Friday, June 24, 2005

Gitmo versus Iraq 

Instapundit: "Interestingly, only 20% of Americans think that the Guantanamo prisoners are being treated unfairly, which is pretty astonishing given the colossal amount of uniformly negative Guantanamo-related coverage. This suggests that overplaying their hand has been as big a mistake as I thought."

As these things do, it got me thinking.

As it coincidentally happened, I've had a brief exchange recently with my good blog-buddy Bill Roggio about what some perceive to be a growing number of reasonably positive (or at least not bomb-obsessed) stories coming out in the mainstream media about Iraq. I've been monitoring the coverage pretty carefully for well over a year now, and while this is not an exact science, I haven't noticed any major spike in positive reporting lately (although the overall tenor seems to be slowly and gradually improving). There is always a flurry of more positive media surrounding events where the good news quotient is objectively so high that it's difficult to completely spin it away (for example, the democratic election, any major offensive that kills 100 insurgents, the international summit that brings the US, the EU and the UN together in the commitment to help Iraq). We are perhaps seeing such events more frequently now, which would account for the perception of improving coverage, but there has been a little flow-on effect to your everyday reporting; little effort to go out and write other good news stories aside from the obvious.

I replied to Bill that I would be surprised, anyway, if the MSM had experienced a sudden conversion on the road to Damascus (or Baghdad, as the case may be) now that the opinion polls suggest more Americans are considering the involvement in Iraq to have been a bad move. It would be tantamount to saying "Oh dear, maybe we did go in a bit too negative and now see what happened to the public opinion. Can't have the American people at the time of war losing faith in their Commander-in-Chief and the mission. We better start focusing more on the good news." I don't think so.

So the question is - why did the uniformly negative reporting about Guantanamo have so little impact on the American public, but the uniformly negative reporting about Iraq eventually did?

I can see several reasons:

1) because of 9/11, terrorism seems more relevant to the American people than Iraq; understandably there is lot more animosity against members of an organization that had demolished Twin Towers than there is to some local fascists on the distant Euphrates.

2) Iraq is costing money (a lot) and lives of American soldiers; Gitmo is merely a spare change and no one dies there - quite the opposite, the detainees only gain weight.

3) coverage of Iraq has been saturating and uniformly negative for over two year now; by comparison, coverage ofGuantanamoo has been until recently quite sporadic.

4) by focusing on the more ridiculous aspects of Guantanamo (lack of air-conditioning, fake-menstruating female interrogators, flushed Korans, Christina Aguilera music), the media ensured that the public would consider the whole thing a joke.

The moral of the story? The Administration still has a lot of political capital - and therefore latitude - as far as fighting terrorism is concerned. Anecdotally, I would venture an observation that most Americans think the war on terror is going quite well, the Bush team hasn't made too many bad moves, and if they have, these are largely forgivable in the context of the bigger picture.

You can expect the smarter Democratic strategists to start implementing the exit strategy from the Guantanamo quagmire. Unfortunately for the Administration, the Dem exit leads back to Iraq, which has now become not only the major battleground against Jihad International, but also the main battleground of the American civil war.


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