NYP - Misreporting War
New York Post
July 1, 2005
By Ralph Peters
POP quiz: Which issue matters more to America's future: the remarkable progress made in Afghanistan, or the disappearance of a teenager in Aruba?
Just an aside, but the problem of missing young American women in the English-speaking Caribbean is not exactly new. For information about another case, where the missing young woman was a writer for The Lonely Planet Guide, see: http://www.atforumz.com/archive/index.php/t-617.html; and http://talesmag.com/tales/road/jamaica_no_problem.shtml; and http://www.rism.org/isg/dlp/ganja/news/gj_jg_20000820_2.html.
Obviously, the latter. Over the past month, TV news has devoted more airtime to a missing girl than to Afghanistan and Iraq combined. It took the loss of a special operations helicopter and the 16 personnel aboard to get our Afghan success story back in the headlines — as bad news.
The relentless quest for sensation (and ratings) hurts us badly in Iraq, where a torrent of negative reporting creates an alternate reality in which terrorists dominate the country. The coverage of Afghanistan is even more lopsided.
Yes, Afghanistan has problems. It will have problems beyond our lifetimes. But the country is vastly more peaceful, humane and hopeful than ever before in its history.
The disparate regions composing Afghanistan have always been lawless beyond the city limits. Tribes, not governments, ruled. The current blips of back-country violence are nothing compared to the country's gruesome past. This is a horribly wounded society that's healing faster than we had any right to expect.
Sit back and press the memory button. Remember how, in the wake of 9/11, the experts warned that we'd suffer devastating casualties when our "soft" troops came up against the "battle-hardened" Taliban? We were assured our efforts would fail, that we'd wind up as badly burned as the Soviets and Brits before us; the entire country would take up arms against any foreign invaders.
Didn't happen. Our military and the CIA delivered a swift, stunning triumph. And our troops are actually welcome.
No one held those errant experts accountable. Now they're back, pouncing on every scrap of bad news in the hope they'll be able to say, "We told you so."
And here's how our media deal with the undeniable progress made in Afghanistan:
Tens of thousands of girls enrolled in schools? Who cares. Peace in most of the country? Boring.
Democratic elections? Non-story. Economic progress? Less than a non-story.
A construction boom in Kabul? About time journalists had a nice hotel. Afghan troops defending their elected government? Zero interest, dude.
Sixteen GIs lost in a helicopter shot down by terrorists? Now THAT'S news.
It is news, of course. We mourn the loss of every one of our service members. And while every American casualty, colonel or corporal, counts equally, the loss of a team of Navy Seals is an operational blow. We want to know what happened.
The problem is the imbalance in the reporting. My friends who serve or served in Afghanistan are bewildered by the only-bad-news-counts coverage. By any objective measure,
Afghanistan's an incredible, they-said-it-couldn't-be-done success story. But we only hear that the Taliban is back.
Well, the Taliban never went away entirely. The movement may never fully disappear — no more than nutty white-supremacy groups will vanish completely from the U.S. scene. But we're better off now than in the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan, and the Taliban's been reduced to a local nuisance.
The Taliban's supporters are drawn to disciplinary religion and social repression. Low education levels and ethnic fissures help them survive. International terrorists provide support. But compare today's beggarly Taliban with the power that ruled the country less than four years ago.
We can't expect perfect solutions to the world's problems. The current skirmishing in Afghanistan involves classic frontier-bandido clashes, reminiscent of our own past. Apache raiders would strike in our southwest, then flee across the border to Mexico — just as the Taliban flees into Pakistan.
The Apaches remained a local problem for decades, but they never threatened our government's survival. And the Taliban won't return to rule in Kabul.
But the Taliban have an ally the Apaches never dreamed of — the media. Make no mistake: Our Islamist enemies are as media-savvy as the top Hollywood agents. They know they can't defeat us militarily, so attacks aim to influence opinion polls and decision-makers in the United States. Calls for withdrawal timetables and partisan declarations that we're failing only encourage our enemies to kill more of our troops.
This is the lesson of Vietnam that our enemies have most taken to heart. Defeat us in our own media. It's the lesson that our media is most resistant to learning. At least I hope it's this less-creepy explanation that's responsible, that they don't really want the U.S. to lose.
This week, we lost 16 fine Americans in the Afghan mountains. They deserve to be mourned, and their sacrifice merits respect. But the failure to provide balanced reporting from Afghanistan — and Iraq — is nothing less than spitting on their graves.