Friday, May 27, 2005

Response to Commenters

It seems that my first post of the day stirred up some strong feelings, at least among two of our readers. Both responses were thoughtful and well-argued so instead of putting my response in the comment section, I have decided to address their issues here. I will begin with Anonymous and then move on to Kerner. Their comments are in italics.

First, I think that you would get some strange looks in Germany and France for calling them "Muslim Chiracs and Arab Schroeders (those who gain power and popularity briefly by preaching anti-Americanism)". Not only do I think that is inappropriate, it is just wrong.

Fair point, it was probably a little over the line and pseudo-clever. Nevertheless I still like the phrase – Muslim Chirac sounds like a racehorse. But I digress.

Schroeder did not come to power by preaching anti-Americanism, and a statement such as that only goes to show how influenced you are by the American mainstream media. Schroeder was an incumbent when unemployment in Germany raged. People believed that the Social Democrats would be able to solve the problems of the economy without a drastic cutback in the welfare state (Chirac is much the same story). While Schroeder was no friend of the U.S. and the war, and he used it to his advantage, there was no difference between his position of "No War" and that of CDU/CSU candidate Edmund Stoiber.

Ok, both you and Kerner have a point here. I should have differentiated between gaining popularity/power and hanging onto it. I understand that the war in Iraq is greatly unpopular across France and Germany, and so do the leading politicians. My point, perhaps fashioned sloppily, was that both Schroeder and Chirac played up to their countrymen’s disdain for the Iraq war specifically and U.S. foreign policy overall in the hope of taking the focus off of domestic failures during election time. It is also the tactic that has been used by Arab leaders for years to shift blame for repressive and ineffective governments. Hell, all politicians use it to one degree or another.

You seem to leave out the fact that the media (not liberal media) do very often fan the fires of dissent and publish inflammatory pieces. The Bush administration has done a poor job of communicating with the Arab world, but how can this be an example of the failure. How can the administration disprove a negative?

I do not believe I did leave out the fact that the media (liberal, conservative, fascist, whatever) “very often fan the fires of dissent and publish inflammatory pieces.” Two examples from my post spring to mind: 1) The headlines from papers across the country misrepresented the content of the articles. The story, to me at least, was more about discrediting the Koran flush story and noting the relatively small scope of this problem in the detention facilities. 2) While the conclusion of the post was pointed in the direction of the administration, that was largely because I thought it redundant to lay this problem at the feet of the media. That simply goes without saying. Perhaps this was not made clear.

Riyadh Comm Director: "Just another one of our daily notices to the people of Saudi Arabia today that we are 36 days without one desecration of the Koran. Thank you. Just in case you hear some story from a prisoner and the media picks up on it."

Very cute, anonymous.

That would be difficult to pull off. Much of the Muslim world does not trust the United States because of many years of neglect and abuse--not reports from Newsweek. The administration, while doing a poor job, has an uphill battle and, much like Nixon, inherited a pretty shitty situation.
Why not say "However, the failure on the part of the AMERICAN GOVERNMENT is the larger issue here." We have never communicated well with other cultures. We get involved based on short-term national interest, and we don't think long-term. Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and the list goes on.

The government must find a way to communicate with non-Americans--that is the key. As Kissinger will tell you, perception is more important than reality, and we have to fix their perception. But this is not a problem created by Bush and his actions--only exacerbated.

I agree with almost all of these comments particularly the point about perception. The whole idea behind the original post was to note the administration’s lack of ability to change the existing perception – which is not to say it is a simple open and shut task. I called on the Bush administration specifically because: 1) it is currently in office now and therefore is the AMERICAN GOVERNMENT; and 2) Under the Bush administration, which again I support in these matters, we became far more involved than before. And it was the specific responsibility of the Bush administration to have a plan going in for dealing with these issues which have obviously been festering for years. I do not believe that they did have a coherent plan.

When I wrote this post I thought that if it got any responses they would be representing the opposite perspective of “anonymous.” Although I must note that the references to German politics, Kissinger and Nixon somewhat disintegrate the façade of anonymity.

And Kerner:

Second, Newsweek isn't "a third rate U.S. newsmagazine." You may not like Newsweek, but I am pretty sure it has one of the largest circulations of any magazine of its type. I don’t think the liberal media debate (which I think you were referencing) is at all relevant here. Considering a mini-series based on the protocols of elders of Zion was a big hit in the middle east recently, Newsweek seems like a pretty credible source of information.

Circulation does not translate to credibility or quality. And despite the mini-series you reference, that credibility has been damaged.

Third, I think it’s ridiculous to chalk up Arab mistrust to our failure to get the message out. I don't really know what we are or are not doing, but even if we were doing an impeccable job, I can't think of any reason why the Arab world would take our claims of good intentions seriously. We don't exactly have a good track record over there. And even if we did (and we don't), a lot of these folks just don’t like the idea of non-Muslim interference in the Muslim world and it doesn't really matter what our intentions are or how well we sell them.

I did not ‘chalk up Arab mistrust to our failure to get the message out.’ Nor do I necessarily disagree that there are some men you just can’t reach. The administration was not responsible for the riots over the Newsweek error. But surely there was a more effective (and, to reference anonymous here, far-sighted) approach to dousing the flames than to have the white house press secretary wagging his finger at Newsweek. That was merely a “get even and settle a score with the media” moment. I believe that we played directly into the hands of the enemy here.

Where were the calls for restraint, from the administration or Arab/Muslim leaders? In this instance, responsibility was only taken by the media and the white house, not those responsible for the riots and killings. We are repeatedly caught off guard by these occurrences and lose every public relations battle that comes along. It is not necessarily the fault of the administration or Bush’s policies that these battles occur, but the lack of a thoughtful and, again, far-sighted approach is distressing.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, a well-written response. It was interesting to see you address the comments in the post.

Nice reference to "Cool Hand Luke".

I agree with the point about a lack of preparation on the part of the adminstration. This has been a motif for these guys and this situation is no different.

I think you make a good point about Kerner's "circulation and credibility connection," but you move away from that point to criticise the administration for its reaction to the story.

When confronted with facts that are not true (or misleading) it is the first goal of any good mouthpiece to take the source to task and clearly identify a culprit in the mistake. Don't forget that Bush is not only appeasing a foreign demographic and trying to avoid riots and bloodshed, but he also addresses a domestic polity. His administration needs to make sure that somebody is blamed for this mistake, so that they cannot be considered at fault. Newsweek was caught with some shoddy research trying to get a hot story and the adminstration wanted to make sure that everybody knew it. I think that is good politics. Anything else nasty that comes out about the administration from Newsweek will be taken with a grain of salt. (Since my id is apparent to the bloggers, give me a call and we can talk about some other screw-ups Newsweek has pulled. I am close to someone who used to rank pretty high over there until he left because it sucked.)

4:29 PM  
Blogger poster said...

I am more impressed with the Cool Hand pick-up than anything.
Re: press secretary. I originally thought that anonymous was an SAIC employee, but I'm beginnin to wonder if his name rhymes with Tari Schmieser.
True, it is important to score the political points with the public and take Newsweek to task. But ending it there categorizes it as a domestic, press vs. government issue, which is an oversimplification. And while Bush needs to 'appease' that foreign demographic as you say, I wonder if it would be more effective to hold the small percentage of those who rioted responsible for their actions as much as Newsweek was held responsible for its actions. In other words, identify with the Afghanis who are the real victims of this mess and pitch battle against both those who report shoddy information AND those who exploit it. It was a tough situation to predict -- really, who knew it would explode quite like this -- and a rare case of playing a defensive role for the administration. Regardless, holding the instigators in Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc, accountable for their actions can be accomplished without letting Isikoff, et al, off the hook.

4:49 PM  
Anonymous kerner said...

I realize I am outgunned here, but I still think you are combining two seperate arguments by arguing that Newsweek's reputational damage is relevant. First, just a sequencing issue: Newsweek credibility issue was brought to light precisely because a bunch a guys in Afghanistan we beserk. It would be diffiuclt for them to consider that before they decided to burn Bush in effegy, etc.

Second, I just don't think these guys are following the debate on liberal media bias as much as we are. I could be wrong, perhaps the leaders of these riots said something to the effect of "On one hand this story really makes me want to freak out in a homicidal rage, but on the other hand, the boys down at NRO and at other conservative news sites (whom I, as a muslim, as an afghani and as a dude ready to blow up any americans in site, often make common cause with and read passionately)have been writing some pretty damning stuff about Newsweek, so maybe I should cool my jets and wait for confirmation from a magazine I can trust. Nah, I'll just stick with plan A"

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Stacey said...

Its almost as if the two of you are having a contest to see who can write the lengthier, more boring column.

11:46 AM  

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