Hyman Wrong on "Media Bias" in Iraq
Mark Hyman approvingly summarizes an opinion piece by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Ryan, a First Cavalry Division officer in Iraq, in which the colonel complains that press coverage of Iraq is skews negative. Hyman says:
For example, Ryan asks why the media spent so much time reporting on a handful of rogues [sic] soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison yet were silent when MugtadaAl Sadr's Sharia law court sentenced 200 Iraqis to beheadings and
Hyman ends his commentary with the following nugget:
Ryan's comments have merit. When I was in Iraq, good news no great news events didn't attract the media. No New York Times, no Washington Post, no network television, no CNN or Fox News Channel. They skipped the positive stories and remained in Baghdad waiting for the next car bomb to go off. And they were giving you a skewed view of the reality of what was actually going on in Iraq.
To begin with, Ryan’s ethos is a bit undercut when you read his essay in its entirety. Here’s the colonel describing a pleasant evening in Iraq, invoking the positive imagery the media is ignoring:
In the distance, I can hear the repeated impacts of heavy artillery and
five-hundred-pound bombs hitting their targets. The occasional tank main gun
report and the staccato rhythm of a Marine Corps LAV or Army Bradley Fighting
Vehicle's 25-millimeter cannon provide the bass line for a symphony of
Yikes. He probably likes the smell of napalm in the morning as well.
More to the point, both Ryan and Hyman miss the point about what’s newsworthy. “Islamic Militants Kill Innocent People” is not much of a headline. There’s nothing “new” there. “U.S. Soldiers Torture Prisoners” is (thankfully) unusual, and hence, newsworthy. To suggest otherwise is to imply that we should have the same ethical expectations of U.S. servicemen and women as we do for fanatical terrorists. If I were feeling Hymanesqe, I’d have to wonder why Mark hates the troops so much that he would suggest they are no better than the evildoers they’re fighting.
(Note also, by the way, how Hyman slips in the idea that it was only “a handful of rogue soldiers” responsible for the torture, ignoring the evidence that torture is condoned from much higher up, both in Iraq and elsewhere).
But the premise that the media has focused on the negative in Iraq is obviously valid, even if the rhetoric here is a bit overblown, right?
Nope. At least, not according to Jounalism.org’s annual report on the state of the news media for 2004. The report breaks down the media into classifications (broadcast news, cable news, magazines, newspapers) and does a detailed content analysis of how each type of media covered selected stories. For Iraq, the study noted that despite claims by the administration and some conservative pundits, there was no evidence of systematic distortion of the news. Stories that were neutral or of indeterminate tone far outweighed stories that were either positive or negative. While in some cases, negative stories did outnumber positive ones (e.g., in nightly news broadcasts), in others, there was a significant lead in positive stories (e.g., morning broadcast news and cable news—although in the case of cable, to be fair, Fox News by its lonesome skewed the results considerably).
But Hyman is right in suggesting that we shouldn’t simply accept what the media gives us concerning Iraq, if for no other reason than the media is operating under Pentagon restrictions that keep it from reporting the true cost of the war. And it’s clear the media isn’t doing a terribly great job since over 50% of Americans still think there were WMDs in Iraq and that Iraq was tied to the al-Qaeda terrorists who staged the September 11 attacks.
So, yes—let’s get a soldier’s eye view of the war. I suggest starting at Operation Truth, an organization started by veterans of Iraq as a means of showcasing the voices of actual troops on the ground and letting them have their say. The voices are many and varied. There isn’t a single point of view on the war that emerges. What you quickly understand, however, is the profound affect the war has had on the young men and women sent to fight it, and a healthy skepticism that the brass in the Pentagon or their commander in chief truly have the ordinary soldier’s best interest at heart.
A couple of excerpts from the site:
From Staff Sergeant Charlie Carlson--
Our government needs to be more forthcoming and truthful about what is going on in Iraq. We, soldiers, know what the truth is but the media needs to report thetruth without the government trying to bend or cover up what really is going on.
From Corporal Sean Huze--
So, here I am. I'm left with pride in my own service and the men I served with, but the sickening feeling that it was avoidable. I would gladly lay down my life for our country. Like every other man who wears this uniform, our commitment is not at issue. Call it naivety, but it never occurred to me that my country was less committed to us than we are to it. Sending us in harm's way for a lie amounts to a betrayal that may prove to be criminal. It's unfortunate that on November 2nd 59,000,000 Americans failed to do their duty and hold the administration accountable for this betrayal of the troops. A dishonorable discharge was never more warranted.
I’m just wondering, Mark: do these guys “hate our military” too?
And that’s The Counterpoint.