As a reformed broadcaster, I still check in on my former business (from time to time) by visiting TV Shoptalk, a site devoted to television news. Among today's articles posted on the website, there's an editorial from the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, rebutting President Bush's recent criticism of media coverage of the War in Iraq.
One sure method for getting journalists riled up is to accuse them of being biased, getting a story wrong, or both. And that's essentially what Mr. Bush did last week, noting that the ground truth in Iraq is often far different than what media outlets report. The Journal claims that President Bush's charges are nothing more than "another phony attack on the media," and it quickly resorts to sophomoric reasoning in trying to make its case:
We've got several questions to ask these two who led us into this poorly planned, unjustified and costly war:
How many Bush insiders have died in Iraq? None; but at least 67 journalists have died covering the initial fighting and the insurgency.
Has either Cheney or Rumsfeld been injured in Iraq? No, but dozens of journalists have, including the ABC-TV anchor Bob Woodruff.
And who among the war's Washington-based architects has been taken hostage in Iraq? No one. But many journalists have, including Jill Carroll of The Christian Science Monitor, who remains in captivity.
Predictably, the editorial writers at the Journal ignore some salient facts. If you define "Bush insiders" as the President, his cabinet, and senior administration officials, then it is true--none have died in Iraq. But the days of a President or King leading his forces into battle ended centuries ago; (apparently they missed that news flash in Winston-Salem). By the paper's logic--and I use that term loosely--every President since the Mexican-American War is guilty of the same crime, since they and their cronies failed to lead our troops into combat.
It is also true that dozens of journalists have been injured or killed covering the war. To the Journal, this is a badge of honor, proof that members of the fourth estate are willing to risk all to get the story. Okay, but how many of those reporters were forced to go to Iraq? None that I'm aware of. They volunteered for the job, just as the men and women of our military. Reporters understood the danger they faced in Iraq, and went there to do their jobs. I commend them for that, but only to a point. Most journalists don't spend days on end in combat, getting shot at or facing the hazards of IEDs. In fact, some do much of their reporting from the relative safety of the Green Zone, or the balcony of a secure hotel. So much for courage under fire.
As for Ms. Carroll, I applaud her courage and wish only for her safe return. But like other journalists, she knew the risks involved and accepted them. But that doesn't make her morally superior to our political and military leaders in Washington. The Journal's argument is the same sort of convoluted logic that gives Cindy Sheehan a free pass in her nut-job rants about Iraq. Because her son died in Iraq, Ms. Sheehan has an authority and gravitas that none of us can match. So if she says that the U.S. is run by a Jewish-led cabal (an assertion Ms. Sheehan made last summer), why, she must be correct and we can't challenge her her wisdom and authority.
The Journal's litmus test on Iraq begs an obvious question: if genuine knowledge and expertise can only be conferred by those reporting on the ground in Iraq, then how many of the paper's reporters and editorial writers have reported from Baghdad? To match the credibility of a Jill Carroll or bob Woodruff, you would think that the paper needs to shuttle its entire staff to Tikrit, Tal Afar, or Mosul. I'm guessing that few reporters from the Journal have been to Iraq, and probably none of their editorial writers. Hypocrisy is alive and well in the offices of the Winston-Salem Journal.
And that brings us back to Mr. Bush's recent assertion, that the press is getting it wrong in Iraq. Military analyst Ralph Peters (a retired U.S. Army intelligence officer) recently returned from Baghdad, and wrote a lengthy op-ed for Real Clear Politics that offered a long list of media distortions and inaccuracies. Incidentally, Peters spent one day during his visit criss-crossing Baghdad almost two dozen times, escorted by only a single Army officer. I haven't heard of a single reporter duplicating that feat, despite the fact that many travel with their own bodyguards.
What's missing in much of the press reporting from Iraq is any sense of balance or perspective. Covering the carnage from the latest IED explosion, it's easy to ignore the fact that half of all IEDs are now found and cleared before they can be detonated, and that the number of terrorist attacks (and U.S. casualties) is on the decline. That's exactly the kind of story the American public needs to see, but it's all but absent in the MSM, including a certain paper in North Carolina.
Journalists who report from combat zones should be lauded for their courage. But that doesn't excuse them from reporting all sides of the story, and offering a little balance and perspective in their coverage.