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US Media Still Hiding Bad News From Americans
Published on Thursday, December 9, 2004 by the Toronto Star
U.S. Media Still Hiding Bad News From Americans
by Antonia Zerbisias
 

And now the good news from America's accomplished mission in Iraq ...

The other night on ABC News Nightline, Ted Koppel asked National Public Radio war correspondent Anne Garrels, who has been in Iraq throughout the war, "When you hear people in this country, Anne, say, look, the media is only giving the negative side of what's going on there, why don't they ever show the good side, what do you tell 'em?"

"I tell them that there isn't much good to show," she replied, describing how even military commanders have only bad news to share.

Two weeks ago on CNN, Time's Michael Ware, who has been covering Iraq for two years, gave an alarming account of being trapped in his Baghdad compound, which is regularly bombed and encircled by "kidnap teams."

He reported that the U.S. military has "lost control" and that Americans are "the midwives of the next generation of jihad, of the next Al Qaeda."

At the end of the exchange, anchor Aaron Brown warned, "(O)ther people see the situation there differently than Michael. We talk to them as well."

The next day, when the interview was repeated, anchor Carol Lin closed with, "And of course there are others who disagree with that."

Never mind that those others never had Iraqi sand in their shoes, let alone been under fire there.

"Freedom is on the march!" "We're making progress!" "The terrorists will do all they can to disrupt free elections in Iraq, and they will fail."

These are just some of the slogans that U.S. President George W. Bush now spouts, while the American cable channels duly carry his speeches live and the American print media give them front-page play.

Not that they aren't sneaking in a little bad news, mind you. But not much. This week, we learned, mostly via a text crawl at the bottom of the screen, that the milestone of 1,000 U.S. troops killed in combat had been reached.

If you blinked, you would have missed news of a Pentagon "strategic" report to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld revealing that U.S. actions "have not only failed, they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended."

There was a bit in some newspapers about a damning classified cable from the Central Intelligence Agency's station chief in Baghdad that painted a dismal picture of Iraq's economic, political and security prospects.

And, while it got notice when published in October, there's been no follow-up on a study in an esteemed British medical journal suggesting that up to 100,000 civilians had died since the invasion. No follow-up, that is, except to trash the research.

It figures that, on Tuesday in Camp Pendleton, California, all media eyes were on Bush giving a rousing crowd-pleaser, urging "every American to find some way to thank our military and to help out the military family down the street."

That while yesterday Rumsfeld was in Kuwait, dismissing concerns from troops about a lack of armour. "You go to war with the army you have," he said.

Want to guess whose comments got better play?

"Biased coverage in Iraq; Bad News Overwhelms The Good," asserted the Washington Times last week.

"If you trust most media accounts fed to American viewers and readers, Iraq is an unmitigated disaster," began Helle Dale of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, insisting that "40 per cent of Iraqis say their country is (now) better" and "at least 35 per cent want the United States to stay."

Dale exhorted readers to check all the wonderful progress being catalogued by the U.S. Agency for International Development (http://www.usaid.gov), which, if you examine carefully, doesn't contain that much good news at all.

For example, compare and contrast one vaguely-worded USAID report from last spring with another from last week and you'll see the dirty water situation has not much improved.

Still, Dale claims, "Much of this good work you will never find reported, precisely because no news is good news for much of the U.S. media."

Well, here's a positive piece of media news from Iraq: Farnaz Fassihi, the Wall Street Journal reporter whose harrowing private e-mail to friends describing the hazards of Baghdad made international news, is back on the war beat after what many suspected was a month-long suspension. She returns despite vicious criticism from the right that she is too "biased" to work there just because she felt it was a deadly situation.

But then, what would she know?

She's just there, in very real danger of getting killed. Stateside, she's threatened with being shot down, along with other reporters, just for telling the truth.

Antonia Zerbisias' column appears every Thursday in the Toronto Star.

© 2004 Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd.

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