Edit: quick primer for the Den Beste readers, since Den Beste himself didn’t bother to read any of my other posts…
- I think Arnett deserved to be fired.
- I think it would be exceedingly difficult to try Arnett for treason; it’s not as easy as you think it is.
- Faulting someone for providing readily available information to Iraq is silly (that’d be this post).
Back to your regularly scheduled post…
Den Beste has his own commentary on the Arnett issue, and completely misses, and I think it’s a bad enough miss to be worth some discussion.
His issue is with the portion of the interview in which Arnett says “So our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces, are going back to the United States. It helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments.” Den Beste claims that Arnett’s interview — and specifically that interview — will encourage the Iraqi leadership to kill civilians in an attempt to turn public opinion against Bush.
I have to wonder how stupid Den Beste thinks Saddam is. Is he, perhaps, under the impression that Saddam has no idea what’s on CNN? What the front page of BBC News looks like? Saddam doesn’t need Peter Arnett to tell him or anyone that public opinion, particularly as it relates to civilian casualities, is an important factor in this war. Arnett’s error wasn’t giving Saddam information he already had. His error was using his position as a reporter to legitimize false information.
Den Beste’s condescending assumption that Arnett is telling Saddam something he doesn’t know smacks of the same arrogance that led our leaders to believe that the regime would collapse as soon as we invaded. They’re just Iraqis, after all. Treating an enemy as stupid, alas, is one of the quickest ways to wind up in more trouble than is necessary.
But there’s more than that here, because if you follow Den Beste’s logic a little further you’re forced to consider the possibility that anyone reporting on public opinion has the blood of dead Iraqi civilians on their hands. (“But if this does encourage the Iraqi government to start creating lots of death scenes to blame on us, then the people killed will actually be dead, and their blood will be on Arnett’s hands.”) This is the belief that by controlling the flow of information, you can control what people will do. It misses one very important point.
We don’t live in that era anymore. You cannot control information flow. Weblogs, smart mobs, embedded reporters — information (both true and false) will flow no matter what you do, and arguing about how best to control and contain it is a futile game.
People like talking to each other. Give the world a megaphone, and it will collectively use it.