Published: Mar 28, 2008
The Emboldenment Effect: How Media Makes The War Worse
by Oliver North

I made a major mistake in a hotel room this week. Not the Eliot Spitzer kind of mistake -- but with a television remote. While changing for a late dinner, I tried to tune in to Fox News Channel, but the electronic device took me instead to MTV and some kind of "reality show." For a few minutes as I dressed, I was treated to several attractive young American women discussing their relationships. The most oft repeated sound in this conversation was "Duh!" -- a word that does not appear in my dictionary. But now I know what it means.

After conferring with several young people at our New York bureau, I was informed that "Duh!" is simply modern shorthand for "No! Really?" or "You just figured that out?" Well, if that's the case, this week should be giving the masters of the mainstream media plenty of "Duh!" moments about the campaign in Iraq.

On Monday, the potentates of the press finally discovered a study completed last month by Harvard University researchers about what we have been saying for years: There is a direct connection between adverse U.S. news coverage about Operation Iraqi Freedom, and intensified attacks on civilians and coalition forces in Iraq. Is There an 'Emboldenment Effect'? Evidence from the Insurgency in Iraq" shows that negative media coverage and adverse commentary by U.S. political luminaries produce a statistically measurable increase in enemy activity.

To produce the study, analysts researched the number of insurgent attacks and fatalities per week from the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003 until January 2008. They also examined the number of "anti-resolve statements" per week by U.S. politicians from November 2004 to January 2008 and American public opinion polls on the war from November 2004 to January 2008.

The researchers found "a positive correlation" between spikes in war-critical statements in the media and the number of attacks and fatalities. They also showed that attacks increased between 7 and 10 percent following a spate of anti-resolve statements by leading political figures.

The authors of the study, Radha Iyengar and Jonathan Monten, baldly state, "We find that in periods immediately after a spike in anti-resolve statements, the level of insurgent attacks increases." Well, Duh!

This carefully researched study verifies what many of us who have spent months in the field concluded long ago: The drumbeat of negative news coverage about events in Iraq and the careless commentary from the political left in Washington have increased the danger for U.S. troops and our allies.

The riots and murders precipitated by a fictitious May 9, 2005, article in Newsweek magazine -- describing how a Quran had been flushed down a toilet in Guantanamo -- certainly validated how quickly bad news is spread, not just in Iraq but throughout the Muslim world. When a U.S. senator likens American troops to those who served Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot, it not only disheartens our sons and daughters in uniform but also encourages our adversaries, as well. When the senior U.S. commander in Iraq is depicted as "General Betray Us" in the pages of The New York Times, those who hate us are exultant.

The Harvard study also confirms that our adversary in Iraq is very media savvy. They pay close attention to U.S. news and use it to exhort attacks and recruit new supporters to their jihad. To believe that they are not paying attention to the current U.S. presidential campaign is to deny reality.

The message in this study is not just a cry for responsible reporting -- but a charge for American political elites. It's also very likely that this study is a prediction of the next nine months on the ground in Iraq.

In the aftermath of this study -- and this week's spike in violence in Iraq -- how can there be any doubt that the Iranians and al-Qaida will do all they can to ensure that the next occupant of the Oval Office is a person pledged to "get us out of Iraq starting on Day One." Duh!

Oliver North is the host of "War Stories" on Fox News Channel and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance, and the author of the forthcoming book "American Heroes" which is about those serving in the war on terror


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