A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Great Miscommunicator

Or, given the current prediliction toward ridiculing politicians with bad grammar, perhaps it should be The Great Uncommunicator:

"The problem the Bush administration has - and it is a problem that dates back to the beginning of the war - is its inability to articulate the reality. The United States is not staying the course. It has not been on course - if by "course" you mean what was planned in February 2003 - for two years. The course the United States has been on has been winding, shifting and surprising. The fact is that the administration has done a fairly good job of riding the whirlwind. But the course has shifted so many times that no one can stay it, because it disappeared long ago.

Having committed the fundamental error - and that wasn't WMD [it was not forseeing and then misreading the insurgency] - the Administration has done a sufficiently good job that some sort of working government might well be created in Iraq in 2006, and U.S. forces will certainly be withdrawn. What threatens this outcome is the administration's singular inability to simply state the obvious. As a result, the Democrats - doing what opposition parties do - has made it appear that the Bush administration is the most stupid, inept and incompetent administration in history. And the administration has been reduced to calling its critics cowards." - George Friedman, Stratfor.com.

One of the major things that is driving the public's increasing distrust of Bush is the fact that we are clearly not on course in Iraq. This does not mean that all is lost, or even that all is bad. But to claim that things are going just peachy and exactly as anticipated is just... misunderestimating the public's ability to judge a situation. Would better press coverage of the positive's in Iraq help? Absolutely. But Bush does himself no favors by refusing to acknowledge that mistakes have been made, and compromises have been struck.

No battle plan withstands the first ten minutes of the fight-- or something like that-- so tell us what's good, what's bad, and what you are going to do about it. Simply saying, "Stay on target. Stay on target," is about as helpful in these circumstances as it was in Star Wars: A New Hope.


I agree that Bush is not a great orator. I still think, however, that the biggest part of the problem is that the administration's message isn't getting through the media filter to the public.

In February of 2003, President Bush stated that "The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet, we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected.

"Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own: we will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more.

The administration has said from the beginning that we were going to depose Saddam, help Iraq build a new government, help to rebuild the infrastructure, and help them to be able to defend themselves. Granted, the above quote is vague, but you aren't going to put out a detailed plan before an invasion takes place, and much of what needed to be done afterwards to achieve those larger, broader goals was going to require an assessment of the situation once major combat had concluded. Regardless, the majority of the media doesn't even present the broad outline in their stories.

Networks won't cut into broadcasting for a presidential speech unless it is an address to the nation that the White House has requested that the major networks cover. So, when the president gives a speech, it is sometimes covered by one of the C-Spans or maybe one or more of the cable news channels, but it is not seen by a majority of Americans. If it isn't broadcast at all, then the only ways that any Americans are going to find out about it are if they check out the White House website, if they receive notice from a group they are a member of (a political party, a PAC, etc.), or if the mainstream-media decides to do a story about it.

In the case of the latter, that doesn't mean that we will hear the speech. Usually we will just get a sound bite and then political reaction. Something similar to this lead line of an AP news item (or, more appropriately, it should be called an analysis/opinion piece) is a good example.

President Bush's depiction of Iraqi security forces as "helping to turn the tide" is difficult to square with persistent setbacks in handing control of the country back to its own people.

It is indicative of what is tossed out daily by most of the media. "Bush made a speech about the war in Iraq, a speech that has been heavily criticized by many in Washington." Then they jump to Pelosi or Kerry or Clinton or Kennedy taking some jab at the president. That's the coverage, and that is what (in my opinion) is primarily shaping the country's view of the war in Iraq.

Members of the armed forces who return from Iraq and Afghanistan are noticing the disparities. You have a post linking to a Sergeant who asked that we listen to the president, and a recent Christian Science Monitor article noted that "Like many soldiers and marines returning from Iraq, [Cpl.] Mayer looks at the bleak portrayal of the war at home with perplexity - if not annoyance. It is a perception gap that has put the military and media at odds, as troops complain that the media care only about death tolls, while the media counter that their job is to look at the broader picture, not through the soda straw of troops' individual experiences."

That doesn't make the headlines of the NY Times, but Cindy Sheehan sure seems to have no trouble getting all the press coverage she wants.

I find it frustrating and, for the most part, futile to present the argument. Most Americans aren't going to read this and, even if they did, most are too lazy to bother doing any research on the subject.
Yes, yes it is. Neither Hillary, nor Joe talking about the importance of not leaving Iraq prematurely has gotten much, if any, press. I will agree with you, Moj, that much of the blame for public perception on Iraq is due to the media. But boy, it sure would be useful if W. could talk his way out of a paper bag a bit more frequently.
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