Wednesday, May 23, 2007

In the Media: When Agents of Death & Mayhem Get All the Press

Earlier this week I blogged about the tendency in the press to characterize Iraq as a "mission impossible" and "let homegrown terrorists and foreign fighters speak for Iraq using car bombs and death squads."

As I posted the blog, I heard the voice of Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero-One (the abrupt, impolite borg crewman on Voyager who always spoke in short declarative sentences) demand: "Where's your data?"

Here’s a list of the 16 top stories on the New York Times Website - Iraq News:

May 23, 2007 - As Comrades Search, Fatal Bomb Wreaks Havoc
May 23, 2007 - Suicide Bomber Kills 15 East of Baghdad (AP)
May 23, 2007 - Democrats Pull Troop Deadline From Iraq Bill
May 23, 2007 - Iraqi Police Say Body in U.S. Uniform Is Found (AP)
May 22, 2007 - Gunmen Kill 5 in Ambush of Minibus in Diyala Province on Day of Scattered Violence in Iraq
May 22, 2007 - Attacks in Sunni Areas in Baghdad Kill at Least 29
May 22, 2007 - Baghdad District Is a Model, but Only for Shiites
May 22, 2007 - War Proposal Still Stymied Despite Talks
May 22, 2007 - Car Bombing in Baghdad Kills 25 (AP)
May 21, 2007 - 7 U.S. Soldiers Die in Iraq, 6 in Sweep of Baghdad
May 20, 2007 - Bombs Imperil U.S. Troops Searching for Captured Comrades
May 20, 2007 - Gunmen in Iraqi Army Uniforms Kill 15 in Eastern Village
May 20, 2007 - U.S. Force Kills Shiite Linked to Deaths of 5 Soldiers
May 19, 2007 - Talks, but No Breakthrough, on Iraq War Spending Measure
May 19, 2007 - Contractor Deaths in Iraq Soar to Record
May 19, 2007 - U.S. Forces Seize 6 Linked to Armor-Piercing Bombs

Since most Americans rarely read past the headlines, I used key words to tally the number of news stories devoted to agents of death and mayhem in Iraq vs. stories about more responsible parties.

Here's the score: 12 points for Suicide Bombers, Gunmen, Bombs, Killing, Imperiled Troops, and Deaths; 3 points for U.S. domestic politics over the emergency spending bill, and (Maestro, can I have a drum roll please…) 1 point for “Model Districts” in Baghdad (although only for Shiites, mind you).

Granted, Iraq is on fire from Mosul to Basra, especially in parts of Baghdad and Diyala provinces, but that does not let the New York Times and news media off-the-hook. The U.S. media ought to be reporting on both the people who are part of the problem as well as the people and events who might be part of the solution.


Emily Stivers said...

It's no wonder Americans have such negative views of Iraq and its people, given where they are getting their information. If all you hear about is the violence, it's reasonable to assume that's all that's going on.

The reality is that an extreme minority of Iraqis are violent or support violence, and many more risk their lives trying to build peace.

It's easy to say "violence sells papers," but remember how many hero stories we heard after Sept. 11th? Yes it may put Iraqis in danger to report on their successes, but the mainstream media isn't even trying.

Anonymous said...

Too much "good news" works FOR the Bush Admin & justifies our presence. How to walk this tightrope is the question.

Anonymous said...

Sure but you don't want people to think, oh well, everything is peachy now, either.

The reason people want to get out of there is because of the bad news, it's just that simple. If the general public isn't in an uproar (bad news)Bush gets to do what he wants.

Emily Stivers said...

Actually, if you think about it, that doesn't make a lot of sense. If the reality in Iraq is NOT all violence and bloodshed, wouldn't Bush have a tougher time justifying the presence of U.S. troops? I'd say the media is inadvertently feeding his cause with all this negativity, if anything.

But we at EPIC aren't concerned with taking political sides, and we're not primarily concerned with when troops should be withdrawn (so long as it's done responsibly). We just want you to know the truth about Iraq and its people, and regardless of whose interests it serves, the fact is the situation is not as bleak as the media wants you to think.

Anonymous said...

I just love the fact that you used Star Trek to make your point.

Anonymous said...

Sorry you don't get what I'm trying to say. Some people like seeing the world through rosy colored glasses!

Anonymous said...

I think I get what anon is trying to say only at this point, it hardly matters any more. We need to hear both sides, good and bad.

Erik K. Gustafson said...

Punishing the big "W" should not trump urgent national interests. Among them, finding a way to not simply end "our involvement" in the war, but to end it. Beyond the lives of U.S. service members and future generations, the lives of millions of Iraqis, the stability of the region, and international security are all at stake. We need leadership in Washington right now to do what's necessary for an Iraqi Dayton Accords solution and international aid package that can decisively end the war and begins to finally address the instability that comes with massive displacement and unemployment.

Anonymous said...

Did you just chastize the media for focusing on the violence in Iraq and then follow it up with "Granted, Iraq is on fire from Mosul to Basra"? You need an editor. What happened to the one you were using about three years ago? He was some kind of guardian angel. Or at least a rickety old set of training wheels.

And this post just reminds me of why you need to restart the old "Best Articles of the Month" or whatever it was called. Walk the walk!

Erik K. Gustafson said...

Re: Anonymous (above)

Thanks for the feedback. It sounds like you are a veteran subscriber of EPIC dispatches (our emails). Email us directly at if you have more suggestions about EPIC's communications. I agree with you about the "Best Links" feature that we maintained for years. It was a great service for serious Iraq observers. However keep in mind that since we get a lot of suggestions, those that come from EPIC subscribers carry more weight than "anonymous."

Re: my blog, acknowledging the level of violence does not contradict the thrust of my argument. The issue is not that the media reports on violence. As I wrote, the issue is: The U.S. media ought to be reporting on BOTH the people who are part of the problem as well as the people and events who might be part of the solution.

Future "In the Media" blogs will flesh this out further, identify additional problems with U.S. press coverage of Iraq (including the challenge of reporting from a conflict zone where both the reporter and identiefied sources are at risk), and offer ideas about how the media can provide a fuller picture of Iraq from national politics in Baghdad to local challenges in cities like Kirkuk. Until then, I recommend you read our more recent blogs about Iraqi peacebuilders and our new Ground Truth interview with Hala al-Saraf. More is coming soon...

Clicky Web Analytics