Republicans and The Media

Apparently this past weekend several reporters made the profound mistake of appearing on Howard Kurtz and discussing coverage of the Iraq War, and Robin Wright answered the following question:

Kurtz: Robin Wright, should that decline in Iraq casualties have gotten more media attention?

Wright: Not necessarily. The fact is we’re at the beginning of a trend — and it’s not even sure that it is a trend yet. There is also an enormous dispute over how to count the numbers. There are different kinds of deaths in Iraq.

There are combat deaths. There are sectarian deaths. And there are the deaths of criminal — from criminal acts. There are also a lot of numbers that the U.S. frankly is not counting. For example, in southern Iraq, there is Shiite upon Shiite violence, which is not sectarian in the Shiite versus Sunni. And the U.S. also doesn’t have much of a capability in the south.

So the numbers themselves are tricky.

Seems like a pretty reasonable answer. The media covered the story, but did not know how significant the data was at that point (or if it is significant). There are a number of different mechanisms for counting the fatalities, and the dip may be an anomaly. Regardless, it was covered, and the question by Kurtz was whether it should have received MORE coverage.

Again, it seems like a reasonable answer, because it was. But you and I live here on Planet Earth. On Planet Wingnut, where the air is laced with ether and tales of media bias, this response was seized upon as additional proof of TEH LIBERAL MEDIA CONSPIRACY AGAINST GEORGE BUSH, THE GREAT STRUGGLE IN IRAQ, AND ALL THINGS REPUBLICAN.

Almost immediately, a wingnut Voltron was formed, with Newsbusters leading the way:

Wow. Numbers shouldn’t be reported because they’re “tricky,” “at the beginning of a trend,” and there’s “enormous dispute over how to count” them?

No such moral conundrum existed last month when media predicted a looming recession after the Labor Department announced a surprising decline in non-farm payrolls that ended up being revised up four weeks later to show an increase.

And, in the middle of a three and a half-year bull run in stocks, such “journalists” have no quandary predicting a bear market every time the Dow Jones Industrial Average falls a few hundred points.

Yet, when good news regarding military casualties comes from the Defense Department, these same people show uncharacteristic restraint in not wanting to report what could end up being an a anomaly.

The Jawa Report:

Guess it got too hard with all of that free-speech on the Internet dogging them all the time. They’re essentially treating Iraq coverage as if it were sports coverage of a team’s season. Except they don’t report the wins, and only report the losses.

So only report the enemy’s news, and not ours. It’s not like we need to have a more complete and balanced picture of what’s going on in Iraq, is it MSM? Gotta get those anti-war Democrats into the White House, after all!

The Powerline:

Bad news from Iraq is “news.” Good news from Iraq is not “news.” You’ve noticed that this distinction seems to drive mainstream media coverage of the war, but this is the first time I’ve seen a reporter spell out the difference. Give Howard Kurtz credit for asking the right questions.

The Sundries Shack:

According to a couple of our MSM’s finest, if casualties go up in Iraq “that, by any definition, is news”. If casualties go down, though….well, that’s just “the beginning of a trend — and it’s not even sure that it is a trend yet” and besides, “[t]here is also an enormous dispute over how to count the numbers”.

And you know how those numbers are. They can just be so “tricky”!

Here you go, folks. Good news from Iraq causes reporters to be “skeptical” while bad news is unquestionably big news.

So there you have it. Because the media will not immediate declare Iraq a success after a one month decline in casualties, the media is biased. Because they will not make sweeping generalizations about everything in Iraq based on a one month decline in troop fatalaties, the media hates America. The notion of bias seems to come from the perception that “if more soldiers had been killed, it would have been reported more heavily,” compared to the difficulty in reporting soldiers who didn’t die (if casualties spike upwards, we have offcial numbers, and it is an obvious surge in deaths. If they go down, less dead soldiers is obviously a good thing, but it isn’t proof of a trend). Even then, the numbers were reported, as I commented about it. Here is the AP report I linked to:

Deaths among American forces and Iraqi civilians fell dramatically last month to their lowest levels in more than a year, according to figures compiled by the U.S. military, the Iraqi government and The Associated Press.

The decline signaled a U.S. success in bringing down violence in Baghdad and surrounding regions since Washington completed its infusion of 30,000 more troops on June 15.

A total of 64 American forces died in September — the lowest monthly toll since July 2006.

Here is how Howard Kurtz’s Washington Post covered it: (courtesy of Instaputz)

The numbers of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians reported killed across the country last month fell to their lowest levels in more than a year, a sharp decrease in violent deaths that American military officials attribute in part to the thousands of additional soldiers who have arrived here this year.

The death toll for Iraqi civilians fell sharply in September, according to Iraqi government and U.S. military figures. One count from Iraq’s Health Ministry put the monthly death toll at 827 civilians, a 48 percent drop from the total in August, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the statistics.

The downward trend in victims of violence was mirrored by dropping fatalities among U.S. soldiers. By month’s end, at least 66 U.S. soldiers were killed, the lowest monthly total since 65 died in August 2006, and about half the number who died during the deadliest month this year, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks military deaths in Iraq.

The drop in casualties was covered- what didn’t happen was that the press didn’t make all sorts of sweeping generalizations about the data. They acted, in other words, like a responsible press corps. And that is just it- these folks don’t want an independent press reporting “news,” they want a conservative version of Pravda. To some extent, they already have it- most of them get their news almost exclusively from Fox, the Washington Times, and magazines like the Weekly Standard and NRO. They then reinforce their beliefs by reading each other in the blogosphere, linking to each other, reifying their fantasies through a blogospheric circle-jerk.

So when I read things like this Gallup Poll stating most Republicans are deeply distrustful of the media, I take it with a grain of salt. It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that “too liberal” is, for many of these folks, code for “they don’t tell me exactly what I want to hear.”






34 replies
  1. 1
    libarbarian says:

    1) The Voltron metaphor is why I love this blog but I was always under the impression that you were too old for Voltron. Am I wrong or did you get exposed as an adult?

    2)Which Incarnation of Voltron do you prefer? My – Voltron 1 (the lion one).

    3) There is no Voltron wikipedia article. Any fans want to fix that?

  2. 2
    Zifnab says:

    He’s got a little ‘ in his hyperlink. The Voltron site can be found here.

    And I am a personal proud owner of both the full Voltron action figure and the entire Castle of Lions. :) Best cartoon ever.

  3. 3
    John Cole says:

    1) The Voltron metaphor is why I love this blog but I was always under the impression that you were too old for Voltron. Am I wrong or did you get exposed as an adult?

    2)Which Incarnation of Voltron do you prefer? My – Voltron 1 (the lion one).

    3) There is no Voltron wikipedia article. Any fans want to fix that?

    I don’t know. I thought everyone knew what Voltron was.

  4. 4
    Billy K says:

    LOL at “Wingnut Voltron.”

  5. 5
    RSA says:

    The drop in casualties was covered- what didn’t happen was that the press didn’t make all sorts of sweeping generalizations about the data. They acted, in other words, like a responsible press corps. And that is just it- these folks don’t want an independent press reporting “news,” they want a conservative version of Pravda. To some extent, they already have it- most of them get their news almost exclusively from Fox, the Washington Times, and magazines like the Weekly Standard and NRO.

    Exactly right. If the wingnuts were rational, they’d recall that people like Bill Kristol have been announcing success in Iraq at regular intervals and been completely wrong every single time. The mainstream press sees a long-term trend and is unwilling to describe a short-term reversal as a definite turning point. Fox and company have no such compunction; in fact, they’re perfectly happy telling us to ignore bad news as being temporary, no matter how long it continues.

  6. 6

    […] Wingnut Voltron Filed under: Uncategorized — cleek @ 11:03 am […]

  7. 7

    The National Review is going to have to run this cover story over and over again for the next 6 weeks just to restore the troops’ morale in the face of this latest act of treason by the liberal “media.”

    Seriously though, the only politically correct stories to these people are “America is awesome,” “we should invade,” “teh ghey: threat or menace?” and “we’re winning! Wheee!”

    In their Fox/Rush/NRO bubble, things in Iraq are super awesome. So reality-based people must be lying. That’s why they’re always so pissed about everything.

  8. 8
    Paul L. says:

    The media covered the story, but did not know how significant the data was at that point (or if it is significant).

    One data point does not make a trend. Good to know.
    Economy Cooling

    Looks like the economy is cooling down:

  9. 9

    Thank god we have Voltron, Defender of the Universe, on top of this thing. Otherwise, I thought I was going to have to go to starbucks for coffee or something to help fight this evil.

  10. 10
    capelza says:

    Whenever I hear that “teh war is going great! The LIEbrals just won’t let us know it!11111!!!”…I ask them how come such a splendid war is going into it’s fifth year. Is it just so much fun the troops want to stay?

    Love the wingnut Voltron.

  11. 11
    JWeidner says:

    Wingnut Voltron = Awesome

    Nicely done Mr. Cole.

  12. 12
    Zifnab says:

    One data point does not make a trend. Good to know.
    Economy Cooling

    Paul gives an excellent counter-example to the Bush Admin’s “One Month and We’re Winning” policy. Wall Street accounting practices are about as strict as you’ll find, and about as deadly to cross given all the potential litigation involved. If Petreaus was sitting before a panel of investors rather than a pack of “patriotic” Congressmen, he’d have been grilled up and down and no one would have said a word in his defense for the laughable Defense Department accounting standards.

    God forbid were the Bush Admin to have a heavier hand in the marketplace. I cringe at the thought of what our economy would look like when compared to the Iraq War.

  13. 13
    Ellison, Ellensburg, Ellers, and Lambchop says:

    Because the media will not immediate declare Iraq a success after a one month decline in casualties, the media is biased. Because they will not make sweeping generalizations about everything in Iraq based on a one month decline in troop fatalaties, the media hates America.

    Do those strawmen come with hats?

  14. 14
    crack says:

    I think Wingnut Voltron needs to be a new super blog. Insta, PW, Powerline, and NRO can all send their representives.

  15. 15
    Punchy says:

    Can we get a tag with a livelier word than “moron”? Can we use the new-fangled techinique of just smashing two words together?

    We’ll come up with a fantabulous, ginormous expression that will make us lauggle at the funnariousness of the word. I nominate “jokels”, “doucheholes”, or “bedwetturds”

  16. 16
    whippoorwill says:

    Do those strawmen come with hats?

    The days of denying the obvious by right wing hacks about their own behavior is rapidly coming to a close, lambchop.
    Didn’t you read the posts from wingnut blogs that John cited.
    Or is evidence the ultimate strawman for people like you.

  17. 17
    Bruce Moomaw says:

    Well, did one of the reporters previously say during that discussion — as Sundries Shack says — that if casualties go up “that, by any definition, is news”? If they actually did contradict themselves in that way, then for once the Bushites have a point.

    But — meanwhile, NYT ombudsman Clark Hoyt says today:

    “Stephen Biddle, a scholar at the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations, said Petraeus’s December [2006 casualty] number was ‘very high’ but was likely the result of ‘statistical noise’ — the tendency of Iraq numbers to jump all over the place. Biddle was an adviser to Petraeus last spring but believes the general’s testimony was ‘potentially misleading’ because it didn’t discuss all the reasons why the numbers might have improved.

    “He said the best way to analyze statistics from Iraq is to gather all the numbers from all sources and look for broad trends instead of picking isolated points, as Petraeus did. Biddle examined data from nine sources on Iraqi civilian deaths, including the U.S. military, independent organizations like Brookings and Iraq Body Count and four news organizations. Although the specific monthly numbers varied widely, he said they all showed declines since late 2006.”

    Note particularly his statements that (1) Petraeus did exactly what the Bushites accuse the MSM of doing; and (2) Petraeus’ failure (which has been remarked on before) to discuss possible different reasons for the decline. To what extent is it the result of the simple fact that the process of ethnic cleansing — particularly in Baghdad — has advanced?

  18. 18
    John Cole says:

    Well, did one of the reporters previously say during that discussion—as Sundries Shack says—that if casualties go up “that, by any definition, is news”? If they actually did contradict themselves in that way, then for once the Bushites have a point.

    A mass murderer terrorizes your city for going on five years. In the past year, the murders spike dramatically. The media gives a great deal of coverage to the increase in murders, and the actual number of murders themselves, because it is newsworthy. The next month, there is a slight dip in murders, and despite the fact that there is not clear agreement over the numbers, the media notes that the number of murders has dipped, but refuses to claim that it is a trend.

    Clearly, your local media is biased. And seriously, when soldiers are killed, it is news. Soldiers NOT being killed is not news. Do we need DougJ in here to ask about all the soldiers who didn’t hit IEDs every day?

  19. 19
    Xanthippas says:

    I don’t know. I thought everyone knew what Voltron was.

    They should. That was the best part of this post.

  20. 20
    Mike P says:

    Seriously, “Wingnut Voltron” is just a fantastic way to start the week. Well done, JC.

  21. 21
    grandpa john says:

    So when I read things like this Gallup Poll stating most Republicans are deeply distrustful of the media, I take it with a grain of salt.

    Since most sane american citizens are in turn deeply distrustful of the republicans one can assume that this is a logical result ( I know, I know, one should never use the word logical when talking about repubs but it does sort of fit here.

  22. 22
    Bubblegum Tate says:

    these folks don’t want an independent press reporting “news,” they want a conservative version of Pravda. To some extent, they already have it- most of them get their news almost exclusively from Fox, the Washington Times, and magazines like the Weekly Standard and NRO. They then reinforce their beliefs by reading each other in the blogosphere, linking to each other, reifying their fantasies through a blogospheric circle-jerk.

    Exactly. Wingnuts’ usage of linking to project truthiness (“The Malkin says via Instafuckwit hat tip to LGF who sees NRO linking to Mark Steyn–and with all those links, it’s gotta be true”) is kind of pathetic, but it is made rather funny by the fact that, well, they actually believe it.

    “too liberal” is, for many of these folks, code for “they don’t tell me exactly what I want to hear.”

    Precisely. You can substitute “biased” for “too liberal,” and your statement would be equally spot-on.

    Finally, mark me down as a fan of the Wingnut Voltron metaphor.

  23. 23
    Rick Taylor says:

    You’re giving me more hope for reporters at least. I’ve become so used to every positive event in Iraq being hailed as a turn-around (Saddam Hussein captured, elections). It’s good to here if they’re not mindlessly going for the bait anymore.

  24. 24
    Pooh says:

    It is becoming clearer and clearer

    What took you so long?

  25. 25
    Pb says:

    Almost immediately, a wingnut Voltron was formed

    They should be so lucky–really, they barely measure up to a wingnut Captain Planet

  26. 26
    Ted says:

    A picture of a Wingnut Voltron can be found here.

  27. 27
    binzinerator says:

    “wingnut Voltron”. Tee-hee. Liked that very much.

    John Cole:

    It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that “too liberal” is, for many of these folks, code for “they don’t tell me exactly what I want to hear.”

    That has been obvious for years, John. Sadly, it also took you some years to see what Bush and the Republican party were really about, too.

    I’m really puzzled. What was it about so many otherwise observant, educated, intelligent and obviously un-stupid people to be so blind for so long?

    I mean that as a serious question. There were (and are still) many others who, it would seem to me, ought to know better and possess the intelligence and critical faculties and the experience to see it immediately for what it was. And not just the way the right wing manipulates the media and our perceptions of it, but the Iraq war, G.W. Bush, his followers and enablers, and the whole warped and crooked enterprise that is Bushism and the modern Republican party.

    What caused so many who had the brains and experience to be nobody’s fool to be so insistent on being fooled (and for so long)? It was like a mass suspension of disbelief, like watching an old-time religion revival crowd of shiny-faced earnest true-believers purchase the Brooklyn Bridge over and over again.

    And what was (and still is) bewildering to me was that the scam was as obvious as if they were really were trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge.

    Perhaps it’s true what I’ve heard regarding confidence games: Every mark wants to be wants to be conned — and the con artist knows it. It’s the con artist’s secret of success. The con artist couldn’t do it alone.

    It’s always a good thing when someone wants to withdraw permission to be duped.

  28. 28
    John Cole says:

    A picture of a Wingnut Voltron can be found here.

    Excellent!

    Great minds, or something.

  29. 29

    PaulL: with the housing meltdown, the implosion of the US dollar, the scrambling by the world’s central banks to avert a crash I’d say the press had much more than one data point. That doesn’t make them right, but accusing them of making a story from one data point doesn’t cut it.

    Generally, let’s not lose sight of the larger picture: last I checked, two million plus Iraqi refugees camped out over the Middle East doesn’t make me optimistic, particularly when those two million refugees include a fair chunk of the professionals Iraq would need to reconstruct a functioning society.

  30. 30
    Bruce Moomaw says:

    All right! I’ve just been attacked as too pro-Bush by John Cole! Gotta go now, I just saw a pig fly past my window…

    Actually, not having seen that broadcast or a transcript of it, I suppose my accuracy depends on the context of that first statement that Sundries Shack (can we be nasty and just call him “SS”?) quoted. If some reporter said that a BRIEF spurt in casualties was news but a brief drop in them isn’t, then SS was right. If (as Cole implies) the reporter was actually referring to long-term trends, then SS was wrong.

    As I said, the most interesting thing in that Clark Hoyt column — apart from the general conclusion of most of the people he talked to that casualties HAVE been going down long-term but that the reason is unclear — is the fact that one of Petraeus’ own advisors accused him of engaging in exactly the same sort of monkey business with the casualty figures that the Right is accusing the press of.

  31. 31
    John Cole says:

    Newsbusters has a link to the youtube video, Bruce.

  32. 32
    Chris Dowd says:

    What indoctrinated rank and file reich wingers mean when they complain of the “liberal” media is that it doesn’t sound exactly like a Soviet era news broadcast.

    See, even reporting just daily events in Iraq is “bias”- like bombs going off or troops getting killed. Never mind that such stories are just presented in the driest possible manner and with never any attending bloody images of baby body parts or a shrapnel shredded GI corpse.

    Only when the US media looks and sounds like some TASS broadcast on Afghanistan circa 1985- with images of happy children taking soccer balls from muscled corn fed troops and stats about “progress” are read off to accompanying martial patriotic music will the Bush Bot faithful be satisfied.

    The reich winger legions are not sophisticated enough to see that the lame, contrived, almost script written, two party “balance” presented to them by the MSM is itself pro war propaganda.

    American pundits exist to serve one purpose- to give the illusion of “independent” verification of the government line. American Madison Ave techniques have brought government psy-op propaganda to a level far surpassing the crude techniques of 20th century totalitarians.

  33. 33
    D-Chance. says:

    Not sure where else to put this, but… beyond dispicable.

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyo.....105939/723

    If you need assistance, they’ll now drive by your house and have everything you do investigated, allthewhile wishing your children would just die.

  34. 34
    ThymeZone says:

    While I remain convinced that the general blogosphere is becoming totally irrelevant (nodding to a remark you yourself made on these pages a week or so ago about something or other somewhere) …. I also am rightfully famous for giving props where they are due, and in this case, if there is anyone who can save the blogorrhea machine from itself, it is probably you, John Cole … and this excellent post proves it. Without taking your class to find out for sure, I’m guessing that this context right here is right up your alley of expertise. This is just the kind of material that can make you and your blog relevant.

    Kudos.

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