Press accentuates negatives of Iraq

Media's obsessive lingering on problems neglects the many positives of situation

by David Kopel

June 5, 2004

The 60th anniversary of D-Day is Sunday, and an excellent article in the May 29 London Telegraph by Kevin Meyers ( ) points out that the Normandy invasion had many more problems than modern press celebrations recognize. For example, "the Allied planners in 1944 catastrophically failed to take into ac- count the high hedgerows in Normandy, the bocage.This hugely limited visibility, thereby nullifying Allied superiority in materiel and in the air, and making fighting conditions almost totally unrelated to the training the invaders had undergone in Britain."

From June until early August, stiff German resistance thwarted Allied efforts to break out from the Normandy peninsula. Allied casualties in the Normandy campaign were a staggering 425,000 dead, wounded or captured - twice the German levels. Allied bombing killed at least 20,000 civilians, and injured 100,000 more. American and British bombers destroyed about 120,000 buildings, including many historic medieval treasures, obliterated entire towns, and created a huge number of refugees. There were many rapes of French women by Allied soldiers.

One can only imagine the kind of hysterical headlines that would have appeared in the Western press if the press of 1944 had been as opposed to liberating France as today's press is opposed to liberating Iraq. Focusing obsessively on the many serious problems of the Normandy campaign would have obscured the fact that the Allies were winning the war and liberating France from a hideous tyrant.

Today's coverage of Iraq tends to accentuate the negative, and pays hardly any attention to the positive - such as the fact that the vast majority of Iraq is peaceful, that anti-American terrorists such as Muqtada al-Sadr have very little public support, and that free elections are already taking place in much of the country in which pro-democracy candidates are demolishing Islamic extremist candidates.

A good antidote to the narrowly pessimistic stories that dominate Iraq coverage in the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Postis the Belmont Club Web log (found at, which reports war news that is often ignored by the dominant media. Also useful is www.strategy, a Web site run by military analyst James Dunnigan.

The Post, to its credit, has been running more media analysis in its news pages lately, although the Posttends to select stories that criticize the media for insufficient leftism. A good example was a May 25 article uncritically summarizing a new study claiming that National Public Radio suffers from right-wing bias.

The study, from the left-wing media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (www.fair. org/extra/0405/npr-study.html) claims that NPR quotes conservatives more often than liberals. That claim, however, depends on FAIR's strange classification system, which counts the left-leaning Brookings Institution as "centrist" rather than "liberal." Meanwhile, the Center for Strategic and International Studies is labeled "conservative" rather than "centrist" - even though Madeleine Albright was a senior fellow at CSIS, and John Kerry currently co- chairs a CSIS task force.

I've listened to many hundreds of hours of NPR over the years, and the majority of NPR stories are balanced. Sometimes NPR stories are unfairly tilted to the right. However, such stories are far outnumbered by stories which unfairly tilt left. If NPR goes right, it's often on a business story where many moderate Democrats take the pro-business side (such as tort reform). When NPR goes left, it's often on social issues or foreign policy. NPR's coverage of Israel is atrocious, as documented by the CAMERA, a pro-Israel media watchdog ( ).

Not that the Denver papers are always better. One of the key issues on which Democratic Senate candidates Ken Salazar and Mike Miles differ is Israel: Salazar is strongly pro-Israel, and Miles is not. A News article (May 21) highlighted the differences, but the article was heavily slanted in support of Miles' position. After summarizing a new position paper by Salazar on Israel, the article stated that Salazar's paper "does not mention the assassination of Hamas leaders by Israeli forces." The word "assassination" is extremely loaded; its primary meaning is to "kill by treacherous violence" (Oxford English Dictionary). It is not the word used by the Newswhen U.S. forces kill terrorist commanders such as the Hussein brothers; it is unfair to use the word when Israel does the same.

Although the article quoted a Jewish leader and a Salazar spokesman who praised Salazar's position, the article's authorial voice had nothing positive to say about Salazar's stance. In contrast, the article described Miles' position as "more nuanced." While the article had pointed to supposed omissions from Salazar's position, the article found no omissions in Miles' position.

"Latest Gaza raid pushes limits of Israelis' tolerance" announced the headline in a May 26 Knight Ridder article in the Post, written by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson and referring to the recent incursion by Israeli security forces attempting to root out terrorists and their infrastructure.

The article's only evidence of the limits of tolerance being pushed, though, was criticism of the raid by a former adviser to Israel's former left-wing Prime Minister Ehud Barak. If a former Clinton official criticized Bush administration policy, the criticism might be newsworthy in itself, but the official's statement would not necessarily represent a sea change in overall American public opinion.


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