September 26, 2006

The Gatekeeper Effect, or, If Iraq Is Getting Better, Why Does the News Keep Getting Worse?

Hatched by Sachi

During the interview with in Jim Lehrer News Hour on PBS, Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said the situation in Iraq is getting better. But how can that be, when the news reports sectarian violence is getting worse everyday?

Just this morning, I heard on the radio that the last two months were "the worst for the Iraqis since the Iraq war started." This sentiment is reflected in the recent USA Today/Gallup poll, which showed that 72% of likely voters believe that "civil war" is occurring in Iraq right now (in the link, scroll down to Gallup).

If things are getting better, why do we hear so much about the violence? Gen. Abizaid explains.

Baghdad's really the key problem. As a matter of fact, 80 percent to 90 percent of the sectarian difficulties that take place in Iraq take place within a 30-mile radius of Baghdad.

In those areas that we've been operating with U.S. forces and Iraqi forces -- and we continue to operate -- there is a decrease. But we're not everywhere. We're moving step by step, section by section, and it will take some time. We will begin to really see whether or not we're being successful in a month or two....

And it certainly -- look, it's a program that involves not just putting military forces on the street, but it also requires that Iraqi and U.S. special forces go after the death squads. We have to target them. We have to do the intelligence work necessary to know where they are. Then we've got to go after them and take them out of action, whether it's by direct military action or some other form.

Guess where 80% to 90% of the reporters in Iraq happen to be? That's right: in Baghdad, right where 80% to 90% of the attacks occur. This is probably not a coincidence; the terrorists know where their natural allies work, and they know the old newspaper adage, "if it bleeds, it leads."

In other words, what we've been hearing about all this time is the violence occuring within the immediate environs of Baghdad, and almost nothing about the rest of Iraq -- which is getting much better almost day by day: Iraq takes charge of Dhi Qar province .

“Today’s transfer of security responsibility in Dhi Qar province from the Multi-National Force – Iraq to the Government of Iraq and civilian controlled Iraqi Security Forces is another sign of progress toward a stable and secure Iraq. Dhi Qar is the second of 18 Provinces to be transitioned. This is an important milestone along the successful path toward Iraq’s capability to govern and protect itself as a sovereign nation.

Another example:Iraq chiefs vow to fight al-Qaeda

Tribal leaders and clerics in Ramadi met last week to decide how to confront the daily bloodshed in their city.

"People are fed up with the acts of those criminals who take Islam as a cover for their crimes," Sheik Fassal al-Guood told the Associated Press news agency on Monday.

He said 15 of the 18 tribes in Ramadi "have sworn to fight those who are killing Sunnis and Shiites", and had put together "20,000 young men".

In fact throughout Jim Lehrer's interview with Gen. Abizaid (remember that? that's what we're talking about), Lehrer's questions reveal his (willful?) ignorance in this subject:

JIM LEHRER: I'm sure you're aware, General, that there's been a lot of commentary back here that the U.S. hasn't put enough effort into the training of Iraqi forces.

Lehrer should have been reading Big Lizards instead of listening to PBS news! We've followed this issue for more than a year:

A well-connected journalist such as Lehrer should know what the coalition forces have been doing and the success they've had; it's his business to know. But most journalists live their waking lives sealed into an elaborate cocoon of left-liberal, anti-Bush, anti-Republican, and anti-Iraq-War propaganda, until it seems as natural an environment as the air. Everyone they know believes the same as they; if they ever hear a discouraging word, it's only when they interview some "Repuglican" -- and you know what they're like.

So maybe Lehrer is simply puzzled: since everyone knows that the Iraq War has been one colossal failure from beginning to end, why doesn't the president just "declare victory" and yank out the troops? All of Lehrer's friends say that's what Bush has to do, in order to avoid being impeached next year when the Democrats control supermajorities in the House and Senate.

His question to Gen. Abizaid has nothing to do with trying to find out what is really happening, and everything to do with making an impression on the audience's mind: the training of Iraqi troops has turned out to be a complete failure, gosh darn it! Why don't you just admit it, General?

Needless to say, Gen. Abizid -- who actually does know what is happening in Iraq -- completely rejects Lehrer's starting premise:

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: Jim, I really disagree with that. We have put an enormous effort into training and equipping the Iraqi armed forces and security forces. But it's also an enormous effort. It is literally building an institution from the bottom up.

So who is right, Lehrer or Abizaid? Per Bill Roggio's Fourth Rail, the Iraqi Army just arrested a top leader of Ansar al-Sunnah Shura, an Iraqi terrorist group with strong ties to al-Qaeda in Iraq:

The Iraqi government has arrested Muntasir Hamoud Ileiwi al-Jubouri, who the Associated Press describes as a “leader of Ansar al-Sunnah.” But al-Jubouri is not just an average leader in Ansar al-Sunnah, he sits on the terrorist organization's military Shura (or council), the decision making body for military operational issues. Al-Jubouri was captured in Al-Taeyh along with two aides. There is no information at this time if documents or computer equipment was seized along with al-Jubouri. Regardless, his arrest can potentially be a treasure trove of information for Task Force 145 and Iraqi counterterrorism commandos. [Note: Ansar al-Sunnah denies al-Jubouri was captured.]

The Iraqi army also arrested the leader of an insurgent group called the 1920 Revolution Brigades:

Iraqi troops arrested a neighborhood leader of a nationalist insurgency group early on Sunday, a military spokesman said.

Brigadier Qasim al-Musawi would not reveal the suspect's name but said he was the leader for western Baghdad of the 1920 Revolution Brigades insurgent group, which has claimed responsibility for attacks on U.S.-led forces.

"We captured him at 5 a.m. (0100 GMT) this morning, along with seven of his aides, following accurate intelligence information in the Abu Ghraib district," he said. "It was an Iraqi army operation."

Although I don't like to judge before all the facts are in, it's beginning to look as though Gen. John Abizaid, the Commander-in-Chief of CENTCOM, knows more about the Iraq Army than even noted PBS journalist and liberal activist Jim Lehrer.

Speaking of good intelligence, based on a tip, our good friends the Brits have killed an important al-Qaeda operative hiding in Basra, Iraq:

British forces have killed a senior al-Qaeda fugitive in a raid on a house in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, security sources say. Officials named the dead man as Omar al-Farouq, a top lieutenant of Osama Bin Laden in south-east Asia.

Farouq was captured in Indonesia in 2002 but escaped from a US military prison in Afghanistan last year.

British military spokesman Maj Charlie Burbridge said Farouq, whom he called a "very, very significant man" had been tracked across Iraq to Basra. He said about 200 troops surrounded the house, from where they came under fire. A gun battle erupted and Farouq was killed in the exchange.

So if Iraq is getting better, why do we keep hearing nothing but bad news? The problem is the gatekeeper effect: the gatekeeper controls what information is allowed through and what information is kept away from the eyes and ears of the American people. An honest gatekeeper allows information through based upon its reliability; but a partisan gatekeeper never thinks any news is "reliable" if it contradicts what we call The Story -- the predetermined story-line that animates nearly all newspaper and broadcast coverage.

The Story is that Iraq has been a complete pig's breakfast, just as the elite media all predicted it would be. Oh, maybe we didn't get bogged down in the "quagmire" during the initial assault, as they said; but look, now we're trapped in the quagmire of the Iraq Civil War!

The Story provides the framework, and every piece of information is evaluated by how well it fits into The Story. Every fact is compared to this framework; if it fits -- dead American soldiers, dead Iraqi civilians -- the gatekeeper allows it through.

But if it doesn't fit -- peaceful provinces being turned over to the Iraqis, terrorists being captured or killed -- the gatekeeper knows that it must be unreliable... so he spikes it. And the worst part is, he believes he is actually doing his proper job as a journalist; he doesn't think of himself as a partisan... he thinks of himself as one of the "reality-based party" which is interested only in the truth ("just gimmie some truth!")

Jim Lehrer, along with scores of other elite liberals, is not really a journalist: he is a liberal gatekeeper, on the same moral level as the security guard at the gates of a country club, whose job to make sure that only the right kind of people get inside.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, September 26, 2006, at the time of 5:31 PM

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The following hissed in response by: bill

Makes it easier for the terrorists, they can blow up one bomb in Baghdad where the reporters are, then they report the whole of Iraq has blown up. Don't you think terrorists read the NYTimes to get their assignments? What good would blowing up a bomb when there were no one around to report it. Saves terrorists resources.

The above hissed in response by: bill [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 6:43 PM

The following hissed in response by: Nuclear Siafu

I remember the class discussion we had in a journalism course I took concerning the gatekeeper effect. It was interesting, because the only examples my classmates wanted to consider were those involving a news agency being pressured by its advertisers to suppress certain news. The idea that ideology entered into the equation was brought up for a fleeting instant and then swatted down by the instructor.

Now, the instructor was a newsman himself, and had a lot of experience working with the people who function as gatekeepers in the industry. He was of the opinion that the gatekeepers could, for the most part, set aside ideology when filtering potential news. What they couldn't set aside was that they had to deliver items that would be newsworthy to their audience.

No matter what their particular ideology happens to be, they know that their overriding priority is to deliver the information their audience will find noteworthy. So, because these gatekeepers basically spend all day surrounded by those with liberal and near-liberal mindsets, it skews their perception of who their audience actually is.

And that, I think, is what results in a lot of the partisanship we see in the MSM.

The above hissed in response by: Nuclear Siafu [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 7:06 PM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

Don't forget, the AP and other 'gatekeepers' have employees and agents actively helping the terrorists win. The gatekeepers are corrupt in this war.
And most of our 'leadership' here is embroiled in defending the enemy's newly created civil liberties, or seeking to wag their fingers and avoid questions.
We are doing pretty well, considering what a trivial amount of our energy is actually spent trying to win this war.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 8:59 PM

The following hissed in response by: Fritz

I agree. The large mainstream news organizations have no idea how biased the information they are reporting is because they don’t understand how biased they are. You see it in all sorts of reporting. For example, you almost never see a fair story on firearms, or the economy, or for that matter the environment, not to mention Iraq.
Certainly there are some who do so deliberately, but I think the majority of them do so through ignorance and laziness. But still, I have no explanation for why they never learn. One would think that eventually they would learn, but they keep making the same mistakes time after time. If it agrees with their beliefs, it has to be true and needs no checking. Yet if it disagrees with their view, then any little error or misunderstanding of what was said or written makes the whole thing wrong in their eyes, whereas those some types of mistakes would be overlooked when it agrees with their point of view.
In many senses they are like the jihadists, so confident in their beliefs that it is impossible for them to imagine they may be wrong. Yet deep down they must have some lingering doubts because some of their work is very clever in the way they present a story. In the case of the NY Times, you had better read it word for word or you will have the wrong impression. What they do is try to make you infer something that they didn’t actually say, because of course if they said it, they might have to print a correction. By implying it they can say you didn’t understand them.
As for the news hour, they do it a little differently. When they interview people on both sides, they select one on the liberal side who comes across as reasonable and knowledgeable, where they try to pick less articulate and perhaps even extremists for their opposing point of view.
It also affects the stories they cover. The News Hour is particularly bad at that. Anything that goes against their beliefs has to become a major story, and I mean major, to receive any coverage, and when it has gotten big enough they will use all their usual tricks to spin it. Give them credit though, they are not as obvious at spinning as a lot of news organizations. They are more subtle, and I would submit probably more effective for it. It’s pretty easy to spot crude propaganda and more difficult to spot subtle propaganda.
I’m surprised that they decided to interview Gen. Abizaid. I find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t know he was going to say a bunch of things that didn’t agree with their view of the world. Perhaps they have become complacent and truly didn’t realize what they were getting into. However, I suspect that if one watches for a while there will be stories which attempt to refute what he said. They will be presented in that oh so correct PBS way. After all, they must be careful or their funding might be cut.

The above hissed in response by: Fritz [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 27, 2006 12:14 AM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

Baghdad is the capitol so that is where the action is. The terrorists and the media know it. Raise hell there and it creates the effect they need to promote their story.

As for civil war, I don't think most people know what a civil war is. We had a civil war. The Confderates with their own government and territory and uniforms fighting the Union soldiers on the battlefield. What is happening in Iraq is sectarian violence, such as we used to see in ElSalvador and Islamic terrorism such as we see all over the freaking world.

Now if I know that, why is it so hard for Jim to understand it? But in truth whether we call it a civil war or sectarian violence...most people consider those terms to be a matter of semantics anyway.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 27, 2006 3:19 AM

The following hissed in response by: Sachi


I’m surprised that they decided to interview Gen. Abizaid
General Abizaid is going around giving interviews all over the town telling people that the situation in Iraq is not as bad as reports we read. CENTCOM sent me this interview from Diplomatic Traffic.

The above hissed in response by: Sachi [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 27, 2006 8:10 AM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

There is something else insidious at work.

Let's face it - good news is BORING. The U.S. trained some Iraqi soldiers. They built a bunch of schools. So what? Of course a intelligent, well trained reporter knows how to make training a soldier, or building a school interesting. But a bombing in Baghdad story practically writes itself.

Laziness accounts for a lot of what we see.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 27, 2006 9:26 AM

The following hissed in response by: Fritz

Ah but Sachi, just because Gen. Abizaid is willing and anxious to give interviews doesn't mean that the gatekeepers wish to do them. The fact that he wished to be interviewed would be all the more reason for them not to do so. Most people only like to talk about something when they have positive things to say about it. Even people like Mr. Lehrer are aware of that. It is not like Gen. Abizaid can force them to interview him. And I would think that most of Mr. Lehrer's followers would not be pressuring him to do such interviews where some of their most cherished views on Iraq might be disagreed with, so as I said, I'm surprised that it took place. I'm also somewhat amused that Mr. Lehrer wasn't better prepared.

The above hissed in response by: Fritz [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 27, 2006 10:39 AM

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