Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Gurgle Gurgle

There's a scene in a relatively unknown movie called Erik the Viking where the king of a sinking Atlantis continues to affirm that everything as fine as the water swallows him and his words, dispite his daughter's pleading for him to face facts and save himself and his kingdom. It's something that's run through my head often over the course of this war. Not hard to understand why when Dick Van Bush keeps urging us to put on a happy face:

Communicator in Chief Keeps the Focus on Iraq Positive

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 - President Bush's opening statement at his news conference on Wednesday was striking for what it left out: any mention of the 31 Americans who died overnight in the crash of a Marine helicopter in Iraq, the largest number of American deaths in a single incident since the war began.

Mr. Bush instead focused on his long-term goal of "ending tyranny in our world," and then cast the Iraqi election coming Sunday as part of a march of freedom around the globe. He said that if he had told the reporters in the room a few years before that the Iraqi people would be voting, "you would look at me like some of you still look at me, with a kind of blank expression."

The president's words were part of an aggressive White House communications strategy this week and next to frame the risky Iraqi election - a critical test of his assertion that the country is on the path to stability - in the best possible light. The goal, a Bush adviser said, was not only to lower expectations but to avoid any definition of success. . . . .

When the president was asked to define what a "credible" turnout in Iraq would be, he quickly side-stepped, saying only, "The fact they're voting in itself is successful."
[Ed. note: I can't help but think that Kerry managed to turn out record numbers of voters. Yet in our case, the fact they're voting in itself wasnt actually successful. I suppose it depends on what your definition of is is.]

I will say, to be fair, that the article's front page teaser ("President Bush's decision not to mention a helicopter crash at a news conference was part of a strategy to frame the Iraqi election in the best possible light.") was undermined by the admission in the article that Bush did, in fact, acknowledge that a helicopter did crash and people did die. He still deserves the ding for waiting for someone else to bring it up, however. Though perhaps I should be glad he didn't use it to spin for freedom again. Ooops, did I blog too soon?

By Wednesday afternoon, in an interview with Al Arabiya, the satellite television network, he had incorporated his response to the crash into his larger message about freedom.

"Today a tragic helicopter accident is a reminder of the risks inherent in military operations," he said in the television interview, again in response to a question.

"We mourn the loss of life. But I am convinced we're doing the right thing by helping Iraq become a free country, because a free Iraq will have long-term effects in the world, and it will help the people of Iraq realize their dreams and aspirations and hopes."

Mr. Bush's decision not to mention the helicopter crash in his opening statement, the Bush adviser said, was part of a longstanding White House practice to avoid having the president mention some American deaths in Iraq but not others.

"It's almost a policy," said the adviser, who asked not to be named because the president does not want aides talking about the inner workings of the White House, "because if you mention one, you have to mention them all."
Finally, the slippery slope argument comes to war PR. I enjoy it so much in the classroom, it's nice to see its applicability in action.

I've heard even from friend who have served in Iraq that there is good stuff going on over there that doesn't get covered, that it's not all bad news. I wish good news sold more papers too. However, when the subject is war - not sensational auto accidents or celebrity trials - the awesome prices being paid by both Americans and Iraqis should be relentlessly front-paged lest we forget exactly what is going on. War isn't humanized in school construction. It's humanized in death.

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