Wednesday, March 26, 2003

What's a Little Hypocrisy Between Friends?

The Honorable Mr. Sullivan seems to dislike the BBC.

He has written no less than 8 posts since Sunday (the earliest day that is displayed on his main page; I will not go digging through that man's archives. I have my limits) about the bias, the incompetence, and the generally traitorous nature of the BBC.

He justifies this with the following:
WHY THE BBC MATTERS: My harping on this theme is not simply media criticism. It's war analysis. Remember one of the key elements, we're finding out, in this battle is the willingness of the Iraqi people to stand up to the Saddamite remnants. That willingness depends, in part, on their confidence that the allies are making progress. What the BBC is able to do, by broadcasting directly to these people, is to keep the Iraqi people's morale as far down as possible, thereby helping to make the war more bloody, thereby helping discredit it in retrospect. If you assume that almost all these reporters and editors are anti-war, this BBC strategy makes sense. They're a military player. And they are objectively pro-Saddam.
So, basically, he's angry that the BBC isn't lying about the progress of the war, because if they made it seem like the war was proceeding perfectly, the Iraqis would feel free to rise up en masse against Saddam and end the war quickly.

Aside from the rather...flawed...nature of his assumptions, what Sullivan doesn't seem to quite get is the fact that the BBC is a news organization, subject to all the ethical constraints that that entails. While the possibility that the factual BBC reporting is dampening Iraqi's will to dissent is an unfortunate side effect, it does not nullify the BBC's basic responsibility to its primary audience: the British people.

The function of a free press in a democracy is to provide the electorate with the most accurate, timely information possible, so that when it comes time to choose a path for their country at the ballot box, their decision can be an intelligent and informed one. The same holds true between elections, when informed people can pressure their elected representatives one way or another through organized campaigns, contributions, or simple calls to their offices.

Tinkering with this process is extremely dangerous because it is tinkering with one of the foundations of democracy itself. Besides, who does Sullivan suppose should decide what should and should not receive this "special" kind of coverage? Should it always be used in wartime to help end hostilities as quickly as possible?

In that case, most members of the American press corps are traitors, and Matt Drudge should be shot, for hampering the war effort in Bosnia by forcing a sitting President to devote huge amounts of time and resources to an adultery scandal.

Somehow, I don't think this is what Sullivan meant.

However, to be fair, there is a line between informing the public and compromising national security.

Quoting Sullivan again:
"The BBC -- the UK's premier news organization, which consistently has the best sources in the intelligence world and the least compunction about leaking -- ran a story mentioning that bin Laden "keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones." Bin Laden stopped using the satellite phone instantly. The al-Qaeda leader was not eager to court the fate of Djokar Dudayev, the Chechen insurgent leader who was killed by a Russian air defense suppression missile that homed in on its target using his satellite phone signal. When bin Laden stopped using the phone and let his aides do the calling, the United States lost its best chance to find him."
This incident happened in 1998, and it is almost certain that if we had been able to kill Bin Laden at that time, the 9/11 attacks would never have taken place.

It seems then, that the BBC is a traitorous organization, or at the very least a hopelessly stupid one, which can be indirectly blamed for the worst terrorist attack on US soil in history.

Except...oh, whoops. Please forgive me. I accidentally quoted former National Security Council members Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon instead of Sullivan. And the news organization they were referring to wasn't the BBC.

It was The Washington Times, Sullivan's employer.

My mistake.

Edit: Corrected an extremely minor punctuation error, and removed a bit of redundancy ("one of the foundations upon which democracy is founded"? I'm better than that...)

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