Sept. 11, 2004
by David Kopel
Three years ago today, Islamist terrorists attacked the United States. For some people, everything changed. For others, very little changed, and in the latter category are much of the media.
The Denver Post promised to change, and for a while it did. The paper dispatched a bunch of its reporters all over the Middle East and Central Asia. The paper printed article after article reporting the life stories and the political perspectives of ordinary men and women in Pakistan, Egypt, and other little-understood countries. Had thePostsustained the high level of Middle East/Central Asia coverage, the paper would have taken a huge step toward fulfilling publisher Dean Singleton's goal of making the Postone of the Top 5 newspapers in the United States.
But today, international affairs in the Postand the Rocky Mountain Newsare covered almost exclusively with the same collection of stories from the Associated Press, The New York Times,and a few other papers which appeared in the Denver papers before Sept. 11.
Like most of the rest of the traditional media, the Denver papers remain alarmingly deficient in military coverage. The Denver papers produce their own excellent coverage of Colorado soldiers and their families. Relying mainly on national wire services, the papers have done an adequate job on military stories which have been generated from traditional news venues within the United States - such as the various investigations of Abu Ghraib, controversial statements by American politicians, and news about military enlistment and re-enlistment. (Although the latter stories have been spun to appear far more dire than the data would suggest.)
But where the Denver papers have utterly failed - because the wire services have likewise failed - has been in coverage of the revolution in military strategy and tactics which has taken place in the last several years.
For example, during the invasion of Afghanistan, American commandos were able to call in precision naval bombardment when they spotted appropriate targets. Never before in the history of warfare have the massive guns on ships been able to be fired against precise targets hundreds of miles inland, based on information supplied in real time by infantry forces. This breakthrough in combined arms coordination marks a tremendous shift of the balance of power in favor of the United States military, compared to the situation just a few years ago.
Compared to the Vietnam era, U.S. forces are vastly more mobile, more successful at shutting down enemy artillery and have better-trained snipers than any army in history, who can hit targets 2 miles away. These are some of the reasons that the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were far more successful than previous invasions of those countries by the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.
In the Colorado media, KOA evening radio host Bob Newman is virtually alone in presenting a sophisticated understanding of military science.
More than a thousand American soldiers have died, and nearly 8,000 have been wounded in Iraq. When the death count reached 1,000 this week, it was a major story. But the press ignored two important facts, which have been reported by the excellent military news Web site StategyPage.com.
First, the wounded/killed ratio of 8:1 is very high; historically, the rate has been about 4:1 or 5:1. The unusually high ratio suggests that American medical personnel are doing an outstanding job of saving soldiers with life-threatening injuries, and that military body armor is saving many lives.
Second, explains Strategy Page, the overall casualty rate is astonishingly low for such a large force with many hundreds of patrols and combat operations daily. "Never have combat divisions, operating in hostile territory, kept their casualties this low . . . The American armed forces have developed new equipment, weapons and tactics that have transformed combat operations in an unprecedented way. This is recognized within the military, but is generally ignored, or misunderstood, by the general media."
Two columns ago, I mocked the Kerry campaign for claiming that Kerry had been in the Mekong Delta, near Cambodia. On a map, the place where the Mekong begins to look like the Greek letter "delta" (a triangle) is about 50 miles east of Cambodia. Nevertheless, the wetlands of the lower Mekong River include all of the river's path in Vietnam, and parts of Cambodia. Many people call these wetlands the "Mekong Delta," so I was wrong to tweak the Kerry spokesman. I was also wrong in stating the Mekong never parallels the Vietnam-Cambodia border; marshland which feeds into the Mekong does parallel the border in some areas.
CBS, The Boston Globe,and, derivatively, the Newsand the Post,have been running big stories based on the supposed discovery of new documents about George Bush's service in the National Guard. But the blogosphere has exposed at least several of the documents as probable forgeries. Led by the Powerline blog, the blogosphere on Sept. 9 pointed out extensive evidence of forgery, including the fact that the documents have curly apostrophes instead of a straight apostrophes, and superscipt the "th" following some ordinal numbers. Typewriters back in 1972-73 did not have curly single quote marks, or superscripted letters. On Sept. 10, the Post had nothing to say about the forgery evidence, while the Newsran a story in which the son of the (deceased) purported author of the documents disputed their authenticity.