The State of 21st Century Media

I had a brief discussion with Mother Curzon last night about a BBC news story. She was talking about some American professor who had written a book with the thesis that the US president today has more power than a monarch of the medieval age. The story was mentioned on the BBC and Mother Curzon thought it was very interesting. Although I hadn’t read the story, I said something curt along the lines of “It’s the BBC getting the chance to wear their anti-Americanism on their sleave — what makes you think there is any merit to the story?” (I’ve now had a chance to read the article and can say with some confidence that the professor has no idea what he’s talking about.) But that’s not even the subject of this post. When I went to look for the story this morning, I was greeted by another little treat…

On the front page, next to a picture of a screaming, bloodied boy, is a link to this photo set telling a sad story with graphic gore about what happened when US soldiers in Iraq tried to stop a car that ran a checkpoint. They fired a warning shot, and when it continued to drive towards a US patrol, soldiers shot the driver and killed him. Turns out he was a family man driving his kids somewhere. Tragic.

I’m not one of those knee-jerk jingoists who thinks any criticism of America is wrong on its face, and I hope there will be some serious evaluation of what went wrong. But US soldiers are under constant fire from suicide bombers and insurgents disguised as civilians. Their conduct here does not seem to be unreasonable, given the circumstances. And can you show me the last beheading the BBC showed on their website? Or the faces of the innocent Iraqis killed by insurgent bombers? When it comes to the US-lead coalition forces in Iraq, nothing is good enough. Every move is scrutinized, every possible misdoing aggresively pursued with dogged determination to find a hint of any wrongdoing, while the terrorists undermining the future of Iraq are ignored at best, and forgiven — even sympathized with — at worst. As for today’s BBC web page, it doesn’t stop there. Also on the front page today was a set of photos profiling “alleged abuses” commited against detainees in Iraq by UK soldiers.

Now let me show you a story and a photo the the BBC did not show on the front page of their site yesterday or today:

8 Chinese Hostages Held by Insurgents in Iraq
Eight Chinese Hostages Held By Insurgents In Iraq

The BBC did, however, find time to profile a Catholic archbishop freed with no ransom paid. How kind of those insurgents to be so thoughtful to a non-Islamic religous leader.

This fawning over the bad guys is driven by something deeper than a leftist bent. Robert Kaplan has the best comment on the state of the media today, in le from Policy Review last month:

To the extent that the left is still vibrant, I am suggesting that it has mutated into something else. If what used to be known as the Communist International has any rough contemporary equivalent, it is the global media. The global media’s demand for peace and justice, which flows subliminally like an intravenous solution through its reporting, is — much like the Communist International’s rousing demand for workers’ rights — moralistic rather than moral. Peace and justice are such general and self-evident principles that it is enough merely to invoke them. Any and all toxic substances can flourish within them, or manipulate them, provided that the proper rhetoric is adopted. For moralizers these principles are a question of manners, not of substance. To wit, Kofi Annan can never be wrong.

I’m sure Kaplan scares a few people in the way he refers to the media as “Communist,” with all the John Birch Society connotation that such an accusation holds, but he hits the nail on the head. Read on…

Some of our most prestigious correspondents have occasionally remarked that the only favoritism they harbor is toward the weak or toward the victims in any crisis… Because the media confuse victimization with moral right, American troops in Iraq have had occasionally to contend with unsympathetic news coverage, which in an age of mass media has concrete tactical and strategic consequences. Last spring, I accompanied the first United States Marines into Fallujah. After several days of intense fighting, the Marines — reinforced with a fresh new battalion — appeared on the verge of defeating the insurgents. A cease-fire was called, though, snatching defeat from victory. No matter how cleanly the Marines fought, it was not clean enough for the global media, famously including Al-Jazeera, which portrayed as indiscriminate killing what in previous eras of war would have constituted a low civilian casualty rate. The fact that mosques were blatantly used by insurgents as command posts for aggressive military operations mattered less to journalists than that some of these mosques were targeted by U.S. planes. Had the fighting continued, the political fallout from such coverage would have forced the newly emerging Iraqi authorities to resign en masse. So American officials had no choice but to undermine their own increasingly favorable battlefield position by consenting to a cease-fire. While U.S. policy was guilty of incoherence — ordering a full-scale assault only to call it off — the Marines were defeated less by the insurgents than by the way urban combat is covered by a global media that has embraced the cult of victimhood.

So there you have it. If you have to watch or listen to the BBC, or read the Manchester Guardian, the Independent, or some other anti-American, insurgent-loving newsite, for the love of God watch a healthy dose of Fox News or subscribe to the National Review for some sense of balance.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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12 Responses to The State of 21st Century Media

  1. Peter says:

    Wonderful post. The media is the people’s watchdog of goverments. But who is going to be the watchdog of the media? Certainly not the (majority of) people, who believe almost everything they read from what is perceived as a “legitimate news source”:

  2. Saru says:

    Great post. Will respond as soon as I’ve some time to put together a response.

  3. SpaceFish says:

    I went through the photo set of the US Soldiers firing on the car with the family in it. I am unsure as to why you picked this to prove your point that the BBC is some “insurgent-loving newsite”. It seemed to be just reporting a tragic event that happened. If anything it portrays the soldiers in a positive light. They did everything they could to stop the car and helped the kids as best they could.

    I also noticed you seem to have left out the “Suicide car bombers hit Baghdad” story. It happens to be more prominent on the BBC website than any of the other ones you picked. I guess it didn’t reinforce your theory that BBC employees are “fawning over the bad guys”.

    Fox News and “healthy” should never be used in the same context…

  4. Curzon says:

    Note the difference between the coverage of the suicide car bombing and the aforementioned incident. The BBC even set up another “In Pictures” piece for the suicide bombing, but there was not one drop of blood, not one dead body, although the story indicates that the death toll was 26 times the shooting incident, they deemed it unnecessary to show any of the gore and instead just showed photos of general mayhem and destruction. For example:

    (Click to go to the “In Pictures” segment. )

    The BBC also included this little blurb:

    “Two Iraqis said to be working for a US firm involved in preparations for the Iraqi elections are shown being killed by militants in a video on the internet.”

    Once again, no photos, no link to where you could find this incident on the internet. Wouldn’t want to prejudice any of the good readers of the BBC against those freedom fighters, would we?

    Occasionally I listen to right-wing radio talk host Michael Savage on my way home. He has links to the photos and videos of the beheadings on his website, The reason? “KNOW YOUR ENEMY. XXXX WARNING XXXX
    THE FOLLOWING VIDEOS ARE EXTREMELY GRAPHIC. HOWEVER, WE FEEL IT IS NECESSARY TO PROVIDE THEM TO YOU IN ORDER TO SHOW YOU WHO THE ENEMY REALLY IS AND WHAT THEY ARE CAPABLE OF.” For most of the media, photos and videos of casualties at the hands of US soldiers can be shown on TV, but not when the perpetrators are terrorists.

    Superlatively, as of EST 2200, the most prominent news story is on the increase in the Tsunami death toll — the suicide bomber story is nowhere to be found on the main page, not even in the “Middle East” section.1 The headlines change “every minute of every day” as the BBC put it. The “In Pictures” segment featuring the homicidal US soldiers is a permanent (fixed for 24 hours) feature.

    1 = Middle East stories as of EST 2200:
    Palestinians to guard Gaza border
    UN seeks return to Iranian site

  5. Mutantfrog says:

    Not to oversimplify, but I think it should be clear that at least one major reason for that story staying on the BBC front page for so long is that the photos taken by Chris Hondros are fantastic, and unlike the suicide bombing story, was actually photographed as it happened. Yes, more people died in the bombing you mentioned, but there was no photojournalist standing across the street, camera in hand as it happened, and quite frankly another collection of photos of smoking ruins and armed soldiers standing around looking pensive are going to have to be exceptional in some way for people to care. The BBC editor who put together the photo essay quite correctly realized he had a gem, in fact I would not be surprised if the lead photo (which you and other bloggers have used to highlight the story) becomes one of the iconic images of the Iraqi occupation.

    I should also mention that if you go to the BBC Middle East section NOW, you will see that the suicide bombing story is now the lead article and the accidental killing has dropped to the fourth slot. The suicide bombing also has a secondary link to a background story on car bombs in Iraq.

    Another BBC story also suggests to me why we have fewer photos of violence by Iraqis against occupation soldiers.

    The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says at least 129 reporters and other media workers were killed last year.

    It is the highest number of deaths in a year since the IFJ began keeping records in the 1980s. Other suspicious deaths are still being investigated.

    The Brussels-based body says Iraq was by far the most dangerous location for the media to work in.

    Nearly 50 reporters and other media workers were killed there.

    Entering an area where an explosion has just gone off, and which has a high probability of continued violence is always going to be risky for a photographer, and according to this report it is riskier in Iraq than anywhere else.

    I will however grant you that media organizations could stand to show more of the violence stemming from ALL parties. Holding back information out of considerations of ‘taste’ or ‘decency’ really services noone in the long run.

  6. Mutantfrog says:

    Here is the account of the events by the journalist who took the photographs.

  7. Alfred Wallace says:

    Everyone has good points; obviously a news story needs many things to attract an editor to put it on the front page. Ideological correctness is undoubtedly part of it, but good photos are also essential. I think it is important to bear in mind that the photo itself can be a powerful tool for swaying readers’ opinions.

    Hillary Clinton provides a good example. I recollect only grimaces when she was being portrayed as the leader of an effort to “socialize” medicine early in the Clinton 1 term, but much more sympathetic facial expressions when she was the wronged spouse in the Lewinsky affair during Clinton 2. I bet we would find quite a diversity of pictures of Dr. Rice today, depending on each newspaper’s leanings on her confirmation hearings…

    We all know how rapidly cameras can take pictures…. the selection of the facial expressions portrayed is a very powerful way to direct the reader’s emotions and hence opinions.

  8. Curzon says:

    And now Newsweek jumps on board…

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  12. Elizabeth says:

    Speaking of “nothing good enough”: You know when the leftists and the right-wing hate you, you are probably somewhere in the middle- which is the case with the BBC. I can’t stand to watch it because everyone in the room starts freaking out about how right-wing, pro-war the BBC is. And here you are going in the other direction. Amusing.

    When it comes to the US-lead coalition forces in Iraq, nothing is good enough.

    No, it’s not. Our societies aim at perfection, and we get there through open dialogue, high standards, and critical thinking, not through thinking that anything is ever good enough.

    Every move is scrutinized, every possible misdoing aggresively pursued with dogged determination to find a hint of any wrongdoing,

    Now that’s what I call good journalism.

    while the terrorists undermining the future of Iraq are ignored at best, and forgiven””?even sympathized with””?at worst.

    I have no choice but to watch EuroNews and the BBC. I get nothing else except France 5 and the Russian news channels (speaking of biased coverage!). I am still fully aware that there is a large insurgent movement in Iraq, killing thousands upon thousands, and more each day. I am aware that they are committing monstrous acts. I know this through the BBC and EuroNews, which wears its bias on its sleeve.

    However, those stories are not emphasized. Why? Perhaps because that’s what we would expect from the insurgents. We all know there is a war going on, and we would like to believe that we are on the right side, or at the very least that our own neighbours and sons and daughters are not monsters. This war was started with the assumption that there could be rules to war.

    It is now well-understood that the insurgents do not play by the rules.

    What is shocking, and cause to question our whole society, is that neither can British or American soldiers, and the consequences. If any news station is determined to the horrors of war from “our” side, it is because they want to show what a war truly is, rather than allow people to believe that there can be anything easy or clean about it.

    Nobody is without bias, and the last time I checked, the government-sponsored news station (unlike Fox News) did not purport to be without bias, or even fair.

    Could the BBC do better? Yes. Could the American and British armies? Yes. Do the British and American governments allow alternatives to their national broadcasters? Yes. Is any alternative to what our soldiers do in Iraq possible? Yes.