Thursday, October 11, 2007

Narrating the News

On Thursday, October 11th, 2007, the Chicago Tribune responded to news reports based on the Pentagon's announcement that all US military services had exceeded their recruitment goals for the recently ended fiscal year. The government did note that there had been a reduction in the percentage of Army recruits with a high school education, from the previously very high 90% to a national-average-equivalent 79%.
It also noted that there was an increase in the issuance of "character waivers", usually used to allow a recruit in who had had minor criminal problems in their past.
However, this excellent news about the robustness of the US military was too much for the Tribune staff, who somehow managed to absorb the preceding facts, throw them into a high-temperature stew of semi- and unrelated facts, plus some factoids and carefully selected expert opinion, and then inverted the whole thing to arrive at the conclusion trumpeted by the headline and subhead:
"U.S. Army lowers its recruiting standards
More enlistees have criminal records, no high school diploma."
There followed a perfect recreation of a Bill Maher monologue carrying on about criminals being inducted and concluded the opening segment of the screed with the ever-mysterious but terribly serious "The startling figures come at a time when the Army is trying to grow amid persistent questions about how the armed forces can increase force size during a time of war without significantly lowering the quality of the recruits."
There is little surprise in a Tribune writer and editor being unaware that the US military is constantly trying to increase force size, wartime or not. It is indeed a "persistent" question, one that goes back to days of raising the Revolutionary Army.
One thing that is remarkable is the evidence that the Tribune has writers and editors are cognizant of the fact that the US is at war at all. Given the amazing dearth of information about the proceedings and process of the war against Islamofacism, it often appears the news shop in Tribune Tower is unaware of it. Surely, if they were, they would consider it "news" enough to report it, by, for example, carrying stories about what it is that our military is actually doing.
The daily got-blown-up items are pretty much the extent of the coverage, unless there's a newly-manufactured "grim milestone" ready to be trotted across the front page.
MoveOn and Democratic Underground don't produce any more twisted and tortured news items than this one, and while it was often thought in the past that much of the Tribune's front-page content was simply the slightly-worked-over emission of Rahm Emmanuel's fax machine, the increasing frequency of stuff like this thing makes it seem as though the source is getting to be the leavings of a Comedy Central fake news broadcast.
For those who are interested in getting to the actual, factual story behind this news item, we refer you to the excellent Mudville Gazette, absolutely the go-to source for news on the war in Iraq and elsewhere. Many consider it the granddaddy of milblogs and the one that set the information transfer world on its ear by finally opening a channel around the gatekeepers by presenting actual, near-real-time fact.
It's little wonder that so many of the Trib's writers project such hopelessness, anger, and just plain BDS over the subject of the war. Without getting anything but well-cooked shreds of disjointed fact-sausages to read, it would be hard to get a serious picture of the very serious events in the war.
Fortunately, the Internet has given voice to independent reporting able to see, comprehend, and transmit some worthwhile percentage of the large scope of things, people like Michael Yon and Bill Roggio and JD Johannes and dozens of others.
Otherwise, when a Tribune writer, working the DNC’s latest campaign, the Blackwater-is-Bush-evil line, gives forth with nonsense like "Blackwater killed scores of civilians" in an incident that included possibly 11 to 17 deaths in a still-unclear incident, there's no way to tell if it's just made up, or just malinformed.
"Gatekeepers", indeed.
Thousands of military and civilian people have cycled through Iraq and written about what they have seen and heard. The fact that the overwhelming majority of it is so far removed from the narrative we see on the Tribune front pages should trouble someone bragging about being a “journalist”. When a million Americans come back from a place and say in unison that “what’s going on there is nothing like what you see in the news”, that’s a crisis of world-threatening proportions.
Or perhaps cashing paychecks and swimming peacefully in the echo chamber is sufficient for a group of people our former-slacker nephew, freshly returned from a tour in Baghdad, now refers to only as “The Liars”. Capitalized.

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