Monday, February 4, 2008

Truth and News:
How Success Gets Marketed as Failure

Yesterday, Iraq's presidency council issued a law that will let thousands of of officials who served under Saddam Hussein to return to government jobs.

The Associated Press (AP) story's first paragraph ends with "viewed by the Bush administration as central to mending deep fissures between minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds and the majority Shiites who now wield power."

The second paragraph dutifully reported that the "U.S. military, meanwhile, said Monday that it accidentally killed nine Iraqi civilians...." The third and fourth paragraphs discussed American response to the killings.

Finally, the fifth paragraph gets back to the new Iraqi law. "The new law, which was passed by parliament on Jan. 12, was the first of 18 key U.S.-set benchmarks to become law after months of bitter debate. But it was issued without the signature of the Sunni vice president, and the presidency council cited reservations and plans to seek changes in the bill, clouding hopes it would encourage reconciliation." [emphasis mine]

Reading that paragraph, it's pretty obvious that this law is the first benchmark that Iraq met, right? And, that despite its passage, it may not achieve its goal?

The reader is reminded that this is the first benchmark, in the eleventh paragraph: "The law is the first of 18 pieces of benchmark legislation demanded by the Bush administration to promote reconciliation among Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Arab communities and the large Kurdish minority." Well, the first legislative benchmark. Same thing, right?


The Government Accountability Office gave a more detailed progress report last September:
  • Three benchmarks met
    • #8
    • #14 (32/34ths of it, anyway)
    • #16
  • Five benchmarks partly met
    • #4
    • #5
    • #9
    • #12
    • #17
By my reckoning, and the GAO's, Iraq's got at least four benchmarks taken care of now, not one.

The law discussed in the AP article, together with an unrelated American accident (atrocity?), may be the first piece of Iraqi legislation to meet one of the 18 benchmarks, but it is far from the first benchmark met.

From a technical point of view, this Associated Press story is an excellent piece of writing. The AP was faced with the fact that Iraq is almost a third of the way through the 18 benchmarks "demanded" by the Bush administration.

However, by careful and precise phrasing, the reader can be left with the impression that this first legislative benchmark was the first benchmark of any sort to be met: and reminded of innocent civilians killed by the American military machine.

Every fact in the AP article is, to the best of my knowledge, accurate. The impression that the 'failed policies' in Iraq have met with pathetically limited success, while costing innocent lives, may not be accurate.

I could be wrong, but it looks like traditional news services are dedicated to the proposition that all American actions are created suspect. And that even when an American policy is working, there must be tragic costs in human life, civil rights, and/or ecological balance.

So, while reading about the latest American failure, or hearing the daily death toll on the news: take a deep breath, count to ten, and think. Then, tweeze apart the facts from the verbiage, sort the facts into categories, and see what actually happened, and what's being said.
Distortions of truth aren't limited to America. Over in the United Kingdom, one in four Britons think that Winston Churchill is a fictional character. On the other hand, half believe that Eleanor Rigby was a real person.

It's not just Churchill, either. Mahatma Gandhi, Cleopatra and the Duke of Wellington are on the list of people that many Britons think were made up for movies and television.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.