CBS Grudgingly Acknowledges Progress in Iraq, But...

Finally catching up with ABC and NBC, the night before Thanksgiving the CBS Evening News turned to chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan for a look at how conditions are improving in Iraq. But the story from Logan, who just over a month ago insisted that “we're doing extremely badly,” was more cynical and foreboding than more upbeat reports aired Thanksgiving night on ABC and NBC when CBS's newscast was bumped for football.

Fill-in anchor Russ Mitchell noted “some signs perhaps that conditions are improving. Nationwide, the U.S. military says terror attacks have fallen 55 percent since the summer.” Logan began with how “the sounds of celebration echo on the streets of Baghdad's deadly Adamiyah neighborhood for the first time since the U.S. invasion,” but in explaining that “the U.S. now fights alongside their old Sunni enemy” she said the U.S. “calls them volunteers” while “some people call them America's militia.” Explaining how local Sunni women are helping the U.S., Logan stressed how “it's so dangerous to be seen working for the U.S. that many of these women hide their identity cards.” Logan ominously warned: “The U.S. can't keep paying and protecting the Sunni volunteers forever. And if it doesn't transition into the Iraqi police, and the Iraqi government doesn't take it on, that's the danger....A danger that could send the Sunnis back to war, this time with nothing left to lose.”

The next night, on the Thanksgiving holiday, ABC fill-in anchor David Muir reported that “optimism is spreading” among American troops. Passing on to viewers that “overall levels of violence have gone way down,” correspondent Terry McCarthy cited “cautious optimism” from U.S. commanders in Iraq and relayed that “many commanders on the ground now believe they're winning.” McCarthy also bolstered the credibility of one of his primary sources for this newfound optimism, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, as having a history of being a “straight shooter” who “calls it as he sees it,” in contrast with “others in the top brass sounding optimistic before,” as McCarthy concurred with Muir's assessment that Odierno “hasn't always been this optimistic.” McCarthy concluded: “Unlike some of the other top brass, General Odierno is a fairly straight shooter and calls it as he sees it. And I think it's very significant that today, even though he's not declaring victory in this war, he clearly thinks they're starting to win.”

On Thursday's NBC Nightly News, substitute host David Gregory contended that Thanksgiving provides “an opportunity for American commanders to tout the effectiveness of the surge strategy,” while correspondent Tom Aspell passed on news of a “sharp drop in attacks against coalition forces.” Citing security improvements on Baghdad's Haifa Street, Aspell contended that “for [Colonel Brian] Roberts and his soldiers, reclaiming Haifa Street has been a mission to be proud of, and a memory to share next Thanksgiving when they are home with their families.”

The NewsBusters account, posted with video, of Logan's dire assessment a month ago:
Asked by Jay Leno on Monday's [October 15] Tonight Show "how are we doing" in Iraq?, CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan asserted that "we're doing extremely badly" and proceeded to fret, that since images of dead American soldiers are "hidden," the public does not realize the situation is "much worse than the picture, the image we even have of Iraq." As for the impact of the "surge," Logan, who reports regularly from Iraq, allowed that it is "working in certain places," but only "temporarily" because "if you haven't altered the fundamental dynamics" then you "still have the same problem."

Logan's full answer to Leno's question about how the U.S. is doing in Iraq: "We're doing extremely badly, from my point of view. I was asked if I felt any guilt for the fact that the world has an impression of the war in Iraq as being very bad and going very wrong? And I said I really don't because I can't imagine the last time anyone saw a dead American soldier. We've hidden that from view. Nobody knows what that looks like and I've seen plenty of it. It's much worse than the picture, the image we even have of Iraq."
A November 14 NewsBusters item, “NBC Catches Up With ABC to Highlight Safer, Better Life in Iraq,” recounted:
Three weeks after ABC's World News aired the first of three stories then and since about significant declines in violence and improving living conditions in Iraq, NBC Nightly News caught up Wednesday night as anchor Brian Williams acknowledged: "We are all hearing more and more these days about a significant drop in violence and deaths in Iraq, even though 2007 some time ago became the bloodiest year of the war, yet for U.S. forces these new stats show a different trend."

From Iraq, reporter Tom Aspell illustrated how life has improved: "A few months ago, Ali Hamid could not have sold balloons here on Jadriyah Street. He might have been kidnaped or killed. A few blocks away, Azar Habud might have been shot for giving Western-style haircuts in his barbershop. And nearby, Mohammed Hassan's ice cream shop is still busy, even though it was bombed twice in April, killing nine customers. Back then, explosions were a horrifying part of everyday life. Now, the U.S. military says rocket and mortar attacks in Iraq have dropped sharply in the last few months from 1,000 in June to fewer than 400 in October. And so have civilian deaths."
Previous NewsBusters postings on how, until NBC's piece, ABC's World News had been the only broadcast network evening newscast airing reports from Iraq on improving conditions:
October 22: “ABC Airs Upbeat Iraq Story on Fallujah's 'Remarkable Turnaround.'”

October 30: “ABC: Iraqis Adapt to 'New Normal' as 'Violence on Downward Trend.'”

November 2, on the November 1 World News: “Only ABC Reports Military's Stats on Violence Plunging in Iraq.”
Now, transcripts of the November 21 CBS Evening News story followed, by the November 22 pieces on ABC and NBC, as provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth who also helped draft this posting:

CBS Evening News:
RUSS MITCHELL: In Iraq, some signs perhaps that conditions are improving. Nationwide, the U.S. military says terror attacks have fallen 55 percent since the summer. And the Baghdad government said today some 1600 refugees are now returning to Iraq each day as the U.S. and former enemies team up to fight the terrorists. It is a trend that's being celebrated in one Baghdad neighborhood, as Lara Logan reports.

LARA LOGAN: The sounds of celebration echo on the streets of Baghdad's deadly Adamiyah neighborhood for the first time since the U.S. invasion. Former Sunni insurgents, today America's greatest allies in defeating al-Qaeda in Iraq, enjoy a recent victory that left eight suspected terrorists dead. The U.S. now fights alongside their old Sunni enemy and calls them volunteers. Some people call them America's militia.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL JEFFEREY BROADWATER, U.S. ARMY: It's not a militia. There's a big difference. These guys are under contract, they've been trained by the Iraqi government.

LOGAN: A U.S. contract that includes a highly unusual weapon -- local Sunni women, some 52 of them in Adamiyah, paid with American tax dollars to protect the schools, hospitals and anything else the neighborhood needs. You're trained to use an AK-47?

WOMAN: Yeah, yeah.

LOGAN: But it's so dangerous to be seen working for the U.S. that many of these women hide their identity cards. Their greatest fear is losing their lives and their jobs when the U.S. pulls out. You don't believe the Iraqi government will pay you?

WOMAN: No. They hate us. They hate us.

LOGAN: They hate you?

WOMAN: Yeah.

LOGAN: The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government hasn't been as eager as the U.S. to embrace their former Sunni enemies in spite of significant successes. This mass of hidden weapons came from only two of 14 caches the volunteers uncovered in Adamiyah in the past two weeks. Only a month ago, this bustling main street was completely deserted. Now, even the only gas station, closed for two years, has been re-opened by U.S. troops. But the U.S. can't keep paying and protecting the Sunni volunteers forever. And if it doesn't transition into the Iraqi police, and the Iraqi government doesn't take it on, that's the danger.

LT. COL. BROADWATER: That, you're absolutely right. That is a huge danger.

LOGAN: A danger that could send the Sunnis back to war, this time with nothing left to lose. Lara Logan, CBS News, Adamiyah, Iraq.

ABC's World News, November 22:
DAVID MUIR: Good evening and Happy Thanksgiving. American troops are spending their fifth Thanksgiving at war in Iraq. Last year on this day, Baghdad was in lockdown after one of that city's deadliest suicide bombings. But the headlines in recent weeks have been different. And today, our Baghdad correspondent, Terry McCarthy, got an extraordinary look at the country, traveling with the number two U.S. General there, Ray Odierno. They made nine stops, visiting several communities that have been notorious for violence. And as Terry reports, the optimism, among Americans at least, is spreading.

TERRY MCCARTHY: From the triangle of death south of Baghdad, to the killing fields of Diyala to the north, to the once deadly deserts of Anbar out west, everywhere we went today, we heard the same thing: Violence is going down. No one is happier than General Odierno, one of the main designers of the U.S. troop surge in Iraq.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL RAYMOND ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY: Happy Thanksgiving to you. I like that smile.

MCCARTHY: The general has a lot to thank his troops for.

ODIERNO: I think we've created, again, a window. I think we can be successful here.

MCCARTHY: We have heard others in the top brass sounding optimistic before, but Odierno is not given to hype. And what was even more remarkable about today's trip was how many commanders on the ground now believe they're winning.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL JOHN KOLASHESKI, U.S. ARMY: And we are cautiously optimistic the direction that we're headed, but it's, you know, we're, we're not where we need to be yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SOLDIER: It's a positive trend right now.

MCCARTHY: The biggest change, local citizens abandoning the insurgency and helping the Americans. Already, the U.S. has signed up 72,000 men to serve as community police. The message we get from U.S. commanders in bases outside Baghdad is pretty much the same wherever we go, cautious optimism. Not only is there a huge increase in Iraqi citizens groups who are coming forward to help the Americans, but overall levels of violence have gone way down. When the surge started, three or four Americans were being killed every day in Iraq. Now that number has gone down to about one a day. And for Iraqis, reason to be thankful, as well. Civilian deaths in Baghdad are down 65 percent compared to six months ago. Car bombs are down 47 percent. It's important to remember the war is far from over here. Just today, 11 Iraqis were killed in a single attack in southern Baghdad. David?

MUIR: And, Terry, I know a lot of people would expect this kind of optimism from General Odierno, one of the architects of the surge, but you've spent a lot of time with him. He hasn't always been this optimistic.

MCCARTHY: That's right, David. Unlike some of the other top brass, General Odierno is a fairly straight shooter and calls it as he sees it. And I think it's very significant that today, even though he's not declaring victory in this war, he clearly thinks they're starting to win.

NBC Nightly News, November 22:
DAVID GREGORY: In Iraq, Thanksgiving is an opportunity for American commanders to tout the effectiveness of the surge strategy and begin to suggest that Iraqis might be re-thinking what is possible in that country. Tonight NBC's Tom Aspell joins us from Baghdad with the view from the Green Zone and a street that was known as one of the most dangerous. Tom?

TOM ASPELL: David, today the U.S. military said there has been a sharp drop in attacks against coalition forces in the last 21 weeks. So today's holiday was almost a celebration. For American soldiers in the war zone far from home, a special day. At Camp Prosperity in Baghdad, Second Brigade First Cavalry, a chance to relax a little with flag football and then move inside for the main event.

COLONEL BRIAN ROBERTS: Come on over here. Let me serve you for a change.

ASPELL: And a chance for Colonel Brian Roberts to show his appreciation to his men, who fought 13 months in some of Baghdad's toughest areas, including the notorious Haifa Street. Until January, al-Qaeda owned it, launching 80 attacks against U.S. forces and murdering 53 Iraqis. Then Cav soldiers and Iraqi army units started fighting back. The fierce street battles went on for 40 days. Major Chris Nouri won a Bronze Star for bravery.

MAJOR CHRIS NOURI: You'd go out and you'd conduct an operation and you'd think, 'Boy, we got it. We got these guys. They're on the ropes.' The very next day, you'd be at it again and again, day after day.

ASPELL: When the fighting ended, Colonel Roberts and his men spent three months going door to door, making friends with frightened residents and reopening schools.

ROBERTS: They got sewer, water, electricity. Looks like, you know, there's some type of trash service here routinely.

ASPELL: Today we see traffic jams where al-Qaeda once saw targets.

ROBERTS: We wouldn't be standing here a year ago. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

ASPELL: In the market, now crowded with shoppers and filled with fresh produce, 60-year-old Daoud Salman is an old friend.

ROBERTS: You are somebody to always look for when I-

ASPELL: The locals call Roberts the godfather because he protects them and gives them jobs. With loans of a few hundred dollars, he's helped kickstart much-needed business.

ROBERTS: There's some beautiful pieces here.

ASPELL: For Roberts and his soldiers, reclaiming Haifa Street has been a mission to be proud of, and a memory to share next Thanksgiving when they are home with their families. A volley of mortar shells hit the Green Zone just minutes after we left this afternoon. The military says there were no coalition casualties, but the attack was a reminder that this fight is far from over.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center