What They Didn’t Report

Jack Kelly has a charged piece noting the media’s self-serving coverage of a recent speech by retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez:

LtGen. Sanchez, who commanded U.S. troops in Iraq from June, 2003 to June, 2004, is the highest ranking Iraq war veteran to publicly criticize the war, so his comments were newsworthy, despite being long on adjectives and short on specifics. But this column is less about what LtGen. Sanchez had to say and more about what the journalists who covered his speech chose to report.

All the news organizations which covered his speech emphasized the caustic things he had to say about the Bush administration.

That wasn’t the sole target of Lt. Gen. Sanchez’s ire, however. The full text of his speech makes it quite clear that his position on the media is just as hostile:

Almost invariably, my perception is that the sensationalistic value of these assessments is what provided the edge that you seek for self aggrandizement or to advance your individual quest for getting on the front page with your stories! As I understand it, your measure of worth is how many front page stories you have written and unfortunately some of you will compromise your integrity and display questionable ethics as you seek to keep America informed. This is much like the intelligence analysts whose effectiveness was measured by the number of intelligence reports he produced. For some, it seems that as long as you get a front page story there is little or no regard for the “collateral damage” you will cause. Personal reputations have no value and you report with total impunity and are rarely held accountable for unethical conduct.

Given the near instantaneous ability to report actions on the ground, the responsibility to accurately and truthfully report takes on an unprecedented importance. The speculative and often uninformed initial reporting that characterizes our media appears to be rapidly becoming the standard of the industry. An Arab proverb states – “Four things come not back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, the past, the neglected opportunity.” Once reported, your assessments become conventional wisdom and nearly impossible to change. Other major challenges are your willingness to be manipulated by “high level officials” who leak stories and by lawyers who use hyperbole to strengthen their arguments. Your unwillingness to accurately and prominently correct your mistakes and your agenda driven biases contribute to this corrosive environment. All of these challenges combined create a media environment that does a tremendous disservice to America. Over the course of this war tactically insignificant events have become strategic defeats for America because of the tremendous power and impact of the media and by extension you the journalist. In many cases the media has unjustly destroyed the individual reputations and careers of those involved. We realize that because of the near real-time reporting environment that you face it is difficult to report accurately. In my business one of our fundamental truths is that “the first report is always wrong.” Unfortunately, in your business “the first report” gives Americans who rely on the snippets of CNN, if you will, their “truths” and perspectives on an issue. . . .

All are victims of the massive agenda driven competition for economic or political supremacy. The death knell of your ethics has been enabled by your parent organizations who have chosen to align themselves with political agendas. What is clear to me is that you are perpetuating the corrosive partisan politics that is destroying our country and killing our servicemembers who are at war.

My assessment is that your profession, to some extent, has strayed from these ethical standards and allowed external agendas to manipulate what the American public sees on TV, what they read in our newspapers and what they see on the web. For some of you, just like some of our politicians, the truth is of little to no value if it does not fit your own preconceived notions, biases and agendas. (Reformatting and spelling corrections mine.)

The news stories reporting on Lt. Gen. Sanchez’s speech unsurprisingly didn’t bother to mention those words. Neither did they bother to report on his equally harsh rebuke of Congress. Nor did they feel it was important to note that Lt. Gen. Sanchez does not believe that America can afford to engage in a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. All they wanted to do is report on his criticisms of the President.

Kelly is correct: the media’s own coverage of Lt. Gen. Sanchez’s speech proved his argument about the agenda-driven reporting of the mainstream media. They only covered the portions of the speech that served their interests and ignored the rest. The political agenda of the mainstream media—an agenda which is unabashedly against the war and against the Bush Administration—has ensured that the political inconvenient portions of the General’s speech have been virtually suppressed.

For all the talk about how biased and agenda-driven Fox News is, the rest of the media is hardly immune to demonstrable bias in their reporting. The “so-called liberal media” is hard to deny when evidence like this comes to light.

Sanchez’s criticisms of the war are worth listening to, although ultimately the progress in places like al-Anbar, Diyala, and Salah-al-Din show that our current strategy is working. However, it’s his criticisms of the politicization of military policy and the media that are the most worth examining closely.

Yet the media evidently doesn’t want people asking those probing questions—which is further evidence of why the mainstream media is failing its fundamental duties to the American people.

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