To keep last week’s media post short and readable, we cut a lot of the concrete examples of the media focusing on politics instead of policy, using the WSJ example as a synecdoche of the coverage. We also decided to run our examples of the good coverage today, because good options do exist, and we never want to complain without offering alternatives.
We start with the bad examples...
- The Sunday talk shows. For two successive weekends, the major network’s Sunday talk shows debated Obama’s legacy, not the Syrian civil war. Two Sundays ago, David Gregory on Meet the Press previewed two different segments by describing Syria as “...what may be the biggest challenge yet for the presidency of President Obama.” George Stephanopoulos on This Week asked, “Can his presidency survive a defeat?” Yes. Now, give us some policy implications, not politics.
- Politico. Obviously Politico covers politics, but like this? One article was titled, “United States of Weakness”. They also said a failure to go to war would “cripple his presidency.” Then Politico followed up its coverage by labeling the Obama administration’s secret briefing on Syria a “flop”. The Syria briefing honestly laid out the ways attacking Syria could go wrong, and presented the unvarnished intelligence, instead of hyping it. If it sounds like we are making an Iraq comparison, we are. Politico shouldn’t label President Obama as soft or weak or incompetent for delivering honest briefings to Congress which lay out the complexities, uncertainties and difficulties of military action.
- Political pundits. CNN, in particular, got blasted when it invited Van Jones and SE Cupp to debate Syria. As Andrew Exum tweeted, “@jaketapper You know I am a huge fan of yours, but Syria as analyzed by @secupp & @VanJones68 is why I don't watch @CNN.”
- The push for war even as Syria vowed to give up its weapons. Even as Syria volunteered to give up its weapons, media outlets started reporting that Obama was losing support for an intervention in Congress, then hyperventilated that this could end his presidency. Later in the week, some pundits--especially conservatives--praised Putin’s leadership to criticize Obama. Really?
- On The Media. Though we love this show, we feel their coverage two weeks ago really missed the mark, defending the media’s Syria debate. As their summary put it on the website, “Coverage of the proposed military intervention in Syria is attracting inevitable comparisons to the run-up to the Iraq war, which began 10 years ago. But this time around, with Iraq still fresh in the country's collective memory, the media seem to be more careful.” Nope.
Not everything was terrible. Here’s what we liked:
- The Economist had two pieces arguing for an intervention that focused primarily on the actual conflict, not politics, along with suggestions for what to read online to follow the conflict, a detailed outline of the current war, and then Immanuel Kant’s take. That’s how you cover a possible intervention, even if we disagree with their conclusions.
- The Atlantic’s Conor Friederdorf brilliantly showed how the news coverage of most major media outlets skewed pro-war. In one piece, he describes how inside-the-beltway pundits/experts make this possible; in the other, he writes the news article he wants to read.
- All In with Chris Hayes invited anti-war guests on his show, which helped to balance out the parade of generals on most of the other networks. He also called out the pro-Iraq War pundits who are still “experts” on the Middle East, despite missing the mark in Iraq.
- Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, appropriately slammed the media on his first week back, as we linked to last week.
- Fareed Zakaria, GPS. Finally, though Fareed invited Paul Wolfowitz on his show as an expert on the Middle East, we agree with his take here, analyzing the policy missteps that got the Obama administration embroiled in Syria.