The Bush administration is taking a beating from the media for its handling of post-war Iraq. The liberal media are portraying the situation in Iraq as another Vietnam-style quagmire. Body counts of U.S. killed or wounded are often accompanied by tales of disillusionment on the part of Iraqi locals. Even the Washington Times recently ran stories critical of the Pentagon’s planning for the aftermath of the war.
There have been a few attempts to offset all the bad news out of Iraq. Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal gave a generally upbeat account of conditions there after he returned from a visit to Iraq. The Internet is also a rich source of letters and communiqu?s from U.S. military personnel. They give real insights on how Iraqis are coping with the war’s aftermath.
All the emphasis on bad news is becoming too much even for some media types. USA Today’s Peter Johnson recently wrote that reporters in Baghdad disagree about the real situation in Iraq. Time Magazine’s Brian Bennett told him that the Iraq “he lives in doesn’t mesh with the bleak picture that friends at home are getting from the media.” He says, “People have a misperception of what’s going on” in Iraq. “Restaurants are opening daily” and “women feel increasingly safe going out to shop.” But he does warn of a mounting terrorist threat to American soldiers.
A CNN correspondent had a “much different take.” Nic Robertson said “The picture is much bleaker than reported by the coalition, and there is widespread resistance to the U.S. and its allies.” A CBS correspondent, Kimberly Dozier, also told Johnson that she is “increasingly pessimistic.” She thinks America is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi middle class.
What accounts for the difference? No one disputes that there are areas of Iraq that are not yet peaceful. But most news organizations have reduced their presence in Iraq since the end of the war, so the coverage is not as thorough. Johnson wrote that “if a news organization reporter is traveling with troops that are attacked, that’s the image that is sent back home.” A bipartisan congressional delegation, recently returned from Iraq, came to the same conclusion. Democrats on the trip said that the media rarely venture outside Baghdad and have developed a “police-blotter mentality.” Reporters focus on terror attacks, deaths and injuries. One Democrat, himself a former reporter, cited a recent CBS radio report of an attack as “bordering on the hysterical.” “CBS got it exactly wrong,” he said. Another concluded that “There is a disconnect between the reporting and the reality.”
Peter Johnson concluded the reporters agree on this much: “Bad news?not good?sells.” A UPI correspondent, Pamela Hess, who recently returned from Iraq, found things are not as bad as portrayed in the news. In fact, things are going pretty well in some places. She said that the U.S. military has done a great job, particularly the Marines. “The leadership trusts the lowest Marine to tell the truth,” she said. Too bad journalists don’t live by the same code.