Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why we laugh when someone talks about "unbiased journalism"

As I've said before, and undoubtedly will say countless times again, there's no such thing. "Unbiased journalism" is a fairy tale told to children and developmentally challenged adults. It does not exist in real life.

Case in point number...geez, I've lost count. Well, regardless, I give you Mike Blanchfield of the Canwest tribe of ink-stained wretches, who seems to be just aching for the CF and the Canadian government to admit we've screwed up in Kandahar by the numbers. Why, look at what the Dutch have done:

The Dutch military's battle for the Baluchi Valley, a strategic territory in the heart of Afghanistan's Uruzgan province, began close to a year before the first shot was fired, with a round of stealth diplomacy.

By the time it ended, in late 2008, the Netherlands had done something that Canada had failed to do after some of its earlier military victories in neighbouring Kandahar province -- hold on to the land they had won.

The Dutch had tribal advisers in place for more than year, sounding out locals, providing intelligence on the strength of the Taliban insurgency, and perhaps more importantly, hearing what the locals wanted done after the insurgents were driven out.

Because we don't listen to the Afghans, right? I mean, when I sat at the Canadian HQ at KAF, speaking with BGen Thompson, the Task Force Commander at the time, and with Ken Lewis, the RoCK (Representative of Canada in Kandahar), and I asked them how you prioritize your actions in a country where it seems like everything needs fixing, it's not like the first thing out of Ken's mouth was "Well, first, you ask the Afghans."

Oh, wait. Sorry, it was. That's exactly what he said. In fact, that's exactly what everyone over there had in mind. They've even largely done away with the phrase "putting an Afghan face" on what's being done, as a way of talking about how involved Afghans are in the process. They talk about projects and operations in terms of an Afghan mission that we're simply helping to facilitate. Those aren't just words, either - that's illustrative of a mindset.

Regardless of that, Blanchfield continues telling us how much better the Dutch are at this stuff than we bumbling Canadians:

Unlike the Dutch, Canada had cleared the Taliban out the Panjwaii district southwest of Kandahar City after fierce fighting in 2006, only to see the insurgents creep back a year later and inflict a new round of terror on locals. Canada and its coalition allies were late in creating Afghan-led security bases or starting meaningful development projects that captured the imagination of local residents.

The Netherlands is part of Regional Command South, the most volatile of the four regional NATO-led commands for Afghanistan. Yet in 2008, the Dutch lost six soldiers, compared with the 32 Canadians killed in Kandahar and the 51 Britons who lost their lives in Helmand province.

Note the dates that Blanchfield glosses over: the Canadians were fighting in Panjwayi in 2006, whereas the Dutch were battling in 2007/08. Ya figure the Dutch might have learned a thing or two from watching us?

As far as the casualties are concerned, let's look at a map, shall we?

Looking at Uruzgan and Kandahar, one is immediately struck by a couple of things, one involving size and the other involving distance.

First, Kandahar is bigger. Like, 40% bigger than Uruzgan. So it's easier to patrol and populate with your people. Support doesn't take as long to get there when it's needed, logistics are easier, etc. What isn't visible in the map is that the population difference between Uruzgan and Kandahar is even more pronounced: Kandahar has more than twice the number of Afghans living there than Uruzgan does. So right off the bat, you can see that the Dutch are swimming in a much smaller pond than the Canadians are. All other things being equal, it's easier to pacify a smaller province with less people in it.

Second, Uruzgan is separated from the Pakistan border by a whole buffer line of provinces from Paktika in the southeast to Helmand in the southwest. With an insurgency largely fueled out of Pakistan's northwest border area, that physical distance is not insignificant, especially when a lot of infiltration and resupply is done by foot.

But hey, if you're looking to point fingers, I guess none of that matters. Hence Blanchfield's next paragraph:

"It's not the most important province for the Taliban. So your opposition is different compared to what you've seen in Kandahar and Helmand," said Mollema, playing down the fact that Uruzgan is the birthplace of the Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Omar.

Note to Blanchfield: Mollema isn't "playing" anything, he's stating a fact. Kandahar is more important to Omar and the Taliban than Uruzgan. Omar may have been born there, but when he rose to power, where did he go? That's right: Kandahar. That's the spiritual centre for the Taliban, no matter how you want to spin the story otherwise.

Look, the Dutch are one of the few NATO nations to step up to the plate and work on the tough stuff in the more volatile southern and eastern provinces. They are a small country shouldering a big load, and from all indications doing a damned fine job of it. I have nothing but respect for them. Obviously the good folks at DFAIT and DND have nothing but respect for them as well, which is why they invited them to come share their experience with our people in the first place.

But don't put them on a pedestal above our own people, because the reality of the situation doesn't support that conclusion.

Unless you're a Canadian journalist casting around for a "gotcha" moment, that is.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And people wonder why the MSM is slowly, well now actually quite quickly, going the way of the dinosaurs.

What passes for "journalism" these days is to twist, distort and filter the data until they manufacture with some "gotcha" moment.

Remember all the "professional" journalists awhile back spiking their stories about the C-17 purchase, how corrupt it was to "direct" a contract to Boeing when their was such a great alternative in the A440m ?

Now that was a gotcha moment for you. The "professional journalists" pounced, made it very difficult for DND and in hindsight their trumped up 'gotcha moment" was a complete screw up from the get-go.

The sooner all these fools are cashing EI cheques instead of filing stories, the better we will be and the easier it will be for ordinary people to get the truth.

Just an opinion, I could be wrong.

6:13 p.m., March 17, 2009  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Babbling: Brilliant. In any case "The Economist" was on the broad story first:

'Dutch in Afstan: "The flower-strewers partly vindicated'

Mr Blanchfield has just provided a suitably Canadian media spin. Moreover, as you point out, it's a long way from Quetta to Tarin Kowt. Plus the Aussie and American special forces at least have been doing a fair amount of work in Uruzgan.


7:17 p.m., March 17, 2009  
Blogger milnews.ca said...

Perhaps we're seeing "micro-herd journalism" here, where one guy follows one other guy (in this case, the Economist) - why develop your own arguments and analysis when you can "leverage" someone else's?

10:04 p.m., March 17, 2009  
Blogger fm said...

An Aussie digger was shot and killed in a firefight with 20 Taliban the day before yesterday 14 km north of Tarin Kowt. Shot, not anonymously blown up by an IED. Broad daylight.

The place is far from subdued.

10:30 p.m., March 17, 2009  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Tony (milnews), I think you've hit the nail on the head. Couple that with a predisposition to emphasize the sensational so that it looks like a scoop, and you've got an all too typical journalist.

FM, so sorry to hear about the Digger. We don't really talk enough about how much work the Aussies are doing to help the Dutch in Uruzgan. Especially the SF guys, if rumour is correct.

9:34 a.m., March 18, 2009  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/18/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

9:55 a.m., March 18, 2009  
Blogger milnews.ca said...

Ah yes, a variation on the "scoop that isn't" theme.

Meanwhile, General De Kruif is now quoted here saying this: "If there is one thing that makes my skin crawl it is the term 'Dutch approach .... The Dutch are doing excellent work - but it is no different from what the British, Americans and Canadians are doing."


6:57 a.m., March 26, 2009  

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