The Fog [Machine] of War

Manning wrote a great editorial the other day about the machinery that purposely keeps Americans in a fog about the truth when it comes to the wars the government is waging.

The Fog Machine of War, The New York Times, June 14, 2014

First Amendment: Goodbye. Nice knowing you.

First Amendment: Goodbye. Nice knowing you.

We intelligence analysts, and the officers to whom we reported, had access to a comprehensive overview of the war that few others had. How could top-level decision makers say that the American public, or even Congress, supported the conflict when they didn’t have half the story?

Among the many daily reports I received via email while working in Iraq in 2009 and 2010 was an internal public affairs briefing that listed recently published news articles about the American mission in Iraq. One of my regular tasks was to provide, for the public affairs summary read by the command in eastern Baghdad, a single-sentence description of each issue covered, complementing our analysis with local intelligence.

The more I made these daily comparisons between the news back in the States and the military and diplomatic reports available to me as an analyst, the more aware I became of the disparity. In contrast to the solid, nuanced briefings we created on the ground, the news available to the public was flooded with foggy speculation and simplifications.

One clue to this disjunction lay in the public affairs reports. Near the top of each briefing was the number of embedded journalists attached to American military units in a combat zone. Throughout my deployment, I never saw that tally go above 12. In other words, in all of Iraq, which contained 31 million people and 117,000 United States troops, no more than a dozen American journalists were covering military operations.

The process of limiting press access to a conflict begins when a reporter applies for embed status. All reporters are carefully vetted by military public affairs officials. This system is far from unbiased. Unsurprisingly, reporters who have established relationships with the military are more likely to be granted access.

Less well known is that journalists whom military contractors rate as likely to produce “favorable” coverage, based on their past reporting, also get preference. This outsourced “favorability” rating assigned to each applicant is used to screen out those judged likely to produce critical coverage.

What does that mean for Just War theorists? I mean, to be in a position to assess a situation and see if a theory is applicable, don’t you first have to have some accurate understanding of what is actually going on? I guess we Catholics are just supposed to obediently outsource this thinking to the “experts” in our society who have the authority to decide these matters from behind their closed doors and fortified walls of “classified information.”

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