The Iraqi people were the big winners on their election day and the U.S. media were among the big losers. Despite all the negative coverage and gloom-and-doom reporting about Iraq, it can now be argued that the Bush administration’s strategy to stay the course is working. It will be impossible for the media to insist, in the face of what happened on January 30, that all is lost in Iraq.
U.S. television coverage, with its unrelenting emphasis on violence and bad news out of Iraq, had suggested that the election was going to be a disaster. The story line was that the terrorists were on the march, U.S. troops couldn’t provide enough security, and not enough Iraqi forces were trained to protect voters.
To their credit, the millions of Iraqis who turned out to vote must not have been watching American TV. If they had tuned into that day’s edition of NBC’s Meet the Press, they would have seen John Kerry, the former Democratic candidate for president, undercutting their commitment to freedom and democracy by saying that the Iraqi election was not fully legitimate because some people from terrorist-infested areas might not go to the polls. It was another demoralizing message from the U.S. media and one of their favorite politicians. For host Tim Russert, it was a case of bad booking and bad timing.
Iraqis must also not read the New York Times, which had editorialized about how the Bush administration had “foolishly” passed up opportunities to postpone the election so conditions could be made more stable. The Times had criticized the Administration for “holding to the original election timetable” in a “gamble” that could easily backfire.
One day after the election, the Times said that it appeared that the turnout “may have exceeded the most optimistic predictions.” The Times said that, “we rejoice in a heartening advance by the Iraqi people. For now at least, the multiple political failures that marked the run-up to the voting stand eclipsed by a remarkably successful election day.”
This remarkably successful election day occurred with no thanks to the U.S. media. But the Times was not alone in recognizing that a success had taken place. Many reporters in Iraq described how impressed they were by the Iraqi turnout. They couldn’t ignore the reality that was unfolding before their eyes.
The American people can’t ignore reality, either. Before the election, Iraq was depicted as a hell-hole. On election day, life suddenly became a festival, a party and day of thanksgiving. Clearly, progress in Iraq is being made and there are many good stories to tell. But until election day, many in the media weren’t telling them.
In the coverage of the Iraqi voter turnout on election day, the U.S. public was given a startling glimpse into the truth about the real situation on the ground in that country.
“For months,” declared the Washington Post in an editorial, “news from Iraq has told the story of the extremists, those who destroy themselves to murder others and to proclaim the cause of a religious or Baathist dictatorship. Yesterday the world saw and heard, at last, another Iraq, one in which millions of people from all over the country turned out to vote?even in places where their nominal leaders had proclaimed a boycott, even at polling stations where mortar rounds fell or gunfire rang out.”
But why had this “other Iraq” been ignored for so long? Why had the news?from the Post and other media?been so tilted in favor of the extremists? The paper didn’t tell us.
Hopefully, the stories about voter turnout will reinforce the reality of America having freed the Iraqi people from tyranny. Polls showing declining support for the war were obviously measuring public reaction to mostly bad news about Iraq coming from the media. Now the American people can see for themselves that all the news is not bad and that the media were in fact misleading them about the real progress that our troops have been making.
The questions we should put to our own media include: Why did you tell us that Iraq was going so badly when it is now clear beyond doubt that the people there wanted a democratic government? Why did you focus on the death and destruction and not on the Iraqi thirst for democratic government? Why did you highlight the strength of the terrorist “insurgents” and not the value of the U.S. mission to bring freedom to the people of Iraq?
Don’t expect any answers from the media. But some are painful and obvious. Some journalists don’t believe that the U.S. is a force for good in the world. They want the U.S. to fail in Iraq in order to teach us a lesson about global politics and foreign affairs. They would prefer, like the French and Germans, that the U.N. guide or even conduct U.S. foreign policy. Other journalists are card-carrying liberal Democrats who personally despise President Bush and his political party and want his administration to fail.
It’s now obvious that free Iraqis are going to have something to say about this.