Jewish World Review April 2, 2003 / 29 Adar II, 5763

Tony Blankley

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If we could only draft Jennings' eyebrow to the cause, we wouldn't need the 4th Armored Division? | Werner Heisenberg would understand the current media confusion surrounding the progress of the war. About 80 years ago, the German physicist postulated a theory (known as the uncertainty principle) that in subatomic physics the observer becomes part of the observed system. Through the act of measurement the physicist himself becomes part of observed reality. Regarding subatomic particles, he argued, the act of measuring one magnitude of a particle -- mass, velocity or position -- causes the other magnitudes to blur. So that, in his words: "The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known."

Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, I would propose the Blankley macroscopic corollary to the Heisenberg microscopic principle: The more precisely the media measures individual events in a war, the more blurry the warfare appears to the observer. (Before any physicists e-mail me, let me assure you that I understand (sort of) that the Heisenberg principle is only noticeable in observing things smaller than Max Plank's constant (h=1.05 x 10 to the -34th Joule-seconds, or .000000000000000000000000000000000105), and that Heisenberg was applying his principle to wave-particle dualities -- not Abrams Tanks.)

But given the size of a physicist's brain compared to that of a reporter's, and making allowance for their relative powers of accurate observation and deduction, it would seem reasonable to assume that tanks, aircraft carriers and even entire army divisions, when attempted to be observed in motion by reporters, might fall under the uncertainty principle. So that, for instance, if a reporter precisely observes one American tank not moving, he deduces that the drive to Baghdad by 100,000 troops has lost momentum and stalled.

Or, as was reported over the weekend, because a few GI's complained to a reporter that they hadn't had any chow for several hours, the talking heads in Washington thought they were observing a battlefield in which the United States Army couldn't get sufficient food to our troops.

The latter was not true. But because they had precisely reported the former, they had misperceived the entire battlefield. The reporting would have been more accurate if it had been less precise (since no one with their mind not clouded by confusing facts would conclude that for the first time in 200 years the U.S. Army was going to permit their troops to starve in the field).

Of course, this wouldn't be a problem if the reporters and commentators didn't have such lurid (if dysfunctional) powers of deduction. This is a crowd in which one sparrow would make a spring, the exception is always the rule, jumping to a conclusion is an Olympic event and a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

But one does not need to resort only to recondite principles of quantum physics to identify various procedural flaws in the current reportage. Consider the homely proposition "out of sight, out of mind" to explain much of the current reporting.

If reporters (or worse, commentators) don't see something in front of them, they assume it doesn't exist. So, for example, because only Anglo-American military units permit reporters to see them interact with Iraqi civilians, reporters focus their reporting on accidental deaths that may occur in front of their noses. Iraq benefits from denying Western reporters access by not having their conduct reported on, while the media, making no allowance for that, continues to report American mistakes around the clock.

Another problem with reporting: lack of moral equivalence. Conservative intellectuals like to complain that the media practices moral equivalence between Iraq and the United States. Would that they did. Consider the issue of non-access for the media. If the Pentagon refused coverage, the story would be reporters endlessly harassing American government representatives for not granting reporters access. Where are the endless stories of ABC, NBC and CNN reporters challenging Iraq's representatives at the U.N. for not granting media access? Just imagine the power on world opinion of Peter Jennings raising a disdainful eyebrow -- coast-to coast -- while patronizingly and demeaningly reporting Iraqi refusal to let reporters in.

If we could only draft Jennings' eyebrow to the cause, we probably wouldn't need the 4th Armored Division. Imagine if we had his heart and mind, as well. But that would take us beyond physics to science fiction.

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Tony Blankley is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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03/19/03: Time for America to laugh at itself
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03/05/03: Franc-tireur
02/26/03: World history is shifting under our feet --- even our most experienced statesmen are, effectively, inexperienced
02/19/03: The shame! We've mischaracterized the French 02/12/03: Schroeder and Chirac will be disproportionately undercutting their interests
02/05/03: We need to rise above our temporary anger and seek to preserve our bonds with our European cousins
01/29/03: Who is President Bush's stupidest opponent: Saddam Hussein or Tom Daschle?
01/22/03: We call them our European cousins --- but I demand a DNA test
01/16/03: Dems bare partisan teeth
01/02/03: Before the cheering must come the struggle
12/27/02: Long ago and far away
12/18/02: Be glad that Gore's gone?
12/11/02: What fun! A titanic, once-in-a-century partisan battle royal is in the offing
12/04/02: Kerry atwitter
11/27/02: The unThankful list
11/20/02: First the scare, then the yawn
11/13/02: It's going to be a long two years for Lefty Pelosi and the Frisco Dems
11/06/02: Technology: A pollster's worst enemy --- thank goodness!
10/31/02: Watch this election's Wheel of Fate
10/23/02: The Ari and Colin Show: Politics has never been, well, more vaudeville-like
10/09/02: Bush beats drums of realism
10/02/02: Needed: A political chromatograph to detect any true statements in the public domain
09/25/02: Buchanan's new mag
09/18/02: There are many forms of peace
09/11/02: The imperial period of our history starts
09/04/02: Memo to Powell: In periods of upheaval, the refusal to act gives aid to those bent on destruction
08/30/02: Logging old growth is a sham issue

© 2002, Creators Syndicate