Accuracy in Media

The military campaign has “bogged down” and is “stalled.” We have underestimated the enemy’s willingness to fight and misjudged the nationalism and love of country motivating his forces. Innocent civilians are being killed by indiscriminate American fire and a humanitarian crisis is looming. Pentagon civilians are “micro-managing” the war from Washington and that is preventing the military from waging the campaign its leaders think is necessary to achieve victory. A “credibility gap” is opening between reports from the field and official briefings at higher headquarters.

Sound familiar? It seems as if much of the liberal media have pulled out their old Vietnam War play book to guide their coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom. A headline from the Baltimore Sun bluntly declared: “The resemblance to Vietnam War can’t be overlooked.” As the Washington Times has noted, many in the liberal media consider their coverage of Vietnam, along with the Watergate scandal, to have been the pinnacle of their careers. The next generation of reporters covering this war seem eager to carry on the tradition of disputing and debunking the official version of how the war is going.

Consider, for example, the abrupt about-face in the tone of war coverage in the Washington Post. Two or three days into the campaign, Post reporters were celebrating the military’s “daring race to Baghdad.” According to these accounts, the military’s campaign plan was “actually being executed pretty much as conceived.” But just a few days later, after the coalition suffered its initial casualties (about 20 killed in action), the same reporters were openly questioning the overall strategy for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Since then, there has been a steady drumbeat of gloom and doom from the Post, although it should be noted that the Post’s editorial page has taken a different view of the war thus far. In contrast to its news section, the Post’s editorial page has reminded readers that the war is still in its early stages, that some remarkable successes had already been achieved, and that it is far too early to predict the length or difficulty of the conflict. It also noted that many of the worst-case scenarios, like massive oil-field fires or missile attacks on Israel, have been avoided.

But little of this could be found in the Post’s news section. Day after day, its reporters have harped on two primary themes in their war coverage, both reminiscent of the old Vietnam days. First, they have decided the war is going to last much longer than predicted. They, along with others in the liberal media, blame the Bush administration for raising false expectations of an early conclusion to the war. To prove this, they cite statements by senior officials, like Vice President Cheney, while always excluding the caveats Cheney and others used to hedge their predictions. They also cite statements by Bush backers, even though most of these have no official role in the administration.

Much of their reporting is based on “blind quotes;” not surprisingly, they haven’t been able to find many senior military officers willing to criticize war strategy on the record. Instead, they quote “some” military officers predicting a “drawn-out fight that sucks in more and more U.S. forces.” (Just like Vietnam with its steady increase in committed forces over the years.) They cite another claiming that no one took worst-case planning scenarios seriously. Consequently, they conclude that the “planned blitzkrieg to Baghdad has stalled.” Citing anonymous sources, they have concluded that this war is going to “last weeks, even months.” Any day now, we can expect the media to start characterizing this war as a “quagmire.” Recall that recent military operations in Afghanistan were also labeled a “quagmire,” just weeks before the Taliban was routed.

Why has it “stalled?” Shades of Vietnam again. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his civilian advisors have overruled military planners and rejected their requests for more forces and more firepower in the campaign. Most of the sniping at Rumsfeld seems to come from within the Pentagon and probably represents little more than payback for Rumsfeld’s supposed past mistreatment of his generals. In effect, Rumsfeld is being depicted as another Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam years, who was harshly criticized for his interference in military planning. Some reports have even referred to Operation Iraqi Freedom as “Rumsfeld’s war.”

Try as they might, however, the media can’t convert Operation Iraqi Freedom into another Vietnam. The terrain is different, the caliber of the enemy is different, and the quality of the American fighting man is different as well. For one thing, the adoption of an all-volunteer military ensured that there would never again be the confrontations between the lifers and the draftee grunts that characterized the latter days of the Vietnam War.

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