What the hell were they thinking?

May 6, 2004

No need to link to any of the latest horrors from Iraq. Three clicks in any direction will find you all the fresh hell you require.

I was against this war from the start but I’ve kept my opinions off this blog, for the most part, to avoid getting into arguments that soak up too much time and solve nothing.

Thing is, everybody I work with, almost without exception, is against the war. And this true of just about every American newsroom not owned by Rupert Murdoch or the Moonies. And it won’t be long before they turn, too, the way things are going.

So what I’m wondering is, how did the White House and the Pentagon think they’d get this story past all us limp-wristed, bleeding-heart, pacifist, war-hating journalists? They can spin themselves till they’re blue in the face but it won’t change the fact that when scandals like this prison-abuse thing break, we’re gonna hammer them. Obvious as the fingers on my keyboard.

I’m grown up enough to understand that the point of this war is to keep George W. Bush in the White House for the full eight years, to keep the halls of Congress packed with Republicans, and to make it as easily as possible to lather-rinse-repeat this cycle in perpetuity. That’s how politics works. The thing about using wars to do this is, you’ve gotta have a plan that makes sense, that has a chance of succeeding, and is flexible enough to adapt to outrage outbreaks. Qualities of decency, mercy and humanity would be nice, but are not required; after all, it is a war.

I’m not seeing many hints that the White House or the Pentagon has a sensible plan to win the political war, much less the blood-and-guts one. But they’d better get one soon if they expect all us newsies to stick with the program.

15 Responses to What the hell were they thinking?

  1. Wayne on May 6, 2004 at 12:34 pm

    Could it be that Bush and his people thought they could get the war over before the media had the guts to question it? Or at least get the country in so deep that pulling out is, in some ways, as bad as staying in?
    Or are they convinced most of the public doesn’t care what newspapers print?

  2. tom on May 6, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    The people they have to convince are the tv networks, really. We’re not very big blips on their radar.

  3. Wayne on May 6, 2004 at 6:35 pm

    yes, tv

  4. Jeremy Verdusco on May 6, 2004 at 11:31 pm

    Swing that hammer, brother Mangan.
    Oh, and I couldn’t help but notice I’m not in your blog roll… At least you’re reading.

  5. tom on May 7, 2004 at 6:40 am

    An omission soon to be remedied.

  6. The Sanity Inspector on May 7, 2004 at 8:48 pm

    “Release Number: 04-01-43
    “DETAINEE TREATMENT INVESTIGATION BAGHDAD, Iraq An investigation has been initiated into reported incidents of detainee abuse at a Coalition Forces detention facility. The release of specific information concerning the incidents could hinder the investigation, which is in its early stages. The investigation will be conducted in a thorough and professional manner. The Coalition is committed to treating all persons under its control with dignity, respect and humanity. Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the Commanding General, has reiterated this requirement to all members of CJTF-7.” News release, U.S. Central Command, Jan. 16, 2004. ”
    Where’s the spin in that? From this and Rumsfeld’s testimony, it sounds like the Army was investigating this very early on. That is, the news media didn’t bust them; rather, the Army started investigating according to their own internal procedures, as soon as the relevant commanders became aware of the wrongdoing.
    Just my .02, don’t want to abuse the forum for political fights. But the above quote is a press release, you know. Somebody’s editorial antennae should have shot up sooner.

  7. Vanderleun on May 9, 2004 at 7:40 am

    Ah, but that’s too sane. Don’t you know that unless a story is launched by a big media outlet it isn’t a story at all. The fact that the story was out there in November and the press missed it only means that it wasn’t out there in November.
    At any rate, I’d like to thank Mr. Mangan for clearing up any lingering doubts about the poltical composition and mindset of The San Jose Mercury News.

  8. tom on May 9, 2004 at 8:51 am

    You guys have to read between the lines, examine the tea leaves and check the voting records for “evidence” of bias, but imagine how’d it’d be if we went deliberately, overtly, unashamedly partisan, with no pretense of balance or fairness. That’s the way you think you’d like it to be, “why can’t they be more like Rush? He tells it like it is.”
    Be careful what you wish for. Rush and his pals are useful as dissenters but if their ideology becomes the national ideology, you’ll never run out of dragons to slay and the wars to prove your superiority will never end till the nation loses its will to fight. And then it disappears.

  9. KP on May 9, 2004 at 9:32 pm

    The voice of truth. Thank you, Tom.

  10. Richard Nieporent on May 10, 2004 at 5:58 am

    “but imagine how’d it’d be if we went deliberately, overtly, unashamedly partisan, with no pretense of balance or fairness.”
    It is good to know that you make a pretense of balance and fairness in your paper. How about real balance and fairness, or is that asking too much?

  11. tom on May 10, 2004 at 6:29 am

    There are publications that offer “real” fairness and balance. They are called peer-reviewed journals and nobody reads them except scientists and academics.

  12. Richard Nieporent on May 10, 2004 at 7:44 am

    It is not that I expect newspapers to be ?fair and balanced? (oops, I guess that phrase won?t get me any brownie points over here), I would just like there to be a little less editorializing done in the news section of the paper. My problem with journalists is that they claim to be working on a higher moral plane than the rest of us. However, I do appreciate your honesty.

  13. tom on May 10, 2004 at 8:49 am

    To tell the truth, I’d take 10 readers mad as hell at me over people not reading at all.
    Even if you think my version of the news is the spawn of a Stalin-Hussein cloning experiment gone madly out of control… at least you’re paying attention.
    No matter what your obsessions are, if you care about a subject deeply enough, news reports about the object of your affection will infuriate because there’s a good chance that you know more about the issue than the reporters do. They’ll never cover the issue the way you’d have covered because, well, they’re not you.
    I’m from the “don’t condemn till you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” school. Reporters have tough jobs and some of them get killed doing it. They go through life with preconceptions like everybody else does. That doesn’t mean give ’em a free ride; just show a bit of respect for people who’re doing this so you don’t have to.

  14. Richard Nieporent on May 10, 2004 at 2:01 pm

    Yours is an interesting view on the topic, Tom. I agree that someone who has closely followed an issue will likely be more knowledgeable than a reporter who is addressing it for the first time. However, that is not my concern. The way one learns ?the truth? (Yes, I know that is an illusive concept. That is why I put it in quotes.) is by gathering as much information on a topic as one can, so that you can filter out the biases and inconsistencies. However, it would help if the reporter simply reported the facts as he sees them without interpreting them according to his preconceived biases on the subject. That just makes it harder for anyone to learn what is really going on. As a scientist, I know the difference between facts and opinions. I have opinions like everyone else, but I don?t mix the two when I am asked to do an analysis.
    By the way, I am kind of surprised that you would attempt to deflect criticism of your profession by indicating that being a reporter is inherently more difficult and dangerous than other professions. First of all, most of us have tough jobs. Being a reporter is not uniquely difficult. Moreover, with some jobs you are much more likely to get killed than being a reporter. For instance, construction workers, cab drivers, policemen, firemen and soldiers come to mind. However, even if it were true that being a reporter was the most dangerous job, that does not give you the right to slant the news. As Truman once said, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  15. tom on May 10, 2004 at 2:13 pm

    You came to the right place to air these concerns, frankly, because it’s an editor’s job to address bias, balance, editorializing and a host of other sins.
    Editors are paid to fix reporters’ mistakes; if reporters were infallible I’d be working at Jiffy Lube.