The Negative Media Filter In Iraq

Most of the American press (and for that matter the British press) have done an abysmal job of covering what’s going on Iraq. What’s my beef with their coverage? Well, before I get into that, let me show you what quality coverage looks like. Here’s StrategyPage on what’s happening in Iraq as of May 9th…

“May 9, 2004: Gunmen loyal to Muqtada al Sadr are getting nervous, as public support, which was never very strong to begin with, turns to public hate. American troops have been arresting leaders of al Sadr’s militia throughout the Shia areas of Iraq in the last few days. In most cases, the al Sadr gunmen flee rather than fight to protect their leaders. Some al Sadr men in Basra tried to seize more government buildings, but were driven off by British troops and chased back to residential areas where gunfire could be heard for hours. The strategy appears to be that the Shia leadership (civil and religious) will continue negotiating with al Sadr for his surrender, while coalition troops dismantle the al Sadr militias that have sprang up in many Shia neighborhoods. One good thing that has come out of the al Sadr experience is to convince many Iraqis that the independent militias are a bad thing. While it can be thrilling, at first, to march through the streets behind a bunch of young guys with guns, it soon turns ugly when the guys with guns start to throw their weight around and turn into capricious bullies.

Fallujah, which had become a refuge for all manner of Baath Party and anti-government gunmen and terrorists, is still blockaded by American marines. Patrols by the security forces recruited locally have gone on without much fuss. But the various gangs are still in and around the city. The Iraqi “Fallujah Brigade” apparently will not go looking for gunmen, but will just confront those who openly disturb the peace. Meanwhile, the gangs will use Fallujah as a base for attacks on coalition convoys and bases. The marines feel they may still have to go in and deal with the gangs. Eventually, someone, either from the coalition or Iraq, will have to kill or disarm the various Sunni, terrorist and criminal gangs in the Fallujah region. While the coalition would prefer that the Iraqis do it, there is a real fear that an Iraqi army, ordered in by an elected (by the majority Shia and Kurd) government, would simply level the city, with great loss of civilian life.

The violence by Sunni and Shia gangs has caused about 30 percent of non-Iraqi aid workers to leave since April. They have been replaced by Iraqis. This is very popular with Iraqis, who see unemployment as a major problem and were dismayed at the number of foreigners who were brought in to do jobs that most Iraqis thought Iraqis could handle. There have been few, practically none, losses among the 6,000 Iraqis already working on reconstruction. This is despite the threats, and sometimes physical violence, by Baath Party thugs. Despite the headlines by the foreign press, most of Iraq has been quiet for the past few months. The Sunni Arabs were hostile to the coalition from the beginning, and foreign reporters could always get a colorful anti-coalition quote or demonstration by just going to a Sunni neighborhood and looking for Saddam supporters. There was, and is, real fear in these neighborhoods. But not fear of coalition troops, but of the Shia and Kurd troops that will appear with the coalition soldiers leave. This story angle is rarely pursued by the media. But the troops in Iraq know all about it, as it’s a matter of life and death to know which neighborhoods are pro-Baath Party, and which ones are not.”

Note that this isn’t all glowing, positive, news. There’s a mixture of good, of bad, and there’s context. Quite frankly, you can learn more about what’s going on in Iraq from reading these 3 paragraphs than you could from reading the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, watching CNN, watching NBC, ABC, CBS — all of them put together.

Why is that? Why can’t the mainstream media seem to give any context? There are several reasons why the press can’t or won’t give the public the straight story about whats really going on in Iraq…

1) Some members of the media see every war as Vietnam redux. When you start out with a basic assumption of “we can’t win no matter what we do,” it taints every article you put out.

2) Many people, particularly on the left, simply don’t believe brown skinned Muslims can build a Democracy. This is part of the reason why the Abu Ghraib pics are big news / Israel is savagely condemned while ongoing torture around the Middle-East / Palestinian suicide bombers are treated as yawners. The attitude is “What do you expect from people like that? Asking them to act like civilized human beings is more than we can expect!” The soft bigotry of low expectations makes the press expect failure.

3) Although it has become taboo to admit this, a large percentage of people on the left DETEST the military. They think of them as gun toting, conservative, AmeriNazis. However, they know that the American people strongly support the troops. So through gritted teeth they say they too “support the troops” while they look for ways to undermine them at every opportunity in the articles they write.

4) A large portion of the left hates America. The Noam Chomsky, Ted Rall, Michael Moore set genuinely thinks the US is an oppressive, evil, corporate juggernaut running roughshod over the rest of the planet. So any victory for America, is a victory for the “bad guys”. Again, they can’t be too blunt about it because although it won’t hurt them on the left, this sort of thinking is anathema to most Americans and they’ll immediately tune out if they hear it. So again, the “mainstream media” types who feel this way keep it quiet but slant the news to express their beliefs.

5) Last but not least, there are a lot of members of the mainstream media who want George Bush to lose in November and they’ll do everything they can to make that happen. They do this in part by picking which stories are page 1 day after day (Ex: Claims that George Bush was ‘AWOL’) and which stories get buried (Ex: John Kerry’s first purple heart was fixed with a band-aid, John Kerry attended a VVAW meeting where assassinating US Senators was voted on). With this group, it’s all about gotcha politics and Iraq is just another political tool for them to use.

The problem with all of this is that the media is so biased that they’ve essentially allowed themselves to become the most powerful weapon in our enemy’s arsenals. The Al Sadrs and Al-Qaedas can’t actually beat us or make Democracy in Iraq impossible, but they don’t have to. They just have to get their unwitting — for the most part — allies in the press to convince the American people they can’t be defeated and they win by default.

In reality, most of the war news you’re seeing in the mainstream media has more do with things like what the people reporting it think about Vietnam or how much they hate Bush, than what’s actually happening in Iraq — and that’s too bad.

***Update #1***: Also, note this update from StrategyPage on Abu Ghraib…

“Moreover, you have many Iraqi Shia and Kurds who see these pictures and react quite differently. The Shia and Kurds not only understand that the prisoners are suspected Baath Party members, but will often comment that they should “all be killed.” Eventually, an elected Iraqi government is going to have to take care of the anti-government (mainly Sunni Arab) violence. An Iraqi government dominated by Shia and Kurds, with memories of millions of their kinsmen murdered, tortured or otherwise abused by the Sunni Arabs, will have to muster enormous restraint to avoid much uglier incidents of violence against prisoners. The US wants to hold the elections, and let the Iraqis sort it out themselves. But there is some unease about what the Shia and Kurds will do to these still violent Sunnis.”

Interestingly enough, you can see just the sort of reaction SP talks about there in a story done by the Seattle Post Intelligencer about Iraqi-AMERICANS. But, why isn’t the mainstream media talking about this sort of very relevant reaction in Iraq? Because it would hurt their Vietnam comparison or Bush bashing memes? It’s pathetic, just pathetic…

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