Newsweek's Lily-Livered Liberal Bias
June 20, 2005
Is it any coincidence that the same day the Pentagon held a press briefing to parry questions about military recruiters missing their recruitment goals, along with the deteriorating state of affairs in Iraq, Newsweek hit the stands with its sycophantic cover story "Fathers, Sons and War: The New Faces of a Noble Tradition"?
Newsweek has been on the outs with the Bush Administration, as everybody knows, ever since it was accused of running an inaccurate story on Koran abuse that allegedly caused fatal rioting in Afghanistan. (The Pentagon later held a briefing to concede there were other, similar instances of Koran desecration. But that did nothing to calm the anti-Newsweek crusaders on the right, nor did the insistence of some military higher-ups that Newsweek's small "Periscope" item in no way caused the rioting.) The way this Administration and the whole rightwing echo chamber rail against the "liberal media" has served them tremendously well. Instead of dealing with the real problem--that U.S. actions are hurting our country and stoking its enemies' rage, for example--the Administration shifts the subject to the reporters and commentators who circulate the news. If they keep training their artillery on the messengers this way, they can distract the public from the content of the message.
And how does the "liberal" media respond? By falling all over itself to avoid giving offense, and bending over backwards to show how red, white, and blue it is.
Buried in the gee-whizery of the military family piece is the real news: that all branches of the military have been having a hell of a time selling young Americans on the idea of putting their bodies on the line in an increasingly chaotic Iraq. "Before February, the Army hadn't missed its monthly enlistment goal since May 2000; now it's fallen short four months in a row," a sidebar states. Since October 2004, all four branches of the military, plus the National Guard and Air Force Reserve, have recruited only 62,765 enlistees, compared with a goal of 76,304. "Since February, the Army has been missing its monthly recruiting goals by as much as 42 percent," Newsweek reports. But, the magazine hastens to add, "re-enlistment rates are up, especially for those serving in combat arms in Iraq. Incongruous as it may seem for the millions whose closest brush with battle is on cable, soldiers and Marines on the front line are proud to be there and willing to serve again."
Or are they just finding that their tours of duty are extended again and again, or that they are dragged back in violation of the terms of their original enlistment? Newsweek doesn't sort out the proud and the willing from the victims of the Bush Administration's backdoor draft.
The main point the Newsweek story completely glosses over is glaring. As Jeff Morley of the Washington Post (www.Washingtonpost.com)—which is owned by the same company as Newsweek—put it in an interview on NPR recently, the American public, including military families, are no longer buying the Iraq war.
Support for the war and confidence in the President are at an all-time low. Morley's comments came in the context of a discussion of the Downing Street memo There has been tremendous resistance at the Post and other establishment media outlets to the notion that the Downing Street memo has any significance, he noted. The "narrative" of the Iraq war is so well accepted, the conventional wisdom so settled, that editors at the big dailies are loath to change the story line. So there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction, so there was no direct threat to the United States, the familiar narrative goes--that's all 20/20 hindsight. The Downing Street memo tells us nothing we didn't already know. But, of course, what the memo shows is that high officials in both the United States and Britain were well aware of the thin pretext for the war before it started, and that the Bush Administration was determined to "fix intelligence," as the memo puts it, to mislead the country and the rest of the world into an unjustified war with Iraq. The significance of that, as Morley points out, is the profound blow to the credibility of the President. Bloggers and the foreign press have flogged the story so hard, the mainstream media are now, several weeks after the disclosure, doing more reporting and discussion of the memo's impact.
Newsweek to the rescue! You couldn't buy better propaganda than the cover piece on fathers, sons, and war. It helps that there's a sidebar by John McCain, and that the heroism of the fathers--including the elder Bush in World War II--is a major focus. Then there is the food processor editing style of a news magazine, which removes the voice of any single, intelligent analyst like Morely, and replaces it with multiple by-lines and the kind of "on the one hand, on the other hand" story telling that is almost anathema to real thought. "There is no doubt that the military can encourage family values," Newsweek concludes in the last graph of its meandering cover piece. "There are undoubtedly a few fathers right out of Pat Conroy's 'The Great Santini,' about his abusive Marine Corps dad. But there are many more who fit the model of the Conways, or Ray and Tony Odierno, father and son trading tips on body armor and inexpressible love as they passed an ancient torch, in a tent in Kuwait, on the way to war." (Drums, swelling strings and horns, fade to black.)
Surely the words "noble" and "heroic" have not seen such a workout since stories about the police and firefighters of 9/11. And here is the worst part: the Newsweek story actually represents the kind of guilty-white-liberal mindset that the Rush Limbaughs of the world deride. For instead of giving us the point of view of military families who are stressed to the breaking point by the burdens placed on them in this war—extended tours, inadequate armor, and, worst of all, lack of confidence in the mission—Newsweek gives us bland boosterism and flattery from people who feel guilty that none of this is happening to them. As one source in the story puts it "America's elite would prefer somebody else's daughter to die rather than one of their own sons." Military recruitment is banned on a lot of college campuses, especially in the Ivy League, the Newsweek story clucks. But the magazine omits reference to the fact that many of the major players directing this war for the Bush Administration, including the President and Vice President, avoided service in Vietnam. So hurray for all those salt-of-the-earth noble, heroic soldiers, says Newsweek. Like exotic tribesman in some strange, rugged land, we are fascinated and somewhat awed by their noble, savage ways.
The fearfulness behind this sort of flattery is obvious. "Support the Troops" has been a mantra since the first Gulf War, and Newsweek makes more than one reference to the derision Vietnam vets faced at home from antiwar civilians. But if the Ivy League-educated scribbling classes bend over backwards to show a kind of patronizing admiration for military folks, it hardly benefits the soldiers if it means less criticism that could end an ugly and poorly executed war sooner.
This is just ass-covering—an effort to prevent accusations that Newsweek's editors are unpatriotic.
And here's the flip side of that fawning, courtier impulse:
In the same issue, Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom Watch" takes a jab at former antiwar Presidential candidate Howard Dean, identified in a photo caption only as "the Deaniac." "Old CW [conventional wisdom]: As DNC chair, will restrain his nutty motormouth. New: GOPs are all white Christians! Yaaaaaaah!!" Talk about clinging to pack journalism's keep-the-story-line mentality.
Soon Bush's poll numbers will reach such a low, and the war in Iraq will be going so badly, the political winds will shift in such an unmistakable way that even Newsweek will catch the drift. Only then can we look forward to fawning articles about people who opposed the war or supported human rights all along. And the long knives will be out for the once-powerful officials who lied and faked evidence and misled the whole country into this debacle.
It can't happen too soon.