Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Media Drops the Ball in Reporting Bush's Policy as a Troop Reduction

Let me lay out a scenario for you:

Your next-door neighbor has a termite problem, so he starts setting off bug bombs that emit 100 pounds of chemicals each day. The smell wafts over to your house, making you and your family sick. You say to your neighbor, "Dude, you're killing me with the bug bombs. Stop it." But, despite years of complaining, he keeps releasing the deadly chemicals. Finally, the EPA comes in and tells your neighbor he has to change his plan, or they will shut down his house. So, the neighbor decides he's going to use 125 pounds a day, because the extra chemicals will finally kill the termites off. You protest, "Hey, the chemicals aren't working, increasing the dosage will only do more damage to us than the termites. Enough already!" But your pleas fall on deaf ears. After eight months of the increased chemical use, you are in really bad shape. Your pet fish are all dead, your children have asthma, and your wife is having hallucinations. So, you go to your neighbor and say, "Enough! The chemicals have to stop." Your neighbor tells you, "Don't worry. I have 5 percent fewer termites now. The extra chemicals have been a success! So, in ten months, I will reduce my daily output by 25 pounds, assuming, of course, my good results continue."

How would you feel? Would you say, "Wow, he's reducing his output! That's great!", and invite him over for a celebratory barbecue? Unlikely. It is far more realistic that you would begin beating your neighbor with a lead pipe, all while yelling, "You idiot! Lowering your daily output of deadly chemicals by 25 pounds puts you in exactly the same place you were eight months ago when you were screwing up my life! How dare you call that a reduction. I'm not an idiot. Don't talk to me like I am a moron."

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States of America, George W. Bush, is that neighbor. In January 2007, after his party was thrown out of power in Congress based entirely on dissatisfaction with his Iraq policy, he came up with the plan for his "surge," adding more troops to Iraq. As I wrote on Monday, you really have to read the text of Bush's January 10, 2007 address to the American people, in which he makes clear that the surge was to be temporary and was intended to give the Iraqi government "room to breathe" so they could reach the benchmarks they themselves set.

Of course, we know now that the Iraqi government has been horrendous, carrying out sectarian revenge and going on vacation rather than doing the hard work of addressing sectarian conflict, and the surge, even if has been tactically successful (many would argue it has not been), has failed, since the Iraqi government failed to do its job.

Just like the termite fighting neighbor in my story, Bush is talking to the American people like we are idiots. In January 2007, the American people wanted a policy change in Iraq. He didn't give them one. Instead, he kept at his current policy, only throwing more troops and money at it. Then, eight months later, he tells us that in ten further months, he'll go back to the status quo of January 2007, and he has the nerve to call that a "reduction" of troops.

It is nothing short of a disgrace.

It was gratifying to see in a Yahoo!/AP article today that both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) immediately came out against Bush's more-of-the-same plan, calling it, in Reid's words, "unacceptable" to him and the American people. Let's hope that they stay in the fight instead of rolling over, the way they did on the war funding bill in the spring and the warrantless surveillance bill in the summer.

But, what I found to be the most disturbing about this whole sordid affair was the way every media outlet talked about Bush's plan to "reduce troops." By no fair definition of the term was the White House proposing a troop reduction. How can you expect the White House to stop lying when the media is its ultimate enabler? By reporting the administration's bogus terminology verbatim, despite it being so obviously a load of crap, the media is helping shape the debate in favor of the president. The American people hear the words "troop reduction" and "Bush" in the same sentence, and unless they do further research, they think, "Good, the president is reducing the number of troops in Iraq." Even though he is doing nothing of the sort.

Is it too much to ask of the media to report the facts? Is it too much to expect them to report the story as the president maintaining the surge for a further ten months, and then possibly going back to the same full level of troop deployment after that? Apparently it is. I know it's pithier and easier to just report the simpler three-word propaganda from the White House, "President reducing troops," than to actually, you know, do their jobs. But their jobs, keeping the electorate informed about what its government is doing, is essential to the maintaining of a democracy.

The media dropping the ball in how it characterizes the president's plan in Iraq is no different than a member of Congress casting a vote after being too lazy to actually read the research on the issue. Both are acts of incompetency, and both are an affront to our democratic system of government.

As the Democrats and some Republicans in Congress come out against Bush's plan and call it what it is, rather than what the White House wants you to think it is, I hope the media's coverage will reflect the scam that the administration is trying to pull. If the media fails in this regard, the American people face a fate like the family next to the bug bomb neighbor, spending years suffering at the hands of their tormentor. It's bad enough that we have to fight Bush's twisting of the facts, but it's maddening that the media is his biggest ally. Liberal media? Hardly. More like a lapdog media. And we all pay the price.