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The MSM v. Bill Roggio -- and Us

Below the fold, Bill Roggio's latest reports, an attack by the Christian Science Monitor, and John Noonan of OP-FOR being too kind to reporters.  Way too kind.  Sorry, Lumpy, but it's true.

Today Bill watches "Muj-TV" with the Iraqi Army. Also, the Christian Science Monitor has taken notice of him, and proceeds to direct fire on his position.

The problem, one all too common in the blogosphere, is that Roggio has become less a reporter than a validator of the pro-war viewpoint to many. He has become a phenomenon among war supporters, most of whom, judging from reader comments, read him largely because they agree with his views.

And that's too bad for the war's supporters and its detractors as well. Bloggers such as Roggio can create a fuller picture of the conflict in Iraq. But if only one side of the political spectrum reads him - or one side reads him and only him - both sides will be missing some important perspective.

This is what the MSM has decided about bloggers: that they're detached from reality, humming to themselves with their fingers in their ears. People who want to know what the REAL world is like read the MSM.

The Christian Science Monitor is a very good newspaper. I know that because, naturally, I read it on occasion -- and a lot of others too. Of course we're aware of the other side of the story, because it's trumpeted from the heights. Trying to get out Bill's version is important because it's a side that the MSM isn't interested in putting forth.

John Noonan at MilBlogs has a piece considering the MSM's side of the argument at greater length. To some degree it confirms that reporters in Iraq are largely hiding out in protected zones these days, rather than doing what it takes -- like Bill -- to get out to where they can see the action for themselves. They also provide anecdotes of how the media sees itself, and sees the military.

One of the anecdotes is also from the CSM, and deals with the early days of the conflict. It shows, writ small, what the problem really is. The reporter encounters military police, and reacts in a way that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever spent a day in court listening to testimony:

I had gone and watched a movie with a buddy in Mansur one night, fall or early winter of 2004, and we wanted to go over the bridge. The bridge that you go over to go toward the airport, and there was an American vehicle checkpoint set up basically blocking the way you wanted to go on the bridge. It would have meant a twenty-minute detour for us. There were three or four cars that would pull up and they would turn around; it was late at night.

So we stopped and rolled down the window and a private walks over and I said, “I’m an American reporter, can you let me through, ’cause this is going to take another twenty minutes and it’s dark and a little dangerous and we’re just going over there.” The guy says, “Shut the fuck up.” I say, “Look man, I don’t want to make trouble for you,” and while I’m talking to him he’s got his flashlight and he’s moving it in frenetic circles over both of my eyes. I said, “Look, really man, I’m just trying to get home. Is there any way we can just get through?” And he says, “Now you’ve done it! I’m pulling you over and I’m making you wait here while we search your whole car.”

So we comply. We got out of the car, stand away from the car as we were told to, open the trunk, etcetera. And this is my friend’s driver, an Iraqi driver who I had just met that evening, so I felt pretty bad that I had gotten him into that situation. And the pimply private comes over and he says to me, “Yeah, how do you like that? You see what you get when you fuck with me?” Like two feet from my face. And not to my perfect credit, I basically called him a word that will famously get you thrown out of any baseball game that has ever been played. You can figure that out for yourself. Not a pleasant word. And that was it. He goes and talks to his commanding officer, who comes over and within two minutes has me zip-tied, handcuffed, roughly searched, and interrogated for fifteen minutes. We go through this and I’m calm, as I usually am, and eventually they’re like, I guess we can’t arrest an American for using language that we don’t like. They untie me, and we drove off and go home.

About a week later, we get an e-mail addressed to The Christian Science Monitor Baghdad bureau chief, and I was chief at the time, and it’s a letter written by the general in Baghdad at the time. The letter goes on to say we’ve had a lot of complaints about the conduct of our troops in the field and we try to hold ourselves to a high standard and correct problems when they are brought to our attention by the press, but we think you have to be equally responsible and aware of the terrible behavior of your people. For instance, this guy Dan Murphy was stopped and was politely asked to step out of his car and he refused and launched into a profanity-laced, anti-American tirade, and he was so agitated and physically wild that we had to restrain him for his safety and our own. And etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. That was completely fantasy. It was lies. And I have no doubt that the general who wrote this letter believed it; he had attached the incident report written by the soldiers who were involved in this little incident.

Basically, I responded and said I happen to be that guy, and I will tell you exactly what happened, and of course [the report] has no truth because these things have no truth. And he apologized and said, “These things get garbled in transmission, sorry.” Now, does this incident matter in the big scheme of things? No. Did the guys on that patrol lie because they thought that maybe arresting Americans for using one naughty word isn’t the thing they should be doing? Maybe. Was what he was told by the soldiers in the field, who of course might have an incentive to lie, believed wholeheartedly by this general? Absolutely. Does it lead me to believe — given the source from the podium in the Green Zone and elsewhere over three years now — that these sorts of reports are far from the whole truth? Absolutely. Have there been military investigations that have proven the same? Absolutely. I think you get the point of the story.

This kind of thing happens all the time. You show up to traffic court, and the cop gets up on the stand, and he tells all sorts of lies about what happened, and claims you were rude and spouted profanity when really you just called him one little name (and were otherwise perfectly polite, it was really his attitude that was the problem)... And of course the judge believes him, because he has the badge, man!

Or maybe you're the cop, and a guy you wrote a ticket to a few months ago shows up in court and claims you were rude and profane, and that you abused your authority, and didn't follow proper procedures anyway, and why is he the one on trial? You have a vague memory, but you wrote up a report at the time, and it says something totally different from what this guy is saying.

Yeah, I get the point of the story: Question Authority.

Well, that's fine, do. I've had a cop show up at a traffic case with me and give false testimony -- not intentionally, I believe, but just because he really didn't remember (and in this case, had no report to rely on). And I've sat in court and watched a lady trash a policeman unfairly, while giving wild explanations of the charges against her ("Speeding? Why, there was a swarm of mosquitos in my car. I was just trying to blast them out before they ate up my baby." "Radar clocked you at ninety miles an hour." "Well, that must be a mistake. I'd only just...").

The problem is that the MSM reporter expects that we'll believe his side, because he's the MSM. He 'expects we'll get the point,' by which he means, the military is full of power-hungry thugs who falsify reports, so nothing they say should be trusted at face value. The point I get is that reports of what happened are often two-sided, as people acting on adrenaline are rarely thinking clearly or focused on the same details.

The soldier doesn't get to tell his story to the public, though. He puts it in a report, which goes through a chain of command (just as the soldier did, when he went to his commander before any action was taken). The reporter just puts it out to the world, and the public gets that information without benefit of a rebuttal. The soldier is presented as a liar, an unfair thug, etc -- exactly like the traffic scoff at court, except the cop isn't there to give his side.

So Bill Roggio went to Iraq, to get the other side. That's why his stuff is valuable, and read widely by those who aren't ready to give up. We'd like to hear the other side. It's a shame that a newspaper as normally excellent as the CSM doesn't want to get that.

John Noonan's friend, a reporter named Sam, had a different reaction: total acceptance of the reporter's side. "Sam was particularly taken with Dan Murphy's testimony," Noonan says. "My response was that, like any organization, the military has a few bad seeds (Abu Gharab anyone?). His reply was: 'Hey man, more 'moral waivers' and bottom third asfab scorers than ever before. It's like great society II.'"

Noonan was too kind, because he also accepted the story uncritically. If you're going to Question Authority, well, the reporter is an authority too. He gets to print what he likes in a newspaper read widely across the nation and the world. What's the evidence that he was right and the soldiers were wrong? His word. What's the evidence in favor of the soldiers? Their word, which was reviewed by their commanders on the ground, and then by their chain of command, leading to a letter of protest by a general officer. What's the evidence that the letter was resolved the way the reporter claims? His word.

See a pattern?

Sam's response is beautifully illustrative. The military is really a poverty program for stupid, unethical people, "like Great Society II." The evidence runs all the other way, but whatever: he says it, and he's a reporter, so it must be true.

Yeah, I get the point of the story.

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