One endless Rathergate
The rightwing blogosphere, with assistance from the usual MSM types like Howard Kurtz has spent the last week or two trying to discredit a soldier, Scott Beauchamp, who wrote a “Baghdad Diary” for The New Republic, which included various examples of casually callous behavior on the part of US soldiers (nothing on the scale of Abu Ghraib or other proven cases).
For the wingers, this is a continuous pattern. Before this, there was a flap about a report that failures by contractors were resulting in troops in the field not getting adequate food. Before that, it was the Jamil Hussein case, a months-long brawl with AP arising from a report by a stringer about attacks on mosques. Before that, it was reports from Lebanon of ambulances being hit by Israeli fire. And so on. There’s too much of this to try and give comprehensive coverage, and I’m not interested in debating the details, but a search on Instapundit will usually get you started.
The Beauchamp case fits the general pattern pretty well. First, the wingers claimed that the Diary was a fabrication and that “Scott Thomas” was the creation of a writer who’d never been near Iraq. Then, when it became evident he was a real person, they rolled out the slime machine to discredit him. Then they engaged in amateur forensics to discredit particular items in his account (acres of screen space have been devoted to the question of whether the driver of a Bradley fighting vehicle can run over a dog). Then they got to the central point – true or false, material like this is bad for the cause and shouldn’t be printed.
All of this, of course, is an attempt to replicate the one undoubted triumph of the blogospheric right, Rathergate. For those who somehow missed it, Dan Rather and CBS fooled by a bogus memo purportedly from Bush’s National Guard commander, and Rather eventually lost his job as a result.
As I said, I’m not interested in, and won’t debate, the details of these stories. The main question is: How anyone could imagine that this kind of exercise can have any value?
Suppose that every one of the stories being discussed above was a deliberate fraud. It would not change the fact that the Iraq war has been a catastrophic failure, or the fact that US media coverage, far from being overly pessimistic, failed to alert the US public to these disasters as they unravelled[fn2].
At one time of course, it was claimed that the media was failing to cover the “Good News from Iraq”. In that context, the idea that the bad news was bogus at least made some sort of sense. But the last “Good News” purveyor of any consequence, Winds of Change, quietly gave up this exercise at the beginning of this year. The news is nearly all bad, and what’s not reported (since reporters can’t travel much any more) is almost certainly worse. But still WoC and others persist in picking on individual, usually trivial, stories and giving them the Rathergate treatment.
The sheer volume of bad news makes piling on particular articles look really silly. In the time that’s been devoted to the treatment of Iraqi dogs, for example, Google News reports thousands of stories in which the only good news I can see is a win for the national soccer team (followed, inevitably, by this)
The fundamental problem here is that the argument-by-talking-point mode that characterizes the entire rightwing blogosphere, and in which the left sometimes gets involved also, works fine in the context of US political debate, where perception is all that matters. If you can sell George Bush as a hero and John Kerry as a coward, then that is, for electoral purposes, what they are. But when you start making policy on this basis, dealing with realities like war (or budgets, or climate change) reality tends to bite back.
1. There’s also the endless quibbles about estimates of excess deaths (the ‘Lancet’ controversywhere the issues are a bit larger, but where the rhetorical approach and level of argument from the wingers is much the same.
2. As was the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, but the Israeli press did a much better job, and the failure of the invasion was quickly recognised there, with consequences for at least some of those responsible.