As everybody from the President to the Lance Corporals say, ‘when a terrorist lights a fire cracker, its news, but when we take down a terrorist cell, no one hears about it.’
This new battlespace is not fought on a fixed terrain. In war, it is often said that terrain and technology are neutral, i.e., night sights don’t know who is wearing them, the ground doesn’t care who is walking on it and a concrete wall will stop rounds from an AK-47 or an M-4.
The battlespace, the terrain of an information war, is not neutral, it takes sides. In the same way it would be impossible for Marines to win a firefight if the ground they were standing on convulsed or shifted from hard dirt to quicksand, so to is it becoming impossible for them to win a battle in the information war, for the terrain of an information war is not newsprint or radio waves, but the thoughts, opinions and prejudices of the reporters and editors.
Many of the reporters and editors are predisposed to oppose the American military. Some just dislike the military and military action, others, due to their personal political view of the President, use the war as a tool to criticize the President.
Even the basic definition of news is working against the Marines. The basic definition of news used by most reporters, sets a standard which makes it impossible for the Coalition to fight the information war. For most editors and reporters, news is defined as when the current situation is not as it should be.
In a mathematical equation, it would look like this
Y=What should be
Of course, once this is put in logical or mathematical terms, one quickly sees the fundamental err in reasoning―who determines Y? For while X can be ascertained, Y is, at best, an intellectual construct or hypothesis or, at worst, a fantasy.
A charlatan in the mainstream media would retort that Y can be measured through opinion polls of what people think should be. While it may be possible, any quantification of what the public thinks should be would have to include what the public actually knows. In other words a poll asking if people think the war is going well must also include questions testing their mastery of the subject.
For example, how many people know that running water was rare in Iraq before the invasion and before 1991? How many people understand that flush toilets just plain old don’t exist in most of Iraq? Do the poll respondents understand that except for a few places in Baghdad, stoves are not fueled by natural gas or electricity, but 50 gallon propane tanks? Do the people answering the survey understand that illiteracy rates are higher than reported by the U.N., formal education is rare and unemployment was above great depression levels throughout Iraq’s history?
The results of a poll that demanded the public state their knowledge of Iraq will be dramatically different than usual. Once the respondents have to acknowledge that Iraq is a third world country, they will be more likely to give the Coalition the benefit of the doubt on how well things are going.
But I doubt that will temper the basic assumptions of the media and end the ‘good news is not news’ attitude.
A reporter for a prestigious national newspaper flatly told Colonel Gurganus as much a few weeks a go.
This reporter went into Fallujah when the Iraqi Government and Coalition was giving money to the residents of Fallujah to compensate them for damage to their homes and businesses. The Marines of Silver Platoons twin brother, Gold, were providing security for the area and the reporter spent an hour pestering them.
When the Marines came back that evening, many of them were ticked off at her and her line of questioning. Even the Lance Corporals knew she was out to get the quotes that fit her story line.
The Marines are fighting in a battle space that shifts on them, but the insurgents do not suffer that disadvantage.
It is estimated by some officers and analysts, that up to 50% of the Iraqi ‘stringers’ for news agencies are actually members or fellow travelers of the insurgency. It is very common for the insurgent stringers to mislead the major news organizations and for the reporters to believe them because it fits their preconceived story line and the stringers will line up ‘sources’ for the story. In a country where first run movies are available on bootleg DVD before the first box-office gross is tabulated, ‘sources’ are murky at best.
The military media relations officers will field questions from reporters based on the disinformation and offer them a flight to the area to see for themselves, but rarely do the reporters take up the offer.
The information war is not just battled in the media consumed by Americans, but in the Iraqi media and information networks.
If the Iraqi’s view the insurgency as being strong, they are less likely to help the coalition. If the insurgency is viewed as winning, it is easier for the terrorists to recruit impressionable young men.
The insurgency has mastered the favorable battle space and is using it to every advantage through an extremely sophisticated disinformation network.
The military is hampered by rules and official protocol from being as quick and slick as the insurgents. The military doesn’t need to run a disinformation campaign, the truth is more than enough, but they are not allowed to use creative techniques and if they did and the news media figured it out, the media pundits would howl.
So the race against time in the media battle space continues. For the sake of the Iraqi people, I hope the coalition wins, because everyone knows how well a group of terrorists run a country…unless of course you thought the Taliban was a model of good government.
(This article originally appeared on www.facesfromthefront.com)