The Truth About The Jena 6

A local reporter takes a look at the web of deceit surrounding the case of the Jena 6, a case that has been frequently used to show how racist American society has become. What the reporter finds is that the media twisted the facts, failed to get the whole story, and let the narrative of racism influence how they reported on the events in Jena:

The media got most of the basics wrong. In fact, I have never before witnessed such a disgrace in professional journalism. Myths replaced facts, and journalists abdicated their solemn duty to investigate every claim because they were seduced by a powerfully appealing but false narrative of racial injustice.

I should know. I live in Jena. My wife has taught at Jena High School for many years. And most important, I am probably the only reporter who has covered these events from the very beginning.

The reason the Jena cases have been propelled into the world spotlight is two-fold: First, because local officials did not speak publicly early on about the true events of the past year, the media simply formed their stories based on one-side’s statements – the Jena 6. Second, the media were downright lazy in their efforts to find the truth. Often, they simply reported what they’d read on blogs, which expressed only one side of the issue.

The real story of Jena and the Jena 6 is quite different from what the national media presented. It’s time to set the record straight.

This isn’t surprising. We saw the same dynamic play out with the Duke rape case, in which the media immediately accepted the narrative that the white lacrosse players were rapists and the black stripper was the victim. It plays directly into their preconceptions of a racist America. When the truth finally came out, there was no evidence of rape, the Duke players had been railroaded, and the media had misinformed the American public.

Is Jena the same way? If this reporter’s account is accurate, it certainly seems that way. The media once again came in with their preconceptions and molded their reporting around the story that they wanted to tell.

In a democracy, we cannot have a media that deliberately manipulates the facts to bring out only the story that they think is important. Such racial bias has already ruined the lives of several Duke lacrosse players, and now the same dynamic is playing out in Jena once again. Picking at the wounds of real racial animus doesn’t advance the cause of racial justice and equality in this country—and in the media’s zeal to try to shape events rather than report on them, they’ve abandoned their objectivity.

The Post Behind The Times

The Washington Post ran yet another anti-war editorial from former Iraq servicemembers. Bob Herbert notices something rather telling about the 12 signatories to the article:

I value the writers’ service and their opinions as soldiers who have served in Iraq, but wouldn’t this editorial have meant more if the Washington Post had managed to find soldiers to write it who had actually been in in Iraq in the last year?

Only two of the 12 captains had been in Iraq as late as 2006, with the rest all departing in 2005 or before. None of them are currently on active duty.

While their opinions are valuable from a historical perspective based upon what they’ve seen while they served, they hardly seem to be best qualified to be able to comment upon the current situation on the ground in Iraq, as it has changed so radically since the last of them departed.

The media is desperate to preserve the narrative on Iraq. Despite the concerted effort of the media, left-wing groups like, and the Democratic Party to “end the war” the battle for Iraq has not been abandoned. Despite the attempts to argue that the situation in Iraq is not improving, even the Post is admitting that the numbers are improving. Despite the attempts to paint a picture of a losing war it appears that al-Qaeda is the one fighting a losing battle in Iraq.

With all due respect to the 12 American soldiers who sacrificed their time for this war, their information is out of date and contradicted by the current situation on the ground. For example, they argue that the “surge” is causing alienation between US troops and the Iraqis. If that is true, then why has the Anbar Awakening been such a success? Iraqi leaders like Sheikh Abu Sattar al-Risha have worked closely with American troops to rid al-Anbar of AQI terrorists. If there are “swayed allegiances” in Iraq those allegiances are swaying against al-Qaeda and towards a free Iraq.

The media narrative has always been one of defeat in Iraq. The truth is far more complex. It’s far too soon to declare victory in Iraq, but the signs of progress are unmistakable. The first step towards fixing Iraq has always been to restore security and allow for the Iraqis to develop their own political institutions from the ground up. We are making demonstrable progress on that front, and even the Post has been forced to admit that numbers paint a far different picture than their chosen narrative.

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.

Do Not Mess With Apple

NBC Universal has decided not to offer their programming through iTunes anymore — meaning that shows like The Office and Battlestar Galactica will no longer be available for download.

Apple’s press release makes it clear what motivated the decision:

“We are disappointed to see NBC leave iTunes because we would not agree to their dramatic price increase,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of iTunes. “We hope they will change their minds and offer their TV shows to the tens of millions of iTunes customers.”

Basically, NBC wanted to more than double the price of its shows from $1.99/episode to $4.99/episode.

This is an incredibly, incredibly stupid move on the part of NBC Universal. For one, they’ve just alienated the millions of people who use iTunes. They’ve just suffered a PR disaster, and now they’re shutting themselves out of the biggest market for legal TV downloads. No doubt that they’ll come back with their own online store that sells episodes at their cost, with irritating DRM that is incompatible with the most widely-used video devices on the planet (the iPod and iPhone), and that store will end up costing them millions to set up only to fail in short order.

I’ve bought NBC shows from iTunes, and I won’t pay double the price for the same thing, and I won’t buy episodes that won’t play on my Mac or iPhone. I suspect most people won’t do those things either.

NBC just shot itself in the foot with this one, and if they were smart, they’d be cutting a deal to get back on iTunes ASAP.

Does The New York Times Even Have Editors?

Glenn Reynolds has a round-up of links on the Times‘ latest silly gaffe. The New York Times evidently can’t even identify whether a quotation comes from the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence.

If it were some blogger, it would be an error. But when it’s the “newspaper of record” for the country (although I’d dispute that claim) — an organization that’s supposed to have one of the strongest editorial staffs in the country, making a mistake that would get you dinged on a high school civics test is a sign that the Times doesn’t have the credibility to be considered a world-class newspaper. If journalists want to know why their profession is looked down upon, it’s because of things like this. If they can’t get the small stuff right, how in the world can we trust them to accurately inform us about the bigger things?

UPDATE: Lawprof Ann Althouse finds that the logic of the editorial itself is hardly befitting.

For that matter, their whole point is based on the notion that the suicide rate of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is somehow high enough to warrant extra caution — which isn’t true. The suicide rate for military veterans is less than that of their civilian cohort, and the increase in the military suicide rate is based on a statistically insignificant variation — 11 suicides out of hundreds of thousands of active duty military personnel. (The average suicide rate for 25-44 year-olds generally is 13.6/100,000 while the military rate is 13/100,000.)

Bad writing, bad logic, bad history… proving once more that on subjects deeper than food and fashion, the New York Times is rarely worth reading.

Hillary’s Pit Bulls For Hire

FrontPage Magazine has an in-depth look inside Media Matters for America, the “progressive” political outfit that’s become quite well known for their vitriolic attacks against anyone who doesn’t toe their party line. FrontPage notes that Media Matters is acting as Hillary Clinton’s personal media attack dogs, and how those political concerns played into their decision to flog the Don Imus story into a national frenzy.

It’s always interesting to note how Hillary used to decry the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” and yet she’s using the same tactics that she claimed the Right used in her quest for political power. The web of allied organizations from George Soros’ Open Society Institutes (as well as support of, another group with deep ties to the Clintons) and John Podesta’s Center for American Progress which forms Hillary Clinton’s personal shadow cabinet.

The problem with Media Matters for America and the rest of these web of left-wing “think tanks” is that they’re not think tanks at all. They’re not driven by policy, they’re driven by politics. They are essentially cargo cult versions of right-wing institutions such as The Heritage Foundation, but designed not to advance a particular message but be the personal attack dogs of left-wing candidates. Media Matters, for instance, is so stridently partisan as to be unmistakable as anything but a political organization — so much so that they frequently seem to skirt the edge of what a 501(c)(3) organization can do.

Granted, any group of like-minded philanthropists is likely to have connections to a whole host of like-minded groups — that sort of analysis doesn’t prove anything. However, given that all of these organizations seek to advance political rather than policy objectives is telling. Media Matters is not a media watchdog, they’re a group of pit-bulls for hire, part of an attempt by liberal political operatives to create a left-wing analogue of the Right — but not the Right as it actually works, but the Right as they see it — which is why these organizations won’t have much impact once Hillary Clinton’s political future ends.

The reason why right-wing think tanks have been so successful is that they try to stay out of the political fray as much as possible. They’re not in it to support candidates or bash “the other side” but to advance a particular agenda and support that agenda with hard evidence and intellectual arguments. The left, for the most part, doesn’t follow suit. They’re more stridently ideological, less rigorous, and infinitely more political. It’s also why this movement won’t last — temporal politics are constantly shifting, and the “progressive” movement is simply the same old liberalism with a new veneer. It isn’t that their cannot be a legitimate and long-lasting left-wing think tank in this country — the Brookings Institution is a long-standing and very well respected center-left think tank, and the Institute for Policy Studies has been in existence for decades. The problem is that when what should ostensibly be an institute for the study of policy starts getting involved in politics, they lose all pretense of objectivity. Media Matters never even had the pretense, and while they managed to score one scalp with the Imus firing (which happened to hurt Democrats more than Republicans), the reality is that its clear even to other Democrats who pays their bills and why they’re not watchdogs but lapdogs who bark furiously at anyone who dare say an unkind word to their master.

Being There

Blackfive notes that Washington Post stringer Kiki Munshi thinks that traveling to Baquba, Iraq is “suicidal”:

Last year at this time, I traveled from Forward Operating Base Warhorse into the Iraqi town of Baqubah several times a week to meet with the governor, the provincial council chairman and other officials. Yes, it was dangerous. But it wasn’t suicidal.

Today, though, such trips would be almost impossible. Baqubah is a battlefield, the site of a major push against al-Qaeda and other insurgents. The houses that haven’t been destroyed are riddled with bullet holes. Many of the Iraqis I worked with are dead, and many others have fled.

Meanwhile, independent journalist Michael Yon is in Baquba and draws an entirely different picture:

And so on 05 July, or D + 16, after the meeting, Iraqi leaders including the Deputy Governor of Diyala, and also Abdul Jabar, one of the Provincial chair holders, headed to some of the most dangerous areas in Baqubah on what Americans would call “a meet and greet.” At first the people seemed hesitant, but when they saw Iraqi leaders—along with members of their own press—asking citizens what they needed, each place we stopped grew into a festival of smiles.

The people were jubilant. None of the kids—and by the end of the day there were hundreds—asked me for anything, other than to take their photos. These were not the kids-made-brats by well-meaning soldiers, but polite Iraqi kids in situ, and the cameras were like a roller coaster ride for them. The kids didn’t care much for the video; they wanted still photos taken. While the kids were trying to get me to photograph them, it was as if the roller coaster was cranking and popping up the tracks, but when I finally turned the camera on them—snap!—it was as if the roller coaster had crested the apex and slipped into the thrill of gravity. Of course, once the ride ended, it only made some clamor for more. Iraqi kids that have not been spoiled by handouts are the funniest I have seen anywhere.

Yon even brings pictures from his “suicidal” mission into the heart of Baquba, where roving bands of vicious children threaten all with their smiles.

This incident explains exactly why the American people are not getting the truth about what is going on in Iraq. Ms. Munshi isn’t in Baquba, yet feels compelled to tell a story that is plainly and evidently disputed by someone who is there. The biggest failure in Iraq is the failure of the media to report the truth in that country — for if they did, it might actually lead people to believe that we’re doing some good there. The disparity in opinion between those who spend their time in Iraq and those who do not is massive: those who actually experience the reality of life in Iraq seem to have an entirely different view of the situation than those who are trying to shape the narrative about this conflict.

The media simply isn’t giving the American people the real story — and it is giving advantage to the enemy. The real story of Iraq is far more complex than the simpleminded narrative that the media conveys to the rest of the world — and people like Ms. Munshi betray the public trust when they issue such blatant falsehoods.

In The Spirit Of “Fairness”

The left wing is all in a tizzy that four years after Air America, left-wing talk radio still hasn’t caught on. What is the answer to this terribly vexing problem of having dissenting voices providing a counterbalance to the almost monolithically liberal world of network television and newspapers.

Oh, that’s right, calls for government intrusion into the radio marketplace. Or more plainly, government mandated censorship in the guise of “fairness.”

Fortunately, radio guru Mitch Berg tears those arguments to shreds. The “Fairness Doctrine” apparently only applies to speech that the left dislikes — I’ve yet to see them policing their own.

So, in the spirit of “fairness” how about applying the concept to the rest of the media?

For example, the editorial pages of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune are only right-wing if you compare them to Granma — and even that’s questionable most of the time. So, in order to be “fair” that liberal content simply must be balanced with an equal number of column inches of conservative content. Therefore, each time that the Star Tribune runs an editorial explaining why we have to raise taxes, they should be forced by the government to run an article by Neal Boortz on why we need a flat tax.

After all, the left-wing has used liberal newspapers for years to pump up the EMOTION of left-wingers, because that’s what gets left-wingers to the polls and left-wing New York Times readers vote…

The same tactics are continued on the major broadcast networks throughout the country. It is quite simply the most formidably dangerous weapon the Democrats have to wield against Republicans come election time. National liberal hosts like Dan Rather or Katie Couric gain trust with listeners to great affect. It hurts Republicans at the polls.

Therefore, under the new “Fairness Doctrine” this content must be balanced with equal time given to the opposite viewpoint. For instance, the next time CBS uses a crudely-forged memo that implicates a Republican, another crudely-forged memo should be used that implicates a Democrat. Sure, that hand-written recipe for aborted fetus slurpies isn’t remotely in Hillary Clinton’s handwriting, it’s written in crayon, and several letters are written backwards, but I’m sure that CBS can find a few document experts that would testify that it was written by a period typewriter — and if they can’t, the government will ensure that they do.

Cable, thankfully, is more balanced. However, to make it more “fair” Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly must be placed in a steel cage and forced to fight to the death for the nation’s amusement. Two blowhards enter, and only one leaves. Preferably neither of them do.

Fine, so that last one is less to do with pressing needs for government regulation and more to do with personal preference…

In all seriousness, as Mitch Berg explains, there’s a good reason why conservative talk radio has dominated their airwaves for nearly two decades now. It’s not because of some sinister cabal of evil conservative radio networks conspiring, it’s because more people like conservative talk radio than like liberal talk radio. Nor is radio as a whole unbalanced — NPR is everywhere, and they certainly don’t swing to the right by any reasonable standard. 90% of people listen to radio, but that sure doesn’t mean that 90% of Americans listen to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. The fact that the left is moaning that talk radio leans conservative is a sign about just how insecure they are about their ideas — apparently having failed in the competitive marketplace, the next step is to force the hand of government to make people listen.

That isn’t “fairness” — that’s a betrayal of the First Amendment. Liberal talk radio failed not because of some external factor, it failed because it was painfully amateurish, difficult to listen to, and the people who might form enough of an audience for it already get what they want with NPR — and at least NPR has decent production values. Conservative radio succeeded because conservative hosts like Rush Limbaugh understood the medium and realized that the rest of the media had left a natural opening for dissenting points of view.

Free speech is free speech, and the radio spectrum is not government property — it is licensed to those who want to use it. At the end of the day, stations have to serve the needs of their listeners, and it’s already been well-established that people don’t listen to left-wing talk radio in anywhere near the numbers that they listen to right-wing talk radio. To force stations to broadcast material that few listen to is just committing economic waste and showing the kind of silly partisan rent-seeking that nearly destroyed AM radio before Rush Limbaugh personally salvaged it. There’s nothing fair about enacting forced government censorship of speech, and the fact that the left so warmly embraces it tells one a lot about where their inclinations lie.

The Media As Weapon

The Christian Science Monitor notes that al-Qaeda’s media-based asymmetrical warfare strategy is paying them big dividends:

In the aftermath of the war, fewer US correspondents were embedded with US military units, and the story took a different direction. The focus was on attempts to build a democratic political system and repair an infrastructure both neglected by Hussein and then damaged even more during the fighting. Then came more negative stories of US mistakes and the Pentagon’s unpreparedness for the enormity of problems in the postwar occupation. Finally, Iraq lapsed into violence, with car bombings and assassinations and hostage-taking providing a daily litany of horror. The occupying US soldiers began to take ever more casualties as did US and other foreign civilian workers and journalists, whose fatalities soon numbered more than in any other war.

They included brave Iraqi journalists and cameramen working for the Americans at great peril.

Critics in the Bush administration charged that images of chaos and violence were overshadowing stories of a more positive nature: of schools that were being opened, hospitals that were being rebuilt, and Iraqis who were coming forward to be policemen.

Now some US military officers, too, charge that a clever enemy media campaign is gaining traction and that the US is losing the war in information about battlefield operations.

I don’t think there’s much question that the United States is losing the media war. As independent journalists like Michael Yon have noted the US military has not been friendly to the media which only exacerbates the natural bias the media has against the military. At a time when winning the media war is as crucial as military success on the battlefield, the lack of a coherent military strategy on the part of the United States is one of the greatest weapons that al-Qaeda has.

The military needs to revive the embeds program and ensure that the full story from Iraq is told. The media rarely leaves the Green Zone and relies mainly on terrorist-affiliated stringers to bring them the news from the rest of Iraq. As one officer notes in the article, why build a propaganda outlet when you can subvert the nation’s media to do the work for you?

This situation was largely preventable, had the US taken the initiative after the end of the first phase of combat. Rather than letting the media fend for themselves, the military should have expanded the embed program to ensure that the media got the full story and not just what the enemy wanted them to see.

The American people need to get the full picture so that they can make informed opinions about this war. Right now, they are only getting one side of the story, and that is the side of the story that the enemy wants them to get. The media is not being a “watchdog” when they uncritically report what they’re given — but it doesn’t help that the other story is a lot harder to get than the propaganda of the enemy. Part of winning in Iraq requires our leadership to understand that this war isn’t like the wars we’ve seen previously — it is being fought through the media as much as it is on the battlefield.

If we want to win, and we must, we cannot allow the enemy to shape the media battlefield. We have to fight back, and that means that we have to be far more proactive in getting the full story out there. If we don’t, we will continue to lose at home at the same time our soldiers make great sacrifices trying to win in Iraq.

Attack First, Ask Questions Later

Glenn Reynolds has a rather shocking admission made by UPI reporter Pam Hess on CNN’s Reliable Sources:

KURTZ: Pam Hess, has the sending of 20,000 additional troops gotten a fair hearing in the media or has it gotten caught up in this wrenching, emotional debate about whether the war itself was a mistake?

PAM HESS: I think it’s gotten caught up about it, and the debate about it is actually all wrong. What reporters know and what Martha says is that 20,000 really isn’t that big — isn’t that big a jump. We’re at 132,000 right now. It’s going to put us even less that we had going in going across the line.

What we’re not asking is actually the central question. We’re getting distracted by the shiny political knife fight. What we need to be asking is, what happens if we lose? And no one will answer that question. If we lose, how are we going to mitigate the consequences of this?

It’s so much easier for us to cover this as a political horse race. It’s on the cover of “The New York Times” today, what this means for the ’08 election. But we’re not asking the central national security question, because it seems that if as a reporter you do ask the national security question, all of a sudden you’re carrying Bush’s water. There are national security questions at stake, and we’re ignoring them and the country is getting screwed.

That’s right — for the press, it’s irrelevant what information is the most important in determining the course of American policy — it’s all about bashing Bush. The Ahad-like fixation the President means we’re not getting the whole story. No one is questioning what would happen if we were to withdraw from Iraq. Even though that question is profoundly important for the future of this nation and the Middle East, it’s taboo because it’s politically incorrect to be asking such questions.

The media no longer cares about objective reporting, giving people the truth, or asking tough questions. It’s all about scoring cheap political shots and vapid celebrity news. The media is utterly broken, and for all the talk about how terrible Fox News is for actually reporting stories that might be perceived as friendly to the Bush Administration, the mainstream media is perfectly willing to distort the news or ignore crucial stories that don’t fit their ideological agenda.