The Rest of the Iraq Story

I did not have an appropriate picture for this article, so I reached back into the files for something pretty.  As you can see by the date stamp, the picture is a couple years old.  It is taken around 100 meters from my house in Londonderry, New Hampshire, where we lived when I was at Fletcher.  It was even prettier in October and there is probably more fresh water in that picture than in all of Al Asad.  I could stretch it and say that I chose the picture to go with my trout metaphor below, but the truth is that I just like to think of the green and pleasant places.  I won’t be in this desert long enough to forget.

I know that good new is no news, but maybe it should not be that way.   Some things sometimes DO get better.  A key reason for following the news is to understand the world in order to make informed decisions, so positive developments are as important as negative ones.  If you measure the success of your fishing trip only by how much bait you use, you may miss out on the grilled trout in lemon sauce.

Journalists (IMO) often prefer bad news because it better fits with their cynical personalities.  It is also easier to write a bad news story.  That is why when the things get better journalists melt away like snow on a warm spring afternoon.  I guess it is a positive sign that journalists have stopped coming to Anbar.  I think there are only four of them around here right now and they are bloggers.  We will not be seeing much of CNN or CBS anytime soon, unless conditions go badly wrong or they are following a big shot on a quick visit.

This media propensity to follow bad news and step back when things improve leaves the false impression that conditions only get worse.  (That is probably a big reason why so many people in the modern world have such a negative outlook on conditions that are pretty good by any historical standard.  They see the worm hit the water, but never hear about the trout being reeled in.)   Journalists often say that they are just giving the public what they want, but is this really true?  Do we really want our media to be biased toward the negative?

I just received a new Pew Research Report on news coverage about Iraq.  As conditions in Iraq improved, news coverage dropped.  American media featured only about half as much news about Iraq in October as in January, when things were not going well.  Are journalists just giving the public what they want? 

Well…no.  According to the research, Iraq remains the most important item to the public and a growing number want more coverage.  They also want a different type of coverage.  The media likes to cover policy disputes among politicians, anti-war demonstrations and the costs of the war.  The vast majority of the public wants more about the experiences of the soldiers in Iraq and after they return to America.  A majority (52%) also says that efforts to improve conditions in Iraq are getting too little coverage.  Surprise, the public wants some balance.  You need all the shades of dark and light to paint the true picture.  All black just is not a useful perspective.

The public is not getting the news they want about Iraq or the news they need to be informed.  I was surprised to read that only 41% of those surveyed knew that casualties in Iraq had gone down.  I guess I should not be surprised.  Any spike is reported w/o the perspective that shows the general trend.

Progress is still fragile, but the indications are that Iraq is reaching a point where it is tipping in the right direction.  Most people in any civil disturbance are ambivalent.  They do not really want to pick sides; they just want to live securely and sit on the fence until they can reasonably figure out which side will win.  The Coalition and Iraqi forces are looking more and more like winners and that is starting to be a reinforcing trend as former insurgents lay down their arms and Al Qaeda & foreign fighters are killed, captured or otherwise neutralized.  The American public may well be surprised by the outcome in Iraq because the media has not been telling the rest of the story.