The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Via 3QD, George Packer in World Affairs Journal brings us one of the most textured essays I’ve read about Iraq in the war’s five years:

For all the television news coverage, Americans have the slimmest sense of what the war actually feels and looks like


SUPER good. George Packer is my favorite writer on Iraq, hands down.

Sheesh, how do we really grapple with the central problem (at least in Packer’s estimation) — our collective public inability to grapple with complex realities, w/ things that are “a little bit from column A, a little bit from column B”?

I wonder if it’s not like campaign finance reform, where the solution turns out not to be *less* money but *more*. Big donors are only a big deal when there are few small donors; conversely, when millions of people each give $100, suddenly the $10,000 donations aren’t so special.

So likewise, maybe more people in the muddled middle — those of us who are at least interested in the complex reality, even if we’re not particularly conversant or comfortable with it — need to stand up and simply say we’re here. It might balance out the class that (as Packer puts it) “generates and consumes opinion on a regular basis” and dilute their influence on the public sphere.

Whaddya think?

I don’t know. Is it really fair that Packer’s friends, bad manners aside, are more invested in a President who lied to them than a doctor that Packer met in country? Likewise, the criticism of The New Republic’s anonymous soldier and the Brookings Institute’s pro-war scholars doesn’t seem like fanatical partisan behavior on either side, but rather pretty rational behavior given what was presented, the politicization of the coverage, and the media’s track record on this war.

We live in a moment of heightened skepticism of the news media, a skepticism that’s been churning long before the emergence of blogging, fed by talk radio, cable news, alternative news outlets, and political spin experts. We may have never been as hyper-aware or as fragmented. Packer’s article straddles a defense of some aspects of the media and criticism of other aspects of it.

Fragmentation and skepticism carries a price, and part of that price is that we share few of the same iconic memories. But as Errol Morris has shown, the Abu Ghraib photos do have that kind of psychic hold on us. They may not be images fair to everything that has happened in Iraq, but neither were/are many of Vietnam’s most iconic photos, or for that matter the iconic pictures of World War II.

Packer is right that what we need are better stories and inconvenient facts, and his writing has helped to provide them. But I don’t think they’ve been wholly missing, and while it’s always fun to bash Hollywood types and overheated bloggers who “haven’t been there” and “don’t get it,” I just feel like it’s beneath Packer to do that. Especially when he’s held in such high respect, his book has sold like hotcakes, and he’s not a lone, cranky voice in the wilderness.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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