It’s just in: Breaking News!
If you haven’t noticed, the news industry thrives on melodrama; it is hardly original to note that cable television programming, in particular, operates on the values of showbiz.
Two concrete cases:
Some on the left have complained of inordinate attention given to the murder of Gabby Petito. “Why all the hubbub about a missing blonde?” Media moralists demand to know. What about the many missing Native American women in Wyoming?
As it turns out, a Governor’s Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous People has determined that such cases receive disproportionate coverage in the Wyoming media. But that has nothing to do with poor Gabby, whose body was found at a national forest campsite, as virtually every media outlet in the United States has reported.
Why? Simple: Petito and the fugitive who apparently killed her were already underage celebrities. They had posted videos from their camping trip across the country on YouTube and Instagram. So there was a lot of video footage. Utah police who interviewed the couple after a roadside altercation provided even more.
The images were captivating. Sad to say, the cameras loved him. Petito exuded an alluring vulnerability that people responded to. The boyfriend projected some sort of threat from the TV movie of the week: weak and controlling, the kind of guy who hits women.
Second, his distressed family lives in New York, his in Florida, two major media markets. After he returned home without her and then disappeared, a painful drama ensued. Viewers reacted with emotion and the story gained momentum. And it’s still not over.
But it’s when the conventions of melodrama drive national political histories that the real problems begin. Quite often, they too turn to dramatic video. Consider the thorny question of “Who lost Afghanistan?” Evoked by the deadly chaos at Kabul airport – a responsibility shared by four US presidents and all the generals who testified before Congress last week.
Images of desperate Afghans hiding in the wheel arches of what they feared was the last plane, then dying to death, dominated coverage for weeks. Millions of Americans unable to find Afghanistan on a world map were shocked.
As the debacle took place under Joe Biden’s watch, there is no denying his responsibility. But his responsibility for what? A more difficult question, almost impossible to reduce to a 15-second news clip.
Too often, creative editing comes to the rescue. Everywhere you looked last week, troubled presenters wondered if Biden had lied about his conversations with Pentagon advisers regarding leaving Afghanistan.
A CNN panel led by Ana Cabrera concluded that he denied that General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advised him to keep 2,500 US troops there, and that was a lie.
The alleged lie was documented by a brief video clip from an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:
“So nobody said it – your military advisers didn’t tell you, ‘No, we should just keep 2,500 soldiers. It has been a stable situation for several years. We can do that. Can we continue to do this’? “
“No,” Biden said. “No one told me that I remember.”
The same truncated quote has appeared on CNN multiple times and was used by The New Yorker’s Robin Wright to make the same point. Biden’s words contrasted sharply with the sworn testimony of Pentagon officials.
Would it shock you, then, if the transcript of the interview shows that moments earlier Biden said his advisers were “divided” over keeping the soldiers in Kabul? In the context, the president clearly answered the second part of the question, on maintaining the stability of the country with 2,500 troops.
Indeed, he went straight on to say, ‘Look, George, the reason it’s been stable for a year is because the last president said,’ We’re leaving. “
And that’s just a fact. In the 2020 Doha deal, Donald Trump promised to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan on May 1, 2021, if the Taliban stopped attacking the Americans, which they did.
It also appears that none of Biden’s Pentagon advisers believed that Afghanistan could be pacified with such a small force. If the United States did not withdraw, General Milley said, the Taliban would have resumed fighting. “We would have needed 30,000 troops,” he said, and would have suffered “a lot of casualties”.
And this is precisely the result Biden told Stephanopoulos he was determined to avoid: a never-ending war. Something that the brass in the Pentagon, in his experience, like too much.
“I was present when this discussion took place and I am confident that the President heard all the recommendations and listened to them very carefully,” said General Kenneth McKenzie, Head of Central Command. “That’s all a commander can ask for.
“The idea that there is somehow a way out of this without chaos ensuing,” Biden also told Stephanopoulos, “I don’t know how it happens . “
Judging by their testimony, no one else either.
Gene Lyons is a columnist for the Arkansas Times.
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