Ingraham vs Main Stream Media:Laura Was Right!

“So is America getting a fair picture of what’s actually happening in Iraq?” asked NBC’s David Gregory.  This was the hook, the lead-in, to a televised segment in which conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham faced off against Democrat consultant James Carville on how the American press has covered the conflict in Iraq.

Ingraham, who whose talk show originated from Iraq February 5 through February 11, asserted that MSM’s monomaniacal obsession with insurgent acts limited Americans knowledge of facts on the ground.

“I think what we’re doing now in Iraq is finally the right thing,” she told the “Today Show” audience.  The Iraqi military is taking over more of the battle space… The Iraqi people are starting businesses across the country, despite all of the threats of reprisals and all of the difficulty. That stands for something.  That should be celebrated and that should be covered.  The IEDs, yeah, cover it.  Cover the bombs, cover the difficulty, but give a broad picture of what’s happening in that country.”

But it was her challenge to Gregory to broadcast from Iraq, as she had, which elicited a media firestorm. “Bring the Today Show to Iraq,” she said.  “Bring the Today Show to Tal Afar.  Do the show from the 4th ID at Camp Victory, and then,… talk to those soldiers on the ground,.. go out with the Iraqi military… talk to the villagers… see the children… [T]o do a show from Iraq means…to actually have a conversation with the people instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off.”

A firestorm erupted, on set and off.  “All this press bashing,” Carville snarled, “this is silliness.  About 80 reporters have died over there.”

The next evening, Keith Obermann roasted Ingraham on MSNCB’s Countdown.  “[T]hat hotel balcony crack was unforgivable,” he opined.  “It was unforgivable to the memory of David Bloom.  It was unforgivable in consideration of Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt.  In was unforgivable in the light of what happened to Michael Kelly and Michael Weiskopt… And it’s not only unforgivable of her, it was desperate and it was stupid.”

But Ingraham is not the first media personality to accuse the MSM of dereliction-of-duty. Ralph Peters, a combat veteran himself, accepts the premise that journalism is a risky business in Iraq. But this, he explains, is part of why it is practiced so poorly.

“The dangerous nature of journalism in Iraq,” he explained in the New York Post (Mar. 14, 2006) “has created a new phenomenon, the all-powerful local stringer.  Unwilling to stray too far from secure facilities and their bodyguards, reporters rely heavily on Iraqi assistance in gathering news.  And Iraqi stringers, some of whom have their own political agendas, long ago figured out that Americans prefer bad news to good news. 

The Iraqi leg-men earn blood money for unbalanced, often-hysterical claims, while the Journalism 101 rule of seeking confirmation from a second source has been discarded in the pathetic race for headlines.”

Daily Dispatch’s own J.D. Johannes, a Marine during the first Gulf war, and a reporter during the second, observed the same tendencies.  At a media briefing at the National Press Club in DC (March 9, 2006), he stated:

“An unconscionable amount of what we in the press have been feeding the American public regarding the war in Iraq is dictated by the propaganda arms of our enemies. Baathist kidnappers and Jihadi bombers are planning their operations not to win the war in Iraq, but to win it in America.  To that end, they are assessing what American reporters are willing to cover, and what American news organizations are willing to risk.  As an immediate result, many of the primary feeds on the nightly news are coming from sources that are either hostile to American arms, or non-professional in their journalistic standards. 

“As a long-term result, the American public is broadly misinformed on a war that Coalition arms and Iraqi democrats are, in fact, winning.”

Peters, in his first hand reporting, found the doom-and-gloom scenarios prevalent in U.S. media to be wildly overstated.  No, he wrote, the insurgency was not winning.  No, the country was not entering a civil war.  No, the reconstruction efforts were not a total failure.  No, U.S. troops were not generally hated. 

“Dependence on the unverified reports of local hires,” he wrote (“Myths of Iraq” – 03/14/06) “has become the dirty secret of semi-celebrity journalism in Iraq as Western journalists succumb to a version of Stockholm Syndrome in which they convince themselves that their Iraqi sources and stringers are exceptions to every failing and foible of the Middle East… While there are and have been any number of courageous, ethical journalists reporting from Iraq, others know little more of the reality of the streets than you do.  They report what they are told by others, not what they have seen themselves.  The result is a distorted, unfair and disheartening picture of a country….”

So there you have it.  Peters and Johannes support Ingraham’s view that the American public is getting a distorted view of American (and Iraqi) progress, while Carville and Obermann contend that blaming the press for the bad news is like shooting the messengers (literally!) for all-too-real bad tidings.

So who is right?  Isn’t this all subjective?

Well, no it is not.   American’s opinions regarding Iraqi security, services, and institutions are not based on our own experiences, but on what we hear and read. It is the Iraqis who have experienced the regime of Saddam, the war, and its aftermath. If the war is achieving (or failing to achieve) stated U.S. goals – an Iraq that is stable democratic, and anti-terrorist – Iraqis will know it first. They live there.

If Americans’ media-based perceptions of coalition progress differ markedly from the Iraqis’ observation-based perceptions, then we are justified in questioning the reportorial objectivity of the main stream media. 

Let’s check it out.

ARE THE INSURGHENTS WINNING?

A recent USA Today/Gallup Poll (Apr. 6-9) reports that 57% of Americans expect the U.S. to lose the war in Iraq, as opposed to 39% who think we’ll win. 

By contrast, Iraqis polled by Oxford Research International believe, 71%-to-9% that the terrorists are losing.  And they believe that their new security forces are primarily responsible for this turn of events.

Nor is the insurgency popular.  WorldPublicOpinion.org records, in a Jan. 2006 survey, that the percentage of Iraqis who strongly approve attacks on coalition troops is 9%; the percentage who strongly disapprove is 18%. Attacks on Iraqi security forces are rejected by a margin of 93%-to-7%.  Attacks on civilians – the principle tactic of the insurgents as of this writing – are disapproved 99%-to-1%.

In Iraq, the insurgency as a popular movement is old news.  It has failed.

ARE SECURITY AND ORDER BEING ESTABLISHED?

A CBS News Poll finds that by 58%-to-41%, Americans believe that U.S. “efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq” are going badly rather than well. 

But as measured by the largest and most scientific surveys, Iraqis believe otherwise.  A 44%-to-38% majority say that security has improved compared to what it was pre-war – i.e., under Saddam.  More impressively, by  77%-to-4%, they expect security to continue to improve in the upcoming year.

Iraqi majorities also recognize improvements in the availability of clean water, medical care, and education.  By 45%-to-29%, they feel safer from crime than they were under Saddam.  And by 43%-to-24%, they believe their overall economic situation has improved.

WILL DEMOCRACY BE ESTABLISHED IN IRAQ?

Asked in a FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll whether or not “there will eventually be a free, stable government in Iraq”, Americans answered in the negative, 55%-to-34%. 

But 74% of Iraqis now support democracy. And they prefer a democratic government – one “with a chance for the leaders to be replaced from time to time through elections – over an Islamic state – “where politicians rule according to religious principles” – by 4-to-1.

WAS THE WAR WORTH IT?

The USA Today/Gallup Poll cited above reports that the American public now believes that the U.S. intervention in Iraq was “a mistake.”

Iraqis think the opposite.  The WorldPublicOpinion.org pollsters asked, “Thinking about any hardships you might have suffered since the US-Britain invasion, do you personally think that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it or not?”  By 77%-to-22%, Iraqis believe the war was “worth it.”  That includes 98% of the majority Shi’ites polled, and 91% of the Kurds.  

In her controversial appearance on the Today Show, Laura Ingraham said, “To do a show from Iraq means to actually have a conversation with the people instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off.”  Because Iraqi insurgents consciously target Western journalists, such conversations are difficult.  But social science NGO’s hold such colloquies routinely, in the form of scientific polling, geographically and demographically sampled to reflect the Iraqi population.  And what they have reported – many of them reluctantly – is that Peters, Johannes, and, yes, Ingraham are essentially correct. 

What Americans are fed by the mainstream media is a cheap, sensationalistic caricature of the truth, reflecting neither U.S. progress toward its war goals, nor the resilient optimism of the Iraqi people.

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