Iraq: September 20, 2004

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The reality is that most of the violence in Iraq comes from a minority of the Sunni Arab minority who are willing to kill because they either want a religious dictatorship (like the one next door in Iran, except with Sunni clerics in charge), or from members of the Baath Party that was, until recently, led by Saddam Hussein. Now you would think that this bunch of cutthroats, whose favorite tactics are kidnapping or threatening unarmed civilians, would be widely reviled. Nope. They are the underdogs, and have been labeled in the media as "insurgents." Since many countries, and their media,  opposed the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, the "insurgents" get favorable press. Very favorable press. Iraq's problem with it's armed anti-democracy groups is described as "widespread unrest," despite the fact that it is confined to that third of the country (most of it desert) that is dominated by the Sunni Arab minority (about 20 percent of the population). The Baath Party and Islamic radical leaders can read, and make the most of their status as "freedom fighters." OK, that last tag isn't used very often, as even most journalists gag at so describing two groups so openly dedicated to restoring dictatorship. The anti-government forces and Islamic radicals keep their agendas out of the press as much as possible. Instead, they go on about wanting to "drive out the occupiers." Opinion polls of the entire population consistently state that the majority want the foreign troops to stay until the Sunni Arab gunmen are put down. American policy is to get out as soon as the Iraqi majority has a large enough security force to deal with the remnants of the old dictatorship, and their new allies from al Qaeda and other Islamic radical groups. But this isn't news. That most of Iraq is at peace isn't news. That the reconstruction of Iraq has brought a better life to the majority of Iraqis isn't news. That the anti-government forces have no chance of prevailing isn't news. That American troops have fought a spectacularly successful military campaign (check the historical record for details) isn't news. That the Iraqi "insurgents" are mainly war criminals, gangsters and terrorists isn't news. What is news are headlines that have been consistently wrong since before the war began. What is news is what news directors feel will generate the greatest fear, uncertainty and doubt among their audience. That's what gets people's attention. That's the way the news business has always been. The mass media news business is only some 150 years old, and early on, competitive editors realized that the colorful lie was more profitable than the drab truth. There are those who quickly realized that they could use this fact of life to their advantage. So today, dictators and terrorist organizations hire publicists to get themselves the most useful (if not truthful) portrayal in the media.  When it comes to mass violence, playing the press is just another weapon. It worked for Saddam, it's working for his bloody minded supporters, who are still willing to kill for Saddams ideals. But now they are "insurgents" and "freedom fighters." After they are defeated, they will go back to being thugs. And the media will march on, secure in the knowledge that selective amnesia is their friend.

 

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