10 January, 2006

"Bought by the Army"

My response to William M. Arkin of the Washington Post...

I am a very amateur blogger who got talked into blogging by her friends, and whose only claim to fame is my leadership role in the Valour-IT program (and perhaps the luck of being friendly with a few heavyweight milbloggers).

Although I’ve strayed at times, I’ve been hesitant to be too “political” in this space because I wasn’t sure I wanted to get down and roll in the mud. I still don’t want to, but I am both offended and disgusted by Mr. Arkin’s implication that any of us who participate in the Army Blog PR effort will be willing conduits of oily and misleading propaganda (in the negative sense of the word). I am a total civilian, but more educated in military matters than many reporters I’ve read, and at any point my knowledge may be lacking I have plenty of very knowledgeable and experienced people to advise me. And I plan on using those sources to help me distinguish fact from fiction and misleading propaganda from truth if I end up participating in this program. As far as being some kind of willing arm of the government leadership at the expense of the truth or the wellbeing of our troops on the ground, I don’t have the words for how low I would have to sink in my own esteem to do that!

Much like Blackfive and John Donovan, I’m interested in the possibilities of this program, but a bit unsure of its value. I was initially puzzled by the email, and phrases like “exclusive editorial content” sound strange to me. I sent HS&L Hass MS&L a warm response to their email and I’m still awaiting clarification of what is being offered, but I am under zero obligation to write about or reproduce anything HS&L Hass MS&L may send my way (as Mr. Kondek made clear in his initial email, reproduced here).

And as far as Mr. Arkin’s statement that there is plenty of good news coming out of Iraq:

My second answer is to dispute the proposition. Plenty of "good news" stories come out of Iraq. The reconstruction and election and Iraqi police and military recruiting and bravery story has been told. In fact, one could argue that there is so much good news and progress, the President is measuring it to see when enough good news accumulates so that he can start withdrawing U.S. military forces in earnest.
I’m waving the BS flag here, big-time! In all honesty, I wonder what news sources Mr. Arkin is familiar with. The view of Iraq we receive from major news sources—from the networks to cable news to newspapers—is rarely more than body counts, explosions and opinion pieces masquerading as news. So, one must wonder what Mr. Arkin’s definition of “plenty” is. Is it “just enough good news that the person paying close attention will have a hint that things are going well in Iraq, but not enough that it might make the President look like he is both correct and of honorable intentions concerning Iraq?” I’m honestly puzzled by Mr. Arkin’s opinion here. I’d contest the idea that there is enough good news in the major media for the close viewer/reader to come to a positive opinion about Iraq. The soldiers who came back from Iraq (from the lowest grunt up through the command structure) constantly express their amazement at the way news coverage they see stateside fails to reflect the "reality on the ground." They say they feel that they are watching/reading about a different country than the one from which they just returned (see James Eadie's letter for one example).

And furthermore, the idea that the news being reported out of Iraq is so good (which it isn’t) that the president is looking at something other than military concerns (i.e. mounting “good news”) in his planning is nothing more than an ideologically-colored opinion, based only in his personal belief that the president (despite the president’s oft-repeated claims otherwise and the troops’ belief widespread belief in those claims) views Iraq through simply a political lens without military-strategic concerns. On what statements of the president or his closest advisors is Mr. Arkin basing this opinion?

You know, part of the reason I never wanted to really deal with politics here was because I was tired of fighting what feels like a losing battle. I mean, who am I to take on such a noble personage as Mr. Arkin, installed as he is on the payroll of the great and respectable Washington Post? What I have to say to on this subject is like spitting into the wind.

John Donovan says it better than I ever could:
Yeah, we support the troops. And the war. And we have our snarks about it, too. The point Mr. Arkin is missing is that there is an available relentless drumbeat of negative news, often reported by people with no context (i.e., journos with minimal understanding of things military) - one thing we do is explain what doesn't seem to make sense, and ask WTF when it *doesn't* make sense.
I’ll only add one thing to John's declaration: current and former military members and the people associated with them have the most finely-tuned BS detectors of any group of people I’ve ever met. They are the LAST people to get sucked into erroneous or rah-rah propaganda put out by military leadership.

If you want to think me an arm of questionable government propaganda, go right ahead. I don’t live in the news world and I don’t have a national image or presence to defend. I’m just a humble, largely-anonymous teacher from Arizona who thought I’d try out this blogging thing, immediately got sucked up into Valour-IT, and now feels like she has to keep blogging to keep a voice for Valour-IT. You want to call me a lackey for the government? Fine. That just shows you don’t know me, my values, my deep sense of honor and ethics, or anything else about me. Yeah, I’m taking this personally. But I take the people around the world fighting and dying in my place pretty personally, too.