Media Set Back in Coverage of Setback

As we roll along, I reflect that it's already been a long war for those of us in action.

It's a harsh life, deprived of many of the most ordinary comforts. For many, it's been at least three hours since the last taste of biscotti and cappuccino macchiato. There is little to protect us from the brutal weather or road conditions, except a well-sealed vehicle with a soft suspension and air conditioning. We have scant access to information about anything outside of our immediate area, other than twenty-four hour cable news, a satellite dish, cell phones, and the internet.

Since the war broke out, just a couple days after my interview with "Commandante Howell," I've been embedded in a front-line reportorial unit--the Chicken Little Company, of the Eeyore 5th Battalion, part of the Fourth Division, proudly named for decades the "Whining Weasels."

After the catastrophe of the Afghan campaign, in which so many journalists lost their credibility, like Democrats who thought they lost the 2002 elections because they weren't sufficiently liberal, many decided that the disastrous loss had resulted from inadequate shielding against reality. Thus, for this war, a new type of armored vehicle has been developed to protect them from the cruel and inevitable blasts of facts and logic that were so devastating a year and a half ago.

The result is the Bradlee armored propaganda carrier (APD), developed especially for the purpose of bombarding unknowledgable information consumers with pessimism and defeatism, while fending off obtrusive fact checking.

It has two layers of plating--the outer one consists of four inches of obtusium, designed to simultanously scatter and absorb reasoned arguments or sense, thus shielding its inhabitants. Should any inconvenient knowledge make it past the first layer, it is stopped by the inner plating of an extremely dense alloy--a blend of recycled journalism texts and copies of the Guardian.

The APDs have nose art. All carry the division symbol--a pair of eternally wringing hands, with the cryptic word "ANNAYLLOP." Many have pictures of gray ladies in various states of redress.

Extra care has been taken with the interior as well, to maintain proper morale. The seats have six-way electric adjustable lumbar support, and the walls of the vehicle are lined with cupholders, with glasses of chardonnay, maintained in a continual state of half emptiness.

The vehicle is designed to facilitate the deep burying of leads, to allow reporting without the danger of actually describing what's going on. The newest version, the one in which we're riding, permits key points to be buried as deep as the fortieth page of the fifth section of the paper.

Unfortunately, the other side's technology hasn't stood still, either. We have heard rumors that the bloggers have come up with a new weapon with precisely such tactics in mind. They've developed a new type of deep penetrating analysis, often consisting of thousands of powerful words. They have apparently informally and affectionately dubbed it the "bunkum buster."

The troops here still haven't fully accommodated themselves to the precision prose of this new war, in which the weaponry is often smarter than the average journalism major. I can only hope that it won't be their downfall.

The radio crackles with excitement. Some of the leading vehicles have sighted what they believe may be a setback up ahead. Some are even reporting it as a budding quagmire -- a murky one.

Everyone jumps to battle stations, furiously lobbing out snippets and stories about wounded and captured coalition forces, and getting bogged down. Some of the troops up front start laying out a covering fire of Mogadishu and Stalingrad comparisons, as the Bradlees in the rear bury all the good news in the fashion section.

But just as the shots seem to be starting to take effect, with a plummet in the Dow, and the American public seeming to resign itself to a long, inconclusive war, we start taking fire from the blogosphere. We're being steadily bombarded with statistics, first-hand reporting, unassailable logic, and irrefutable facts. Worst of all is a steady rain of undiluted optimism and reality.

Fortunately, our armor plating holds for now, and we ignore it.

Suddenly, we hear screams from the vehicle next to us.

"My eyes, my eyes!!!"

It's a vehicle full of Wall Street Journal reporters, in shock and awe. They've taken friendly fire from their own opinion page--a powerfully profound and penetrating piece. It had first softened up the story with an initial barrage of facts, and then, in a single explosive paragraph, it unearthed dozens of deeply buried leads, blasting them up to the surface where all can see them clearly.

The carnage is indescribable. One woman looks down in horror to see that her point is completely gone. Another pundit is weeping uncontrollably, crying for his editor. Others just wander around in a daze, in shock from the sudden exposure to the bright light of reality.

The shielding on the vehicle has apparently collapsed completely. In the front of it, just behind an image of a single remaining wringing hand, there's a gaping hole, and the ground is littered with the confetti of old Alexander Cockburn and Katha Pollitt pieces.

We call up an edivac unit from the rear to evacuate the wounded, and survey the ruins of the Bradlee, digging through the shards of the shredded armor plating, looking for some clue to the catastrophic failure.

"Perhaps it was overloaded by the combination of the fire from both the Journal and the bloggers. We just need to make the armor thicker."

I ask if they've ever considered just doing the story straight, and actually doing research, and putting some thought into it, obviating the need for such protection. I'm rewarded with a look of contempt.

"What would be the point? That would defeat our whole purpose and make common cause with the enemy. If that's the only alternative, we might as well just surrender now."

Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his Web log, Transterrestrial Musings.

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