Marlowe's Shade

Monday, January 03, 2005

The Fourth Estate is a fifth column

Roberts Kaplan's brilliant essay The Media and Medieval ism was recently posted by evariste at Discarded Lies, and also by Wretchard. In his post, evariste was kind enough to compare it to one of my earlier essays, and while I can't hold a candle to Kaplan's powerful vision, it is exactly the kind of analysis of the mainstream media that I've been groping towards.

The premise is that real power in our times is wielded by the mainstream media, which is very disturbing due to the fact that by it's nature, it is free from the accountability of our traditional notions of political power.

Like the priests of ancient Egypt, the rhetoricians of ancient Greece and Rome, and the theologians of medieval Europe, the media represent a class of bright and ambitious people whose social and economic stature gives them the influence to undermine political authority. Like those prior groups, the media have authentic political power — terrifically magnified by technology — without the bureaucratic accountability that often accompanies it, so that they are never culpable for what they advocate. If, for example, what a particular commentator has recommended turns out badly, the permanent megaphone he wields over the crowd allows him to explain away his position — if not in one article or television appearance, then over several — before changing the subject amid the roaring onrush of new events. Presidents, even if voters ignore their blunders, are at least responsible to history; journalists rarely are. This freedom is key to their irresponsible power.

A dozen posts would not do this essay justice, I consider it one of the key manifestos of the blogosphere. But I'll content myself with addressing one aspect of it which is the way in which the interests of the new media nabobs have diverged from their audience in this country.

During World War II, American soldiers and journalists belonged to the same crowd-pack, so news coverage was more empathetic. It made heroes of American troops when the facts so demanded, which was often. American troops have changed less than American journalists have. The crowd-pack to which the latter now belong is that of the global media — an upper-income, transnational human herd. This is not a manifestation of character — good or bad — or even of personal proclivity. This is a mark of profound world-wide social and economic transformations that are eroding the nation-state, with refugee migrations at the bottom of the ladder of human activity and a prosperous class of global cosmopolitans at the top. Prestigious media and intellectual organs have come to constitute an important bellwether in their own right for international power shifts.

Enter the blogosphere as an effective way of combating this media hegemony.

Therefore, in the next war, while the media provide the global cosmopolitan perspective, the troops themselves may well provide the American one. The fact is that most grunts can’t stand to be portrayed as victims. The quietly mounting trend of American soldiers and Marines writing about their experiences and posting them on weblogs rather than having their experiences interpreted by transnational journalists is proof enough., among others, has periodically posted such accounts. I recall one from a Marine chaplain in the Sunni Triangle pleading that the grunts’ morale was fine and suggesting that their principal fear was the home front going belly-up on them.

Clearly when the media elite are involved, we are fighting a war on two fronts.

I thought a recent news story would be an illustration of Kaplan's thesis that the elite media's unspoken aim is to undermine legitimate political authority. He points out correctly that this is not at all evenhanded and that the impulse behind media authority is a warped liberal ethic:

The principal weapon of the global media, as of any media, is exposure. After all, there will be always be something reproachable to expose in even the best-functioning governments and bureaucracies, as such organizations are by nature supremely imperfect. Of course, too much exposure can immobilize government, but if you don’t have a concrete stake in any particular place, that shouldn’t matter. The very fact of exposure — and the moral satisfaction that derives from it — is, pace Canetti, pleasurable.

Exposure is the particular terrain of the investigative journalist. It is the investigative journalist who has inherited the mantle of the old left, whatever the ideological proclivities of individual practitioners of the trade. The investigative journalist is never interested in the 90 per cent of activities that are going right, nor especially in the 10 per cent that are going wrong, but only in the 1 per cent that are morally reprehensible. Because he always seems to define even the most heroic institutions by their worst iniquities, his target is authority itself. Disclaimers notwithstanding, he is the soul of the left incarnate.

Over the past few days a story of two Guantanamo detainees and their alleged torture has been trumpeted by the jihadi propaganda machine, composed primarily of Al Jazeera and it's ilk, and the sympathetic elite international media. They are being portrayed as innocents that are being held without legal cause and one is now even being tortured for the offense of reading the Koran. The Observer [posted on it's Guardian parent site] ran the story and lead off with this:

A British detainee at Guantanamo Bay has told his lawyer he was tortured using the 'strappado', a technique common in Latin American dictatorships in which a prisoner is left suspended from a bar with handcuffs until they cut deeply into his wrists.
The reason, the prisoner says, was that he was caught reciting the Koran at a time when talking was banned.

He says he has also been repeatedly shaved against his will. In one such incident, a guard told him: 'This is the part that really gets to you Muslims, isn't it?'

The detainee claims that the incident caused "deep cuts" to his wrists, however the actual practice of strappado causes much more grievous injuries which if verifiable, I'm sure his attorney would be happy to relate. The posted article also had a banner add for the Guardian with a clownish parody of George Bush and the tag line, "Many US citizens think the world backed the war in Iraq - Maybe it's the papers they're reading".
Begg's case has been championed by a host of liberal papers and leftist websites, with the ACLU leading the charge. Begg had moved his family to Afghanistan about 6 months before 9-11 where he claimed he was doing humanitarian work under the Taliban. The Observer piece says he is being detained at the recommendation of the British MI5 intelligence agency.

Another detainee cited in the Observer article has been definitively linked to al Qaida through it's "European ambassador", Abu Qatada and had had arms training.

Obviously the jihadi arm of the international media has evident reasons for these stories, but why is the liberal press blaring these trumped up charges of torture and wrongful detainment, when it seems apparent that these men are being held for good reason? With ten released detainees confirmed to be fighting the US again, why the pressure to release more who we have a reasonable suspicion will do the same?

The will to undermine the US government and it's sovereignty seems clear here. The media and it's shills will misrepresent or ignore the facts of the case to enhance it's own "authority" and diminish that of our elected officials.

As I said before, this is war.
papijoe 6:42 AM