06/03/2004: "He Said, She Said"? It's a matter of trust, folks (apologies to Billy Joel)
Mike Hollihan (Mike's permalinks are bloggered, the relevant post is from 6/2, and the title is "The Truth, After The Spotlight") links to a post by "Citizen Smash" (ex-Lt. Smash, I presume; his is a blog that is generally off my radar) titled: "Wedding Party" Update, in which Smash claims to have received an email from "a contact in the US military" (I detect an implication-between-the-lines that said contact is in country in Iraq, but I don't see anything explicit in the post that says that; YMMV) which reveals a number of "unclassified" details which reveals that the alleged "wedding party" taken out in an incident in western Iraq wasn't really what it seems. I'm not going to quote Smash's post (I'll do Mike a favor and suggest you go to Half-Bakered and read his post--he'll appreciate the hit, or if you feel so inclined you can go to Citizen Smash and read the original source), but what captivated me was the comments. The discussion starts:
SMASH this "he said, she said" crap is ridiculous.Actually, what struck me about this exchange is that "BD" hasn't really answered the point "natz" makes. That point isn't that Smash's information is necessarily wrong (my between-the-lines reading suggests that natz doesn't believe it, but that's as may be), but the Army is handling things wrong. If the Army has ironclad evidence that the "wedding party" was merely a front for "foreign fighters coming across the Syrian border, they need to get that evidence out in front of the media--if necessary, to be aggressive about the process. In recent history, there are too many incidents of U.S. government abuse of security classifications and distortions to justify complete trust in the military assessment--"it wasn't a wedding, trust us." A later commentator "gets it":
If the Army can't provide better evidence of what went on there, then I guess they deserve to lose the propoganda war.
If the wedding video was propoganda, it was a very clever job.
Hell, even SMASH has been reduced to calling it a "wedding party update" so we know what's being discussed.
Enough with the assertions from "contacts" and "unnamed governement sources." THAT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
Bottom line assessment: the Army got burned in this battle of the propoganda and perception war.
Posted by: natz at June 1, 2004 11:33 AM
That's your opinion, natz. The Army "got burned" in your eyes.
In mine, they executed a sound military mission.
I don't know Smash, but I know where he comes from and I'm sure we know a few of the same people here and there... I know enough to believe that if he posts something from a military contact, the information and the source are legit.
Beyond that, I have heard a couple of specifics that mesh perfectly with the account from Smash's contact.
You don't have to believe me any more than you believe Smash, of course. I'm just telling you why I accept what his contact says.
Posted by: BD at June 1, 2004 12:18 PM
What happened in the desert obviously doesn't matter now.This prompted a professional journalist (a Danish one) to interject:
What matters is the US military lost the propaganda fight. The news broke that there was an attack... someone said there were women and children killed and wounded... someone made the connection to Afghanistan.
All the US military could muster as an initial response was "we are still investigating". Which, in the eyes of many, means they did something bad.
Thus... the event was over, the judgement was made. The US killed a bunch of people at a wedding. Cut-wrap... on to the next headline.
Factual or not, the "truth" is what the public perceives from the information they get. If the military is concerned about public opinion then they need to do a lot better job of presenting the facts immediately.
What has become increasingly clear as this occupation has worn on is that the Military has little to no interest in projecting "their side"... or the "good story" in Iraq. The Iraqi people have lost their initial trust...
Here's an interesting exerpt:
"Although most Iraqis watch the local, U.S.-sponsored broadcast television station, which doesn't require a satellite dish, Iraqis in the poll say the Arab satellite networks are the most trusted and break the hottest stories. Few Iraqis trust Western networks such as CNN and the BBC.
More news is spread through that oldest delivery system: marketplace chatter. In the rumor mill, interviews indicate, every confrontation between Americans and Iraqis is portrayed as an assault on the Iraqi people, not on just a few lawless insurgents."
World opinion had little trust to begin with and have been given little to change their mind...
And as for the American people.. well it looks like they're slowly getting more fed up with the situation too:
"As the war began, 30 percent of Americans were angry about it; today, asked about the situation in Iraq, 57 percent are angry — almost twice as many. Anger is highest — 70 percent — among the roughly half of Americans who think that, given its costs versus its benefits, the war was not worth fighting."
Posted by: Chris at June 1, 2004 02:19 PM
Ok - I'll have to blow the whistle on myself here: I'm a journalist ... working as a sort-of-editor for a (in danish terms) large danish media publisher (we print a daily, broadcast our own regional 24/7 news channel and run some local radiostations).Ole, in a further comment, points out that it may be the nature of the 'net and the blogosphere that is responsible for this state of affairs:
And I have to agree with Chris on his first point: It's absolutely incrompehensible for a professional to see the way the US military has handled this situation. In a case like this time is definetely not an ally - silence and/or statements open to interpretation definetely are not either.
Yes I know, the military has it's own ways, procedures to be followed - I've done my time in uniform and I presently serve as a squad leader in the danish Home Guard, best described as an in-state-only deployable National Guard like military organization. So I know all the red tape.
But - when the shit hits the fan, the media will go a long way to pick up the pieces and publish them, and given todays technology that can be accomplished in a jiffy. The army should know that by now but hasn't reacted accordingly.
Any large corporation has a media strategy - which will include a strategy for handling "media emergencies". The army doesn't, it seems. And when you don't, your flanks are left wide open for the marketplace chatter to bring you down. Which is exactly what is happening now.
BTW take your time and read this, though it may seem a bit OT. It's a lesson to be learned for both bloggers and the traditional media about marketplace chatter as well as the dangers of not having a media strategy (Ms. Polier, that is - but she really couldn't be expected to have one ...).
I have no idea what so ever if this is a not to be trusted leftist conspiratory magazine :-) but Ms. Poliers story is interesting, to put it mildly.
Posted by: Ole at June 1, 2004 03:57 PM
I'm not complaining. I'm merely stating the facts.Hey guys, we've lost our innocence. The government isn't to be blindly trusted anymore, and if there are facts and evidence supporting the Army's position here, then we should be making them more visible, not less. And it seems to me that a mere email campaign--Thought it was important to get this word out as much as possible as you won't see any of this on CNN, as Smash's correspondent put it--isn't the optimal way to go about it. Granted, the credulous base is going to accept this without further examination (this just happens to be a right-wing credulous base in this example--I'm sure that it would not be too difficult to find a similar example of credulity from the left), but it's not treason to be from Missouri.
What I'm saying is simply: From a professional point of view, as a journalist, the army has done a poor job of handling this situation. And it is (was) a situation in dire need of handling.
For a lot of reasons - one of them is it'd make my job a lot easier in respect to ensure correct reporting each and every time - I'd wish that things (at least sometimes) would be allowed to go along unreported until the facts are straightened out.
But it is not so, and that's the fact I'm stating. That's the way things are, and mind you, the internet hasn't done anything good in that respect: The marketplace chatter has gone instant worldwide. Which is what the army doesn't seem to recognize. And which is what Ms. Polier didn't realize.
This isn't about media double standards due to the simple fact that this isn't primarily about the traditional media. This is about the new media; blogs and stuff.
The rules of news (or at least the spreading of marketplace chatter) are changing, and there is no way the army can change these rules to fit some standard operating procedure - the army is gonna have to change the SOP to fit the rules.
BTW: Personally I'm pretty sure that the army is right. This wasn't a misjudgement from X.000 feet as in Afghanistan, there were boots on the ground directing the airstrike.
But - don't tell it, show it. And if it's a home run, don't hesitate to do so.
Posted by: Ole at June 2, 2004 03:52 PM [my emphasis --LRC]
Len on 06.03.04 @ 01:01 PM CST