Hitchens on Iraq causes media influence ponderings

I've run across an interesting piece by militant and anti-Christian atheist, Christopher Hitchens. His contention is that in fact, in spite of popular opinion, the Anglo-American Iraq war has been a big success. He attempts to contextualize the war in the larger picture of 20th century international relations to show that it was in fact inevitable that something of the sort should happen, in fact that the Iraq war had begun long, long before the actual invasion in 2003.

This article raises several questions for me. 1) what, if any, level of agreement with an atheist can a Christian have on what constitutes "success" in international relations, since Hitchens' evaluations are based upon materialistic considerations, and mine are based upon eternal considerations. What does constitute 'success' from the point of view of a citizen of heaven (rather than of the country in which I happen to be journeying)?

2) A number of the 'successes' he mentions I have never heard of before, namely because a) I have never done much significant research on the state of affairs in Iraq and b) the News Media has never told me about them. If I had heard of them, my whole feeling (not so much my thinking, but my gut feeling) about the appropriateness of the war might be totally different. This raises the (I think HUGELY important) question of the influence that media, in particular media biases may have upon the American populace (who, I strongly suspect, have by-and-large also failed to conduct independent research).

This may be controversial, but I believe Americans have grown weary of the war, and in fact out-and-out opposed to it for no reason other than the sustained attention given by the popular media outlets to the negative aspects of it (military and civilian casualties, political instability - that sort of thing). So, I wonder what would be the popular mood if the positive accomplishments recieved sustained attention while the more negative aspects were given a more passing treatment?

Let me take another example: the paper in the coffeeshop I am in this morning has the front page headline "3 of 4 believe US in recession." Now I ask you, why would such a poll even be newsworthy at all? How much do 3 of 4, or for that matter 9 of 10 Americans REALLY know about macro-economics? I have a masters degree and I can tell you, I know very little about it all. This is not about informing us of the great issues of the day - it is about selling Newspapers!

It has long been said that "there is no news like bad news." And our popular media outlets have taken this to heart. How different might the popular mood in our country be if media outlets believed that it was good news that sells? Of course, if all the news in the paper was good news, we'd quit buying papers - instead we'd feel very secure about the world, and with a weight lifted off our shoulders, go out and play with our kids or take a relaxed stroll in the park. But if somehow our very survival depends upon knowing all the bad things going on (so that we may plan accordingly) then naturally we will continue to buy the papers, to keep abreast of the smallest details that might concern us. I personally can think of no time in my life when I watched so much CNN as in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. How good it would be for their business if we had (or seemed to have) such an event every week or two! If they can keep us anxious about the future in the way real events are covered, then they can keep our attention. This is the golden rule of the popular press.

It is also, interestingly, the rule of thumb observed by the demons in C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. In Letter 15, Screwtape (a devil) advises Wormwood (another devil) to try to keep his patient (the man they are tempting) living in the future, rather than in the present. Actual virtue and duty are lived out in the present, but if a man is fixated on the future - on what terrible things might happen to him or on what brave new world he might help bring about - he is much less likely to experience true Joy, or true God-given abundant life in this present moment (or the next). It is a way of distracting him from reality, which is only experienced in the present (the future is, from our point of view, not yet real).

Our problem is that both our government and our economy are run in accordance with popular perception - the very perception that is being skewed by the media' preference for negative reporting. Many of us potential home-buyers are now very reticent to attempt to buy a home so long as the market is in such a state of upheaval. The Fed can cut rates all they want, but that will only capture headlines for a few days until "new downturns" will spawn speculation as to whether they will do so again. In other words the media's negative portrayal of the US economy is a self-fulfilling prophecy precisely because it will cause people to be more cautious with their money, which in turn really will cause the economy to contract. I wonder what we would see in the markets across the board if all major media outlets put upon themselves a 30 day moratorium for talking economics. What if they said nothing whatever for an entire month? Of course, then what would they have to talk about for 24 hours a day (in order to sell commercial spots to sponsors)? Well the Democratic Primaries of course! But that is a whole different debacle of press coverage, I believe.

Maybe we should all collectively just turn their 24 hour news channels off? Give it a 40 day fast or something. We might be wiser at the end of it.

I believe this issue is addressed in some books I've been meaning to read, Amusing ourselves to death by the Postmans, and Mediated by Thomas De Zengotita. Has anyone read them?



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