The Media Echo Chamber and the GOP Debate

I hadn’t planned on watching the Republican debate on CNN this week, but I was naturally interested when I found out the topic of discussion for this Tuesday’s debate was foreign policy and national security. Addressing the question of U.S. aid to Pakistan, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann said, “Pakistan has been the epicenter of dealing with terrorism. They are, as Governor Huntsman said, there are al-Qaeda training grounds there. There’s also the Haqqani network that can be trained there as well.

And they also are one of the most violent, unstable nations that there is. We have to recognize that 15 of the sites, nuclear sites are available or are potentially penetrable by jihadists. Six attempts have already been made on nuclear sites. This is more than an existential threat. We have to take this very seriously.”

This comment generated quite a buzz in the media, and people wondered if the Congresswoman had leaked classified information as no U.S. official has publicly confirmed that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities had come under jihadist attacks or that the 15 sites (marked on map below) are definite nuclear arsenal storage storage sites.

Evidently, Bachmann read Jeffery Goldberg and Mark Ambinder’s article, The Ally from Hell for December 2011 issue of the Atlantic Magazine. The article, which I commented on in a previous post, gave “insight” on the Pakistani military and intelligence agency’s close ties with Taliban, the Haqqani network and other militant organizations, and the possibility of jihadists getting their hands on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

Goldberg and Ambinder had claimed that, “At least six facilities widely believed to be associated with Pakistan’s nuclear program have already been targeted by militants. […] If jihadists are looking to raid a nuclear facility, they have a wide selection of targets: Pakistan is very secretive about the locations of its nuclear facilities, but satellite imagery and other sources suggest that there are at least 15 sites across Pakistan at which jihadists could find warheads or other nuclear materials. (See map on opposite page.)”

A map of sites that are known to be, or suspected to have been, associated with the country’s nuclear program (The Atlantic).

Bachmann’s confidence in citing the information from the article shows how the media sometimes serves as the “hard” facts for politicians even if the article sites numerous anonymous sources and much of the information is unverified by official intelligence sources. The media and the political leaders end up echoing each other and turn misperceptions into conclusive evidence. A prime example of political leaders and mainstream media echoing each other’s misperceptions leading to disastrous consequences is the Iraq war. In the run up to the strike on Iraq, even the most reputable mainstream media outlets became entangled in uncritically reproducing the official narrative (or people like Iraqi defector Ahmed Chalabi) of Saddam Hussain’s Al Qaeda linkages and stores of weapons of mass destruction.

 

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