Bill Roggio comments on this series about “war bloggers”

Here is a comment from Bill Roggio about these posts about war bloggers, posted with his permission.

The series you have run here is valuable. I am very interested in seeing how this plays out. I certainly appreciate both the tone and nature of your postings, and your willingness to have a civil and productive discussion. We need more of this kind of debate and analysis, and less of the uncivil “debates” – if you can call them that – that exist throughout much of the Internet. My sincerest thanks.

I appreciate you taking the time to give my responses the attention of its own post. Your response is fair, there is little I disagree with – and we can agree to disagree on the analysis issue of is there a government of Iraq per item #6, as it should be.

I’d like to make one clarification, and that is if you are going to make broad generalizations about war-bloggers (such as being upbeat/positive), then cite me as the prime example of a war-blogger for the Basrah situation, I think the reader would automatically assume that I would be considered an upbeat/positive war-blogger. This was my reasoning for the response you addressed in item #7. You clarification certainly makes sense and I accept your reasoning.

I do understand the limitations of space and the challenges that exist in communicating to the audience and that imperfect generalizations must be made. I (and no doubt the rest of the media) have the same challenges. Trying to communicate to an audience without writing thousands of words that forces a reader to tune out is a difficult task.

A few comments in reply.

First, I agree my post giving him as an example of the war bloggers was, as our politicos say, insufficiently nuanced. I have added an update to that post, noting that Roggio and Totten are imo among the best of the war blogggers. As Roggio noted, discussions about groups rely on generalizations — and these apply imperfectly to individuals.

Second, I have learned much from the discussions with Michael Totten and Bill Roggio, the comments to these posts, and the emails from others about them. My thanks to all of you.

Third, our disagreements about Iraq seem to be more about framing of events than specific facts or even analysis. In what sense is Iraq still a nation, and does it have a legitimate government? With disagreement on such things, no wonder our discussions often sound like meetings at the Tower of Babel! This will be discussed in a later post.

To recap, this series discusses war bloggers. War bloggers are an understudied phenomenon that I believe important for two reasons.

  1. They play an increasing role in shaping the American public’s view of the war — especially so as they move into the mainstream media.
  2. They are a powerful example of the disintermediation of news coverage — one of the most important effects so far of the Internet, and in the long run perhaps one of the most influential. We increasingly rely on the Internet as our window on the world, instead of the media industry. Does this make us smarter — or dumber? Much depends on the answer.
  3. Recent events in Basra provides a test case. Who provides better reporting and analysis? The answer will likely be clear in the next few weeks.
  • “Area experts” thousands of miles away, but knowing the history, languages, and society of Iraq. Or…
  • War bloggers, often with far less deep knowledge about Iraq but reporting from ground zero.

Two things I stated at the beginning bear repeating.

  1. There are no neutrals about the Iraq War. Watch for the narratives!
  2. Someone who can knowledgeably discuss events in Dallas might know little about Basra. An analysis based on reports in the media probably just piles ignorance on top of ignorance.

For more information about the War Bloggers and the Iraq War

  1. Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant (6 February 2008)
  2. The oddity of reports about the Iraq War (13 March 2008) — Some theories why after 5 years we still debate basic things about the Iraq War.
  3. War porn (25 March 2008) – Discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the war-bloggers’ reporting in Iraq.
  4. More views of the events at Basra (2) — bloggers and war-bloggers (28 March 2008) – Contrast the war bloggers’ reports with those of some experts.
  5. A rebuttal to “War Porn” (it takes 2 sides to have a discussion)(29 March 2008) — Someone writes a defense of the war bloggers, and my reply.
  6. A look at the writings of “war blogger” Michael J. Totten (31 March 2008) – extracts of his posts from 2003 – 2005.
  7. An email discussion with Michael Totten (31 March 2008)
  8. Evidence of the war bloggers’ growing influence (2 April 2008)
  9. Basra, a test case: war blogger’s vs. experts (2 April 2008)
  10. Experts’ views about the recent fighting in Basra (2 April 2008)
  11. Sources of the Instapundit’s knowledge — analysis or cartoons? (3 April 2008)
  12. Some comments by Bill Roggio, Editor of the Long War Journal (3 April 2008)
  13. Archive of links to articles about the Iraq War — My articles, and links to several by Niall Ferguson.
  14. Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq

4 thoughts on “Bill Roggio comments on this series about “war bloggers””

  1. It is a matter of semantics but I refer to Roggio, Totten and Michael Yon and a few others as embedded bloggers who are boots on the ground in country. I class military in the field who run a blog and ex military who blog with a primary military focus as MilBloggers. In the blogsphere this is a very common acceptable classification.

    I then follow blogs written by locals who know enough english to post their personal observations of their surroundings.

    Roggio and others like them I find credible and not subject to wild speculation and if they are making conclusions from what they see and here they readily identify it as such. Their credibility is partly from the fact that much is a consolidation of facts from multiple sources that others can independently check for cross confirmation. In essence I see them as aggregations of facts into a composite narrative.

    If they were being ran by an intel agency all those other fact points individually available, some from multiple sources , would have to be controlled also. At some point you would get to where facts would slip though to break down the credibility of the blogger. There are enough people in Iraq and Afghanistan or post service members who read those blogs and if spinning or fact pollution were a regular feature there would be vocal commentary in the threads saying so in view of the fact that we are not shy about speaking up. If it was edited out of the comment thread or a ban occurred there are too many other sites in the community for this to be raised as an issue. There is very little chance of long term hiding of credibility issues.

    The embedded bloggers are read in depth by the milbloggers and would detect any tactical or technical errors due to their combined expertise which is even more evidenced among their veteran readers. Plus the threads include commentary with pointers to additional open source material that relates and the quality of that other sourcing is closely examined.

    There are too many cross checks in this army of davids for gross deception to last for any long term possibilities.
    Fabius Maximus: I suspect that you miss the point of modern marketing. Operations, whether done by “Madison Avenue” or the CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom, work to spin the news — change attitudes, not plant obvious lies.

  2. I and others like myself do not expect embedded bloggers to be able to comment on the broad stroke tactical situation but on what is within their range of senses. We look to them more for tone of how the situation is trending and insights into the level of resistance being met and such tips. Unless they were sitting at some joint tactical command with all the feeds available to them it would be impossible to credibly make the broad tactical judgments.

    They give a sense and feel of where they are and reports of things you don’t hear in the media like hospitals being opened and small business progress. They give us feedback of the types of things that an experience COIN persons like ourselves would use as benchmarks of our progress. Any thing else would be as worthy as expecting an assembly line worker at GM to comment on the global auto market and trends.

    In my own social network of ex military, some of intel branch experience, who have many years in country before the wars including living there as military dependents when they were young that can be tapped for tribal inter relationships , politics and backgrounds and relationships of the historic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

    I can also search the vast data on the web and combine that with google earth and the literally thousands of RSS feeds I pull in from hundreds of sources. I can’t read the full amount I bring in, but I can scan the headlines and pick those that seem most relevant. Also I can use the search function to mine them for historic posts as necessary and not have to venture to the original blog or other source with all the web overhead of blogrolls , advertisements and general clutter. Combine that with reports from think tanks and NGOs in country and many other sources it makes what the MSM provides as a thin gruel of little value.

    I car not of the latest antics of Islamic Rage Boy , there are too many more valuable pieces of data to be found.
    Fabius Maximus: I agree. This is very much the point I have made in this series. They often do good reporting, but I disagree with the framing and analysis. Hence the Basra “test.”

    I suspect much of their influence with the American public lies not with their reporting, but with their role in presenting events in terms of the “WWII narrative” — good guys vs. bad guys, absurdly imposted on Iraq. Worse, many go one step more an impose a “victory narrative.” The appeal of this is clearly seen in the applause for their *analysis* on sites like National Review and the Instapundit.

    They had best stick to reporting, with analysis according to their expertise (usually military, often small unit level).

  3. For those of us who follow them , they are the window into what the MSM chooses not to provide. But from my viewpoint you seem to be setting up a David and Golliath scenario here.

    As to where I live everyday, I am a professional day trader and good at what I do. But even the combined resources of a group of the top day traders in the country can not hope to match the resources of a major trading floor. We simply have our limitations of resources and time.

    I can only listen to so many analyst calls in a day, even if I chose to. I don’t have at my disposal economists and market psychologists and modeling expertise that a major trading floor would.

    That seems to be what you are setting up here. As I stated I view them as credible bypass that give something of value to me and I would very much miss if it were not there and be left at the mercy of what the MSM and the wire services choose to put out there for consumption.
    Fabius Maximus: You are conflating “mainstream media” with area experts. I see little basis for that. Certainly not in the selection of experts I cited, where my goal was a wide range. Three blogs, a professor quoted by Reuters, a historian published in an alternative media outlet, and US and UK officials quoted by the WSJ.

  4. No not at all, I must not be explaining it well. I consider most of the MSM as experts at nothing. Some of the in depth experts they have on staff are better but the MSM itself is for the most part simply information gathers who frame stories together for a narrative but all to often have glaring technical and even general errors in their coverage. They rely on the equal lack of expertise by their consumers to enable their output.

    This is where the net has changed the playing field and the broad base of many skills detect the faults that before were range limited to how far a heavy object could be launched at a crt device at suborbital velocity.

    Blogs in general only comment on and analyze others since for the most part we don’t have a bureau in Baghdad except in the form of a local blogger who we have to observe over time and see if the output correlates with the eventual documented facts and their is enough history to do some backtesting of credibility.

    Note my distinction in the day trader example of staff back office expertise and raw computer horsepower the trading floor has as well as enough total eyes to watch more of the market down to a particular floor trader’s specialty.

    I consider area experts as you term them as State Department types, executives of multinationals with assets in the area for consultation, think tanks, ivory tower academics and those who do all their analysis from product of others. Now in the intel community I see that as a mix of open source plus covert sources and classified limited access material that those limited to open access stuff are handicapped with.

    But to ask your guy in Istanbul to evaluate what is happening in Basra would be just as wrong. He sees his zone of responsibility and is aware of potential input/output interactions but to expect full grasp on the Basra thing would be wrong since he probably doesn’t have the full grasp on the Istanbul thing either and that is done with many inputs above his pay grade.

    Any individual is not a fusion center.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not understand what you are saying. This is #12 in a series on war bloggers, and what you are saying does not corresponded to the specific material in these posts. First, this series discusses the analysis of a sample of war bloggers — and contrasts that with that of a sample of area experts. As I stated before, neither of these folks has a “bureau in Baghdad”. Your analogy of Wall Street firms with small traders is inappropriate here.

    This is incorrect on several levels, imo: “I consider area experts as you term them as State Department types, executives of multinationals with assets in the area for consultation, think tanks, ivory tower academics and those who do all their analysis from product of others.” First, this generalization is so broad as to be useless. More importantly, analysts are *supposed* to analyze the work of others. That is why they are called analysts, not field operatives.

    Comments like “most of the MSM as experts at nothing” are both vague and in my opinion have nothing to do with this series. Most of the MSM are journalists, and not required to have expertise at anything other than observing, reporting, and presenting. The extent to which they inappropriately provide editorial or analytical comment is another subject.

    “But to ask your guy in Istanbul to evaluate what is happening in Basra…” I have no idea what you are talking about, relevant to the material in this series. This compares two specific groups: war bloggers in Iraq vs. area experts in America.

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