The fog of journalism

The fog of journalism

In an age of relentless, 24×7 television coverage, why is it that we don’t have a clue about what’s really going on? In this piece from The Atlantic, William Powers suggests that we need newspapers to penetrate the fog. Quote:

“There’s also an emerging star in The [Washington] Post, a reporter named Anthony Shadid who has been writing remarkable dispatches from Baghdad. On the morning of the first missile attack on Baghdad, he filed the most gripping, graceful account that I saw anywhere. At one point this week, he was inside the home of an Iraqi family that isn’t thrilled with Saddam, but is also terrified of and angered by the U.S. invasion: “To this family, the assault is an insult. It is not Hussein under attack, but Iraq, they said. It is hard to gauge if this is a common sentiment, although it is one heard more often as the war progresses. ‘We complain about things, but complaining doesn’t mean cooperating with foreign governments,’ the father said. ‘When somebody comes to attack Iraq, we stand up for Iraq. That doesn’t mean we love Saddam Hussein, but there are priorities.’ “

Anecdotal stuff, not necessarily representative of the broader Iraqi populace, but powerfully told. With U.S. soldiers meeting unexpected resistance on the battlefield that very day, Shadid put flesh on what was then the story of the hour: the possibility that coalition forces might not be as welcome as expected.

After reading that story, I went back to the television, and the fog descended again. It didn’t lift until the next morning, when the newspapers arrived.”

Well, up to a point. The image I have all the time at the moment is of looking through the wrong end of a telecope. What we have now is 600 wrong-ended telescopes in the form of the ’embedded’ journalists travelling with the marines. It’s impossible to figure out what’s really happening just from peering in to these instruments.