Newsweek's Man in Baghdad: Iraq Is 'Doomed,' Bush 'Manages the News'

Rod Nordland, the chief foreign correspondent for Newsweek magazine and their Baghdad bureau chief from 2003 to 2005, gave an interview to Foreign Policy magazine in which he declared that "It's a lot worse over here [in Iraq] than is reported. The administration does a great job of managing the news." He claimed individual reporters have been "blacklisted" because the military wasn't happy with their stories while they were embedded. He also suggested many in the military don't want to see how awful it is in Iraq because they're wishful thinkers, they don't want to see a "doomed enterprise," and are "victims of their own propaganda."

(If you guessed that the Left was thrilled by Nordland's remarks, you'd be right. I found it as the top headline at Buzzflash.com, a seriously Bush-hating left-wing site.)

When asked if Americans were getting an accurate picture of Iraq, Nordland began:

It’s a lot worse over here [in Iraq] than is reported. The administration does a great job of managing the news. Just an example: There was a press conference here about [Abu Musab al] Zarqawi’s death, and somebody asked what role [U.S.] Special Forces played in finding Zarqawi. [The official] either denied any role or didn’t answer the question. Somebody pointed out that the president, half an hour earlier, had already acknowledged and thanked the Special Forces for their involvement. They are just not giving very much information here.

Foreign Policy: The Bush administration often complains that the reporting out of Iraq is too negative, yet you say they are managing the news. What’s the real story?

Nordland: You can only manage the news to a certain degree. It is certainly hard to hide the fact that in the third year of this war, Iraqis are only getting electricity for about 5 to 10 percent of the day. Living conditions have gotten so much worse, violence is at an even higher tempo, and the country is on the verge of civil war. The administration has been successful to the extent that most Americans are not aware of just how dire it is and how little progress has been made. They keep talking about how the Iraqi army is doing much better and taking over responsibilities, but for the most part that’s not true.

When asked how often reporters get out of the "Green Zone," Nordland said restrictions are "very severe," and the military doesn't tolerate criticism well:

But the military has started censoring many [embedded reporting] arrangements. Before a journalist is allowed to go on an embed now, [the military] check[s] the work you have done previously. They want to know your slant on a story—they use the word slant—what you intend to write, and what you have written from embed trips before. If they don’t like what you have done before, they refuse to take you. There are cases where individual reporters have been blacklisted because the military wasn’t happy with the work they had done on embed. But we get out among the Iraqi public a whole lot more than almost any American official, certainly more than military officials do.

The brief interview concluded with an iniquiry into whether "journalists and the military seeing two different pictures in Iraq." Nordland said yes, the military people are deluding themselves:

Sometimes it’s hard to say. Many in the military are here on their second or third tour and they don’t want to feel that this is all a doomed enterprise. I’m not saying it is, but to some extent they are victims of their own propaganda. Two reasonable people can look at the same set of information and come to different conclusions. A good example: I traveled recently to Taji for the handover of a large swath of territory north of Baghdad to the Iraqi Army’s 9th Armored Division. This was meant to be a big milestone: an important chunk of territory that has lots of insurgent activity, given over completely to the control of the Iraqi Army. But when we spoke to the Iraqi Army officers, they said they didn’t have enough equipment. They are still completely dependent on the U.S. Army for their logistics, their meals, and a lot of their communications. The United States turned territory over to them, but they are not a functioning, independent army unit yet.

This is really nothing new for Nordland. He was strenuously comparing Iraq to Vietnam as a Keith Olbermann guest in 2004. In the summer of 2003, he insisted on NBC that "thoughtful, better educated" Iraqis would not kill Saddam, but put him on trial. As if the media would cover that fairly.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis