Death by Inanity: A Children’s Treasury of Nauseating Reporting on Afghanistan

by Joshua Foust on 5/5/2009 · 4 comments

It’s no secret to readers of this blog that we think the media coverage of Afghanistan is, on the whole, quite poor: it is laden with stereotypes, lazy anecdotes, sloppy fact-checking, and often just pure WTF-itude. For whatever reason, the last two days has produced an large number of stories unreadable pap, some of which is highlighted below:

  • Is the military turning to social science tools to battle insurgency, or is a Civil Affairs team doing what Civil Affairs teams do everywhere—that is, conduct a census? Instead of a normal, even standard practice, according to Stars and Stripes, however, this is tantamount to Caesar Augustus forcing the Virgin Mary to give birth in a barn.
  • There is nothing overtly wrong with this Michael Phillips account of the 3-10 in Wardak Province, aside from that Surge business. Perhaps all these editors now swarming reporters to the country (the WSJ had none in 2007) could realize that last year an extra 30,000 showed up? And things got worse because they expanded bad tactics? The key to the “surge” business is changing otherwise normal operations, not adding extra troops to a failing strategy.
  • Al Jazeera apparently cannot tell the difference between standard issue evangelical boilerplate and a command to go destroy Islam in the name of Jesus. How ridiculous—their motives for propagating the story are quite obviously malignant. It takes until the end of the story to see it’s much ado about nothing, cleverly packaged to maximize outrage in its Middle East audience.
  • Via The Ministry is this strange story supposedly about a busted counter-IED operation. What it’s really about is that the guys running RC-South still seem to think it is appropriate to attack four guys digging an IED into the road with a pair of F-15s, blowing up a bridge in the process. A lone boy herding goats intervened, calling off the air strike (much to their credit, mind you). But the reliance on air strikes is the real story of the fighting in the south—and if all the tens of thousands of troops don’t result in a reduction in the deeply unpopular air strikes, then why are they even going?

That’s it, for now. Mind you, this is not even a majority of the silliness now passing for reporting on Afghanistan—something I was already dreading five months ago. It will get worse as the troops pile into Afghanistan.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Billy May 6, 2009 at 5:49 am

I watched the Al Jazeera report on evangelism and thought it was pretty fair. It suggested a clear and knowing violation of GO#1A by soldiers that have another motive other than just completing their mission. Did I miss something? There’s plenty of outrage here in the States about it, the network’s Middle East audience aside.

Joshua Foust May 6, 2009 at 8:37 am

But the problem is what they left out: the incident happened a year ago, the Dari bibles were confiscated because they did violate GO#1A and Army leadership knew it would be disastrous, and moreover, the actual unit leadership is explicit that proselytizing is unacceptable. But, run some old footage of a normal Christian sermon (the Christian command to spread the Word is not dissimilar to the Muslim one), and POOF! Controversy!

Inkan1969 May 6, 2009 at 9:34 am

The Al-Jazeera English version sounds objective to me.:

But the Arabic language version sounds like a Fox News report in terms of using loaded phrasing and imagery. The first few seconds come off as particularly snarky and tangential.

Billy May 6, 2009 at 10:27 am

Thanks for the comments! I was aware that it was an old report, but I had never heard the story until this past week. And I just read this morning that the bibles were destroyed. Glad to see the leadership is keeping this in check.

As an atheist headed for Bagram, I’m interested in the official positions and how the leadership is dealing with cases like this. Hopefully, professionalism will reign and I’ll have no ridiculous stories to tell upon my return.

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