When the Fourth Estate Fails


Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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99 Responses

  1. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Use Ethan’s hermeneutic next time you read a story involving Republicans.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    That journalists are lazy, uninsightful, and unwilling to ask their sources hard questions does not make them, even unwittingly, the agents of the government.

    It makes them lazy.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Lazy yeah, that is part of it. But to many Journo’s want to be part of the in crowd and see themselves as power brokers so they don’t want to piss off their friends and people they curry favor from. A good journo should not be to friendly with the people they cover or afraid of pissing them off.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Wow TVD sees everything through a partisan lens…surprise surprise.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            But JournalList was a partisan lens, Brother Greg, with no right-wing equivalent.  Sorry for constantly bringing up facts you prefer to be ignored.

            I’m familiar with Ethan’s argument, though.  Judith Miller of the NYT is similarly held to have carried the Bush admin’s water in the leadup to toppling Saddam.  She is now persona non grata in the journalist community.

            As for “balance,” what the Taliban are and what the Taliban do is often glossed over in arguments such as Ethan’s.

            The Taliban are oppressors, and they are murderers.  They not only make war on the US, but on the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Any “collateral damage” is morally on their heads.  They are the bad guys.

            This is not to say the drone program is above criticism.  But as the rueful joke goes on the right these days, if you want the media to rail on such things, elect a Republican.Report

            • Avatar Gabriel says:

              From a neutral perspective, I would say that the Taliban are both no worst than many others who the American official line is to support (and therefore don’t get droned by default)*. I would also find it hard to miss the importance America had on their status, growing from a small powerbase to representing anti-Western interests also having gained control of a serious amount of area and population.

              You cannot wave away deaths of many, and they are many, innocents and barely important “targets” that are constantly being produced as standard US policy because “they are murderers”. It discredits your higher cause that the Taliban are BAD BAD men and they do wrong if no one of you bats an eye on 10 years olds dying on a predictable basis.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              I’m familiar with Ethan’s argument, though.  Judith Miller of the NYT is similarly held to have carried the Bush admin’s water in the leadup to toppling Saddam.

              I think this misses Ethan’s point badly.  He’s not arguing that the author of this opinion/news piece is carrying Obama’s water, but that he’s carrying water for the Washington (bipartisan) consensus. I think Ethan’s concern (or maybe I’m just mapping my own concern onto his words) is that it really doesn’t matter which party is in power, this type of journalism, which doesn’t question the U.S. government’s use of military power and never asks for evidence behind assertions that conveniently prop up the Washington consensus is now the norm.  And that we, the public, are the worse off for it, regardless of which party holds power.


              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                Exactly James.  Concise and clear, perhaps I should replace the body of my post with your comment, because it gets the point across much better than I did.


              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Oh, hell, no!  Your post gave the critical detail that my pity statement didn’t.  Mine was just a thesis statement; your’s was the research paper.

                I actually felt depressed after reading it, which I think is a sign of how well you made your case.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                Same stuff happens on the local level, where media parrots government press releases without question.  I see it a lot with regard to the use of force by police.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

              To your point Tom, I think there are perfectly valid arguments of the kind you allude to that support the status quo. 

              My only dissappointment is that those arguments are aired more explcitly, but are often (bipartisanly) couched in the journo-speak seen above.

              I’m not arguing that the analysts or officials quoted above are wrong in their opinion/theory, only that I as a reader and public citizen would be better off if I had an opportutnity to judge the more basic claims and evidence from which they draw their conclusions, rather than only being handed their conclusions.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Hard as it is to believe, Ethan, I get your point.  Yours was more a formal criticism than on content.  Your criticism is from the left, of the center-left media.  I’m simply pointing out that we rightpersons are barely fazed, that your formal criticism is routinely valid for coverage of anything to the right of the center-left.

                In this recent story, the AP “reporter” didn’t even bother with the formality of rounding up an expert or Dem party activist to provide the rebuttal.  They just cut to the chase and did it themselves.

                As for Judy Miller and Iraq, remember that a majority of Dem senators voted for the AUMF, therefore what she did was in harmony with the center-left consensus as well.  I do get your point; I’m refining where the ideological home of the bias exists.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                So, TVD, is it your assertion that this problem is unique to the left?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Only because the media is dominated by the [center-]left.  I have no doubt it would be the same with colors reversed, as such bias is human nature and not precisely a function of one’s politics.

                Note that I’m also saying that the center-left cabal squeezes out views from its farther left as well, in defense of its chosen.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                What “media” are we talking about?  I think there is an interesting phenomenon in which a lot of right wing media is discounted because of how crappy it is and then people decry the left wing media dominance.

                The NYT is a huge paper and I think it is fair to say it is left leaning.  The NY Daily News and NY Post are smaller papers, but certainly prominent.  They are right leaning.  Most people ignore them when talking about the media and then insist the NY papers are “dominated” by left wing coverage because they are only talking about the NYT.

                So, if we are going to make statements about what “the media” is dominated by, we need to be clearer about what we’re talking about.  Are we including tabloid journalism?  If not, why not?  Are we considering AM talk radio?  If not, why not?Report

              • Avatar BSK says:


                NYT daily circulation as of March 2011 is 916K.

                NY Post was at 522K.

                Daily News was at 533K.

                So, in total, the Post and News have a wider circulation.  Yet few people would argue that the NY news market is dominated by right leaning papers.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                 I’m also saying that the center-left cabal squeezes out views from its farther left as well, in defense of its chosen.

                Even as a card-carrying liberal, I find room for agreement here.

                The majority of media outlets are staffed by journallists who occupy a fairly narrow slot on the socio-economic spectrum. It isn’t correct or illuminating to call them “liberal”, anymore than it is to call them “conservative”, because their views don’t appear to be informed by political ideas , as much as culture.

                I think its fair to say that they (mostly) attended a narrow range of colleges, read a similar range of authors, live in a pretty uniform type of neighborhoods, send their kids to a similar type of schools, and move in a narrow range of social circles.

                All of these things are not-too-coincidently the same as the Beltway people they ostensibly cover.

                Nothing bad or malicious about any of this, but it does produce the sort of incestuous cliquish high school sort of atmosphere.

                While the staffers of NPR and Fox might represent the extreme poles of the “Main Stream Media” what is interesting to me is there really doesn’t seem to be much daylight between them.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Lib60, believe it or not I appreciate that argument, and it’s not very far from mine.  Fox is center-right, although for many, there’s really no such thing—Fox, etc. are right and far right.

                Caught Left Right and Center on public radio yesterday.  A Weekly Standard guy vs. Robert Scheer, no prob there.  Center was a Canadian liberal, and the “moderator” was a part-time MSNBC guest host who hogged the hole show with his pontifications.  If Continetti, the WS guy, got 4 minutes in the half-hour, that’s a lot.

                IMO, the center-left MSM doesn’t recognize a “center-right” exc in rare cases [a quisling like David Brooks, perhaps], but litigating that issue is a fool’s errand, so I’ll just stipulate it as opinion.

                But at least the hubbub in the GOP primaries will limit the media from calling Romney conservative or right-wing if and when he’s the nominee.

                {I see the “conservative” on MSNBC, the far-right Pat Buchanan, has been placed on leave.  I certainly feel about him the way the center-left feels about Chomsky, that they wish he’d go away.  Me, I’d love to see Chomsky on Fox News every night as the resident bogeyman.}


              • Avatar BSK says:

                Well, it all comes down to where we set the center.  I’m not sure if it is a good or a bad thing but it seems to be constantly shifting.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              Judy Miller works for Fox. She is getting  a paycheck as a journo. Save the R martyrdom,its real weak sauce. We can all be upset at the press and disappointed it does such a poor job. See James comment.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                No, Greg, JournoList was a scandal and a continuing problem and it’s not my fault for pointing it out.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I don’t know that JournoList was really *THAT* scandalous, all things considered. Now, granted, I had thought that it could have been… had it been journalists discussing how to shape narratives for their stories. From what I understand, Breitbart got himself a copy of the archive and, wouldn’t you know it, it was *BORING*.

                You’ve got Spencer Ackerman acting like Spencer Ackerman which might be a scandal if Spencer Ackerman didn’t act like Spencer Ackerman all the time in real life too. The biggest bombshell that I saw was connected to Katha Politt (and how she didn’t like defending Clinton at the time by waving women away as part of the Right-Wing Conspiracy).

                The argument that JournoList existed because these left-wingers wanted to have conversations in private that they didn’t want to have in public because these conversations would end up making them look bad is a good argument… but the journalists would look bad for a *COMPLETELY* different reason. They weren’t getting together to shape a narrative. They were, however, using each other for help with research when, once upon a time, we had journalists who could do their own research.

                It wasn’t that they were shaping narratives. It was that they are dumb as rocks.

                The Scandals to be found will be found in Eason Jordan’s revelations, not in the JournoList. (Now called the “CabaList”, I understand, in its new and improved incarnation.)Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                That’s the innocent explanation, JB.  Burying the Rev. Wright thing?

                Me, I take it less as an overt conspiracy than nods and winks, sort of how birds fly in formation: one takes the lead, than another, then the others follow, the flock remains in uncoordinated coordination.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Did they talk about burying Reverend Wright? I followed this stuff pretty closely at the time and I don’t recall any JournoList revelations with regards to him.

                Now if you want to argue about the birds flying in formation without needing something like JournoList, well… yeah. I agree. That would happen with or without a private email list.

                But JournoList isn’t what you need to use as your example. Eason Jordan is.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Do you think the media would investigate JournoList, Jaybird?  It is to laugh.  No wonder a well-read person such as yrself didn’t hear about it.  It almost goes without saying.


              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think that Andrew Breitbart got his hands on a copy of JournoList and released the biggest, stinkiest, most scandalous emails that he found in there.

                And he didn’t find much of anything interesting.

                You may want to argue that Breitbart didn’t get the whole archive. You may want to argue that he’s sitting on some really juicy stuff.

                These options strike me as much more unlikely than “JournoList was boring”.


              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Good luck with this argument Jaybird. If you can win, it’ll be the first time anyone has ever refudiated a conspiracy theory by presenting evidence, since all evidence by definition confirms the conspiracy.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Additionally, I also make distinctions between British Journalists saying “you should do something!” and American Journalists actually doing it.

                The Brits, bless their hearts, are not Americans and should not be expected to act like it.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Actually, JB, I just sent a link to support my claim.  The rest of this is going nowhere, just like it did the first time.


                Dog bites man stuff.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It was a link to an article that had liberal columnists complaining about the questions that the media was asking Obama.

                As proof that there is a conspiracy to treat Obama with kid gloves, I’ve seen conspiracyer. For example: Eason Jordan.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Please note: I am not saying that the media is not liberally biased nor that there isn’t some weird conspiracy among themselves to not cover stuff like the John Edwards story.


                What I *AM* saying is that using JournoList as evidence is not helping your argument.

                Instead you should use Eason Jordan.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                Is TVD so stubborn as to ignore Jaybird trying to make his argument for him?Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Wait… since when is blogger Spencer Ackerman held up as an example of objective journalism by any side?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Because, my dear BSK, I think Eason Jordan is even more easily waved away.  But as I said, the JournoList thing isn’t going anywhere, just like it did the first time.  I’m not inclined to re-litigate it.  Those capable of raising an eyebrow already have.  The very existence of it—a cabal of hundreds of lefty journalists—is enough.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:


                This isn’t the first time you’ve insisted that people not taking your position are part of a greater conspiracy.  Perhaps it is simply a matter that people do not see what you see when they look at the same thing.  Which is not to say they are right.  But that it is a bit, well, off when you make such assumptions.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                I appreciate your trying to help, BSK, but it just ends up with more to wade through.  Thx anyway.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                You’ve got Spencer Ackerman acting like Spencer Ackerman which might be a scandal if Spencer Ackerman didn’t act like Spencer Ackerman all the time in real life too.

                It wasn’t that they were shaping narratives. It was that they are dumb as rocks.

                I can’t decide which sentence is better.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                My vote is for the first one. The second assumes stupidity is a better explanation than laziness.Report

            • Avatar BSK says:

              “This is not to say the drone program is above criticism.  But as the rueful joke goes on the right these days, if you want the media to rail on such things, elect a Republican.”

              I thought you were opposed to such “bumper sticker” thinking?Report

  3. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Eric Schmitt is not a mouthpiece of Unipolar Imperialism. He’s done yeoman’s work covering many sordid doings and he’s drunk his requisite thousand liters of Afghan water, the measure by which I judge anyone’s opinion on Afghanistan. To call him part of the Fourth Branch of Government, why not just increment the integer by one and call him a Fifth Column Element? Mouthpieces of government are never believed and I have considerable confidence in the tracking skills of Eric Schmitt.

    I am currently doing my homework on the recent revisions to the American order of battle. It’s hard going, and I’m relying on the reporting of others. It’s hard to find anyone willing to talk on the record. I’ve made a phone calls to the few lifers and the many current defense contractors of my acquaintance. Word thus reaches my ears of troubling evolutionary pressures, of enlisted armorers whose day to day responsibilities are handled by civilians, of a new corps of State Department Praetorians and the perennially dismal tale of four and five tiers of contractor parasites sucking greedily on the nether parts of Uncle Sam’s anatomy.

    America does have interests in the world at large and there’s no point in putting “interests” in quotes. We are not so much the World’s Policeman as the world’s market. The world’s full of people who bear us no good will. Our technology is stolen and carried away and nobody seems willing to stop it. Everyone with an American passport has become a target.

    Don’t fret and fuss over who’s an American Official and who isn’t. Our enemies do not make the distinction. Nor do our supposed friends. America has no true friends in this faithless world, only remoras clinging to an endlessly swimming shark, illuminated from above by sunlight wavering through the moving water and the shadows of the deeps below to bear it up. There are fewer white sharks than tigers in the world today. The tiger engenders some pity in the hearts of mankind, the shark none.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

      I didn’t mean to imply that anyojne was a mouthpiece with all the propagandistic clumsiness that implies.  But to the degree that Schmitt’s reporting leaves much unchallenged, and much more unsubstantiated, I think it is clearly demonstrable of the degree to which the American psche has internalized the foreign policy status quo (which has remained pretty consistant from Democrat to Republican since the 80s.)

      Fourth Branch is meant to subvert the idea that the Press is a fully functioning and independent Fourth Estate.  It is not, and daily news segments/news frontpages, are much more likely to take up the basic assumptions of United States government’s world view rather than challange them.

      The word “interests” is in quotes, because the idea that a nation as large, diverse, and full of dissent as the U.S can have unifed interests in any region is itself a tenous proposition.  Add to that the fact that there are rigorous arguments on one side and the other about how much we should be interested in that part of the world, and the quotation marks seem self-evidently important to me as a way of implying those debates.

      I most certainly fret over who is an American official and who isn’t, when their opinion is taken on such important matters, and it is not clear to me or any other reader whether they are senior or junior, top level or entry level, making decisions or pushing paper.

      To your claim that, “America has no true friends in this faithless world,” if true, an important corrollary is that America is not truly allied with any other nation but itself.

      In 100 years we will be but a minor blip on the imperialist timeline.  The question is rather whether we will enjoy a peaceful and prosperous decline back toward the steady-state, or if we will continue o under-tax the status quo’s benefactors and overspend on short term vices.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        A welcome bit of honesty that, that the left wants to shepherd America’s decline.


        • Avatar James K says:

          Given the massive costs of your military decline is inevitable.  You will end up winding back the empire for the same reason Britain did – it’s too expensive.  Better for the world that it is gradual, not sudden.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Don’t make me laugh. Do you really think you’ll be alive to see America’s decline?

            America’s decline will be on the wings of invisible locusts. – and it will bring the world’s demise. I could be wrong on the methodology, but the singularity is coming.Report

            • Avatar James K says:

              I give it 20 years before the US government is in serious fiscal stress.  I don’t expect much to happen on the Singularity front for a century or more.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                I think I have it now. Kim lives in a relativistic world between reality and science fiction with Japanese anime thrown in for good measure. We don’t have to worry about singularity but the economic meltdown that I spoke of will occur within 5 years. I’d prefer twenty but I don’t think I’ll be so lucky. There is another singularity, which is the inevitable conclusion of debts and entitlements growing at exponential rates.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:


                within the past handful of years, we’ve been exposed to multiple greater than one percent chances of “world ending consequences” (end of all life? check. complete civilian devastation of Manhattan? check. end of all life on the Eastern Seaboard, check.) I don’t expect us to escape all of them, and I expect their incidence to continue to increase. Because in many fields, every advance brings us one step closer to both utopia and total devastation (man, for the days when it was the nuclear physicists causing problems!)Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

          Most certainly Tom.  Though I should make sure to qualify your astute observation:

          I wish to shepard America’s relative decline.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Your complaint was with the Fourth Estate.   Ready enough to challenge one of its more intrepid reporters, you have hardly shown yourself as willing to examine your own assertions.

        We shall never have the Whole Picture from anyone.   One fact seems clear enough, American Imperialism was a long process of giving away our greatness, a greatness which was carved by the sand blown by the four winds of our many imperfections.   We are a republic conceived amidst the first true world war, mostly waged in the Caribbean,  our own battles were a minor sideline to that war.

        Like battered children resolved to never repeat the mistakes of our parents, we made the Freedom of the Press the first among our rights.   If we have lied to ourselves, and we have, there were enough honest reporters willing enough to shine a light on those lies and self-delusions.

        Wherein lies your complaint?   That Schmitt has the email addresses and phone numbers of the Washington Establishment figures?   That their opinions should not be consulted to gain some measure of insight into the sudden volte-face of American drone ROEs?    Who exactly should he consult, selon toi ?

        America is no empire and never was.   Those who use the word Imperial must be careful, for they are playing with a powerful munition.   That word contains within it the Latin paratus, to make ready, to be ready.  Imperator derives from it.   At the end of every triumph, the military commander would relinquish his title of imperator to the Senate, for it was not a permanent thing.   To be imperator was to bear the mandate of the unit itself and many were the sorry crooks who bribed their way into that mandate.   It was an act of open rebellion to take the title of imperator from the legion.   It’s not a title someone could ever grant himself.

        We are a republic, with all that implies, and not a mere democracy.  Elections give mandate and elections can take it away.   But in the mean time, the between time, that mandate is vested upon this man or that.

        Belay all this whinging about Imperialism, the truth is, Americans still retain the powers afforded them under the First Amendment to speak truth to power.   The great weakness of our republic is the transitory nature of the mandate thus granted:  do not expect any long-term vision from people who can’t make long term plans.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

          “Ready enough to challenge one of its more intrepid reporters, you have hardly shown yourself as willing to examine your own assertions.”  Does that mean you accept my original rebuke of Schmitt? 

          “We shall never have the Whole Picture from anyone.”  But we can have a bigger/clearer one.

          “Wherein lies your complaint?   That Schmitt has the email addresses and phone numbers of the Washington Establishment figures?   That their opinions should not be consulted to gain some measure of insight into the sudden volte-face of American drone ROEs?    Who exactly should he consult, selon toi ?”

          As I made a point of explaining several times in the post, I’m looking for quotes from people, not anonymous or unnamed enigmas, and for those quotes to be argued and supported beyond their simple assertions.  It’s as if I conversed with some about a topic for 10 minutes, and then only took their last one or two sentences, and put them in the paper.  As a reader this leaves me with nothing to evaluate the credibility either of the sources or their arguments (or the evidence/information upon which those arguments are based).

          “America is no empire and never was.”  That is false.  It is the United States, states who formed a (at first) loose confederation, and added to their numbers by the slow but determined building of a cross-continental empire.  From Native Americans to the Caribbean, Philippines, and beyond, The U.S. was not only founded on the notion of empire (D.C. vs. the states and the land appropriated from native populations) but has historically dabbled in overseeing the affairs of other nearby and weak nations.

          “It’s not a title someone could ever grant himself.” But one which the Presidency has slowly taken hold of and Congress has been all to happy to grant.

          “We are a republic, with all that implies, and not a mere democracy.  Elections give mandate and elections can take it away.   But in the mean time, the between time, that mandate is vested upon this man or that.”  Correct, but to ignore the changing power relations of the past half century (or more) is to ignore the extent to which the Presidency has usurped the title of “First Branch” of government.

          Congress signed away authority to the Presidency after 9/11.  Either they must take it back, or a President must relinquish it.  I’m not sure which is less likely.  Schmitt’s poor journalism makes him complicit in this venture, which is exactly imperialistic.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            And so the Fifth Estate supplants the Fourth. We are the Fifth Estate, and our power only lasts so long as we carry the banner and hold aloft the torches. The problem of course is the morass of nonsense the Internet contains and if the NYT is abysmal at fact checking, now much more so our own Kimmie?

            As to Empires, certainly we aren’t collecting taxes (directly) on conquered territories as all our predecessors have done. We have figured out other ways to do this, but it isn’t even us so much as an economic system in which we are just a cog (albeit a rather large one). The denouement to come will not be military, but economic as the system reaches its inevitable and logical conclusion.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Quite the reverse.   We disgorge great sums of money to our supposed colonies.   For this privilege, we are subjected to the obloquy of various nitwits, all too willing to slap the Imperialist Label on our foreheads.

              Perhaps what’s needed in this situation is to behave as once the Empires of Old were run.  Aesop’s fable of the Jove and the Frogs comes to mind.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Quotes from people with mandate?   If we aren’t to trust the government spokesmen who do speak with mandate, and we shouldn’t, whose opinions do you propose we seek out?   Clearly dissenting opinions arise within the government.

            Aren’t Eric Schmitt’s unnamed sources to be trusted on the basis of his own journalistic standards?   I will take as given you don’t propose to repeal shield laws, that would be mean-spirited and obviously that’s not your intent, but journalism deserves shield laws if we’re ever to get the truth.   Your complaint about Unnamed Sources just won’t pass muster.

            Ambrose Bierce says proof is the testimony of two credible witnesses as opposed to that of only one.   That’s the usual standard for reporting, too.

            It may well be the presidency is assuming imperial powers.   The Congress hasn’t been doing its job.   Yet even now we see an ignominious little herd of Plastic People running for that job, criticizing this and promising that.  When Oscar Wilde talked about the Fourth Estate, he observed it was the only estate left with anything to say, the other three estates having nothing to say.   I might amend his jibes to add “nothing to say, on the record.”    It is a republic, remember, and unpopular decisions don’t have immediate consequences.   For all this complaining about Unnamed Sources, I find them rather more believable than the Named Ones.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

              “This is the difference between source X says Y and source X says Y and when asked why they say that noted Z.  If not for that last part, the Z, what is print journalism but a lot of people saying a lot of things with no apparent mechanism for distilling the truth?”

              You haven’t addressed my point yet.  No one in the above article is attesting the to the truth of factual events.  They are asserting a theory of events…connecting the dots so to speak.  Thus I can not take it on their weak authority/credibility that the connection they are making is true, but would certainly appreciate their opinion if given the context in which to evaluate it. 

              They need not even be named, they need simply explain their rational for what they say.

              The article is a collection of opinions about why using drones in that region is important and should continue that gets into the “news” section because all of the opinions are in quotes.  Schmitt is not reporting on events, or even a policy dispute, but on the disputed claim that a lull in drones strikes is leading the Taliban et al. to regroup, except without including any dispute!

              Ambrose Bierce says proof is the testimony of two credible witnesses as opposed to that of only one.   That’s the usual standard for reporting, too.”

              None of those people witnessed the thing they are attesting to, because it’s a theory!Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                I’m I may insert meself here, Mr. Gach is only making a formal criticism, that opinions and/or speculations are being presented as facts.  I find his criticism valid on the formal level.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I find this Search for Facts a bit tendentious.   What’s the standard for proof here?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I find this Search for Facts a bit tendentious.

                Facts? We don’t need no stinking facts!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                What’s your standard for proof?   Oh, that’s right, you don’t have one.   Just some threadbare and unfunny joke about Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

                If memory serves, in the story, the pretend-Federales were chased away by real Federales.   They might not have needed any Steenking Badges but they lopped off Humphrey Bogart’s head anyway.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                We can’t be certain if the facts stated are true, so let’s not worry about facts at all?

                You’re really going down some narrow and rocky paths on this thread. Don’t be surprised if others hesitate to follow.

                I’ll leave it at that.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Let us suppose for a moment we were able to get the God’s Eye View of the American drone policy, that we were privy to every discussion on the subject, the target lists, the traffik from the controllers, the ROEs, the Taliban’s order of battle, a complete summary of their long term objectives, the Pakistani leadership’s consensus or lack thereof, in short, everything there is to know about this situation.

                Long ago, I wrote military sitreps, enumerating what few facts were at my disposal.   They weren’t objective by any means, though we tried to get them as free of opinions as could be managed.   They did contain rumors, clearly identified as such.   We understood they were being pieced together to form a more cohesive viewpoint for the folks above us who did the filtration, corroborating each little incident with what what was known from overflights.   It was sorta like being a frog in a well, with a few arc-seconds of view of the sky in a two-point perspective.

                Those rumors were important.   We didn’t identify our sources.   We shielded them as best we could.   Sun Tzu said only the most intelligent rulers could use spies.   Not all rulers are intelligent.   He also said wars were won with foreknowledge.   Not facts, E.C. foreknowledge.   When the CIA said OBL was plotting to attack us with passenger aircraft, that warning was not heeded.

                News is more than facts.   It’s no different than what intelligence operators do all over the world:  collect information and rumors and let others integrate that intelligence and do the source-checking.   If you want to say this isn’t News, well, that’s okay, that’s your opinion.   Many reporters have been fed false information to evil ends: others have mentioned Judith Miller as a case in point.   The problem resolves to your standard of proof:  you want the same standards applied to journalism we apply to the historian.  That seems unrealistic to me.


              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Sun Tzu considered foreknowledge to be based on facts, not rumors.  He consistently talks about having actual knowledge, not mere suppositions, and denying actual knowledge to the enemy.  I don’t think he would have worried about the enemy getting non-factual rumors; in fact he encouraged that.  To expand his statement about foreknowledge:

                Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good genera to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.
                Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.
                …The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties is knowledge of the enemy

                Clearly he’s asking for reliable information, which has to be fact-based; rumors aren’t knowledge.

                Now I’m not disputing what you say about writing reports where you include rumor, but as you yourself emphasize, you note what is rumor and what is not.  I think Ethan is suggesting that he’d like to see a little more of that–if journalists are going to report on what people say, they should give us some basis for judging what is factually based, what is rumor, and what is (educated) opinion.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                “they should give us some basis for judging what is factually based, what is rumor, and what is (educated) opinion.”

                Ding, ding, ding!Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                “The problem resolves to your standard of proof:  you want the same standards applied to journalism we apply to the historian.  That seems unrealistic to me.”

                BP, you are being a bit ridiculous here.  All I’m asking is that Schmitt quote one Pakistani citizen of the region that has been bombed, and to quote someone with an alternative point of view on drone attacks in that region (which I can assure you there are).  At the very least he could elaborate on the claims being made, or have those making the claims elaborate on them.  This is a small thing, an easy thing.  And if he has not the time to do it, nor the paper the time to demand it, the story should never be printed.

                Reporting on War is not the same thing at taking part in it.  The interestest of the military in effectively prosecuting hostilities, and the reportes interests in accurately reporting on them, as well as judiciously evaluating them, are clearly quite different.

                One need not be a historian to write an article that is more thorough in airing the relevant information, motivations, and points of view.


              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I’m not going to call you ridiculous.   Please return the favor.   Want a civil discussion?  You keep a civil tongue in your head.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                Hence, a bit.

                For clarity’s sake, please quote the statements of mine that you find whiney or wrong.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Apparently, it’s enough anymore to report that someone in a credentialed though loosely relevant position claims X, without ever getting at the FACTS for why that person has come to that conclusion.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                If FACTS are what we’re after here, Diogenes, you ought to first go in search of honest men.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                Person with Phd in a loosely related field (political science) asserts X.

                I should take it on their authority that what they say holds weight?  What about the thousands of PS profs throughout the country, what are their thoughts?  Perhaps this is the only PS prof who thinks this, what then? 

                If, in subsequent quotes from the same person, the article established on what foundational reasoning or evidence they had made that claim, we would be on better footing, which is what I am proposing.  That a frontpage article on a serious issue must basically be read with the understanding that the following people have been hand picked by this journalist and should be treated as if they are “in the know” and their opinions are less than fact but more than conjecture, seems to be exactly part of the problem (only part) of what got us into Iraq.

                Whatever one things about that war, or these, or the ones to come (hence why I mention Iran, a real possibility) we should engage in those debates, and subsequent military campaigns, as informed as possible, not only of the facts, and opinions, but of what we don’t know as well.

                The article leaves little to know room for doubt, with regard to a highly tense, controversial, and complicated topic.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            “America is no empire and never was.” 

            Right…. We didn’t invade Mexico on spurious grounds and take half its territory.  We didn’t fight Spain just to take the Philippines, Puerto Rico, etc., as our own colonies.  We don’t and never did have non-state territories like PR, the Virgiin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. We never sponsored a rebellion in Central America to achieve our political goals or sponsored clients states there, we didn’t continue a colonial war in SE Asia after the original colonizer called it quits, and we don’t have military bases in 150 countries today.

            Oh, you mean that doesn’t precisely fit the original meaning of the Latin word?  Well, linguistic fidelity certainly trumps history and action.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              The press was not uniformly on the side of the Mexican-American War and stood up to oppose it.   So much for this Empire business:  the nation went to war because the South wanted more land for the slave states.   Unless you wish to conflate the will of the southern states with that of the USA in toto, you’re on thin ice there.

              The USA has engaged in some godawful coups, you completely forgot the USMC’s long involvement in Haiti, read Smedley Butler on the subject:  he found a very different set of villains at work, private concerns:

              I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

              I suppose we might find some common ground in this charge of American Imperialism.   But let’s not conflate corporate interests with  an actual empire.    That would be stupid.   America didn’t lay claim to any of those countries.   If we ever resembled an empire, it might be the empire of Carthage:  the Phoenicians made an empire of trade, unlike Rome, which resembled nothing so much as a nest of army ants.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The press was not uniformly on the side of the Mexican-American War and stood up to oppose it.   So much for this Empire business:  the nation went to war because the South wanted more land for the slave states.   Unless you wish to conflate the will of the southern states with that of the USA in toto, you’re on thin ice there.

                Unanimity is required for empire?  Do you really want to hang your argument on such a slender reed?

                But let’s not conflate corporate interests with  an actual empire

                Then Britain never had an empire. Do you really want to go this route?


                Hey, I never claimed to mention all of them.  The more you throw out there the more you undermine your argument, so knock yourself out.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Yes, Hanley, I do intend to hang my argument upon the nail of historical empires.   I’ve already said we could make the argument for the American Empire on the basis of the Phoenician Empire.   Now do try to see reason, if that’s possible from your end.   America is not an empire by the standards of the European or Asian or Roman model.   If the Phoenician model doesn’t work for you, dude, it’s all a question of mind over matter.   I don’t mind and you don’t matter.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Oh, we’re reducing ourselves to schoolyard taunts now, eh?

                Hmm, I seem to have forgotten most of them, so I guess that means you win somehow.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                We don’t need no steenking manners.   Excuse me a rude scoff in your general direction.Report

  4. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Not to worry folks, “the Taliban are not our enemy”.

    Of course this neatly ties in with TVD’s assertions above that the MSM is heavily biased but that isn’t even news, except to folks like Kim, Mike and Stillwater who don’t believe it is biased enough.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      To be fair, SIR, it isn’t your relatives who are being poisoned. To be fair, SIR, the fourth estate has been soundly captured by the corporations. It’s not your clients who wind up dead, with nary an article in the paper — and all because of some stupid gas.  And it isn’t you who’s been banned from Australia for exercising freedom of speech.

      SIR, we put our money where our mouths are, and make a profit off of it. If you were paying more attention, you could profit off of it as well. (when a gas explosion is reported first on dkos, you stand to make some money by moving quickly, yes?)Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Furthermore, SIR, it’s not you who actively coallates information from around the world, in active opposition to using the usual channels. If you do believe the mainstream media is biased, you OUGHT TO START. Make some MONEY via some arbitrage. Kinda like Shadowstats does, eh? (yet another thing we’re running).Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      WSmith, the admin sez Taliban are not our enemy, but we drone them anyway?

      BTW, a Pakistani source

      US kills 24 in error; big outrage.  Taliban murders 14 in cold blood, nothing.


      Our crisis remains epistemological.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        TVD I suspect the 24 killed were no error. The firefight lasted for hours, everyone knew what was happening except Joe Citizen in the USA. Like BlaiseP I have my own military and ex-military sources. From a stink-eyed military accounting viewpoint, terrorism isn’t an existential threat unless/until they acquire true WMD’s.

        The drone strikes put Al Qaeda on the ropes, so naturally we have to knock it off. ECG should appreciate that they actually talked with someone in Pakistan. Count on a major terrorist coup and deaths in the high hundreds just before the elections if for some reason Romney is ahead. Nothing like a good military emergency to cement the incumbent advantage. But maybe I read too many Le Carre novels and skipped too many of the movies.Report

        • Avatar Liberty60 says:

          I’m just waiting for Iran to declare that a Sunni militant living in Dallas is a terrorist, and launch a drone strike on the office building where intel says he works.

          Or China to snatch an Americn citizen off the streets of Omaha and whisk him away to be waterboarded.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            Would probably go over as well as if we did something commesurrate to someone located in China. But let’s not be silly, neither power gives a damn so long as the ‘sploding or snatching is done to people located in backwater states.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              My reading between the lines is that a lot of moderate [ruling-class?] Muslims want the Taliban dead, and a lot of the protest is window-dressing.

              Even the protests are about collateral damage, not wasting Talibanis.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          What the fuck are YOU doing to stop that? Jack all. Me? I help where I can, and peace is a worthy goal.

          WaahWaaah, “He’s gonna start a WAR! He’s gonna Wag The Dog!”

          Nu? Don’t kvetch. DO something.

          … you have “military sources” — yawn. how many pakistani farmer/spies do you know? Ya wanna know facts on the ground, you get someone who speaks the language and is known around the place.Report