Operation Overload

Operation Overload (or left-over notes from my vacation): Those familiar with my news junkie tendencies may be surprised to learn that I have sworn off TV and Internet coverage of the war. I believe, rather, that the best coverage of this war will be in magazines. Actually, the best coverage will be in a book that will be written 30 years from now, but in terms of “news,” magazines are the only medium that will provide you with an understanding of what is going on. (More on this later.)

TV has managed the lead-up and the first week of the war as a strange cross between coverage of the Rose Bowl Parade, a really gruesome reality show and the Super Bowl. It’s sick. And according to the WSJ today, watching it can make you sick. I refuse to spend more than a few minutes a day being overwhelmed by the shock and awe, carpet-bomb approach to news coverage.

One of the reasons for my disdain of this real-time, videophone reporting is the consistency with which embedded reporters and their handlers seem to misunderstand what they are covering. What is a battle vs. a skirmish? What is “heavy” fire? Is it news that it takes two hours rather than one to take a bridge?

An editorial in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune poses an interesting question, “What if CNN had covered the Battle of the Bulge?” Could we as a country have handled 19,000 casualties covered live? (Actually, there is a whole speculative-history genre related to such “What if?” scenarios, my personal favorite being a bizarre book by Harry Turtledove, Guns of the South, that examines the premise, no lie, of what would have happened if Lee’s army had AK-47s?” Suggestion to Turtledove: What if the Republican Guard had cruise missles?)

Rather than speculate about things that will never be, however, I once more will declare something that is a fact: magazines are the best news medium to turn to for a true understanding of this war. Peter Carlson, in today’s WP, makes the same point in his review of John Lee Anderson’s “Letter from Baghdad” in the current New Yorker.

You could spend the next month watching cable TV and not come this close to understanding the surreality of war.

  • lcreekmo

    You knew I wouldn’t be able to resist commenting here, didn’t you.

    On your basic premise re: TV coverage of the war, I agree. After the first 48 hours of wow-this-is-fascinating-to-watch-the-war-in-progress, you quickly realize that TV reporters aren’t used to providing perspective on ANYTHING and are the least equipped people to do that in the heat of a battle, or skirmish, as the case may be, not that anyone could provide the appropriate perspective at that very moment.

    In some ways I think this puts the media at a disadvantage to the Pentagon in the long run, because right now, when you take a step back, the Pentagon is able to say, hey things are proceeding according to plan, we knew there would be casualties, and of course you know that’s true, so that makes the media look a bit foolish & hysterical. So — god forbid — things go way wrong — it doesn’t put the media in a good position to come back later and call anyone on it. Let’s hope that time never comes. Gut instinct tells me the Pentagon is right on track. I hope.

    Back to the magazine point: There will be good magazine stuff. Did you read Elsa Walsh’s story about the Saudi ambassador in the 3.24.2003 issue of The New Yorker? Fascinating. Provides lots of interesting background re: war, Afghanistan, Middle East….everything. I was looking last night…do they keep their archives online? I couldn’t find it.

    But I have to tell you that I’m gonna differ on the Internet. Sooooo much fascinating stuff happening re: the war. Salam Pax…have you read that? And the Agonist? That guy is blogging and watching satellite tv and reading the web all day. It’s all very interesting.

  • Lewis Pennock

    The NYT has some pretty interesting coverage of the coverage in this article. Especially interesting is how the tone has changed over just a few days as the media underestimated the war, and of course they talk about blogging and the war as well. (oh, and Laura sent me that, so I guess i have to give her credit)

  • Lewis Pennock

    i’m a little worried about Salam – no postings since Monday.