic terrorist activity in Spain.

    In another case, a judge held in prison for investigation 10 men, mainly Pakistanis, who were arrested last January in Barcelona on suspicion of planning al-Qaeda style attacks in Spain, Germany, France, Britain and Portugal.

    They might not be succeeding, but not for lack of trying.

    Winston Churchill famously said about the 1938 Munich Agreement, “You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war.” That hasn’t changed. People keep hoping it will, though.

    Good luck with that.


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