Meaningful Distinction:

Patrick S. Lasswell Look outward for something to accomplish, not inward for something to despise.
pslblog at gmail dot com
Tuesday, November 04, 2003
First Rule of Military Leadership and the First Amendment

The first rule of military leadership is to never give an order you know your subordinate will not follow. It is a disservice to your subordinate and yourself because it breaks the bonds of military cohesion and will destroy your command. There numerous other rules, but arguably the next is: Do not give a subordinate an assignment that you are unwilling or unable to follow yourself. One of the critical reasons that the Iraqi military fell apart is that these two rules were flouted regularly.

Not long ago, in military history terms, a general gave an order to a subordinate that he was sure the subordinate would follow. In the event, the subordinate hesitated, so to follow the second rule, the general carried out the assignment himself. The order was to execute a spy caught in civilian clothes in the act of murder during an armed insurrection. The order was legal and the order was a good command decision in the field in every regard save one. There was a film crew from NBC and an Associated Press cameraman on the scene. Although the execution made no difference to outcome of the war, the image of that execution, a military professional coldly performing his duties in the eye of the world, probably lost the war.

Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya are coving the events in Iraq very closely. That they have been in the vicinity of bombings very soon after the event has caused some grave suspicion and concern. That they have not covered incidents of oppression in Iran is a strong indicator to their priorities. If a similar image was to become available to those agencies, there is no reason to doubt that they would broadcast it widely. There is also no reason to believe that the western media would not pick up the image and run with it. For the media, the impact of the image is much more important than the consequences of revealing it. There is no reason to believe that any of the major media outlets, with the exception of the Wall Street Journal, are significantly concerned about the outcome of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan save that they are a source of ongoing copy.

The public has a right to the story, but telling that story dishonestly, out of context, and with substantial bias is a de facto infringement of that right. In order to defend our rights, we must commit to an ongoing awareness of media bias. Incomplete, misleading, and unverifiable stories must be challenged early, often, and anywhere they are published. If we cannot follow this basic integrity, we allow sloppy and abusive media to control our perceptions and our future. The image is not necessarily the story, and the news is not always the truth. Anybody who says differently is lying, and no honest journalist will do so. Eddie Adams, the photographer who took the picture of General Loan regretted it for the rest of his life and apologized to the General until his death. If we do not wish to be fooled again, we must do more than just pray for integrity. The first rule of civilian leadership must become transparency.
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