Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A bit ahead of the curve

The WAR AND TERROR DIGEST has long been a bad answer to a good question. The good question is "What kind of propaganda statement would we be making if we declared Iraq part of the 'war on terror'?" The bad answer is "Well, it'll be OK as long as we make sure the label says they're two different things."

Which works, sort of, up to a point -- as long as you stick to talking about the two unrelated things you said you'd stick to talking about. It becomes a worse idea when you introduce a new concept:

Militia leader says no to peace talks
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The leader of the Islamic militia that has taken hold of southern Somalia on Tuesday rebuffed a U.N. plan for peace talks with the government, saying he will not negotiate until the government expels all foreign troops."Until Ethiopian troops leave Somali soil, we will never negotiate with the government," said Islamic militia leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys.

Hmm, the reader might hmm, scratching his or her head. Can't be WAR, since it doesn't involve Americans and Iraq, so it must be TERROR. Makes sense. Indeed, it's the only conclusion you can reach, unless you change the package label to WAR, TERROR, SOFTBALL AND OTHER UNRELATED STUFF DIGEST.

From that, it's awfully easy to conclude that the originating paper has decided that anything involving Islamist militias is by definition TERROR. And that makes the paper sound significantly more like Ann Coulter than it probably wants to.

Ah, you say, but consider the fourth graf:
While Aweys -- who has been accused by Somali secular leaders and the West of links to al-Qaida -- ruled out any talks, a more moderate member of his Supreme Islamic Courts Council left open the possibility.

"Accused of links to al-Qaida" -- doesn't that settle it? Well, cast your mind back a few years. See if you can think of a case in which a certain administration managed to convince big sectors of The Meedja that being "accused of links to al-Qaida" meant having Osama over for a couple of beers and terror plotting every Thursday. And when your own State Department's official line is that Aweys' folks ought to be part of "a process of positive and peaceful dialogue," it sounds as if you're ahead of both Fox News and the real policymakers when you cast them into the outer darkness.

Moral for the desk: When you see somebody muddying the lines, ask for justification. You might not mean it to be propaganda, but readers can't tell what you mean. They can only see what you publish.

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