A Tale of Two Op-Eds
Steve Benen laments that the recent op-ed by Michael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack got so much attention while the one by seven junior enlisted veterans of the war has, in the words of Greg Sargent, “been met with near-total silence.”
In terms of blog coverage, at least, that’s not the case. The latter op-ed, published just two days ago, has already garnered 638 citations on Technorati compared to 1,287 for the three-week-old piece.
Since there isn’t a similar metric I’m aware of for readily comparing mainstream press coverage, let’s grant for the sake of discussion that the premise that it generated less discussion than its predecessor on television and the big media outlets.
Benen’s hypothesis that “seven U.S. troops challenging the conventional wisdom with a perspective that bolsters the Democratic perspective just isn’t newsworthy,” seems wildly implausible. For one thing, that we’re losing in Iraq is the conventional wisdom and has been for more than a year. For another, the press loves stories about Republicans opposing the war, veterans groups opposing the war, retired generals opposing the war, and pretty much anyone else opposing the war.
The simplest alternative explanation, it seems to me, is that two scholars from the prestigious Brookings Institution proclaiming something that goes contrary to the conventional wisdom is more newsworthy than seven junior enlisted men writing about grand strategy. The MSM places a lot of value on Ivy League degrees, after all. On paper, at least, O’Hanlon and Pollack are gen-yoo-wine experts while the seven snuffies were dealing with matters light years above their pay grade. On the other hand, if they’d written that morale among the troops was abysmal, rather than the opposite, I suspect they’d have gotten plenty of attention.
This credentialism isn’t entirely misplaced. Lawrence Korb is right when he says, “[P]ay attention to the enlisted people. The officers — and I was an officer and I went through Vietnam — would always try to put out a rosy scenario to please the political masses.” The guys at the tip of the spear have a unique perspective that’s worth paying attention to and the officers, especially above company grade, have a tendency to cheer-lead. Still, you don’t get much of a sense of the strategic picture from a foxhole.
Another possible explanation — and these aren’t mutually exclusive — is that the news cycle was more kind to O’Hanlon and Pollack than to Buddhika Jayama and company. The Sunday talk shows were wall-to-wall Karl Rove and since then it’s been all Hurricane Dean. The media, especially television, is in the business of attracting eyeballs. Maybe the second op-ed simply got buried by sexier news.