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November 29, 2005

The Iraq Not Seen

This article from the Christian Science Monitor tells (once again) the story of an Iraq full of hope, and a media that are intent on not showing it.

Cpl. Stan Mayer has seen the worst of war. In the leaves of his photo album, there are casual memorials to the cost of the Iraq conflict - candid portraits of friends who never came home and graphic pictures of how insurgent bombs have shredded steel and bone.

Yet the Iraq of Corporal Mayer's memory is not solely a place of death and loss. It is also a place of hope. It is the hope of the town of Hit, which he saw transform from an insurgent stronghold to a place where kids played on Marine trucks. It is the hope of villagers who whispered where roadside bombs were hidden. But most of all, it is the hope he saw in a young Iraqi girl who loved pens and Oreo cookies.

Like many soldiers and marines returning from Iraq, Mayer looks at the bleak portrayal of the war at home with perplexity - if not annoyance. It is a perception gap that has put the military and media at odds, as troops complain that the media care only about death tolls, while the media counter that their job is to look at the broader picture, not through the soda straw of troops' individual experiences.

This cover story for the media is preposterous. There have been plenty of "soda straw" stories about the pain and anxiety of some soldiers and their families, as there should be. But Cindy Sheehan's soda straw, and others like her, have been magnified far above any good news a Cpl. Mayer might like to bring. The much-missed Good News from Afghanistan and Iraq articles that Arthur Chrenkoff used to gather and dispense were huge tomes that would cover just 2 weeks. But from the media, only one side of the broader picture ever emerges; human interest stories, but specifically and almost exclusively the tragic ones.

Indeed, you can find military personnel that are dour about the Iraq situation. They do exist. But there are most definitely in the minority (64% to 32%). You would think that when doing "soda straw" stories from Iraq, about 60% of them would be about good news. But you'd be wrong. Tellingly, the split among news media folks as to whether we'll succeed in Iraq or not is almost precisely the opposite of the military.

Posted by Doug at November 29, 2005 04:56 PM

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You'll no doubt regard this as yet more good news from Iraq that the U.S. media is refusing to report properly...

Posted by: s9 at November 29, 2005 09:32 PM

No. Not denying there is bad news. Not denying that the Iraqi military still needs training, not just militarily but possibly morally and ethically. They have a brutal history that has been ingrained in them, especially with regards to how the police and the army should behave and what their role is with regards to the people. A civilian-controlled military is no doubt a foreign idea.

However, this doesn't speak at all to my point.

Posted by: Doug Payton at November 30, 2005 10:11 AM

Doug writes: the story of an Iraq full of hope, and a media that are intent on not showing it.

[ s9 provides a link to Iraqi media for comparison. ]

Doug complains: However, this doesn't speak at all to my point.

Hope, apparently, is in the perspective of the observer.

Depending on where you sit, Iraq is either 1) "full of hope" and the media are merely conspiring not to show it, or 2) on the brink of civil war and plagued with U.S. supported Shiite Death Squads.

Excuse me for asking, Doug. Where are you sitting, again?

Posted by: s9 at November 30, 2005 02:12 PM

One story from an Iraqi news site isn't a comparison, unless you're saying that that one story legitimized the American's media's slant (which it doesn't). This is a non sequitur.

Hope may indeed be in the perspective of the observer. I wonder, overall, if the folks in Iraq have more hope under an elected government than under a brutal dictator. (Well, I don't wonder. Do you?)

A country can be full of hope and still have bad things happening. If you agree (and you're living in a country where that is true), then your one story still doesn't speak to my point. My point is not that bad things aren't happening. My point, and Cpl. Mayer's point, and the point of many soldiers, is that the good is being utterly ignored. As I said, Arthur Chrenkoff used to write profusely about all the good going on, and we hardly hear about it.

You present a false choice of either it's completely heaven or completely hell. It's somewhere in between, but precous little of the heaven makes it on the airwaves and in the papers.

Posted by: Doug Payton at November 30, 2005 03:18 PM

Doug Payton writes: I wonder, overall, if the folks in Iraq have more hope under an elected government than under a brutal dictator. (Well, I don't wonder. Do you?)

I do wonder.

I wonder whether the brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein, was really any more brutal that Islam Karimov, our friend and the President of Uzbekistan, our valued and important ally in Central Asia.

I wonder whether if the elected government will really be any more respectful of human and civil rights that the democratically elected government of a certain western European nation, in the years prior to World War II, which claimed to be facing an existential threat from an internal religious and ethnic minority.

You don't wonder about either of those things because you know One Big Thing, and you have no nagging little questions about side issue to trouble your beautiful mind.

Doug Payton continues: My point, and Cpl. Mayer's point, and the point of many soldiers, is that the good is being utterly ignored.

Yet somehow, the information "the media" is supposed to be ignoring can easily be found in the media. What precisely is the media ignoring, and how do we know about it— and judge its credibility— unless the information comes to us through the media. Most of the troops in the field are not eye witnesses to all of "the good news" in Iraq, just as they are not eye witnesses to all of the horror. Even they must rely on the media to report on the news, since their chain of command is not responsible for disseminating it.

You are complaining that the media does not report "the good news" that you hope must exist, but it's merely a leap of faith on your part that Good Things are happening in Iraq and the reason you are not seeing it reported in "the media" is that a conspiracy is to blame.

Posted by: s9 at November 30, 2005 04:54 PM

Does any person know of a major media outlet which has sent a reporter to Iraq for the specific and publically stated purpose of reporting good news from Iraq?

I do not think there has been one such assignment.

Why not?

Is good news not an appropriate subject for serious reporting?

Are American media consumers not sophisticated enough to understand good news?

Is it bad for business to report good news?

Is it impossible to find any good news for Americans in Iraq?

Or is it that the main stream media is determined to mislead the American public about what is going on in Iraq?

Posted by: rich at November 30, 2005 05:41 PM


It is not the media's job to be a propaganda machine for U.S. government policy (Jeff Gannon, Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, Michael McManus notwithstanding). It is the media's job to report what is happening. I don't understand how to you and Doug all the negative reports about Iraq translate into a left wing conspiracy. Why are you so convinced that the news should be good? Believing that only a conspiracy could lead to large-scale misreporting of news that confounds your sense of reality is a little self-centered, don't you think?

Here are two reasons why so little good news in Iraq is reported. First, there is little good news to be found. Reporters, like most Americans, look for more tangible signs of lasting progress than the oreos and hope that Doug refers to. Second, it is so unsafe outside the Green Zone in Baghdad that reporters only infrequently venture out into the rest of the country to find the stories you want to read. Reality is probably a combination of the two. But neither negates the validity of the bad news that war supporters want to sweep away with a brush of misplaced optimism.

If Bush is so confident of the way things are going in Iraq, then he shouldn't be afraid to answer questions from the press or the public. The fact that in the last year he has faced only preselected, friendly crowds (some of whom have had to sign loyalty oaths) in "public" question-and-answer sessions suggests that he can't defend the rosy assertions you want to believe in. Same goes for his inability to articulate a definition of what it would take for us to withdraw or at least to demonstrate progress toward Iraqi self-sufficiency. "When they stand up, we'll stand down" sounds catchy but says nothing.

When war supporters who accuse the media of misrepresenting what is happening in Iraq (i.e. conservative Republicans) begin to criticize their President for misleading the country into war, criticize the Bush administration for the horrendous misdeeds it has perpetrated against the Iraqi people (torture, chemical weapons attacks, failure to prevent a civil war), and acknowledge the fact that Bush's hubris could easily lead to a destabilized Middle East, growth of radical Islam and even more terrorism against the U.S., then protestations like yours will sound a lot more credible.

Posted by: dem at November 30, 2005 07:30 PM

s9, thanks for the history lesson. Whether or not the US was wrong in intering Japanese citizens (we were wrong, I think) is a non seqitur. I find I'm using that bit o' Latin with you quite a bit. Are you really drawing a moral equivalent between that and gassing citizens? And noting that we support some other bad guys is putting way too simplistic a face on it. Still, a non sequitur. Uzbekistan isn't, as far as I know, shooting at American planes enforcing a no-fly zone not ignoring the terms of a cease fire.

And please, the good news I "hope must exist"? I've referred twice to Chrenkoff's huge bi-weekly write-ups of all the good news that did and does exist. It's there, boatloads of it. And since I've once again had to re-re-repeat myself with you, I can't waste my time with it anymore.

dem, I agree that it's the media's job to report what is happening, and that's my issue; they aren't. They have a selective vision ("myopic zeal"?) when dealing with this subject. They are not official government cheerleaders, but neither should they be looking at just one side of the story, if they really believe they ought to be objective.

Bill Clinton used to do the same thing with public appearances; friendly audiences, prepackaged questions. I don't like it any more than you do.

And no, I'm not going to give much creedence to your litany of talking points, except the WP thing. Please. Not a single chemical weapon treaty considers it a chemical weapon. It's as much one as gunpowder. Shall we ban that?

Posted by: Doug Payton at November 30, 2005 07:57 PM

Doug Payton writes: Whether or not the US was wrong in intering Japanese citizens (we were wrong, I think) is a non seqitur.

If I had said anything about that, then we might be able to have a dispute, but from where I sit: it looks your bringing up the internment of Japanese-Americans is a non-sequitur. How, on Earth, did you get there?

Posted by: s9 at November 30, 2005 10:13 PM

Like Armstrong Williams (who was paid a quarter million of our tax dollars) and others, journalists are being paid to shill for the Bush administration. Front page NYT story as I write is that the Bush administration is now paying millions of dollars to get Iraqis to write pro-war propaganda in their so-called "free press". If the news is so good over there, this hardly seems necessary, not to mention ethical.

And Doug, your argument regarding Clinton is tangential and weak. First, Clinton didn't avoid discussing details with either the press or ordinary citizens in any way comparable to the way Bush does now. Second, Clinton isn't in office now, so why is his behavior relevant now at all? Your logic implies that if Clinton did it, then it's OK that Bush does it too. I don't think either one of us really believes that. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it.

You are right about WP not being specifically banned by any treaty the U.S. has signed. However, it's use as an aerosolized weapon hardly seems ethical. US Command seems to agree. It says about the use of white phosphorous: "It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets". This is in part because (according to "Phosphorus burns on the skin are deep and painful... These weapons are particularly nasty because white phosphorus continues to burn until it disappears... it could burn right down to the bone." That's a bit different than gunpowder.

Posted by: dem at December 1, 2005 12:07 AM

s9, sorry, my bad. For some reason, I assumed you were talking about the U.S., and the only big examle of minority that came to mind as having been considered a threat were Japanese-Americans, even though you did say pre-WWII.

But now I understand your Nazi reference. So let's go back to the question I asked that prompted this. Do you wonder if the folks in Iraq have more hope under an elected government than under a brutal dictator? You can't even acknowledge that they may be better off, and can only make reference to the worst of the worst-case scenarios. If you can't even acknowledge this, we have no foundation for a discussion. Thank you for playing, we have some nice parting gifts for you.

And dem, I'm not sure how you get from my comment "I don't like it any more than you do" to "Your logic implies that if Clinton did it, then it's OK that Bush does it too." There was no implication; I clearly stated what I meant. But, being the true Dem you are, you made it an opportunity to minimize all the times Clinton himself did it. And, based on what you said, will you really consider Bush's behavior utterly irrelevant for comparison the day his successor take the oath of office? Somehow, I doubt it.

As to WP, attacking people isn't it's main purpose, unlike Saddam's poison gas. It's main purpose is either smoke or light. Yes, it does burn if someone comes in contact with it, but if you really intend to do that, WP wouldn't be the weapon to use. This is just another talking point so the left can say "chemical weapons" in the same sentence as "Bush". If, as you orignally said, you won't consider me credible unless I drink the Kool-Aid and accept all of those talkig points at face value, like this one, then I'm going to disappoint you.

And back at my main point about good news in Iraq going unreported, Joe Lieberman, over a week ago, said that things were going well in Iraq and that the US should stay there and finish the job. The media put out the requisite wire copy, noted it, and that was pretty much it. Meanwhile, Jack Murtha is still getting loads of press coverage 3+ weeks after he announced his views. Murtha believes the war is going badly, while Lieberman, right after visiting Iraq himself, thinks that things are getting better. Not perfect, or spectacular, or anything other superlative; just better. But he can't get any more air time than the Dow Jones Industrial Average gets. The media won't even report the sources here that say things are getting better.

Posted by: Doug Payton at December 1, 2005 09:55 AM

Doug Payton writes: Do you wonder if the folks in Iraq have more hope under an elected government than under a brutal dictator? You can't even acknowledge that they may be better off, ...

I will happily acknowledge that it could have turned out that Iraqis will "have more hope" under an elected government— and it may yet turn out that way, when they have an elected government that wasn't the result of a corrupt process and badly drafted constitution— but I'm a very pragmatic person, Doug. I want to see reliable polling numbers for comparison. Do you know of any reliable polls taken before the fall of Saddam that measured the level of "hope" among the Iraqi people?

Despite the unavailability of "hope" poll numbers, there are other measures we could talk about as useful indicators of the amount of "hope" among the Iraqi people. Security, electricity, water, petroleum production— these are all measurable quantities, and we can find reasonably reliable numbers from before and after March 2003. Would you like to discuss them?

p.s. Iran has an elected government, you know. And it sure looks like the Iranian model is more likely to arrive in Iraq before the Jeffersonian democratic model. Wouldn't you say that's true? Perhaps, you think that people in Iran have "enough" hope already that invading, occupying and rebuilding their country is not such an imperative as it was for Iraq?

Posted by: s9 at December 1, 2005 01:04 PM