Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Media's Iraq: Cognitive Dissonance & Groupthink

UPDATE: Gateway Pundit has more on the subject pointing out that success in Iraq has caused the media to drop coverage by 92%. Of course let if they can get a really good picture of an American soldier doing something bad or getting horridly dismembered, well, then we're talking huge coverage.

If Iraq Bleeds It Leads. Since It Ain't, The Surge Must Be Working

Over the Memorial Day weekend we went to the graves of my parents. Both of my wife's parents are alive (and kicking up a storm) and she is kind enough to want to share in my desire to honor and attempt to continue to involve my parents in our life.

Each veteran's grave displayed a flag. Most monuments for veterans entombed there have some denotation of their service. For my family in this cemetery this meant their service in the War of 1812, Mexican American War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Other ancestral veterans are buried in their ancestral homes in Massachusetts, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia while some are buried in lost graves in foreign lands.

My father's monument simply has a MD after his name. As a veteran of two wars and as a civilian he was first and foremost a surgeon and a healer, a physician. As usual, we took a flag to display on his grave, but there was already one in place. I am awed and humbled that the different veteran's groups took the time to make sure that each veteran would be so honored.

The cemetery was a sea of flags. And families. And flowers, new plantings of trees and bushes and groups of people cleaning, looking and interacting with each other. Some were silent, some sharing, some smiling and many celebrating. Celebrating life and lives. Celebrating freedom, celebrating their loved ones and what their loved ones loved.

As Americans they understood. There was no moral relativism. As a good parent unequivocally loves their child, a good citizen loves their country so. If there are warts, fix them, but still love. If they are sometimes wrong, teach them, but still love. I was taught that a good man can be beaten down, but he can't be kept down. It seems so as well for America.

Vietnam veterans were offered no parades. Most Americans do not know it, but neither were Korean veterans given the respect they deserved by a war weary nation. A brother-in-law was spit on in San Diego in 1970, my sister was knocked to the ground and after my brother-in-law protected her, he was arrested. It was in California and he had been discharged only hours before. In court there were protesters and street theater as the judge called him a militaristic bully and found him guilty.

"Historians" say events such as this never happened. It does not equate to their narrative. Most of these "historians" are wannabe reporters reporting history as they see it just as many reporters are wannabe "historians" wanting to write their own history.

As I sat with my wife observing history and the present played out in this cemetery I thought to our current situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places in the War on Terror and wondered where our national voice had gone off track. Whoa, so many thoughts, so many trails of worry, so I focused on why all of these people in this cemetery didn't seem defeated and tired as they remembered family and honored veterans. I knew why I didn't, but not them, so I asked them.

There were many answers that seemed to boil down to a disdain or weariness with the nay-sayers in position of power and in the press. Some still yell at their televisions during the news while others have given up all together reading, hearing or watching the news. I asked then how do they know that things have changed or did they know that things have changed. They knew. Some use the Internet, some hear from friends and many learn from family members and members of family friends. A high school classmate wearing a Recon cap asked that I forgive him, "but the press are all alike. They are shit who spit on the dead to assuage their own shame."

Assuage their own shame, a phrase that sat me back. I have learned of fifth columnists, traitors and useful dupes, but "assuaging their own shame" implied that the press knows. If the press knows, then why? Why would they not report that which they know to be true. My wife offered the Stockholm theory which works to a point, but being a hostage to an academic system and then an editorial hierarchy implies that the editors know. Chicken/egg and all that, but still where does one go to get instruction on what to write or, more importantly, what not to write. It is not just the media, so what or where does this anti-military and anti-American victory come from?

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological state that describes the uncomfortable feeling when a person begins to understand that something the person believes to be true is, in fact, not true. Similar to ambivalence, the term cognitive dissonance describes conflicting thoughts or beliefs (cognitions) that occur at the same time, or when engaged in behaviors that conflict with one's beliefs. In academic literature, the term refers to attempts to reduce the discomfort of conflicting thoughts, by performing actions that are opposite to one's beliefs.

This leads some people who feel dissonance to seek information that will reduce dissonance and avoid information that will increase dissonance. People who are involuntarily exposed to information that increases dissonance are likely to discount that information, either by ignoring it, misinterpreting it, or denying it.

Symptoms of group think
In order to make groupthink testable, Irving Janis devised eight symptoms that are indicative of groupthink (1977).

1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
2. Rationalising warnings that might challenge the group's assumptions.
3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of "disloyalty".
6. Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
7. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
8. Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

Leaving that cemetery I remembered that in remembering the past, one finds the path to the future. The truth shall set you free, but apparently it isn't helping our free press with the truth.