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July 23, 2007

If the Iraq Panic Bubble Bursts

-Patrick S Lasswell

I was reflecting on my business partner Michael Totten's words from Baghdad when he wrote about the current media presentation of the war:

You’d think explosions and gunfire define Iraq if you look at this country from far away on the news. They do not. The media is a total distortion machine. Certain areas are still extremely violent, but the country as a whole is defined by heat, not war, at least in the summer. It is Iraq’s most singular characteristic. I dread going outside because it’s hot, not because I’m afraid I will get hurt.

Michael Totten in Iraq Snow.jpg

Michael Totten in Iraq. He really wishes he was reporting on snow-covered former Saddam Palaces right now.

One of the reasons Michael and I went into business was to prove that honest people could make a decent living without distorting facts. We both worked for Enron at one time or another and remain disgusted by the market manipulations that allowed despicable energy traders to make fortunes preying on the fears of gullible people. Even worse is that nine out of ten Enron frauds got away with their criminal behavior. Furthere, there are still people in California who think that there were rolling blackouts in 2000 because of an energy shortage, when all that happened was a critical deficit of integrity.

Much of the reporting on the war in Iraq suffers from a similar abandonment of integrity in pursuit of short-term profit. Even though it will cost the free people of the world massively if the United States abandons the Coalition and Iraq, the media continues to present distortions and outright fabrications about the conditions of the war. By maintaining a bubble of panic, they keep their sagging ratings afloat. But this panic is a bubble that may not last until a retreat occurs, and the bursting of that bubble must be terrifying to people profiting from it.

This weekend I talked with a Marine friend of mine who recently came back from a tour in Anbar province. His base was attacked (incompetently) twice while he was there, and that used to be the worst place in the whole country. He was disappointed in the level of action he saw and felt that as Marines his unit should have been rotated to the active fighting in Baghdad. When troops come back complaining that there aren't enough fights to go around, you are not losing.

If the Iraq panic bubble bursts before a retreat is forced on our otherwise undefeated military, the impact on the perpetrators of the bubble may be catastrophic. Given that the media as a profession will be caught practicing professional malpractice, it seems possible that an entity similar to the Securities and Exchange Commission might be created for journalism. Some form of voluntary standards body would be more palatable to the journalists, but this will probably be an ugly fight because declining market is already pushing most traditional media outlets against the wall. Nevertheless, it seems likely that in the next 12-18 months there will either be a commitment to professional standards in journalism or a substantial collapse of the media sector.

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