General Petraeus is on a media tour to sell the idea that the U.S. military is “making progress” in Afghanistan, a well-worn message aimed at convincing elites to extend this brutal, futile war. So far, it looks like the mainstream media is buying it, hook, line, and sinker.
Petraeus kicked off his spin campaign this morning with an hour-long special on Meet the Press with David Gregory. The piece opened with a montage of Petraeus doing sit-ups, and later showed him jogging, with Gregory opining about him wearing out troops half his age. Gregory went out of his way to set up a “Petraeus saves the day” narrative, asking the general if the situation in Afghanistan reminds him of the “dark days” in Iraq just before Petraeus “succeeded” with the surge. Petraeus hammered home his one-word message relentlessly: progress. Gregory feigned tough skepticism, but betrayed his hero-worship with setups like, “Watch how savvy Petraeus is when he answers my tough question.” Throughout, Gregory’s sheepish grin conveyed the sense that he wanted to hug Petraeus instead of critically probe his assertions.
As Petraeus battered viewers again and again with his “making progress” theme, Gregory failed to ask probing, skeptical questions. When Petraeus mentioned “oil spots,” as if the stain spreading across Afghanistan were one of security, Gregory failed to press him on the huge increase in civilian deaths, the 87-percent spike in violence and the incredible explosion of IED attacks over the last several months. When he brought up the outrageous TIME Magazine cover showing a woman’s mutilated face, Gregory failed to mention the attack happened last year and that TIME Magazine’s cover grossly distorts the choices before the United States. When Petraeus denounced the Taliban’s recent killing of a pregnant woman, Gregory failed to press Petraeus on ISAF’s own killing of pregnant women earlier this year in which bullets were reportedly dug out of a screaming woman by special forces troops before she bled to death. Gregory didn’t do journalism today. He provided a platform for military spin.
Petraeus and Gregory jovially closed the interview by quoting Generals Grant and Sherman, with Petraeus saying he’s no politician. Don’t believe that for a second. The military wants to extend this war, and it sees American public opinion as an obstacle in getting what it wants. Petraeus admitted as much when he told Gregory that the point of his upcoming media appearances were scheduled in the hopes of showing “people in Washington” and the public that we’re making progress (Finish your drink!) and to shore up support for the failing war effort. This media blitz is about Petraeus shaping public opinion to affect the political environment for a future push to extend the war far beyond the bounds implied by Obama’s December 2009 West Point speech. In short, the military is turning its several-billion-dollar public relations apparatus on the American people, and the mainstream media is so far complicit. To quote one of my favorite bands, “There is a war going on for your mind.”
If the media fail to ask hard questions, there’s a chance Petraeus could get what he wants: the freedom to extend an extremely unpopular war that’s not making us safer. We’ve got to push back, and we’ve got to do it now.
CBS’ Katie Couric is next in line to talk to Petraeus during his high-profile spin campaign, so we’re starting with her. Sign our act.ly petition to Couric and push her to ask tough questions about Petraeus’ claims of “progress” and his attempt to extend the Afghanistan War. If you’re not a Twitter user, don’t worry–there are instructions on how you can participate without it.
General Petraeus’ media blitz is just getting started. We’ve got to push our media–hard–to ask real questions and prevent easily disproved spin from polluting the debate. Petraeus wants to change public opinion, and he’s spending your money to sell you a brutal, futile war that’s not making us safer. If you’re tired of this kind of manipulation, join the tens of thousands of other people working to end this war with Rethink Afghanistan.