September 24, 2008

The Iraq War: Where Did the Media Go?

by Anthony Bouselli

The United States has been at war in Iraq for the last five years, but you wouldn't be able to tell by the media coverage of the war today. All coverage of the war has seemed to stop after the surge, ignoring the stabilization of Iraq.

Starting with the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, the media provided nonstop coverage of the war. The "Shock and Awe" campaign provided dramatic, action movie type spectacles of the American military fighting the weak Iraqi forces. American casualties had been extremely light and on May 1, 2003 President George Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" aboard the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The Iraqi army of Saddam Hussein had fallen and the coalition forces were in control of Iraq. It was time to rebuild the country into a democracy. America was headed in a good direction and media coverage was consistent and positive.

Shortly after Saddam's military was defeated, Iraq erupted into civil war. The country was torn apart by sectarian violence and America was caught in the middle of a war it wasn't prepared to fight. As debts and casualties began building, the war quickly became partisan and the media coverage transformed into skepticism and criticism of the Bush administration and the war.

As war politics polarized, the media coverage became more and more cynical. No longer was the mainstream media reporting the good things happening in Iraq. Instead, on the evening news one could only find reports on suicide bombers destroying checkpoints, the casualty count, and how funds were being misused.

In 2007, the Bush administration appointed General David Petraeus as the commanding general of the forces in Iraq. In lieu of this promotion came the troop surge: a deployment of 20,000 more American troops to Iraq. The media and general public fueled an outcry against the Bush administration's decision to send more of "our boys" off to war. The surge sparked an enormous political debate and greatly divided the country from Congress to the classroom.

The surge worked. Period. Violence in Iraq has plummeted and major tribal leaders have agreed to support American efforts. Iraq has come around, but where is the media coverage? Do the media not feel the need to report upon the tremendous progress made there over the last months? The media rightly reported the American casualties, suicide bombings, and chaos; but the media also have a duty to report the good things happening in Iraq. Schools have opened, which girls are now allowed to attend. Women walk the streets without veils. Markets and stores are doing business. There are free elections with massive voter turnout. Iraq has a functioning and democratic government.

The four main media networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX, have far fewer reporters in Iraq today than they did as little as one year ago. As of July 2008, there were only 59 reporters imbedded with the troops in Iraq as compared to the 193 reporters there prior to the surge at the peak of the violence (Those figures are from Kevin Mooney of the right-wing blog CNSNews). I suppose there is more profit in smearing a war than reporting its progress.

I talk as an average American, a casual observer of the media. I try to stay well informed by watching the news and listening to the radio. The majority of what I've been fed these past years has been negative coverage of the war. The four main media networks are guilty of having biases. ABC, CBS, and NBC are left leaning and overly critical of the Bush administration. FOX, on the other hand, is right leaning and tries to overcompensate for its three competitors. Media must be fair and impartial. No media network should ever adopt a political agenda. The job of the media is to report facts — all the facts, not just the politically convenient ones. Opinions are to be left to the consumer. Throughout this war the media have been feeding the American public their opinions — that is wrong.

Mistakes were made in the lead up to and throughout the Iraq War. But that does not justify the actions of the media. Today, the war is well on its way to being over. Because of the surge, Iraq is free and ever growing in security. Iraq is better off today than it was six years ago. The American media should be ashamed of their biased coverage of the war. Americans are intelligent and should be left to make their own opinions formed on clear, consistent facts.

(The photo shows U.S. troops deployed in Sadr City. Department of Defense photo by Cpl. John Wright, U.S. Army; the photo is in the public domain.)

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