Look beyond the headlines, continued

Look beyond the headlines, continued

: In today’s Times, John Burns and Edward Wong write a piece reported by Iraqi reporters under the headline Some Iraqis Optimistic About Sovereignty. I think I’m seeing a trend here, following Jennifer Eccleston’s story on CNN last night finding the progress that is occurring in Iraq. But just as in that story, they could not report good news as balance to all the bad — or as an attempt to find the clearer picture of what is happening — without throwing in more bad.

Here is Burns’ lead:

When Shaker Assal was approached in his butcher’s shop on Tuesday and asked what he thought about life in Iraq a year after it resumed formal sovereignty, he responded with a blast of invective as heated as the sunbaked sidewalks in his Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliya.

But read down six paragraphs and you’ll find this:

But in an informal survey of opinions across Baghdad conducted on Tuesday by Iraqi reporters on the staff of The New York Times, the butcher’s outburst was a relatively rare case of untempered hostility for the Americans and the Iraqi governments they have worked with in the past year….

And read down two graphs more:

But perhaps more striking, considering the huge gap between the hopes stirred when American troops captured Baghdad in April 2003 and the grim realities now, were the number of Iraqis who expressed a more patient view. Among those people, the disappointments and privations have been offset by an appreciation of both the progress toward supplanting the dictatorship of Mr. Hussein with a nascent democratic system and the need for American troops to remain here in sufficient numbers to allow the system to mature.

And if that was the essence of the story, why wasn’t it the lead?

Take these two episodes together with Bush’s speech last night (which I didn’t get to watch live thanks to a business call; I read it in the paper this morning) and we continue to see that the war at home is a war of PR. Now I know that many couldn’t stand when I cast the Bush execution of his policy and the Downing Street Memo in the light of PR. Fine. But the impression of the war in Iraq — the bad news and good news, the perception of progress or lack of progress, the enmity or optimism of the Iraqis themselves — obviously has a very direct impact on the support for the war here, witness the polls, and thus the execution of it in Iraq. What we see in these two stories is an inability to report progress — which itself is a form of balance to all the car-bombing stories — without balancing the balancing with more dark clouds. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.