The Legend of the Forty-Mile Convoy
What forty-mile convoy?
That was our question when a friend posted about it on Facebook. He was worried about an ominous Russian military convoy headed for Kyiv, and that was the first we’d heard about it.
And then another friend posted about it. And we still didn’t know what they were talking about.
But perhaps we should back up. From the start, we’ve been following a couple of English-language news sources on the ground: The defense reporter for the Kyiv Independent, and the outlet itself. (We also have a Ukrainian immigrant friend who’s been following events in three languages, but he has his own preoccupations right now.)
Working journalists who know their turf. We could use a few more of those stateside, but that’s another story.
They hadn’t mentioned the forty-mile convoy, which is why we were confused. It sounded dire, the way our friends were talking about it. But maybe the folks on the ground had their hands full covering all the bombing. Although there was that Chechen convoy that had their attention. You know, the Death Squad one.
Or maybe it was by this point — it was still early last week — the Russian ground game had already proven less than spectacular. The Ukrainian tractor pulls hadn’t yet become a meme, but the rolling stock wasn’t really rolling that well. And the fighters atop those wheels hadn’t seemed up for much fighting, perhaps because — something else already known — many were young conscripts who hadn’t been well-prepared for what they were getting into.
Plus, as everyone knew in the first few days, Ukrainians weren’t just gonna give up without a fight.
But still, our friends — our American friends — were certain that forty-mile convoy was trouble. Even if they were the only ones talking about it.
And here, perhaps, we should mention an important detail:
We don’t watch cable news.
But our friends do.
It’s not like the forty-mile convoy didn’t exist — it certainly did — but our friends were giving it much more emphasis than seemed merited, at least by the folks whose lives were actually at stake, who weren’t talking about it at all. (And certainly could have — they were forwarding reports from other news services in the course of their own work.)
And it’s not like cable news made it up — they’re wired into the Pentagon, y’know. This is Showtime! for them. Wall-to-wall coverage! Inappropriate commercial breaks!
And therein lies the problem:
There just isn’t that much news.
But you just have to keep yammering anyway.
And a forty-mile Russian convoy inching toward Kyiv is something to yammer about. Let’s check in on its progress! Light up the wall map!
You don’t need to be cynical about the news business to understand this. It’s the nature of the medium: If you have hours and hours to fill, you gotta fill them with something. Endless time is your nemesis.
Which is why we don’t watch cable news: It makes you stupid that way, polluting your mind with narratives that distort the story. It just can’t help it.
Oh, and the convoy? Stalled out. Bad supply lines, y’know, and rotting tires, and really, you just have to disable a few vehicles in front to jam the rest behind them. Let those tractors do the rest.