Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Living with Proof

I can understand how the absolutely heart-wrenching tale of this Iraqi blogger's ordeal was difficult to read - the recounting of how she was forced to sift through piles of body parts to locate the upper half of her nephew's badly mangled corpse. It deeply affected me. It was disarming and jarring in a way that the daily trade in euphemism and detached strategic intellectualization is not.

I can also understand how such a visceral description of the true nature of war could force many war supporters to confront the heinous results of their advocacy. Even as an opponent of the war, I felt an enormous sense of shame and responsibility. We humans aren't generally well suited to process intense feelings of guilt and shame. They create a potent and relentless cognitive dissonance. Many soldiers who have fought in wars could tell you this.

All too often, when forced to reckon with such a formidable challenge, humans will seek to quiet the source of pain. There are many ways to attempt this. The most difficult one is also the responsible one: that is to take an unvarnished look at one's actions, recognize the error and show contrition. Embark on the slow road to redemption, which is also the path to maturity.

Another way, a less productive though seductively "easy" course, is to simply deny the facts before your eyes. A somewhat more elegant form of denial involves attacking the messenger who delivered the depiction of harsh reality. In focusing on the means or agent of delivery, it is possible to delegitimize the substance of the story that is causing the adverse mental reaction.

Denial becomes such an attractive option because to acknowledge the story's veracity is to either admit error and take responsibility or, in the alternative, adjust one's moral and ethical compass such that the painful stimulus becomes normalized, rationalized and justified.

The latter step necessarily leads to a desensitizing of sorts - the cauterization of the moral function. Such a move tends to truncate empathy and compassion, and can have wider repercussions throughout one's psyche. It is a dangerous step to take - and a path toward the psychosis and sociopathy.

This brand of mental gymnastics was on display in this post by Mark Kilmer at RedState. In that post, Kilmer makes some rather remarkable allegations about the Iraqi blogger whose story I linked to above, and goes on to launch a series of baseless attacks against the entire Iraqi blogger contingent assembled under the masthead of McClatchy's Baghdad Bureau. Suffice it to say that all of Kilmer's allegations are unsupported by anything more than a suspicion of bias, an argument that the media has made errors in the past and the plaintive subtext that these claims simply must be false. To fathom the opposite is unthinkable.

Bush must be stopped, the reasoning seems to go, by any means necessary. Subjecting the undiscerning to first order fraud is a small price to pay.[...]

To accept that these are anonymous Iraqis blogging for McClatchy, a notoriously anti-Bushie news service, requires a profound leap a faith. You must believe that every lefty preconception about the war and its aftermath turned out to be true. You must believe that despite the erudition of such Iraqis as Omar and Mohammed Fahdil of Iraq the Model, the best McClatchy could find were a few folks who were semi-articulate with English, who more resemble anAmerican pretending to use broken English.

This is "remarkably revealing commentary" to the anti-Bushies. The Congressional Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey Caucus needs its collaborators. (What are surrender monkeys without a Vichy regime?)

Why would one need to believe every "lefty preconception about the war and its aftermath" in order to believe that things have turned out horribly for so many of Baghdad's residents? Even the Bush administration acknowledges this tragic state of affairs - and my guess is, they haven't thrown in with the dreaded "lefties." In fact, legions of other Iraqi bloggers have written first hand accounts of horrendous conditions in Baghdad - including, alas, the "erudite" Omar at Iraq the Model.

Kilmer goes on to defame these Iraqi bloggers by insinuation and innuendo - again, without a shred of evidence to support his rather bold allegations:

If it is true, that [Dulaimy] lost a friend, it is very sad. On the other hand, it's a simple thing to invent and type if your goal is to slander the United States, its soldiers, and its mission. That's what McClatchy is doing, and their propagandizing shows no real knack for bending any but the most malleable (or already twisted) minds.

Kilmer concludes that the entire Iraqi blog is but a fabricated, calculated propaganda vehicle assembled by McClatchy in its effort to score political points. Do I need to repeat the fact that, again, despite the audacity of the accusations being made, there is no evidence presented to support them?

Greg Mitchell calls this journalism, and he credits McClatchy with "some of the best reporting on the war." We don't know if this even exists. When America's media invents, distorts, and manipulates the truth to harm our country, its leaders, and its soldiers and one calls it a great thing, there is no removing the neo-Nam slop from his eyes; he's imagining retrograde nostalgia, trying to relive a contrived and craven aspect of a dead era. [...]

Then again, we can look at the larger picture. I mean, what harm is caused by a few little inventions and fabrications if they help to secure for this country a President Hillary, Obama, Edwards, or LaRouche? (Situational ethics were never my forte.)

Mark Seibel, who oversees McClatchy's Baghdad Bureau, valiantly attempts to set the record straight in the comments section over at RedState. Although he takes pains to rein in Kilmer's wild speculation by providing specific responses and correctives, his struggle is in vain. Without the slightest sense of irony, the first commenter to respond to Seibel begins his response with this intro:

...if anyone ever needed more evidence of the abject stupidity of the American news media they need look no further.

Sifting through this diatribe I struggled to find facts. Any facts. But alas and alack, like "McClatchy's" (a name better suited to a cheap scotch than a newspaper chain) reporting they were few and far between. [emphasis mine throughout]

Yeah, if only Seibel could have provided a fact-laden, evidence-based response to Kilmer's post. Then...what exactly? It's not fact or evidence or proof that the RedState gang is searching for. It is some suitable anesthetic to quiet the racket in their heads. Facts are biased. Evidence is the enemy. Proof? Why that's just an evil plot hatched in the minds of traitorous liberals.

(hat tip cleek Ugh commenting at ObWi)

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