Debating the War And The Media With Rich Lowry
Richard Lowry wrote an article that takes conservatives to task for attacking the mainstream media over its coverage of the war in Iraq. Ed Morrissey over at Captains Quarters agrees with Lowry for the most part, adding some advice for bloggers not to become so paranoid that they fail to discriminate between biased news and good reporting.
I agree with both articles on many points. Not all coverage of the war is biased and the media certainly shouldn't ignore bad news on the war effort for the sake of presenting a picture that isn't true. But there is a difference between reporting the news and being an advocate for a political party that stands to gain if the "opposition party" fails in the effort to win the war. Objectivity is thrown out the window when this happens and good news is simply ignored.
Eventually, a war that is covered from the perspective that "no good news is good news" is doomed for failure. It's hard to rally around an effort that has been vilified from the get go and the global media has a big stick.
Lowry framed his thesis in these terms from the beginning.
First Lady Laura Bush spoke for many conservatives when she excoriated the media’s coverage of Iraq the other day. She complained that “the drumbeat in the country from the media … is discouraging,” and said “there are a lot of good things happening that aren’t covered.”
What are those things, one wonders? One can only imagine how Mrs. Bush can figure that they outweigh the horrors in Iraq . The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that more than 1.6 million Iraqis have fled the country, about 7 percent of the population. But that means that an overwhelming 93 percent haven’t left. Why doesn’t the liberal media ever report that? About 120 Iraqis are killed per day, nearly 4,000 a month. But most are still living. Couldn’t one of the morning shows do a soft feature on this heartwarming fact?
Lowry is correct; Mrs. Bush does speak for many conservatives. But he then falls into the same trap that he accuses conservatives of doing, he approaches the issue as if there is a single line that separates the good from the bad in both progress, or lack thereof, in the war in Iraq and the way the media covers it.
But he asks the essential question in doing so. What are those good things that have been happening in Iraq?
This is the problem that I am confronted with. If we simply relied on the mainstream media to report good news on the war effort then we would never know. Two passages from Lowry’s article underscore this point. I will combine them for clarity because they stand on their own.
Most of the pessimistic warnings from the mainstream media have turned out to be right — that the initial invasion would be the easy part, that seeming turning points (the capture of Saddam, the elections, the killing of Zarqawi) were illusory, that the country was dissolving into a civil war.
The “good news” that conservatives have accused the media of not reporting has generally been pretty weak. The Iraqi elections were indeed major accomplishments. But the opening of schools and hospitals is not particularly newsworthy, at least not compared with American casualties and with sectarian attacks meant to bring Iraq down around everyone’s heads in a full-scale civil war. An old conservative chestnut has it that only four of Iraq’s 18 provinces are beset by violence. True, but those provinces include 40 percent of the population, as well as the capital city, where the battle over the country’s future is being waged.
If we think back to how the mainstream media covered these events we can see that these “good news” stories were covered with the same pessimistic approach that lent to the medias’ bad rap in the first place.
It’s not that they didn’t cover these stories; that wasn’t the problem. It’s that they covered these stories from a mindset that was hellbent on framing any victory as a losing proposition - one that was always attached to a detracting rebuttal. "Yeah But" was expected as a course of political strategy and the media obliged.
I need not repeat the bad news because I have heard it time and time again – including that 40% of Iraqis live in the 4 provinces with the most violence. The media covered this aspect of the story and was correct to do so. But the media was loathe to cover that 60% of the country was living in relative calm (as compared to the most violent part of Iraq). That was not a context I recall reading about, if anything it was a sub-context, a mere springboard to talk about what was going wrong, not what was going right.
The capture of Zarqawi in particular was downplayed by the very media that played up his importance right until his death. The Iraqi elections were never really held up as a victory for democracy even though American’s fail to come out and vote when the biggest danger is getting hit by a car while crossing the street to the polling place.
So I did what many people did, I turned to other sources of news, bloggers such as Michael Yon, families of soldiers and conservative talk radio reporters who have been to Iraq such as Laura Ingraham. They covered the stories that the mainstream media simply ignored.
It has often been repeated that wars are won and lost in the hearts and minds of the people. It would be wrong to treat this statement as a trite cliche because it is true. So while Lowry wonders about the lack of good news to report from Iraq I wonder if there couldn’t have been more good news had the media gotten behind the war effort in the first place.
Terry Trippany writes about politics at Webloggin.