CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Asks “Are Media Turning Against War in Iraq?”

Howard Kurtz of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” (hat tip to Crooks and Liars) spent a lot of time Sunday addressing the firestorm started this week by radio host Laura Ingraham over negative media reports out of Iraq. One of Kurtz’s guests was Lara Logan of CBS who was clearly not pleased with these assertions. In fact, Logan, reporting from Iraq, appeared rather defensive (video link to follow).

Kurtz began the show:

“Souring on the war. As President Bush goes toe to toe with White House reporters, are news organizations turning against the war in Iraq? Are they focusing almost exclusively on the car bombings and mosque attacks and brushing aside signs of progress? Three years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, are they playing to the opinion polls with skeptical, even hostile coverage, or is the administration just blaming the messenger.”

After a few video clips of the president and vice president, Kurtz said to Logan: “Bush and Cheney essentially seem to be accusing you and your colleagues of carrying the terrorist message by reporting on so many of these attacks. What do you make of that?”

Logan responded: “Well, I think that's -- that is a very convenient way of looking at it.” Logan then blamed the lack of balance in Iraq media reports on security issues:

“And also, as -- I mean, what I would point out is that you can't travel around this country anymore without military protection. You can't travel without armed guards. You're not free to go every time there's a school opening or there's some reconstruction project that's being done.”

In fact, she implied that there is good news out there, but, “We don't have the ability to go out and cover those.” In effect, the reason why people like her can’t report good news that exists is due to the lack of security. So, since they can’t get to where the good news is, they just report the bad news: “If they want to see a fair picture of what's happening in Iraq, then you have to first start with the security issue.”

Her blame game continued: “When journalists are free to move around this country, then they will be free to report on everything that's going on. But as long as you're a prisoner of the terrible security situation here, then that's going to be reflected in your coverage.”

Logan continued with this position while effecting a somewhat cantankerous “us and them” perspective between reporters and the administration (emphasis mine):

“And not only that, but their own figures show that their reconstruction project was supposed to create 1.5 million Iraqi jobs. To date, 77,000 Iraqi government jobs have been created. That should give you an indication of how far along they are in terms of reconstruction.”

Kurtz wasn’t buying it, and adroitly threw some of the blame right back at Logan citing some of her own recent reports:

“There is no question that the dangerous conditions for journalists there are making it much harder to report on some of these signs of progress, as you point out. But I look at just the last couple of weeks of your coverage. Besides covering the Saddam trial, you reported on allegations that U.S. troops had killed a group of civilians. Then you reported an attack on a police station, the bombing of a police convoy, you talked about the threat of a civil war. All legitimate stories. But critics would say, well, no wonder people back home think things are falling apart because we get this steady drumbeat of negativity from the correspondents there.”

This clearly didn’t sit well with Logan, who then enunciated what are likely her true feelings on the subject letting slip what is clearly responsible for the negative bias in most of her reports: “Well, who says things aren't falling apart in Iraq?” Well, judging from your reports, Lara, you certainly aren’t…and that is the point.

Finally, Kurtz showed Logan the video of Laura Ingraham on the “Today” show from earlier in the week. Logan’s response: “Well, I think it's outrageous. I mean, Laura Ingraham should come to Iraq and not be talking about what journalists are doing from the comfort of her studio in the United States, the comfort and the safety.”

Kurtz countered: “I do want to point out that Laura Ingraham was in Iraq last month for eight days, and that was part of the reason for her appearance.”

Yes it was, Howard…a point that is clearly lost on Logan and others in the media. 

What follows is a full transcript of this segment and a video link.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Souring on the war. As President Bush goes toe to toe with White House reporters, are news organizations turning against the war in Iraq? Are they focusing almost exclusively on the car bombings and mosque attacks and brushing aside signs of progress? Three years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, are they playing to the opinion polls with skeptical, even hostile coverage, or is the administration just blaming the messenger.

We'll ask CBS's Laura Logan, White House and Pentagon reporters, and commentators Bill Bennett and Bill Press.

Plus, women who run from the press or play to the cameras.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today from Baghdad to here at home we turn our critical lens on this charge: that the media are providing a distorted picture on Iraq.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney launched an all-out blitz to sell their policy this week, and the media's tendency to focus on the violence in Iraq was part of their message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Perception, if you will, that's created because what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad. It's not all the work that went on that day in 15 other provinces in terms of making progress towards rebuilding Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Footage of children playing or shops opening and people resuming their normal lives will never be as dramatic as the footage of an IED explosion.

They're capable of blowing up innocent life so it ends up on your TV show.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And joining us now from Baghdad is Laura Logan, chief foreign correspondent for CBS News.

Welcome.

Lara Logan, you just heard the president and the vice president.

LARA LOGAN, CBS NEWS: Thank you for having me.

KURTZ: Thank you.

Bush and Cheney essentially seem to be accusing you and your colleagues of carrying the terrorist message by reporting on so many of these attacks. What do you make of that?

LOGAN: Well, I think that's -- that is a very convenient way of looking at it. It doesn't reflect the value judgment that's implicit in that.

As a journalist, if an American soldier or an Iraqi person dies that day, you have to make a decision about how you weigh the value of reporting that news over the value of something that may be happening, say, a water plant that's being turned on that brings fresh water to 200 Iraqi people. I mean, you get accused of valuing human life in a certain way depending on how you report it.

And also, as -- I mean, what I would point out is that you can't travel around this country anymore without military protection. You can't travel without armed guards. You're not free to go every time there's a school opening or there's some reconstruction project that's being done.

We don't have the ability to go out and cover those. If they want to see a fair picture of what's happening in Iraq, then you have to first start with the security issue.

When journalists are free to move around this country, then they will be free to report on everything that's going on. But as long as you're a prisoner of the terrible security situation here, then that's going to be reflected in your coverage.

And not only that, but their own figures show that their reconstruction project was supposed to create 1.5 million Iraqi jobs. To date, 77,000 Iraqi government jobs have been created. That should give you an indication of how far along they are in terms of reconstruction.

We have to put everything in its context. We can't go to one small unit and say, oh, they did a great job in this village and ignore all the other villages that haven't seen any improvement in their conditions.

KURTZ: There is no question that the dangerous conditions for journalists there are making it much harder to report on some of these signs of progress, as you point out. But I look at just the last couple of weeks of your coverage. Besides covering the Saddam trial, you reported on allegations that U.S. troops had killed a group of civilians. Then you reported an attack on a police station, the bombing of a police convoy, you talked about the threat of a civil war. All legitimate stories. But critics would say, well, no wonder people back home think things are falling apart because we get this steady drumbeat of negativity from the correspondents there.

LOGAN: Well, who says things aren't falling apart in Iraq? I mean, what you didn't see on your screens this week was all the unidentified bodies that have been turning up, all the allegations here of militias that are really controlling the security forces.

What about all the American soldiers that died this week that you didn't see on our screens? I mean, we've reported on reconstruction stories over and over again, but the order to (ph) general for Iraqi reconstruction says that only 49 of well over 100 planned electricity projects happened.

So we can't keep doing the same stories over and over again. When a police station's attacked, that's something new that happened this week. If you had any idea of the number of Iraqis that come to us with stories of abuses of U.S. soldiers and you look at our coverage over the last -- my coverage over the last few weeks, or even over the last three years, there's been maybe two or three stories that have related to that.

So, I mean, we have to do the stories that when we've tested them and tested them and checked all our sources, and that they are legitimate stories on that day, that that is the biggest news coming out of Iraq, then that's what we have to do.

KURTZ: So what you're saying...

LOGAN: I mean, I really resent the fact that people say that we're not reflecting the true picture here. That's totally unfair and it's really unfounded.

KURTZ: So what you're saying is that what we see on the "CBS Evening News" or other networks actually is only a snapshot, is only perhaps scratching the surface of the kinds of violence and difficulties that you are witnessing day after day because you can only get so much of this on the air?

LOGAN: Oh, yes. Absolutely. And, I mean, our own -- you know, our own editors back in New York are asking us the same things.

They read the same comments. You know, are there positive stories? Can't you find them?

You don't think that I haven't been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let's see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on? Oh, sorry, we can't take to you that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked about, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack.

Oh, sorry, we can't show this reconstruction project because then that's going to expose it to sabotage. And the last time we had journalists down here, the plant was attacked.

I mean, security dominates every single thing that happens in this country. Reconstruction funds have been diverted to cover away from reconstruction to -- they've been diverted to security.

Soldiers, their lives are occupied most of the time with security issues. Iraqi civilians' lives are taken up most of the time with security issues.

So how it is that security issues should not then dominate the media coverage coming out of here?

KURTZ: I want to play for you a piece of tape involving Laura Ingraham, the conservative radio talk show how who was on "The Today Show" earlier this week and criticized "The Today Show" for not doing more from Iraq.

Let's listen to what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: To do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military, to go out with the Iraqi military, to actually have a conversation with the people instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: What do you make of that comment about reporting from hotel balconies?

LOGAN: Well, I think it's outrageous. I mean, Laura Ingraham should come to Iraq and not be talking about what journalists are doing from the comfort of her studio in the United States, the comfort and the safety.

I mean, I don't know any journalist that wants to just sit in a hotel room in Iraq. Does anybody understand that for us we used to be able to drive to Ramadi, we used to drive to Falluja, we used to drive to Najaf. We could travel all over this country without having to fly in military helicopters.

That's the only way we can move around here. So, it's when the military can accommodate us, if the military can accommodate us, then we can go out and see.

I have been out with Iraqi security forces over and over again. And you know what? When bob Woodruff was out with Iraqi security forces and he was injured, the first thing that people were asking was, oh, was he being responsible by placing himself in this position with Iraqi forces? And they started to question his responsibility and integrity as a journalist.

I mean, we just can't win. I think it's an outrage to point the finger at journalists and say that this is our fault. I really do. And I think it shows an abject lack of respect for any journalist that's prepared to come to this country and risk their lives.

KURTZ: All right. I do...

LOGAN: And that's not just me. That's the crews, that's all the people that make up our teams here.

KURTZ: I do want to point out that Laura Ingraham was in Iraq last month for eight days, and that was part of the reason for her appearance.

Video Link

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.