Accuracy in Media

The spreading of gloom and doom over U.S. policy in Iraq has had an effect. Conditioned by the media to expect miracles in just three months, the latest Newsweek poll finds that just 13 percent say U.S. efforts to establish security and rebuild Iraq have gone very well since May 1, when combat officially ended. The unrealistic expectations have been fed by headlines such as: “U.S. Military Strength Called Lacking in Iraq,” and “Bush Urged to Increase Iraq forces.” On Meet the Press, after listening to Senators Joe Biden and John McCain, host Tim Russert said, “It couldn’t be more serious.” Russert suggested the situation was deteriorating so quickly that the U.S. may have to bring back the military draft.

The media refuse to admit that progress is being made. There are already more than 50,000 Iraqis under arms that are working in coordination with the U.S. They include 35,000 in the Iraqi police forces, 2,300 in a civil-defense corps, and 17,000 security guards hired to defend infrastructure.

Writer Gwynne Dyer notes that U.S. casualties have been concentrated in the so-called “Sunni triangle” extending north and west from Baghdad, where Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party had the deepest roots. Sunni Muslims account for only about 20 per cent of Iraq’s population. American deaths in this region have been running at five a week. Dyer says that, if you run average forwards for 16 months, President Bush would have to account for a further 350 American combat deaths at next year’s presidential election.

Any loss is tragic. By that point, however, more Americans will have died from West Nile Virus than from combat in Iraq. Contrast that to the war in Vietnam, when 350 Americans were dying in combat every week in 1968. To put this further into context, 40,000 Americans die in traffic accidents every year. There are 18,000 homicides every year in the U.S.

The Iraq comparison with Vietnam may be valid when analyzing media coverage. American Legion Magazine has published an article by Jim Bohannon, the talk-show host who served in Vietnam in 1967-68 with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. He writes that the communist strategy of “winning away from the battlefield worked?an especially fortunate circumstance for the communist cause, since they never came close to winning on the battlefield against U.S. forces.” Bohannon cites coverage of Tet, when a U.S. military victory was depicted as a success by the communists. He says American reporters “exaggerated the power and popularity of the Viet Cong” and provided the American people “gloomy media depictions” about progress of the war. Bohannon concludes, “No matter how one feels about the war, few can deny that the enemy would have approved of the coverage.”

Bohannon notes that Walter Cronkite wrote with apparent pride that, “The daily coverage of the Vietnamese battlefield helped convince the American public that the carnage was not worth” [it]. One has to consider that the gloom and doom coverage of the Iraq war is also designed to force a U.S. withdrawal and another American humiliation.

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