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Balancing Good and Bad News from Iraq

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What does that mean? Have a suicide bomb clip followed by a new school opening? Sounds good doesn’t it? But what does it really mean? What is fair and balanced in a war? It implies that there is some kind of 50/50 split between the terrible and the uplifting. I suppose in Iraq it might be true that in the north, where the Kurds rule and sectarian issues are minimized, headway is being made. It may also be true that in the South, where the Shiites control broad stretches of desert and oil, infrastructure can be rebuilt and survive. Gee … sever those geographical and cultural islands from the war and there is plenty of good to report.

But that is not where the trouble is. And where there is trouble, it is not an even score. A new Baghdad police station today is tomorrow’s insurgency target. I suppose if one stood in one place long enough, he or she could report the good and bad without even moving. But what would it prove? Progress? Failure?

An eager supporter of the President’s “plan for victory” marketing campaign, Laura Ingram put out a challenge to the mass media to report the good news out of Iraq, pointing out that reporters can go beyond the safety of their green zone balconies and see more than mortar round and roadside explosions. She suggested setting up the Today Show from Camp Victory in Iraq and then try to report only bad news. When challenged by David Gregory, she indignantly referred to her own recent visit and dared everyone to do the same thing.

Fortunately she has posted a journal of her trip on her official website. It seemed like the only fair thing to do was read it and learn about the good news she suggested is suppressed by the media.

Her one week trip occurred in early February 2006. You can read it for yourself but you will find this is a very fair summary of her journal (much of the text is copied from her site):

Day 1, Camp Victory (Baghdad): The troops are inspiring. The security situation is terrible. There are practical limits as to where she can go. The good news is that training Iraqi forces continues apace and more security operations are being turned over to them every month. She finishes with this: “I wish every American could see even the small part of the operation here that I’ve seen so far. They’d be more proud of our military and more grateful to be Americans.”

Day 2, Camp Taji (North Bahgdad): Her team is briefed about the goals of the days operations. Good news, everyone who travels outside the camp is in an up-armored vehicle and any concern about body armor completely misplaced. The troops she has met are fine people. IED incidents are down since December. She meets 30 Iraqi troops who are being trained. They are friendly and seem dedicated. Their American counterparts seem genuinely fond of the men and not happy that the whole story is not being told by the “major media.” “Thanks for coming here, Laura,” Brigade Cmdr. MacWilley said, as he waved goodbye. “How do we get the rest of the country to see the great work these men and women are doing here?” “You just did,” I said.

Day 3, Camp Victory (Baghdad): I started the day with a pre-patrol briefing for an 18-soldier Humvee convoy to a local village near Camp Victory. When we arrived at the village, children swarmed around our vehicles, waving and laughing. The kids were absolutely gorgeous-especially the girls with their big, curious, almond-eyes. I became their instant new American friend when they saw I had my helmet filled with Tootsie Pops. (Big mistake to bring only two bags!) She met the village mayor who seemed to express heartfelt thanks to all coalition forces. She met more troops that evening. They are soft-spoken and humble. She broadcasts a show that night and the troops are thankful for our prayers.

Day 4, Central Baghdad: I felt both awkward and on edge as we snaked our way through cement barriers, past dilapidated shops and garbage-strewn streets. Not to be too dramatic, but I found myself constantly scanning the sidewalks for men on cell phones (possible bomb detonation device) or cars parked on the side of the road (potentially packed with timed explosives). I tried to put myself in their shoes but it’s hard. Most are just walking to work, or looking for jobs, trying to get by. It is undeniable that the security situation is pretty terrible. Her team reaches an orphanage housing 25 kids. Later they travel to a children’s hospital. It was horrible. The good news: they will soon have a new wing neo-natal and pediatric wing thanks to the generosity of the American people and hard work of the USACE and its contractors. That evening she had an interview with General George Casey. Bottom line: Iraq is a complicated, difficult, hard-to-understand place. But we need to make this work. There is hope and success amidst the sadness and suffering here.

Day 5, Camp Victory (Baghdad): She visits the garish Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (honoring those Iraqis who died in the Iran-Iraq War). She meets an Iraqi military man and asks him: what would happen in Iraq if U.S. forces did a Murtha and pulled out immediately? “Disaster! Total big bad everything. Disaster!” he insisted, waving around his finger in the air. On her eight mile trip back to camp she asked her Rhino driver-a heavily tattooed heavy metal-listening contractor-when he thought people could travel between cities in Greyhounds, not Rhinos, he answered deadpan, “200 or 300 years.” To travel 8 miles on the ground has taken us 5 hours-so far. Life in the military means danger, sacrifice, commitment and-waiting around a lot. [note: Rhinos are heavily armored transport vehicles]

Day 6 Camp Victory (Baghdad): She is briefed on how Iraqi forces are slowly but surely taking over the battle space. At lunchtime she enjoys shooting weapons at targets. She broadcasts two live hours of her radio show from the media center. That evening she concluded her visit at the Cigar Club for stories and teasing with the guys and a few gals.

So the good news is that the troops are wonderful brave people whom we can be proud of. Well, I’ve been hearing that tenfold from Senators, Congressmen and Congress women, and all the mainstream media shows, and most notably Al Franken who has been I think on three USO tours over in Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite frankly, I don’t need anyone telling me that, it is one thing we all agree to.

I guess that is not the good news she must be referring to that is being purposely suppressed. Well she mentions how she was briefed about Iraqi forces taking over more and more security. She was briefed about that. She talked about great power point presentations given by military brass. It wasn’t something she saw with her own eyes. What she did observe and wrote in her journal was that the thirty Iraqi men she met who were being trained did not want their pictures taken for fear that they’d be executed at home if recognized. That speaks volumes of their bravery and sadly of the dangers that still exist.

She was told the body armor issue is misplaced (not sure what that means, assuming it’s no longer an issue). Well that is good news! But I have a feeling it was the barrage of ‘negative’ reporting from two years ago that embarrassed the Pentagon into action. As for the orphanage and children’s hospital, is the good news that the facilities exist?

If this is all the optimistic news she uncovered and compelled her to challenge the Today Show to broadcast, I am having real difficulty understanding what good news is not being reported because I have heard this all before, with one exception. When CNN drags a camera into an orphanage or children’s hospital, it suddenly turns ‘negative’. As for the troops wondering why these stories are not being told in the press at home, it seems to me they are. So who is telling them they’re not being reported? Laura maybe?

One last thing. I purposely skipped over her constant reference to ‘terrorists’ throughout her journal. She never once called them insurgents, gangsters, or secular militia. Just terrorists. By casually using the term ‘terrorist’ to describe everyone who shoots a gun or blows up a car, it deliberately clouds the picture and purposely misleads people. It isn’t journalism but then I’m pretty sure she’s not a journalist because if she were she’d know that more of her fellow journalists (84) have been killed in Iraq than any conflict since WWII.

She also continues to snidely and falsely state Murtha’s position about immediate withdrawal. Murtha’s point is simple. The killing is about secular hatred. It is being carried out by Iraqi insurgents as part of a growing internal civil war. As such, he believes our troops should retreat to the outskirts and draw down the numbers as quickly and safely as possible; six months, nine months, a year. He has never talked about a weekend withdrawal as Laura misleads us to believe. And he didn’t dream this up on his own either. He has formulated this proposal after many off-the-record, back room conversations with key active military leaders (access few have; certainly not Ingram).

Finally, she insinuates that we’d be more proud of our troops if we saw them in action; that somehow she is more prideful than those who are troubled by this war. If we learned one thing from Vietnam, it is that we can support our troops in wars we don’t belong in. I’m the first to admit that the soldiers in Vietnam were treated harshly upon their return. And those of us who participated in that were terribly wrong! As a result of learning from that misdirected anger, I have nothing but admiration and respect for those who find their way into battle. The idiotic notion that if you hate the war, you hate the troops is a mean-spirited myth used to push a position that needlessly damages the very thing it tries to protect: troop support.

Fair is fair. I give Laura Ingram tremendous credit for taking the trip. It certainly is something I’m not planning to do anytime soon. In light of her recent battle with breast cancer, I admire her determination, bravery and spunk. I’m also sure the troops appreciated her visit like they appreciate any smiling face from the States. It does help morale and that is always a good thing.

So why does she undermine herself? Why does she find it necessary to spin her experience into some confirmation of her ideology? It borders on shameful. She is not interested in a dialogue at all. This charge that only the bad news is purposely reported out of Iraq seems to lack any substance. Even her own journal fails to reveal anything new or any unreported good about the war. Her challenge quite honestly appeared silly at best.

I’m left wondering how the guys at the Alamo would have wanted their news balanced. “Troop levels are fine. Spirits are high. We have plenty of beans, bandages, bullets and booze. We are looking forward to Bob Hope’s visit.”

Balancing Good and Bad News from Iraq

Source by Robert Crane

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