Two years into the Iraq War, The New York Times considers how the press can provide a more "balanced" picture of what's going on inside that country. Seems that more than a few editors have received irate e-mails and phone calls from readers, wondering why Iraq coverage seems so one-sided, and focused on the latest car bombing, or suicide attack.
I'll resist the temptation to answer that one, for at least a moment. Actually, this controvery is hardly new; for the past month or so, Powerline has been documenting the saga of Mark Yost, the Associate Editorial Page Editor of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. In mid-July, Yost wrote a column that has ignited a firestorm in journalistic circles. A navy veteran, Mr. Yost spoke to a number of service members who have recently returned from Iraq, and wondered why their accounts differed so greatly from press coverage of Iraq.
Many of Mr. Yost's fellow journalists openly castigated him for saying such things. One actually said he was "embarassed" to have Yost as a colleague. Others suggested that only the press is capable of "understanding" the situation in Iraq. That might be a stretch, considering the number of embedded journalists has decreased twenty fold since the end of the Iraq War, and some reporters prefer to stay inside the Green Zone. One French newspaper reporter reportedly told her bosses in Paris that she never left her hotel room during her stay in Iraq. So much for the roving eye of an independent press.
But such hysteria is predictable; as a reformed member of the Fourth Estate, I can assure you that journalists are notoriously thin-skilled and smug, a dangerous combination for those entrusted with reporting the news. While quite willing to dish it out, the press has a hard time accepting criticism from anyone, especially another member of the "profession." By MSM standards, Yost's column was treasonous.
But back to our original question: why does the media have a hard time reporting the full story in Iraq? Obviously, there's an agenda at work here. Too many stories about rebuilt schools and stable provinences would undermine the media's over-arching story lne: Iraq is a quagmire; conditions are worse today that they were two years ago, and American soldiers are dying needlessly for a hopeless cause.
In the sense of charity, I will say that there's another problem which affects media coverage--the lack of reporters with prior military experience. Compare the latest AP dispatch from Iraq with the exceptional reporting of blogger Michael Yon, who has been Iraq for almost six months. A former Green Beret, Mr. Yon brings an experienced eye to urban combat, capturing the nuances that evade other reporters. Yon doesn't race from one bombing site to the next; he spends hours on patrol with U.S. soldiers, makes forays into the countryside to talk to Iraqi civilians, providing depth and context you won't find in MSM accounts. And, more amazingly, Yon is doing it on his own dime; he doesn't work for a major media outlet.
For an enterprising editor who wants to improve his paper's Iraq coverage, there is a short-term solution: put Mike Yon on your payroll. But I'm guessing that won't happen. First of all, Mike is an independent sort; I rather doubt he'd sign on with a MSM outlet. Secondly, given the agenda of the MSM in Iraq, there isn't room for more balanced or optimistic reporting. Better stick with the police blotter coverage, and make sure pictures of that next car bombing make tonight's broadcast, or tomorrow morning's bulldog edition.
Meanwhile, members of our military read press reports from Iraq, compare it with their own experiences, and come to the conclusion that the media can't be trusted. The title of Mark Yost's column said it best: "And We Wonder Why They Hate Us."