Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Covering Iraq

Whether or not you agree with a soldier whose served in Iraq, you at least know that they have some real experience that backs up their opinion. But do the rest of us really know what's going on over there? Not if we're listening to politicians and pundits who report back on conditions "on the ground" in Iraq, at least according to Jonathan Finer (via Kevin Drum):

It goes without saying that everyone can, and in this country should, have an opinion about the war, no matter how much time the person has spent in Iraq, if any. But having left a year ago, I've stopped pretending to those who ask that I have a keen sense of what it's like on the ground today. Similarly, those who pass quickly through the war zone should stop ascribing their epiphanies to what are largely ceremonial visits.

Sig Christenson says something similar, and he complains about the unwillingness or inability of the media to cover the "real" Iraq:

That’s pretty much what happened when Sen. John McCain, fresh from touring a Baghdad market, suggested that we war correspondents haven’t reported the good news in Iraq.

I was in Baghdad the day he toured the market and knew better. Of course, it wasn’t anything new in the propaganda war for right-wing hearts and minds but it was so laughable.

Republican Rep. Mike Pence likened the place to “a normal outdoor market in Indiana,” his home state.

No Iraqi could be any further from Indiana. And nothing in Iraq is normal, except death. I blew a gasket in my Green Zone compound. It wasn’t just that these politicians were trying to turn the media into Swiss cheese again. It wasn’t that they were shamelessly trying to score points with their base. Nope, it was their galling dishonesty.

Critics of journalists, most of them from the right, like to say we haven’t told the “good news” of Iraq. You often see Internet missives depicting photos of U.S. soldiers helping Iraqis with a caption somewhere saying, “You won’t see this in the mainstream media.” The left, of course, blasts us as well for being an administration lapdog.

The biggest problem isn’t that reporters aren’t telling all those good stories that make you feel warm and happy about the war, but that the corps of journalists is too small. If there were more reporters in Iraq, you might well see more happy news amid the bombings, massacres and offensives. You also would see more misery – broken homes, refugees, widows, orphans, crime and poverty so crushing it takes your breath away. As it stands, reporting in Iraq is simply too dangerous and expensive for most news organizations.

So there you go. The politicians conduct "dog and pony shows" and there are so few reporters on the ground that not only can they not cover the good news, they can't cover all of the misery that exists in Iraq.

Of course, Arabic reporters have an easier time of it moving around on the ground in Iraq, which is why I like to read Juan Cole and Marc Lynch, both of whom follow Arabic media reports on Iraq. It's not that I don't trust our media or don't think that they're trying (and Lord knows Iraqi stringers get killed trying to get stories on a regular basis) but the story of Iraq as told through the Arabic media is, from my impressions at least, more..."complete."

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