War Coverage

Josh Manchester has a great piece as TCS about the way wars are covered.

When it comes to ground forces, the American press has a standard template for wartime narratives. Developed in World War II, it has morphed over the years (to the detriment of the perception of our forces) but has remained largely intact. Much of it has reflected the nature of the wars in which the US has become involved.

The Standard Narrative goes something like this: There is a massive deployment of US forces to the far side of the world. This action is more or less just and warranted. The troops charge into battle, sometimes many battles. All the while, there’s an understanding everywhere of an end-state – a point at which the war’s goals will have been accomplished and then, most importantly, everyone can come home.

Throughout all of this there is a standard typecast character: the American enlisted infantryman. Usually he is portrayed with undercurrents of victimhood (this is one of the innovations in the Standard Narrative since WWII.). We see such images in the recent gaffes of Senator Kerry and Congressman Rangel, in which they respectively questioned the intelligence and alternative employment prospects of military personnel. Running through this undercurrent are a couple of others: a sort of class warfare vibe, in which it is assumed that only the poor do the fighting, and a related guilt vibe, in which it is posited that since the troops are merely pitiable, poor, undereducated, unemployable automatons, the best way to “support” them is to bring them home. This entire panoply of implied images even applies when troops are painted in a semi-heroic light. See Forrest Gump.

There’s one more aspect to the Standard Narrative: frequent “horror of war” type memes. These include as many references as possible to PTSD, torture, civilian deaths, and atrocities. These things do happen of course. War is, of course, horrible. But in the standard narrative, they frequently come to dominate, rather than to be portrayed in relationship to their frequency or context.
Josh says the days of the “standard narrative” may be numbered and we are already seeing the effects.

What all of this means is that in many cases it will no longer be cost effective for media outlets to cover US military deployments. The troops will be operating in smaller numbers, more frequently, over long periods of time, in often remote locations. Not only will it be expensive to send Western journalists to such places, but there also won’t be much dramatic action for them to find. Furthermore, such deployments will fly far under the radar of the attention span of the imputed audience at home.

The press may adjust by relying more upon local stringers for its reporting. This is a tactic used many, many times in Iraq, though presumably for reasons of security, and not economy of scale. The recent controversy involving the Associated Press and a man named “Captain Jamil Hussein,” who seems not to have been a captain of anything, may portend some of the problems that the press will encounter in the future in continuing to use the Standard Narrative.

Choosing a bad example to follow
Christmas Trees Being Returned to Seattle Airport