Winning: Another Al Qaeda Victory

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November9, 2006: One of the immediate things known in the wake of the American November elections is that the media strategy employed by al Qaeda has succeeded. Having failed to disrupt three elections in Iraq, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups fought to hang in there, and shifted their aim to American newsrooms.

It was a logical choice. In 1968, the Tet Offensive led many in the media to believe that the war in Vietnam was failing. The most famous pronouncement was Walter Cronkite's declaration that the war was a stalemate. Lost in the media defeatism was the fact that American and South Vietnamese troops won the battle, and had delivered a crippling blow to the Viet Cong. Similarly, in 1993, American forces won a firefight with Somalian militias under warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid - but CNN footage of American casualties being dragged through the street led to a perception of defeat.

In this case, al Qaeda exploited what was already an inherent opposition to the war. Some mainstream media outlets had opposed the war from the start. The failure to immediately find weapons of mass destruction added to the media's growing doubts. As long as al Qaeda detonated IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan, they could increase the perception of a quagmire. By getting the media to focus on the IED-of-the-day, al Qaeda was able to bury the good news (like the training of the Iraqi Army and reconstruction efforts), and was able to weather the loss of senior leaders like Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

The other factor going for them was the fact that members of the mainstream media generally were not sympathetic to the U.S. government. In the last year, media outlets revealed several intelligence programs - often spinning them in a manner that put the intelligence community and the military in a bad light. A reporter for Time magazine, who embedded with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, had his article completely rewritten by editors who felt his portrayal of American troops was too positive. The media did not even admit that documents, recovered during the liberation of Iraq, showing Saddam Hussein was pursuing nuclear weapons, until it could be spun in a manner that made the Department of Defense look bad. The media even started to refuse to publish letters from Department of Defense officials which challenged misreporting on the war. Heroes like Paul Ray Smith, who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, were studiously ignored.

Now, the stage is set for al Qaeda to win a major victory. It was a simple matter of getting the American media to ignore the battlefield victories while accentuating al Qaeda's attacks. What could not be accomplished on the battlefield - an American retreat from Iraq - was instead achieved in American newsrooms. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 

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