At a National Press Club forum shortly after the 2004 election, ABC's Carole Simpson famously commented that the primary role of the news media was not, as many thought, to "inform" but rather to "influence." Indeed, the reelection of George W. Bush was, according to Simpson, evidence that the news media had failed in its duty to educate the American public. Given this sentiment, the recent elevation of Cindy Sheehan to media superstardom should come as no surprise.
The Cindy Sheehan phenomenon, after all, is highly reminiscent of the immediate and wide media attention given to a select group of families of September 11 victims who, within 24 hours of the release of Bush campaign commercials that included a few seconds of video from that important day, had press conferences decrying Bush's "political use" of September 11. A typical headline was one used by Reuters in its reporting: "Sept. 11 Families Disgusted by Bush Campaign Ads." Almost no news outlet reported that the disgusted families were members of a rabidly anti-Bush group called "September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows" that had even opposed the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Likewise, Cindy Sheehan has become a media celebrity even though her protests have almost no news value -- except for her own kooky views, which the so-called "mainstream" media is loath to report. Ms. Sheehan's opinion, shared by much of the American left, that Bush went to war in Iraq for the benefit of his "oil buddies" certainly has no basis in fact and is queer given that Bush argued against the subsidies to domestic oil producers to increase exploration efforts in the recently passed Energy Bill (arguing, correctly, that the currently high price of oil provided incentive enough to oil producers). You would think that the news media, eager as they are to put John Q. Public right, would be conscientiously flushing out the problems with this particular opinion of Ms. Sheehan and her left-wing buddies. But instead they are oddly silent.
Just as they are oddly silent about Ms. Sheehan's proclamation that the Iraq war was all about advancing the goals of Israel (note the abundance of Palestinian flags in Ms. Sheehan's camp), or that the United States has engaged in "nuclear war" in Iraq. (Even if Ms. Sheehan were speaking metaphorically, this is a horrendous statement and, yes, one that is an insult to American servicemen who have spent much of the last two years building schools, water treatment plants, and the electrical grid in Iraq -- largely with U.S. funds.) The "mainstream" media is also reluctant to report the fact that much of Ms. Sheehan's entourage is made up of left-wing extremists and of groups hostile to American interests such as "Code Pink" and the American Communist Party. Instead, the work of a couple dozen left-wing activists is reported daily as an important groundswell of anti-Bush sentiment, and used as an excuse to air anti-Bush blather as "news."
Again, no surprise. Just as it is no surprise that Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is sure to get prime media coverage whenever he criticizes Bush's Iraq policy. This was true a few days ago when he proclaimed that Iraq was becoming -- you guessed it -- another Vietnam. Just about every U.S. military action since Vietnam, according to the "mainstream" press, and, for that matter, much of the Democratic Party, was going to be another Vietnam. Nicaragua, El Salvador, Afghanistan, were all going to be Vietnams. Now it's Iraq's turn.
Donald Rumsfeld commented that there are so many differences between Iraq and Vietnam that it would take too long to list them all. Well, just for the record, assuming that our friends in the "mainstream" media might need some help, I'd like to list a few of the most important.
* Iraq, we destroyed a large opposing army in little more than three weeks.
* In destroying that army, we liberated 25 million people from one of the most brutal dictatorships in modern history, and freed the world from an unapologetic supporter of terrorism.
* In Iraq, we have helped a people to create a new, representative government that may become a model for the region.
* The continuing insurgency has little support within Iraq.
* Our success in Iraq has convinced other regimes, such as Libya, to abandon their quest to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
* And we have done all this, to date, at the cost of the lives of approximately 1,864 American soldiers, sailors, and marines. That comes out to an average of about 750 deaths per year; in Vietnam the average casualty rate was about 5,000 per year.
These are some stark differences; ones that the news media will not trumpet. Instead, we will hear more about Cindy Sheehan and the daily casualty figures. This is the one big similarity to Vietnam. The "mainstream" media sees its job not as reporting the news, but as trying to defeat U.S. foreign policy.
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