No News Is Good News
Reflexive pessimism and dubious "experts" in terror-war coverage.
BY JAMES TARANTO
The American Spectator, June 2007
Reuters, the wire service best known for the slogan "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," reported in early April on some very good news about America's conflict with al Qaeda:
George W. Bush's administration has crippled al Qaeda's ability to carry out major attacks on U.S. . . . Even as al Qaeda tries to rebuild operations in Pakistan, experts including current and former intelligence officials believe the group would have a hard time staging another September 11 because of U.S. success at killing or capturing senior members whose skills and experience have not been replaced.But for Reuters, the bad news is that the good news is right. The dispatch was titled "Bush Success vs. al Qaeda Breeds Long-Term Worries," and the text omitted from the lead paragraph above reads: ". . . but at a political and economic cost that could leave the country more vulnerable in years to come, experts say."
Here is the view of one of those experts:
"Look at al Qaeda's plans," said Michael Scheuer, who once led the CIA team devoted to finding al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. "They're very simply defined in two phrases: spread out America's forces and bleed the United States to bankruptcy. I'd argue America has been under attack successfully every day since 9/11 from that perspective.Scheuer, in case you've forgotten, is the (originally anonymous) author of the 2004 book Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror. Reuters did not say what approach to al Qaeda he thinks would have been more effective than killing or capturing senior leaders and crippling its ability to attack the U.S., but his ideas on that subject turn out to be rather eccentric. He outlined them in a November 2004 interview with NBC's Tim Russert:
"If you're looking at it from the cave, or wherever al Qaeda is hiding at the moment, you have to be pretty happy with the way the world is moving," he said.
Scheuer: I think we need to take a position with Israel that suits American interests.In the same interview, Scheuer called bin Laden "a remarkable man, a great man in many ways . . . an admirable man." He added: "If he was on our side, he would be dining at the White House. He would be a freedom fighter, a resistance fighter." Hey, one man's terrorist!
Russert: Such as?
Scheuer: Such as perhaps being more insistent on some arrangement with the settlements. Certainly, no one is going to withdraw the protective umbrella of the United States, but at some point, Americans need to look after their own interests first.
Russert: But do you believe that being "tough on Israel" would in any way change Osama bin Laden's agenda or desire to destroy America?
Scheuer: His agenda is not to destroy America, Mr. Russert. He simply wants us out of his neighborhood. He wants us out of the Middle East. And I'm not--no, it would not change his agenda, but my point here is that America has a choice between war and endless war with the forces led by Osama bin Laden. And at some point, we need to take actions in our own interests that limit his ability to grow in power and popularity in the Muslim world.
Russert: But if America removes itself from the Middle East, isn't that appeasement to--
Scheuer: No, sir, I'm not suggesting that we remove ourselves from the Middle East.
It gets even more weird. In February 2005, Scheuer spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, with Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia Journalism School, serving as master of ceremonies. There, Scheuer claimed that in America, "Israel is the one thing that seems to be too dangerous to talk about." He described Israeli influence as "probably the most successful covert action program in the history of man to control the important political debate in a country of 270 million people." That prompted this exchange with Gary Rosen of Commentary:Rosen: If you could just elaborate a little bit on the clandestine ways in which Israel and presumably Jews have managed to so control debate over this fundamental foreign policy question. . . .So let's see if we have this straight: An elite foreign- policy group offers a public forum, hosted by a dean from an Ivy League university, to a guy who expounds crackpot theories about "clandestine" Jewish efforts to control America--including the Holocaust Museum!--and that proves that the subject is "too dangerous to talk about"?
Scheuer: Well, the clandestine aspect is that, clearly, the ability to influence the Congress--that's a clandestine activity, a covert activity. You know to some extent, the idea that the Holocaust Museum here in our country is another great ability to somehow make people feel guilty about being the people who did the most to try to end the Holocaust. I find--I just find the whole debate in the United States unbearably restricted with the inability to factually discuss what goes on between our two countries.
Scheuer, of course, is entitled to his opinions, but this background certainly seems relevant in assessing the credibility of his expertise. Here's an amusing observation from another Reuters expert:
IntelCenter chief executive Ben Venzke said the chance of an al Qaeda attack on U.S. soil has grown based on the militant network's increasing references to the American homeland in public messages.There is no denying Venzke is right. If an al Qaeda attack is in the future, then it is closer now than at any point since 9/11. Venzke has stumbled onto something profound: the linear and sequential nature of time.
"Our leading thinking is that we are closer now to an attempt at a major attack in the United States than at any point since 9/11," Venzke said.
Reuters is far from alone in its aversion to straightforwardly reporting good news in the war on terror. Between February 14 and March 14, as the Iraq "surge" was getting under way, the number of U.S. servicemen killed there was 24 percent less than in the previous four weeks. But the New York Times presented the numbers this way:
The heightened American street presence may already have contributed to an increase in the percentage of American deaths that occur in Baghdad.Blogger Mickey Kaus quipped: "It would be a caricature of MSM behavior if the New York Times, instead of simply reporting this potentially good news, first constructed some bad news to swaddle it in, right?"
Over all, the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq from hostilities since Feb. 14, the start of the new Baghdad security plan, fell to 66, from 87 in the previous four weeks.
But with more soldiers in the capital on patrol and in the neighborhood garrisons, a higher proportion of the American deaths have occurred in Baghdad--36 percent after Feb. 14 compared with 24 percent in the previous four weeks. Also over the past four weeks, a higher proportion of military deaths from roadside bombs have occurred in Baghdad--45 percent compared with 39 percent.
Maybe not. It really does seem that many journalists are so invested in the failure of the War on Terror that no news is good news.
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