Herewith some seminal thoughts on a subject that unfortunately no one considers beyond his understanding or judgment.

1. If we are prepared to go to war, declared war or otherwise, we automatically accept the fact that we shall cause “collateral damage” — that, in other words, we shall harm and kill innocents. In view of that acceptance, we commit no hypocrisy when we make torture of evil people part of our policy. For a careful and cogent explanation of this point, see Sam Harris, The End of Faith, chapter six.

2. Torture is not the infliction of fear, discomfort, humiliation or unpleasantness; those irritants, taken together or separately, are harassment. Torture is the imposition of intense pain by deliberate insult to anatomical integrity. In plain language, it is mutilation — flaying, amputation, breaking bones, laceration, scalding and charring, disarticulating the joints, blinding, extraction of teeth, tearing away nose, lips, ears and eyelids, castration, and so on.

3. In order to be effective, torture must be credible, which means accurately anticipated by the victim. He must also understand it is the penalty imposed for his non-compliance. Accordingly the victim must be tortured before any interrogation begins, so that he comes to know, without the slightest doubt or hope, that he will be harmed yet again. Until his initial mutilation, he may dismiss threats as meaningless; this diminishes their usefulness. Once, however, he knows that prolonged, relentless torture will result unless he cooperates, a threshold has been passed and interrogation may be more productive.

4. Torture is not a magic procedure that will be effective in most cases. It can not be resisted, but cooperation may still be withheld by many who are tortured. Assuming that it will produce useful results even most of the time is foolish. This is particularly true where the victim sees himself as a martyr. “Upon announcement of the mode of her execution, St. Potamiaine insisted that she not be cast into the boiling pitch abruptly but instead lowered into it slowly to show her tormentors the power of her belief.”

5. Tortured victims must be executed once the interrogation is ended, whether it has been successful or not.

6. To be most effective, the above policies and practices should be known to the world, so that prisoners threatened with torture have a menacing idea of what is in store for them. This policy may be rejected, and torture may be conducted secretly, but experience shows that such programs are almost certain to be disclosed eventually, to the considerable harm of the government that employs them.

7. The use of torture will inevitably result in reprisals. Soldiers and civilians of the torturing nation will in turn be tortured by the enemy. Note, however, that even the use of harsh interrogation, which is not torture, will very likely provoke the enemy to torture his captives. That said, the USA’s use of torture will probably make things worse for friendly combatants and civilians who fall into enemy hands, and encourage the enemy to make taking prisoners a high priority.

Who says A, must say B. Those who advocate torture must understand and be comfortable with the above seven points.

Conclusions: torture per se is logically compatible with the ethics of the USA. Any nation that proposes to harm innocents, however accidentally, cannot cite its moral code as prohibiting torture. Pacifism is not an option, for the pacifist is not just willing to die at the hands of evil people; he is willing to allow innocents to die at the hands of evil people. That is a profoundly immoral stance. The only rational objections to torture are its limited utility and unacceptable consequences. All else is ignorance and empty posturing. Still torture is not likely to be employed except in ad hoc instances where rogues torture in secret; they would probably do so for revenge rather than for information.

Recommendation: it would be unreasonable and unethical to send US military personnel into combat in the event that an objective of the enemy were to capture POWs and subject them to retaliatory or compensatory torture. One can do nothing about the customary barbarity of Muslims — that is God’s mandate, as the Koran makes clear — but no US policy should inspire those villains to greater excesses. US policy should prohibit torture not out of concern for the welfare of the enemy, or to avoid “descending to their level” (which is nonsense), but because we must stand with our warriors. Out of solemn respect for the valor and sacrifice of our young volunteers, we have no choice but to refuse to torture our blood enemies.


“So if voters differ so fundamentally with the president on the very essence of his program, why do they accord him high ratings?” Good question. Proof of the disaffection, along with answers to the good question, found here. But — but — what about this?? And this?? Huh?

CNN strikes yet again (heavy sigh): Freedom is just not good enough. Spoken like a true Obamaniac.

What’s wrong with US education? Lots of hopeless things, including the parents of the children, but some of the problems can be recognized and fixed.

“Joyous event of the 100 days of the Obama Idea happily celebrated by cheering workers of the liberated United States Peoples Democratic Republic with inspiring song and deep reflection of gratitude!” — Oh, OK, yeah…. Strike up the damn kid-choir….

This will stun you….it’s wonderful. Do NOT miss it! Link.

And this will make you angry. If you are an Obamaphile, you will be pissed off at the messenger for spreading discontent; if you are an Obamaphobe, you will want to see the responsible party’s head on a pike. If you are Obama, well…you might wish the old-time Welcome Wagon would show up, rather than these pesky troublemakers. Meanwhile let’s not forget who caused the mess we are in. It was not the work of one or two rascals — it was teamwork that did the nation dirt. (Aside: AP produced that?? Unbelievable!)

Socialism, US style. The new relationship between political power and enterprise is unfolding, and you need to understand it. From now on, “investment” will means something quite different. Regarding which, speculation.

The Penguin Post announces the winner of “The Most Revealing and Cautionary Video on the Net, For Sure” award. (Drum roll.) Here’s theamazing fascinating nauseating champ. It’s not new, which means its egregious nature has held up over time. May it be a reminder to all that harridans are abroad, attempting to sway the body politic with their abyssal ignorance.

The road to riches: L. Ron Hubbard said you should found your own religion; he proved he was right. Then Al Gore came along and did him one better, jumping aboard a bandwagon and turning it into a juggernaut cult that has no tax or legal problems. This charlatan is filthy rich as a direct result of promoting what may be the biggest hoax science has ever been party to (Piltdown, you have been outclassed). Details here, related trenchant commentary here.

Krugman admits Laffer was right. More on Krugman in From The Archive.

Truman’s decision to recognize Israel.

“President Barack Obama has reinvigorated the critics of George W. Bush’s antiterror policies by opening the door to prosecuting or sanctioning those who crafted interrogation policy in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.” Then things started to go off the rails.

The problem defined in horrific sharpness. Now, what to do about it?

You have probably seen this painting. The latest news the PenPo has been able to get: “NEW YORK, April 27 /PRNewswire/ — Painter Michael D’Antuono has cancelled the planned public unveiling of his latest work “The Truth” at NYC’s Union Square Park on President Obama’s 100th day in office due to overwhelming public outrage. The artist’s decision was based in part on thousands of emails and phone calls; online blogs and other public commentary received in the first 48 hours following its release. The painting which was first made public on Friday depicts President Obama appearing much like Jesus Christ on the Cross; atop his head, a crown of thorns. Behind him, the dark veil being lifted (or lowered) on the Presidential Seal. The photo was the most emailed picture on the web.”

Pelosi circles the wagons, but everybody knows women are lousy drivers and worse wagoners. Here come the Redskins, and they won’t be frightened off by a medicine woman who can hardly blink!

Janet, have a look at this, will you? See, you can’t issue warnings like that any more. It’s goofy and unproductive and…Janet? Hello??

This sounds familiar…it could be a repeat. What the heck, here it is again.

Pat: Hi, Mike! How are things going? Mike: Hi, Pat — same old same old. Pat: Yeah, I know what you mean.

Politically incorrect, embarrassing, even damning. But things like these are overlooked and cause their perpetrators no consequences because few people care enough to band together, speak out, and make a fuss.

Airline seats are, generally speaking, a disaster. Here’s how to fix it. But where are the airlines going to get the money?

The German Democratic Republic (that’s the defunct commie East Germany, to you youngsters out there) had the Trabant, while the USA has this. Yukk!

Creationists will dismiss this as irrelevant and misleading, evolutionists will hail it as yet another nail in the coffin of superstitious nuts, and this newsletter mentions it by way of informing everybody: a claim of evolution in a test tube. OK, but remember “dark matter”….

Here’s another of the “make of it what you will” sort of post. War is hell, occupation is…fun?? And the French are mercenary, conscienceless and unprincipled? Maybe so, but whores the world over are all that and more, aren’t they?

Get organized. Get equipped. Master the 21st century! Here’s what you need.

And now here’s some pseudo-scientific babble to ruin your day. You know it’s babble because the first sentence of this post is, “According to a paper in this week’s issue of the journal Science, the vast majority of the world’s glaciers are retreating as the planet gets warmer.” Really. Even though it is an established fact that the Earth is not getting warmer, but cooling, that’s how this mess starts out. Take that as a caution. Sure, glaciers are melting; why is not clear, but it almost certainly has to do with zones of temperature that are shifting due to changes in the flow of ocean currents.

Even though this was on Drudge, you may have missed it.

This newsletter told you not to vote for John McCain. There were excellent reasons for that, and now you may realize how right the PenPo was. Here are not quite six minutes of video you need to see…but only if you value free speech. Quote from the video: “This is America. We don’t ban books here.” The hell we don’t, and that fascist senator for Mexico is one of the guys who stripped us of our freedom of speech and press!!

Out of what is a Utopia constructed? Wishful thinking. And when wishes don’t come true? The typical resort is to repression and force.

Still thinking about torture? Start here. Most people won’t bother to be rational about it, however; they will begin with their conclusion and find ways to support it. Why not float upstream? Conformity is not always ethical.

From The Archive

The following selection from Number 58 of The Terrapin Gazette, published August 22, 2005, is rather long — but essential. It explains where The Penguin Post comes from: what, in other words, the PenPo is all about. It deserves your time.

Propaganda Has Come A Long Way Since Goebbels

Ah, the professionals working in the news media. What would The Terrapin Gazette do without them? Well, not spend so much time detailing the evidence that damns them as censors rather than reporters, would-be masters rather than servants, cynics rather than optimists, ideologues rather than honest chroniclers and commentators, zealots rather than objective students of events and — to sum it up — propagandists rather than journalists.

Here are some snips from a piece in the International Herald Tribune of 15 August, 2005, page 9, written by one Frank Rich:

…(it was) on these false premises — that Iraq was both a collaborator on Sept. 11, 2001, and about to inflict mushroom clouds on America — that (Iraq was invaded).

Falling approval ratings mean that the Iraq venture has failed, because the polls show Johnson and Bush walking the same path.

Nothing that happens on the ground in Iraq can turn around the fate of this war in America….

Americans have already made the decision for Bush. We’re outa there. Now comes the hard task of identifying the leaders who can pick up the pieces of the fiasco that has made America more vulnerable, not less, to the terrorists….

Rich provides an interesting analysis, even if it is terribly superficial.

If Rich had bothered to read the statements made by Bush and his administration, he would realize that no one ever said that Saddam was about to drop nuclear bombs on anybody. Nor was it ever claimed that the attacks on Washington DC and New York were carried out by a Saddam-Al Qaeda conspiracy. This is simply Rich waxing hyperbolic.

He ignores as inconsequential the fact that AQ has put chaos in Iraq at the top of its list of priorities. Bin Laden knows that the war he and his friends are waging against the West depends on a linchpin, and that if that linchpin breaks, there is no hope for even partial success in the twenty-first century. That linchpin is an Iraq devoid of Liberty and isolated from the West.

The many sources and reports that have appeared in The Terrapin Gazette detailing the links between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s government are also ignored. Yet we don’t get this material from a crystal ball; it is gleaned from the tiny minority of journalists who are willing to print things the gatekeepers at first seem to ignore…and then sequester, before they are widely disseminated.

Rich demonstrates that he has no grasp of the realities of the struggle in Iraq, whether they are the international political, military and economic facts, or the worldwide psychological implications. He ignores utterly the plight of the Iraqis who want prosperity, peace and a tolerant relationship with the modern world.

And those polls. Rich sinks to stunningly stupid logic when he says the polls show a settled but unresolved issue, namely, that the war in Iraq is a hopeless failure and that the US public has decided to withdraw yet again from a conflict.

The polls show a high level of public frustration and dissatisfaction with the war. Rich insists that there is literally nothing, no conceivable event, that could reverse the public’s distemper. How does he know? He claims that bad news matters, while good news does not. That’s called having it both ways, of which we shall see more in a few moments.

In truth, it is the reporting, editing and literal censorship imposed by ideologically-oriented journalists, both print and electronic, that have made a large fraction of the public decide that Bush is not doing a good enough job. A steady diet of pessimism has had the effect the media desire. The folks who openly admitted their political stance and willingness to be unfair (remember the ABC memo) have manipulated the public.

Time and again, the people fighting the thugs tell friends and family back home to ignore the media reports as inaccurate, misleading and pessimistic. “We are winning,” the USA’s warriors insist, “and there is a lot more going on here than you know.”

The Terrapin Gazette has tried to point you to some of these sources. One we have mentioned several times is “Good news from Iraq.” Here is a recent chapter in this long-running series.

And here is a brief report of an incident that hints at a bizarre relationship between reporters and the military; as you read it, see whether you can catch a whiff of what we mean.

When the Today show sprang a surprise this morning — an unannounced trip to Iraq by Matt Lauer — one US soldier had a little surprise of his own for Today and the media at large.

Lauer interviewed a group of soldiers at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, and at one point asked about the state of morale. After getting two responses to the effect that morale was good, Lauer had this to say:

“Don’t get me wrong, I think you’re probably telling the truth, but there might be a lot of people at home wondering how that could be possible with the conditions you’re facing and with the insurgent attacks you’re facing.”

If Lauer was the advocate for the anti-war case, he then made the cardinal mistake that no advocate should make: asking a question to which you don’t know the answer.

Asked Lauer: “What would you say to those people who are doubtful that morale could be that high?”

Captain Sherman Powell nailed Lauer, the MSM (mainstream media) and the anti-war crowd with this beauty:

“Well sir, I’d tell you, if I got my news from the newspapers also I’d be pretty depressed as well!”

Powell went on to add that, while acknowledging the difficulties the media face in getting out into the field in Iraq, “For those of us who have actually had a chance to get out and meet the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police and go on patrols with them, we are very satisfied with the way things are going here and we are confident that if we are allowed to finish the job we started we’ll be very proud of it and our country will be proud of us for doing it!”


It simply cannot be the case that The Terrapin Gazette is alone in complaining that the major news media are biased and have a huge impact on opinion. And of course there are numerous websites devoted to correcting the lies, distortions, omissions and errors in the media. Among them are several that restrict their commentary to the BBC, one that specializes in the inane incompetence of the Los Angeles Times, and the handful that proved the CBS/Mary Mapes/Dan Rather disgrace was due to reliance on faked documents. There are many more. Without these people, the media would be worse — and more effective — than they are.

But journalists are professionals, and that implies ethics, does it not? Is there no corrective mechanism native to the profession? Do the editors never question the implications of their craft, and debate the course it takes?

Here is an answer to those questions — or rather a response. Whether it is an answer may be disputed. From this article in the NYT:

August 15, 2005

Editors Ponder How to Present a Broad Picture of Iraq


Rosemary Goudreau, the editorial page editor of The Tampa Tribune, has received the same e-mail message a dozen times over the last year.

“Did you know that 47 countries have re-established their embassies in Iraq?” the anonymous polemic asks, in part. “Did you know that 3,100 schools have been renovated?”

“Of course we didn’t know!” the message concludes. “Our media doesn’t tell us!”

Ms. Goudreau’s newspaper, like most dailies in America, relies largely on The Associated Press for its coverage of the Iraq war. So she finally forwarded the e-mail message to Mike Silverman, managing editor of The A.P., asking if there was a way to check these assertions and to put them into context. Like many other journalists, Mr. Silverman had also received a copy of the message.

Ms. Goudreau’s query prompted an unusual discussion last month in New York at a regular meeting of editors whose newspapers are members of The Associated Press. Some editors expressed concern that a kind of bunker mentality was preventing reporters in Iraq from getting out and explaining the bigger picture beyond the daily death tolls.

“The bottom-line question was, people wanted to know if we’re making progress in Iraq,” Ms. Goudreau said, and the A.P. articles were not helping to answer that question.

“It was uncomfortable questioning The A.P., knowing that Iraq is such a dangerous place,” she said. “But there’s a perception that we’re not telling the whole story.”

Mr. Silverman said in an interview that he was aware of that perception. “Other editors said they get calls from readers who are hearing stories from returning troops of the good things they have accomplished while there, and readers find that at odds with the generally gloomy portrayal in the papers of what’s going on in Iraq,” he said.

Mr. Silverman said the editors were asking for help in making sense of the situation. “I was glad to have that discussion with the editors because they have to deal with the perception that the media is emphasizing the negative,” he said.

“We’re there to report the good and the bad and we try to give due weight to everything going on,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the explosions and shootings and fatalities and injuries on some days seem to dominate the news.”

Suki Dardarian, deputy managing editor of The Seattle Times and vice president of the board of the Associated Press Managing Editors, said that the discussion was “a pretty healthy one.”

“One of the things the editors felt was that as much context as you can bring, the better,” Ms. Dardarian said. “They wanted them to get beyond the breaking news to ‘What does this mean?'”

She also said that as Mr. Silverman and Kathleen Carroll, The A.P.’s executive editor, responded to the concerns, the editors realized that some questions were impossible to answer. For example, she said, the editors understood that it was much easier to add up the number of dead than to determine how many hospitals received power on a particular day or how many schools were built.

Mr. Silverman said the wire service was covering Iraq “as accurately as we can” while “also trying to keep our people out of harm’s way.”

“The main obstacle we face,” he said, “is the severe limitation on our movement and our ability to get out and report. It’s very confining for our staff to go into Baghdad and have to spend most of their time on the fifth floor of the Palestine Hotel,” which is home to most of the press corps. The hotel was struck by a tank shell in 2003, killing two journalists.

Iraq remains the most dangerous place in the world to work as a journalist, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least 13 media workers have been killed in Iraq so far this year, bringing the total to 50 since the war began in 2003.

“Postwar Iraq is fraught with risks for reporters: Banditry, gunfire and bombings are common,” the committee’s Web site says. “Insurgents have added a new threat by systematically targeting foreigners, including journalists, and Iraqis who work for them.”

Mr. Silverman said The A.P. had already decided before the meeting that it would have Robert H. Reid, an A.P. correspondent at large who has reported frequently from Iraq, write an overview every 10 days.

Mr. Silverman also said the wire service would make more effort to flag articles that look beyond the breaking news. As it turned out, he said, most of the information in the anonymous e-mail message had been reported by The A.P., but the details had been buried in articles or the articles had been overlooked.

Before the meeting, The A.P. collected three articles by reporters for other news organizations who were embedded with American troops and sent them out over the wire to provide “more voice.”

Mr. Silverman said he wanted to do more of that but the opportunities were limited because there are only three dozen embedded journalists now, compared with 700 when the war began more than two years ago.

Ms. Goudreau, for one, found the discussion useful. By the end, she said, editors were acknowledging that even in their own hometowns, “we’re more likely to focus on people who are killed than on the positive news out of a school.”

There are several things to note here, and we’ll try to be brief:

1. The discussion deals with the “perception” of the consumers that the AP is not telling the full story. When does a perception — which we take to be an impression that could be wrong — stop being subjective and become a demonstrable fact? Why did the NY Times people not ask that question, and provide documentation of the many past reportorial and editorial decisions that do in fact show that AP has long been providing selective (honest word: censored) products to its customers?

2. No one mentions the problem of bias — even though AP is notorious for its slanted reporting and editing, which has included telling at least one thoroughly documented and proved lie that we can recall at the moment.

3. Note that AP misconstrued its critics’ comments as insisting that the press should be counting how many schools and hospitals on a particular day had sufficient electricity. This is a childish response to the adult charge that AP not only ignores the plentiful reports of progress while screaming about the horrors of warfare, but takes an ideological stance on the casus belli.

4. AP says it is trying to keep its people out of harm’s way, which suggests it is drafting reporters. There are people reporting from Iraq who are very much in harm’s way, and their stories almost always reflect realities that the AP misses or contradicts. Perhaps what AP needs is a few volunteers of the sort that comprise the entire US military.

5. The AP implies that its reporters are confined in a hotel in Baghdad, presumably immobilized by the authorities. How, then, do we explain the activities of Michael Yon, of whom you know because you read this newsletter?? Does everyone who files stories with the AP whenever he can (which may not be often) have to introduce himself as an AP employee to everyone he meets? — See “Parenthetical note” below.

6. The AP says that most of the information in the critical e-mail message was correct and had been reported by AP, but was subsequently buried, ignored or both. This is exactly the crux of the matter in most cases. Honest reporting cannot succeed where ideological, dishonest editing is present. The gatekeepers do not observe the events, conduct the interviews, take the photos, or go door to door trying to gather information — they work in offices littered with the stories that are narrowly published or simply ignored.

Now let’s have a look at another aspect of how the news media misbehave. A long time ago, The Terrapin Gazette told you that Bush won the 2000 election in Florida. He won the first count, which was certified by the Florida secretary of state; he won the recount, and then, perhaps most important of all, after assuming office, he won a recount conducted by members of the news media. We complained at the time that this last bit of news was given very little coverage in the press, and now we can prove how correct that complaint was: here’s alink to an opinion article in the NY Times that states bluntly that the third (and unofficial, media-conducted) recount showed Gore won.

(And at this link, then at this one, and finally here are three follow-up comments, none of which you need to read. The first two amount to a hiss-and-spit between a diehard and a realist: “Gore won!” “No, Bush won!” The third is a recapitulation of what we told you long ago, and includes an addendum that rebuts the argument in the first website. We include these three web pages in the interests of giving you easy access to the full, detailed, rather complicated, boring dispute. But just use your common sense: if the media’s recount had shown Gore won, it would have been trumpeted from every newsstand and TV, but the results were reported once and then quickly ignored. You know that. QED.)

This, dear Readers, is the confluence of under-reporting and lying. Krugman probably thought he could get away with his lie because the truth was not widely published. We believe that a newsman of his experience would know that all recounts, all, were unambiguous, and that he would never forget that nettlesome fact. That kind of forgetfulness is rather like forgetting whether your parents are alive or dead. So we say the man is a deceitful scoundrel.

Why did the Times do this? Why did the many editors and fact-checkers — and yes, even proofreaders — let this lie get past them? Why did absolutely no one say, “Hold it, I’m not sure that’s correct!”? Where do these journalists get their news?

The explanation could lie in Mapes syndrome. This is a pathological condition characterized by a fixation/obsession of a political nature that leads the sufferer to waste years chasing non-existent proof of wrongdoing by one’s political bete noir. It is closely related to conspiracist thinking and the Protocols syndrome, both of which use bizarre forms of superficially scholarly reasoning to reach outrageously fallacious conclusions. Talking to a Mapes or Protocols victim can be a mind-numbing experience, as one must have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the arcane subject matter and be able to spot the distortions, misrepresentations and misquotes as they gush forth.

We do not mean to trivialize a vitally important subject. If the gatekeepers have their way — and they very often do — we shall be living a fake life dominated by fake facts and fake ideas. Our children and grandchildren may just inherit a world informed by propaganda and maintained by politically correct zealots.

Regarding which, a few general elucidations are in order. Propaganda today falls into two broad categories: the legacy absurdities and the modern invisible influences. Goebbels would be appalled.

The first category includes posters showing heroic peasants smiling as they tirelessly harvest wheat, valiant soldiers savaging disgusting foes, and slogans such as “Socialism or death!” Then there is the boring pageantry the North Koreans and Cubans are forced to participate in — parades with thousands of flags, huge portraits of the leaders, and gymnastics performed by twenty thousand leotard-clad teenagers. It’s quaint, unsophisticated and laughably ineffective — outside a “third world” hellhole that is sealed off from the rest of the world.

The second category is propaganda that escapes notice. It is generated by an orthodoxy — call it The System for convenience — that proclaims the virtues of the free media and demonstrates that it is no hypocrite: it invites criticism, tolerates contrary views, and requires no sealed environment in order to survive. The System’s propaganda is successful because it does not seem to want to shout down the opposition.

The nearly invisible System seldom disputes anything or even engages in debate. It simply settles in and waits. Unnoticed, it grows. It tends its themes carefully, expressing an offhanded disinterest that masks the persistence behind its every move. Having gained far less than absolute control of the channels through which information moves, it unobtrusively culls some data as they pass by, discarding them. Over time, it adds more assertions to its list of lies and sees that they are continually repeated in the company of documented facts.

Modern propaganda depends not on the endless hammering of simple slogans into the skulls of cowed serfs, but on the gentle redefinition of words and the replacement of unfriendly facts with congenial lies. Gradually The System is able to define the terms we use when we debate hot issues, and it eases unsupported assumptions into position as commonly accepted postulates.

Before long, most people find it difficult to think without using the language and meanings promoted by an effective program of modern propaganda. Absurdities become truths. Recall journalist Rich’s dictum, “Nothing that happens…in Iraq can turn around the fate of this war in America….” He is telling us confidently that eventually bogus information can immunize itself against any possible new facts. The System’s dogma cannot be refuted. Bad news, Rich reminds us, can be effective; it can render good news incredible.

What is particularly amazing about modern propaganda is that it need never achieve total control in order to dominate. It is not totalitarian, but cleverly majoritarian. An electorate swayed by biased reporting can give the cynical propagandists a victory simply by voting 51 – 49. No one needs the banana republic dictator’s laughable 100% election returns in order to wield power. The opposition to the winning propagandists is allowed to survive and oppose the juggernaut; that seemingly merciful act validates the democratic credentials of the winning propagandists.

The greatest danger proceeds, in other words, from the segment of society that appears at first glance to be serving the interests of the people with the greatest sincerity.

This provides some insight into the full meaning of what are sometimes called “culture wars” in the USA.

How do we know whether the media are in the hands of propagandists or honest people? No reader of The Terrapin Gazette should have trouble answering that question. The list we consult is short: the facts we have regarding the behavior of the media; how media reports square with non-media accounts of the same phenomena; whether various media have reputations for distorting or lying about events; whether stories of a certain type always receive more attention than others — these facts define our method, and the internet is a primary resource. We refer you to our list of things we wish the news media would do, as well. Of course you remember that. It began with, “Stop lying.”

Parenthetical note: If we set aside all outrage and comment arising from media bias and unethical behavior, we are still left with the problem of professionalism. We take it as a postulate that professional journalists will want to get the story right — that they want to be accurate, in other words, and not distort the significance of events. By that criterion, the major media are in fact failing dismally in their coverage of the Iraq war.

This has nothing to do with ethics, remember. We are referring to the problems of being there to get the story, understanding what the story is, getting the facts back to an editor, and following through with the delivery of the message to the public. As hard as people try to do this, they often get it wrong.

You should read all of Michael Yon’s post on this problem, but we know almost none of you will take the trouble to click on this URL, so we hope to entice you with the following teasers:

Often I am asked to withhold information due to the immediate sensitivity. And so, I never release the slightest hint. But then somebody in Baghdad–three steps removed from the action here in Mosul– releases it to CNN and the rest of the world. What is seen on television and in the papers is practically always inaccurate, or is at least poorly framed. But I rarely waste a breath trying to correct the information. It’s too late. Life is busy here.

Much of the censorship is self-imposed because I will not write anything that jeopardizes US, Iraqi or Coalition forces or civilians. This is not a game of who gets the scoop; I am not per se a journalist.

…our soldiers capture or kill top terror figures in Mosul routinely. Sometimes in stunning operations that display split-second timing. The “higher ups” often say, almost reflexively, that they don’t want the enemy to know about these kills or captures.

Sounds reasonable. But whether soldiers sleek (sic) through dark allies with silenced weapons, slipping over walls with padded ladders, snatching sleeping terrorists from their beds before they can fully waken; or, whether they engage in a gunfight at a busy intersection and drag terrorists from behind the wheels of their cars–these are not anonymous men. Families notice when daddy’s gone missing.

If we aren’t keeping it secret from the enemy–and we can’t keep it secret from them–who do we protect by keeping quiet? These are not illegal operations. These are examples of the effectiveness of our forces. In Mosul alone there are daily events where the Coalition gets things right, that I never write about.

I kept silent for days on the Zarqawi-letter dispatch, ready to post what was probably the single most important piece of insider information to drop into our hands in quite some time. I requested clearance several times per day, each time being asked to hold back. I complied.

But then, without even giving the leaders at Deuce Four (the unit Yon is with — Ed.) a head’s up, a typically enthralling military press release went out to major, mainstream, media outlets. We all learned of it on CNN. The Zarqawi-letter story was almost unrecognizable. Because, in the hands of a network that hasn’t had a body in the field in Mosul long enough to get their bearings, the best the media could do is paraphrase the military press release. So what should have been a front page banner headline story ended up buried on page 6.

Even CNN couldn’t grasp the importance of the letter. They ended up giving more coverage to the impending E-Bay auction of Jennifer Anniston’s old love letters than to the missive in which the top Al Queda leader in Mosul writes to the second most wanted man in the world, and describes in amazing detail the weaknesses and impending collapse of the terrorist network in Mosul and surrounds.

Read it all! There is more, and it provides great insight into the media’s problems in Iraq….

…for which, of course, The Terrapin Gazette has a solution.

Here’s the background. Yon has been reduced to asking the readers of his weblog to support his work in Iraq. In order to buy a camera, he had to ask for donations. He is not employed.

The AP should buy his dispatches, edit them for the occasional typo or other slip, and publish all of them as is. Yon should appear in papers all over the world. He would be a contender for a Pulitzer.

It is in the nature of the gatekeepers, however, to avoid such arrangements. A “publish all as-is” contract relinquishes control to the reporters.

We are, therefore, back at the eternal question: what are the real motives of these professional journalists who guard the gates, lest the wrong information be widely released? How ethical are they?

Somehow it always comes back to that. How sad.