The real story in Iraq

Kit Seelye reports on a rather curious meeting of newspapers editors asking the Associated Press whether they — and thus we — are getting the full story in Iraq: that is, not just the bombing but also the building.

Some editors expressed concern that a kind of bunker mentality was preventing reporters in Iraq from getting out and explaining the bigger picture beyond the daily death tolls.

“The bottom-line question was, people wanted to know if we’re making progress in Iraq,” Ms. Goudreau said, and the A.P. articles were not helping to answer that question.

“It was uncomfortable questioning The A.P., knowing that Iraq is such a dangerous place,” she said. “But there’s a perception that we’re not telling the whole story.”

Mr. Silverman said in an interview that he was aware of that perception. “Other editors said they get calls from readers who are hearing stories from returning troops of the good things they have accomplished while there, and readers find that at odds with the generally gloomy portrayal in the papers of what’s going on in Iraq,” he said.

Well, it’s good they’re asking … a bit late in the party of public perception, but at least they’re asking. I also would have been curious to hear the same questions asked of papers, including The Times, that have their reporters in Iraq. [insert full disclosure here]

One thing they can do is turn soldiers and bloggers there into contributors. No, they’re not journalists. Yes, they have a viewpoint (what human doesn’t). But they have eyes and ears where the American news organizations do not.

  • Angelos

    The story is that we’re failing, dismally:

    Example 1

    The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

    The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society where the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.

    “What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground,” said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. “We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we’re in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning.”

    “We set out to establish a democracy, but we’re slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic,” said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. “That process is being repeated all over.”

    “The most thoroughly dashed expectation was the ability to build a robust self-sustaining economy. We’re nowhere near that. State industries, electricity are all below what they were before we got there,” said Wayne White, former head of the State Department’s Iraq intelligence team who is now at the Middle East Institute. “The administration says Saddam ran down the country. But most damage was from looting [after the invasion], which took down state industries, large private manufacturing, the national electric” system.

    Example 2

    Yes, our security is so good, they’ve built weapons labs SINCE WE INVADED!!!

    Example 3

    “It’s a race against time because by the end of this coming summer we can no longer sustain the presence we have now,” said retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who visited Iraq most recently in May and briefed Cheney, Rice and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This thing, the wheels are coming off it.”

    Infrastructure, oil, everything. Worse, not better.

    But hey, enjoy Clint Black.

  • Jeff:

    Do you think that the media should report on things other than the war (i.e., killing people and destroying things)? Because, Iraq is a WAR, and that’s what happens in war. Any one who says we should focus on the “building” is really asking us to take our eyes off of the main point of Iraq.

    Besides, it seems the war deaths of 10 people in Iraq are more significant than the building of a school. I read today about 3,100 schools built. Are those the same 3,100 schools I read about two years ago?

  • Gunther

    If only Iraq wasn’t such a dangerous and unstable place, journalists would be able to venture out and see how wonderful things were. Yeah, makes sense to me.

  • Angelos

    No electricity, no water, no schools

    But other than that, OK!

    Look, since we’re there, and we’ll have 3000+ dead and a trillion spent by the time we even think of leaving, it would be nice to think that we can accomplish something.

    But if complaining about the negative bent of the stories means running only happy little human interest stories, well, that’s not really asking for “balanced” reporting, is it?

    Yes, people are working, going to school, getting married, etc. Same stuff that they were doing before we showed up to save them.

    The fact that Iraqis go on with their lives, never knowing if they will wind up too close to an IED one day, is NOT a success story. Hell, the Israelis have been doing that for decades.

    Our success or failure can only be measured according to our stated goals. Of which there were dozens, as Dear Leader kept changing them as his bull kept getting called.

    The fact is, we were lied to constantly. So really, what is our goal, as of today anyway? What will constitute success? Why are we there?

    Freedom? Really? Why Iraq then? We’re all still waiting for an answer to that one.

  • Having spent considerable time in Iraq producing two films–the latest trip two months ago–I must say that it is incredibly hard to report from Iraq and the risks are huge. At the same time, it’s hard to get your stories on air/published (even if you are part of a news org.) because editors and producers are cautioning about “war fatigue”. Viewers aren’t interested/people tune out. That’s hard enough to deal with when you are dealing with breaking news; even harder to work with when you are trying to show “day to day life” etc.

  • Ravo

    Good Things in Iraq Not Being Reported by the Media-
    Truth, Fiction, and Unproven

  • MIke K

    There are real reporters out there who are telling the truth. One got killed recently, Stephen Vincent. Another is Michael Yon whose newsletter is riveting. The big picture stuff is mostly negative and political like your commenters above.

  • John

    If you think Iraq has fallen off the radar, what about Afghanistan? No elections in sight (weren’t they supposed to be last year?). Instability anywhere but Kabul and more soldiers and Marines have died so far this year (62) than during the full years of 02′-04′ and 2001. We didn’t properly finish this “little job” prior to moving on so how could anyone expect us to finish the far bigger job in Iraq.

  • J. Stuart

    Uh, in light of the AP editors admission(s), does this mean Mark Yost was (gasp) right?

  • Maybe we should be thankful that we did not have 24-hour news (and the Internet) during WWII. We lost 20,000 GIs in Europe in one month of winter, 1944-45, and almost that many in the spring of ’45 in the Pacific. Would all the Bush bashers, if they were alive then and had the chance to scream about it, have wanted to “negotiate” with the Third Reich and the Japanese militarists? Would they have wanted to fire Eisenhower for not getting good intelligence about the Germans in Belgium? Would they be wondering what “those Jews” did to make people put them in concentration camps? Would they’ve been screaming to impeach FDR for “goading” Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor? Or accusing him of knowing about it in advance but doing nothing? Do these people understand why and how they enjoy the lives they live today? Why they have the freedom to ridicule their leaders, no matter how wise and pragmatic those leaders might be judged by history? Just asking.

  • Well, if they can’t venture out of their hotels, or they don’t have enough reporters to send one to Kabul, why don’t they just admit that and quit pretending they’re jogging along with the soldiers at the front or, worse, reprinting propaganda from Baathist stringers?

    We all know it’s war. It’s dirty and messy and bombs are killing people. If we persevere, we’ll win, and so will the Iraqi and ME people.

    The bad guys are pulling a Lebanon on us–yes, I believe the jihadis are bad. They know that they cannot win militarily and are using the media to force us to surrender. If we do, we lose more than Iraq. There is more at stake here than Vietnam.

  • EverKarl

    At the risk of seeming like a comment spammer, the Eeyore commenters here should probably spend less time reading propaganda from Mother Jones and more time looking at the actual statistics compiled on on ongoing basis by the Brookings Institute. But to cite just one example, Iraq is generating far more electricity than it did before the war — not as much is going to Baghdad, perhaps because the oppressed majority in the north and south was deemed to get first dibs. The idea that there are no schools is also laughable. And July was a record month for postwar oil production.

    You would think some of these folks who claim to be from the reality-based community might ask themselves why public polling in Iraq shows a much more positive attitude about the direction of Iraq than you find in polls here. At least the people at the AP might start asking themselves that question.

  • Linda Edwards

    Gosh, I just read that Brookings report and am wondering what Everkarl’s so giddy about.

    Electricity production
    pre-war 3.958 Megawatts
    May 2005 – 3.712 mw
    June 2005 – 4.153 mw
    Iraqi dissatisfaction with availability of electricity – 96% (page 32)

    Oil production
    Pre-war Jan 2003 – 2.44 mbpd
    June 2.17 mbpd
    July 2.17 mbpd

    If you read the complete polling data, you’ll see that Iraqis are optimistic about their future, but they are immensely suspicious of the US involvement. Last year, 80% of Iraqis wanted the US to leave after their Jan elections. Ahem, we’re still there, with no end in sight. Just about every question asked regarding anything to do with the US involvement was answered with a negative. Read each question, don’t just cherry-pick.

    This report is nothing to be excited about. It’s just more proof that those of us that dwell in the reality-based community were right. Our invasion/occupation was a huge blunder.

  • Angelos

    Linda, Linda, Linda, what are you doing using facts?! They don’t matter!

    But hey, since you’re at it…

    Hey folks, not only is Iraq a disaster, but we failed in Afghanistan too!

    I know, I know, kat or eileen will tell me that women go to school now that the taliban is gone. Yay! Because that was goal number one! School!

    Let’s see – we didn’t “stop” terrorism, we didn’t catch Osama, we didn’t fix anything. We just knocked out the oppressive religious regime (shouldn’t we be doing that here?), and allowed the nation to be divided into little druglord-run feifdoms.

    Excellent. At least my opium supply is cheaper now.

    Are those the same standards of success we have for ourselves in Iraq?

  • Randy Goings

    Boy oh boy, a report from someone with an agenda. Now that is fact. Misinformation is coming from the left, the right and anywhere inbetween. So here is a cold hard fact, women and children are dying violently everyday in Iraq by people with differing agendas but one, don’t kill innocent people. So the main question is, will more innocent people be killed if the US stays or if it leaves. Pretty simple. If the US leaves there will be another Rwanda.