Iraq: A Perception Problem?
Today, ABC's"Good Morning America" reported on the Bush administration's claim that"negative" stories on the war in Iraq are playing right into the hands of the"enemy," and that the press is to blame for the sagging public support of the war. Bush's declining poll numbers are the result of negative publicity.
Such sagging public support, of course, has nothing to do with any erosion of the public's faith in the administration's competence, eh? Or the fact that Iraq is steeped in sectarian conflict, careening toward civil war? Nah. Nothing to do with those things.
On one level, of course, Bush is absolutely right: The press tends to focus on car bombs and murders and kidnappings as news. Well. DUH. Pick up any newspaper and the story is the same locally. Watch any local news broadcast and the story is the same there too. The news often reads or sounds like a police blotter. That has been the tendency in local news for as long as I've been alive. Why on earth would this tendency be different on a national or global level? Crime is news in this culture, and whether the criminals are local thugs or foreign ones, the play's the same.
But there is no direct correlation between news coverage and public perception, unless one believes that people are sheeple. Interestingly, even though NYC newspapers and newscasts focus on local crime all the time, it has not altered the public perception that crime is down in the Big Apple, as part of a long-term trend. And there is a good reason for this public perception: Crime is down. In reality. There were over 2,600 people murdered in NYC in 1990; that number dropped to under 600 by 2004. Whatever the continuing negative focus of the press, the reality of life in this city has inspired people's positive perceptions.
Perhaps the Bush administration needs its own reality check. The downturn in public opinion on the Iraq war is not simply the result of press brainwashing. The public perception has changed because things in reality are not going as well in Iraq as the administration claims.
I guess the administration is just frustrated with the"reality-based community." And here they thought that they created their own reality.
What is the administration's alternative? Planting positive stories in the press?Paying off journalists who ask sympathetic questions? Or maybe the press should simply be"embedded" into an official Ministry of Propaganda.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 3/24/2006
Good points, Bob... but knowing, as I do, your fine work on the nature of ideology: I wonder how much of this is just an expression of a kind of dominant ideology in support of the status quo. Either way, it turns one's stomach.
Robert Higgs - 3/22/2006
My impression is that despite some occasional pieces noting the obvious about the course of events in Iraq, the major news media continue to form a de facto propaganda ministry, just as they have since the runup to the U.S. invasion, when they shamelessly amplified the evidence-free Bush line. Now, even though they note the mounting U.S. casualties and the huge budgetary costs of the war, they still take the administration's statements seriously.
How can we account for their doing so, in the wake of an unbroken four-year series of distortions, mistakes, and outright falsehoods from the Bush people? Although we may be tempted to express the relationship between the media and the administration with scholarly nuance, we might come closer to the truth if we simply asked the vulgar, half-joking question: coincidence or conspiracy?