01/10/2007 01:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why the Media Abhor Peace

Bush is ready to announce his "new" strategy on Iraq, which apparently means re-shuffling personnel to beef up the toady quotient, and escalating our troop losses. So what will the headlines say tomorrow? "BUSH STANDS FIRM ON IRAQ"? "BUSH STICKS TO HIS GUNS"? "BUSH STAYS THE COURSE"? It's amazing how allergic the media are to peace. I realize war is easier for them to deal with: violence has pictorial advantages, just for starters. But one might think they would have the maturity to curb their enthusiasm for it. We can understand 10-year-old boys who can't get enough of battles and bloodshed--they're trained from birth to be macho, and here they are puny and sexless. But most normal boys outgrow this tendency when they reach puberty and get girlfriends, while the media never seem to mature at all. When peace threatens you don't have to be a psychic to sense their pain.

I first noticed this several years ago when a newspaper ran the headline: "ISRAELIS, PALESTINIANS STAND FIRM IN FACE OF LAST-DITCH PEACE EFFORTS". I.e., "Phew, that was a close one!"

The media tend to stigmatize as 'wishy-washy' any signs of statesmanlike behavior by public figures. They have a strong bias in favor of behavioral rigidity--to the point of seeing blind persistence in bankrupt policies as meritorious. In the 2004 presidential campaign the media happily headlined Bush's attack on Kerry for having changed his mind about the Iraq war, as if being blind to facts, deaf to warnings, and incapable of learning from one's mistakes were virtues. How can we have a fight, the media seem to be saying, if people are flexible and able to think outside the box? "BUSH UNWAVERING ON IRAQ" they announce with satisfaction. Headlines always talk admiringly about politicians being "firm" in negotiations, when the more appropriate words would be "rigid", "close-minded", "mulish" or "pig-headed". We never hear adjectives that are relevant to the interdependent world we inhabit.

In the private sector, executives who "stay the course" get canned. Corporate boards are all too aware that in their competitive world, "sticking to your guns" is just another way of being stuck.

Deborah Tannen points out that television and radio are relentless in trying to frame everything as a combat. No idea can be put forward without first dredging up an opponent "from the margins of science or the fringes of lunacy." Unless your news item promises a debate of some kind, she says, the media tend to ignore it. "No fight, no news." There's no interest in ideas, only in seeing fur fly and trying to decide who "won."

This makes peace news hard for the media to handle. The problem with peace is that everyone profits from it. How can you tell who's winning? So the outbreak of hostilities tends to get big headlines while peace negotiations wind up on the back pages. On TV they may be ignored altogether for want of a bloody picture.

In the 1990s, when US troops went into Bosnia to enforce the peace, there were no casualties, no problems, no resistance. Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather came to Bosnia looking for a story--that is, a "problem" of some kind. When they couldn't find any they went home and talked about the potential dangers the troops might encounter.

In the mainstream media we never even hear about foreign countries until violence breaks out. And when peace comes, most of the airtime and column space are devoted to the efforts by hardliners on both sides to sabotage the peace effort.

You can almost hear them rooting.