Accuracy in Media

Accuracy in Media has reported on the growing dissatisfaction with the tone and content of much of the media’s coverage of the post-war situation in Iraq. Many have criticized the media for having a “police-blotter mentality” and for failing to report any good news. Bipartisan congressional delegations and even reporters returning from visits to Baghdad agree that the depiction of Iraq in the U.S. media does not reflect the actual situation there.

Internet websites have republished letters from our troops in Iraq to families or church groups. These letters challenge the media’s portrayal of life in Iraq and often express the troops’ bitterness over the media coverage of their efforts. From time to time, the Chicago Tribune and others have written about the efforts of individual U.S. servicemen to improve the lives of Iraqis. But the steady stream of bad news is having an effect on U.S. public perception, if the latest polls are to be believed.

At least one U.S. commander in Iraq decided to take matters into his own hands. He organized the distribution of a letter back to the home front that described the success his unit was having in rebuilding Kirkuk, in northern Iraq. “The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened,” according to the letter. The letter made clear that its purpose was to offset the negative media coverage. “With the current and on-going media focus on casualties and terrorist attacks we thought it equally important to share with the American public, and especially the folks from our soldiers’ hometowns, the good news associated with our work in Kirkuk.”

The Gannett News Service reported that about five-hundred copies of the letter were sent to family members and hometown newspapers. At last count, twelve dailies, including the Boston Globe, had published the letter. Other papers, like The Olympian in Washington State, refused to print it, citing its policy of not publishing form letters. It was Gannett that determined that the form letter had been distributed from Kirkuk.

The New York Times editorialized that it was “disturbing” that a local army commander had orchestrated an effort to counter what the paper termed “alleged” overlooked success stories. It characterized the letter as “misleading” and implied that it might be part of a larger Bush administration effort to defend the war.

But Army officials said that the local commander had acted on his own. In an email response to questions from the media, the commander wrote he “wanted to highlight his unit’s work and share that pride with people back home.” The Army said no one was forced to sign the letter and most of those contacted said they agreed with its content. The Times noted that, but then sneered, “that matters little to anyone who has ever marched in the military command system.” But no military regulations were broken and the Army plans no formal investigation. One soldier’s mother said she forwarded the letter to her local paper, even though she knew he hadn’t written it. “I wanted the positive view out there,” she told reporters.

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