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Old 10-04-2010   #1
carl dick
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Angry Media's poor use of a narrative

Media's Dangerous Use of a "Narrative"

I first want to congratulate 60 minutes for successfully pushing their Iraq 'narrative' on 3 October 2010, titled 'Unfinished Business". CBS news highlights that
Quote:
Lesley Stahl goes to Iraq to report on the many possible sources of conflict that could erupt there once the U.S. military completely withdraws from the country by the end of next year.
Second, I want to highlight 60 Minutes' lack of creative thinking and their dangerous lack of understanding when they push 'their' narrative.

60 Minutes personalizes the military effort with General Ray Odinerno. He has lived in Iraq over four years and has now turned over his job, while leaving the many problems that Ms. Stahl shows viewers. Electricity, trash, governance, and Kurdish problems. To a veteran of Iraq, they seem simple compared to 10 dead bodies found daily by route clearance teams and having to attend over 100 memorials throughout 27 months of service in the country. So why did the US allow him to leave with all these problems, Ms Stahl hints?

They show the transfer of authority for General Odinerno to "another officer" without mentioning his name. Four-Star General Lloyd Austin now has the problems that Ms. Stahl highlights, but that deviates from the narrative that General Odinerno did not succeed in his job. Even naming General Austin in the story would then force a discussion that America still has identified these problems, has identified a new 'military leader', that both were nominated by the U.S. President and then ratified by a democratically-controlled Congress.

So what is 60 Minutes' narrative? Its General Odierno's fault, that US money was wasted, that any military effort is bad no matter the dictator, genocide or humanitarian disaster. The military cannot use the word 'victory' anymore, but they can never even call the turnaround or the surge a success. See what is left over, Ms Stahl states? Those silly Iraqis cannot even choose a leader. She hints that Muslims cannot handle democracy and must have a dictator. That is what they are used to and she finds a pro-US "professor" to state the case.

Critical thinking would have Ms. Stahl quote Churchill with
Quote:
democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest.
I will bet money that General Odinerno stated this during the many hours of interviews that were not included in the 10-minute 'story'. He highlights that it took America eight years of failure under the "Articles of Confederation' and warfare to change our paradigm and create something that does work, our Constitution. General Odinerno asked if one wants to see gridlock and election problems, visit the United States. Ms Stahl does not bite. To her credit, she probably did, but the 60 Minutes' producers cut out any discussion that would deviate from the narrative, that seven years of effort and over 4000 deaths were for naught.

She kept asking why Iraqi streets do not look like Manhattan. Was that our mission? People kept complaining. Wow! They complain in Brooklyn and Phoenix. If you want to see complaints, visit the Gulf Coast, which happened to be the following 60 Minutes story where people were complaining to a subordinate-level authority. There was no mention of US responsibly, no mention of the lack of job growth, no mention of Congressional oversight, or the moratorium on drilling, or the many layers of bureaucracy between the federal government and an average fish captain. The Iraq story focused on one subordinate-level leader. She states up front he is the most powerful US person in Iraq, but never discusses the US Ambassador or that the General is one step in the national command ladder, and no mention of any other US "civilian" agency.

The media thinks Americans and especially military personnel are not that bright, but we watched eight years of the media blaming everyone on one person, the top one.

What did the 60 minutes story teach Americans? That it is all the General's fault. There are no other federal agencies involved (or held accountable). That military action is always bad. (We professionals know that there are other civilian agencies deeply involved, but no real responsibly is attached by the media and to Americans who are never reminded that foreign effort is a "Whole of Government" approach, as it should be.

I stepped back to critically question if my understanding is flawed. Maybe 60 Minutes was 'Machiavellian' by hinting and using metaphors that the current President was wrong on the campaign trail and the US should not pull out of Iraq if truly there is "unfinished business". If there are, then let us petition the House Speaker for more Iraq funding, increase development, improve governance and economic capacity and remain past 2011. Is this the case that CBS is making?

The context is that CBS has sold their soul to the Democratic Party. They focus all effort on military leaders and military action, not on American leaders, American action and American interests. Improving 'Governance' responsibly is actually run by the US State Department through the Ambassador in Iraq and Afghanistan (check their web site), but we never hear about their action, or inaction. Critics will say that PRTs are fully engaged and the embassy has over 1000 civilians. However, there is a difference between responsibly and accountability. PRT leaders and Ambassadors are never fired. USAID leaders are not trumped through congress to explain the 'unfinished business.' It was never security problems Ms. Stahl showed; it was economic and governance. I did not know the DOD was charged with making economic and governance problems go away throughout the world, and I believe the budget for that "mission" would be slightly higher than the current rate.

Now is this article my form of "narrative"? Yes. I am highlighting that the American elite do not want to apply responsibility to any agency outside of the DOD. They are isolationist and do not want to use military action for any reason, like in Sudan or Rwanda, no matter how ugly a genocide might become. I feel sorry that Americans are fed these stories daily, which never apply critical thinking to American national interests, or on the state department, Ambassador, Congress or any other federal agency.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf on 60 Minutes the week prior (Sept 26, The People behind the Mosque) stated that America was only conducting "military" effort in the Middle East, and he was attempting to solve the crisis by non-military means. My first response is that he was completely wrong, that many federal agencies are critical to the mission, and that our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq are a battle of ideas similar to what Tony Blair discussed in his new book. Unfortunately, today's 60 minutes story showed viewers that Imam Rauf's perception was right.

The narrative from the US Government and the media are that all America has used have been military action with only military leaders held responsible and even fired from time to time. Imam Rauf and all other Americans shape this perspective from the media's narrative.

So what is the point? That is reality, life is complex, and as military professionals, we will continue to serve America no matter who what party is in office, or the lack of interagency support, or what biased narrative the media elite show.

MAJ Carl Dick, Fort Leavenworth, 3 OCT 2010

Last edited by davidbfpo; 10-04-2010 at 08:11 AM. Reason: Add spacing and quote marks
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Old 10-04-2010   #2
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Major Dick, does your message mean you have strong feelings about media coverage of the war?
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Old 10-04-2010   #3
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The media is composed of businesses. In a free market system, businesses seek their own interests. That's simply the way it works. If you don't like a free market system, what would you propose instead?
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Old 10-04-2010   #4
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Should they even be peddling a narrative? Isn't it the job of the media (admittedly I'm old fashioned, so bear with me) to inform the public in a reasoned, fair and equitable manner, to furnish them with the facts, not theories or narratives, so that they can make informed decisions come election time? ( think that's J.S.Mill's definition from about the time that the British parliament was considering widening the enfranchiseent of the electorate to the "dumber" classes.)
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Old 10-04-2010   #5
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I'm also having a bit of trouble understanding how "CBS has sold their soul to the Democratic Party" because they are critiquing a Democratic administration. Seems more like a talk radio quip than serious analysis.

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Old 10-04-2010   #6
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We need to give the American people credit. They are bombarded with all kinds of information and perspectives, but typically sift the BS out all by themselves.

This is a lesson driven home during my time as a prosecutor and working jury trials. The American populace is the ultimate "jury" for American policy and politics, and they will deliver their finding come election day, one way or the other.

Lesson one: Don't think that just because the judge, the prosecutor and the defense counsel are all highly educated in general and most trained on trials that they have all the answers. They don't.

Lesson two: The jury usually gets it right. They don't always give you what you think is right, but they usually get it right.

Lesson three: The more you trust and respect the jury, the more they will in turn trust and respect you.


When the media (or an official) puts out a story that on its face is full of conflicts and thinly veiled agendas, they disrespect "the jury" and the jury notices and it all goes toward their final holding. Ms Stahl is entitled to tell the story she wants to tell, and CBS is entitled to shape the narrative they want to shape. She is doing what she thinks is best based on her interests, and the same for CBS. Trust the jury though, and don't take it personal when a position you don't agree with is presented to them.
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Old 10-04-2010   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
We need to give the American people credit. They are bombarded with all kinds of information and perspectives, but typically sift the BS out all by themselves.

...

When the media (or an official) puts out a story that on its face is full of conflicts and thinly veiled agendas, they disrespect "the jury" and the jury notices and it all goes toward their final holding. Ms Stahl is entitled to tell the story she wants to tell, and CBS is entitled to shape the narrative they want to shape. She is doing what she thinks is best based on her interests, and the same for CBS. Trust the jury though, and don't take it personal when a position you don't agree with is presented to them.
Nicely put.
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Old 10-04-2010   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tukhachevskii View Post
Isn't it the job of the media (admittedly I'm old fashioned, so bear with me) to inform the public in a reasoned, fair and equitable manner, to furnish them with the facts, not theories or narratives, so that they can make informed decisions come election time?
I'm curious where you're looking for a "job description" on the "media" - as well as how you define "media"...
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Old 10-04-2010   #9
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I also think the "job" of the commercial media is to make a profit for their company. Ascribing lofty goals is like saying the mission of Merck is to heal the sick when it's to make a profit.
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Old 10-04-2010   #10
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Originally Posted by carl dick View Post
The context is that CBS has sold their soul to the Democratic Party. They focus all effort on military leaders and military action, not on American leaders, American action and American interests. Improving 'Governance' responsibly is actually run by the US State Department through the Ambassador in Iraq and Afghanistan (check their web site), but we never hear about their action, or inaction. Critics will say that PRTs are fully engaged and the embassy has over 1000 civilians. However, there is a difference between responsibly and accountability. PRT leaders and Ambassadors are never fired. USAID leaders are not trumped through congress to explain the 'unfinished business.' It was never security problems Ms. Stahl showed; it was economic and governance. I did not know the DOD was charged with making economic and governance problems go away throughout the world, and I believe the budget for that "mission" would be slightly higher than the current rate.
I don't see how Congress' lack of action on holding non-military agencies accountable means that CBS has sold their soul to the Democratic Party.

Congress has chosen to behave a certain way.
CBS has chosen to behave a certain way.
Unless Congress told CBS what to do (good luck with that!) then I don't see how your assertion that "CBS has sold their soul to the Democratic Party" has anything to do with Congress not holding public (and widely promoted) hearings of non-military agencies in which their members are held accountable for a variety of (in)actions.

The reality is that a Republican administration made DoD the lead agency for post-war Iraq. Whether or not you agree with the decision, the fact is that it happened. And since 2003, Iraq - for good or bad - has been seen as a "military" problem, whether it was or not. Given that context, is it any wonder that CBS viewed the successes and failures of Iraq through a military lens?

As to questioning the metrics of success (ie, do the streets look like Manhattan?), again, you have to go further in the past than 60 Minutes in October of 2010.
Please tell us what the mission statement was for the invasion of Iraq, and please point to us the subsequent FRAGOs that define the changes in that mission over the past 7+ years that (re)define the end-points for us.
The point is that when you can't identify, locate, and articulate a specific set of guidance defining success for you, then you're at the mercy of having it defined by others.
You say that "good governance" wasn't part of the mission. I could very easily counter by asking "how do you know?" - and neither one of us has a clearly-defined mission statement to make our case for us.
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Old 10-04-2010   #11
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Default The 20% solution

Quote:
Originally Posted by carl dick View Post
What did the 60 minutes story teach Americans? That it is all the General's fault. There are no other federal agencies involved (or held accountable). That military action is always bad. (We professionals know that there are other civilian agencies deeply involved, but no real responsibly is attached by the media and to Americans who are never reminded that foreign effort is a "Whole of Government" approach, as it should be.
Link to 60 Minutes piece: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?...in;cbsCarousel

One first view last night - and that only because I was watching the football game that preceded it - I thought they were confronting Gen Odierno with a litany of as yet unsolved problems that were not his to solve. For his part, "not my problem" (or even a more carefully worded variation, say, acknowledging the difficulties confronting State and USAID) was not part of Gen Odierno's response. (Or at least the televised version thereof.)

Such responses - accurate or not (and in this case it would have been) are frequently reported as blame shifting, finger pointing, and buck-passing, (I believe the media term is "juicy story") so perhaps (and I have no insight into his previous experience or thinking - I'm speculating) he chose not to point that out. Or maybe he failed to realize that what's obvious to him from his every minute of experience over the past years is not so obvious to others. Or perhaps he feels "ownership" to a greater degree than most well-informed observers of (or participants in) our Iraq endeavor would expect. As for what more casual observers who caught that interview following the football game last night took away from it, I can think of many possibilities - sadly few based on "increased understanding."

On the other hand, here's a recent comment from Secretary Gates

Quote:
Gates lamented that the State Department and USAID can't seem to get enough money from Congress to fulfill its mission, especially when it comes to the U.S. presence in Iraq.

"We are making a transition to a civilian-led process [in Iraq], but the Congress took a huge whack at the budget that the State Department submitted for this transition," Gates said.

"It reminds me of the last scene in Charlie Wilson's War."
Back when the surge began, one of the great anti-surge talking points was the solution is only 20 percent military - that from folks who had become instant experts in counterinsurgency. Apparently that was disposable knowledge.
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Old 10-04-2010   #12
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Default Metz strikes again

Steve hit the nail on the head.

The job of newspapers is to sell newspapers; the job of politicians is to get elected. Once you reach zen with these facts, life gets a lot easier.

To expect either of them to "do the right thing" in opposition to their own interests is unbelievably naive.

We should celebrate when they do act responsibly, but we shouldn't be surprised when they don't.
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Old 10-04-2010   #13
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The "job" of the media is foremost to spread information, not to interpret this information. Interpreting information should be left to people acting as individuals and each news agency, news paper...etc should simply spread information in a way as close to the truth that is possible with the information they receive.

That is why i find it hard to understand that big news agencies in say the US support political parties, think of fox news. In Belgium on the other hand things are different the news is simply delivered as it is and the interpretation is left to the commentators and the people ( although it's also not really correct to compare a country like Belgium to the US ).

Off course what you see here is a documentary, you see a large number of events trough the eyes of the people making the documentary.
Now technicaly this wouldnt matter simply because the people watching the documentary know that it's a subjective piece of information, and most importantly because both the makers and the viewers have a decent understanding of the issue at hand.

Now in my opinion this second point is often lacking both with journalists and the population who voice their opinion on the subject.

(while thinking on this, i remembered a "discussion" on the subject of the afghan war in which the Belgian army has a small involvement in response to a statement by the belgian minister of defence that; "the war in afghanistan indeed was a "guerilla" but that guerilla was a spanish term for little war, and thus that it wasnt all too bad" and in response to this a belgian journalist who had been embedded with belgian forces in afghanistan and went to several warzones before that, said that " it wasnt a little war or a guerilla but that it was a real war".
Those arent the exact quotes, and although i dont know if they were intentionally simplifying or that those were some unlucky quotes, but if you talk like that about subjects that you are supposed to be an expert at then im inclined thinking to think that you dont really know what you are talking about.)
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Old 10-04-2010   #14
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Quote:
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The "job" of the media is foremost to spread information, not to interpret this information. Interpreting information should be left to people acting as individuals and each news agency, news paper...etc should simply spread information in a way as close to the truth that is possible with the information they receive.
I disagree. Who said that the media is supposed to recount verifiable facts stripped of context, implication, or meaning? Plus, this overlooks the point that most media are businesses. Simply recounting verifiable facts would not sell advertising space or copies.

Last edited by SteveMetz; 10-04-2010 at 06:31 PM.
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Old 10-04-2010   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joske View Post
The "job" of the media is foremost to spread information, not to interpret this information. Interpreting information should be left to people acting as individuals and each news agency, news paper...etc should simply spread information in a way as close to the truth that is possible with the information they receive.

That is why i find it hard to understand that big news agencies in say the US support political parties, think of fox news. In Belgium on the other hand things are different the news is simply delivered as it is and the interpretation is left to the commentators and the people


It used to be like that in Holland. I’m led to believe it has changed a bit over the years as it has become more commercialised. The moment that happens sales become the number one priority. I didn’t like it when I first came here. The news reader essentially dictated how I should feel about the news. That, and all the ‘woman’s weekly’ BS encapsulated within it. That’s why I don’t watch it any more.
Now I’m not sure where documentaries like ’60 Minutes’ should fit in this picture. Should they be regarded as (old) news?
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Old 10-04-2010   #16
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I disagree. Who said that the media is supposed to recount verifiable facts stripped of context, implication, or meaning?
What i meant was that the media should portray events as objectively as they possibly can with the information they have and this information includes contextual explanation, statements of (all) major actors, ...etc.

Quote:
Plus, this overlooks the point that most media are businesses. Simply recounting verifiable facts would not sell advertising space or copies.
Well being in a competetive enviroment does not mean that "information consumers" should take subjectivity for granted, also when a certain media firm would often over-sensationalize news and even employ facts ripped from their context or use falsified information other news agencies could exploit and expose these practices and force relatively subjective news agencies out.
This way competivity can even lead to more objective news reporting.

Off course this assumes that people want objectivity and dont simply want to get the news they want to hear, but ill leave that question open.


The main point i have on the subject is that people tend to speak out on things they hardly know anything about and proclaim/believe things that are plain stupid.
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Old 10-04-2010   #17
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What i meant was that the media should portray events as objectively as they possibly can with the information they have and this information includes contextual explanation, statements of (all) major actors, ...etc..
But the commercial media simply gives their customers what they want. I don't think it's reasonable to expect a business to do any different.
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Old 10-04-2010   #18
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Perhaps the real problem is no some much perception's of misuse of the media (both the 4th Estate and the media technology) but that we, the military, are not yet able to engage effectively in that space? To misquote another source "...we win all the physical battles, but lose the information war..."

The first step in gaining some form of parity in the information spce, might be to do as an earlier poster implied and that is to "...trust the jury..." by providing it accurate albeit at times unpalatable, information that is 'unspun' and allowing that jury to draw its own conclusions...?
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Old 10-04-2010   #19
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Default You are OK with me MAJ Dick...

Seems we are all a little testy today...

I'm not interested in mentoring a young MAJ who is disallusioned with a trade/business that is operating under a profit motive...

I think we can fairly assert that all public info sources "speak" from a perspective that invariably leads to a narrative that someone will find... lacking.

I'm disillusioned with the US media/World media too, because I would like them to be altruistic in their coverage... informing their customers in a "fair and balanced" method... but as Steve and Old Eagle have already stated... you can't blame a cur for being a cur (a little poetic license)...

I think we have perhaps given the general public writ large too much credit for sorting through the BS... These polarized media sources make a profit because the american public writ large doesn't want to sift through the BS to form an informed position... they want news with a narrative that already conforms to their view of reality... that is the point... news now comes ready to consume, no preparation in the gray matter necessary prior to accepting as an accurate portrayal of the day's events...

disillusioned I remain, if not even mildly surprised

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Old 10-04-2010   #20
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I'm disillusioned with the US media/World media too, because I would like them to be altruistic in their coverage... informing their customers in a "fair and balanced" method... but as Steve and Old Eagle have already stated... you can't blame a cur for being a cur (a little poetic license)...

I think we have perhaps given the general public writ large too much credit for sorting through the BS... These polarized media sources make a profit because the american public writ large doesn't want to sift through the BS to form an informed position... they want news with a narrative that already conforms to their view of reality... that is the point... news now comes ready to consume, no preparation in the gray matter necessary prior to accepting as an accurate portrayal of the day's events...
And this is nothing new...not at all. Look back through "journalism" from the Civil War. The partisan press (for all sides, not just one) has been a fixture in the United States for as long as we've been a nation (and most likely before that, even). There have always (or usually) been a few more "intellectual" outlets, but they had very limited distribution compared to the staple broadsheets of the times.

Is this what the American public wants, or what they've been conditioned to expect? I suspect we'll never really know. But with all the hand-wringing about media bias it's always good to take a look in the rear-view mirror and understand that it's always been there...and often in a much more virulent form than it takes today. The difference is in the speed of the message, not the message itself.
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