Media Bias Keeps ‘Good’ Iraq News From U.S. Public

Posted June 4, 2004 at 2:45pm

At his first appearance as Iraq’s new prime minister last Tuesday, Iyad Allawi switched from Arabic to English to say “I would like to thank the coalition, led by the United States, for the sacrifices they have provided in the process of the liberation of Iraq.”

[IMGCAP(1)]A pretty remarkable statement, is it not, in a country where — to listen to the U.S. media — everybody hates us? Unfortunately, given the media coverage of the event, you’d never know Allawi had said it.

Neither The Washington Post’s front-page story on the appointment of Iraq’s new government, nor The New York Times’s story the same day, made any mention of Allawi’s thank-you to America. Nor did The Wall Street Journal’s story or the Los Angeles Times’s.

Of course, Fox News — a network for whom I punditize — ran tape of Allawi making the statement. So did ABC’s “Nightline.” No other network did, although CNN did mention it and CBS carried a clip of President Bush calling attention to Allawi’s remarks.

There are two lessons to be drawn from this coverage. First, conservatives are right to charge that the U.S. media tilts left and is biased against Bush’s Iraq policy.

And second, the Bush administration must do a better job of getting Iraqis who support U.S. policy — who, in fact, are risking their lives to support U.S. policy — to get on American television and state their case.

Allawi added that “after 35 years of a ruthless, tyrannical regime, and after the liberation of Iraq by the coalition forces under the leadership of the United States, we are starting our march toward sovereignty and democracy.”

That statement was carried on Al-Jazeera — the often-rabidly anti-U.S. Arabic news network — but not in the American media.

To be fair, The Washington Post did quote Allawi saying “we need the support of the multinational forces to defeat the enemies of Iraq.” It did so in the 11th paragraph of its story on the appointment of the interim government.

USA Today carried the statement, as well, in the fourth paragraph of its story. It was in the tenth paragraph of The New York Times story. And in the 26th paragraph in the LA Times.

You think I am being too harsh in judging media coverage? Just look at the front-page attention given to practically every wrinkle of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal story — and the total absence of outrage at the statement Thursday by Bush-hater George Soros that Abu Ghraib “hit us the same way as the [Sept. 11, 2001] attack itself.”

At the liberal “Take Back America” conference in Washington, Soros also said that the war on terrorism “has claimed more innocent victims than the original attack itself.”

Even though Soros is a major player in the 2004 presidential campaign, funding anti-Bush activities with tens of millions of dollars, his remarks got practically no media attention — except on Fox News — and no one pointed out that World War II also claimed more innocent victims than the number who died at Pearl Harbor.

Major media coverage of the Iraq war is typified by the Washington Post’s repeated, almost formulaic front-page articles that open with quotes from an Iraqi dissatisfied by a lack of electricity or security and then launch into the reporter’s negative evaluation of the entire U.S. occupation.

The latest, by Edward Cody, ran last Thursday under the headline “To Many, Mission Not Accomplished.” It carried the subhead, “Residents Say Occupation’s Unkept Promises, Military Tactics Fuel Resistance.”

On May 19, as just one other example, the Post carried a front page story by Robin Wright and Thomas Ricks, headlined “U.S. Faces Growing Fears of Failure” among largely unnamed U.S. lawmakers, Iraqis and administration officials.

Last Friday, on the other hand, after Iraq’s new government gained the blessing of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, arguably the most influential person in Iraq, the Post carried the story on Page A18.

The New York Times buried it on Page A15, in a box just above the news of the statement by Iraq’s new foreign minister, Hoshyar Zabari, that “any premature departure of international forces would lead to chaos and the real possibility of a civil war.”

If the U.S. media are going to consistently under-play Iraqi testimonials of thanks and of the need for U.S. forces to stay, then the Bush administration has to do a better job of getting their statements publicized.

The White House can urge the Iraqis appear on Sunday talk shows — Allawi has been asked to do so, but has refused until he addresses the Iraqi people. Or President Bush can hold joint news conferences with them.

Two weeks ago, the Pew Research Center published the latest study demonstrating that many more national news reporters identify themselves as “liberal” (34 percent) than “conservative” (7 percent).

While most (54 percent) consider themselves “moderate,” even the “moderates” demonstrated that they had liberal attitudes on religion, gay rights and activist government.

It’s unfortunate that Pew did not ask journalists how they feel about Iraq. I’d bet such a poll would demonstrate that the defeatism conveyed in media coverage on Iraq grows directly out of reporters’ political attitudes. (The poll did find that 55 percent of national reporters believe the media are “not critical enough” of Bush.)

America’s hope for victory in Iraq depends on Bush’s getting the good news on Iraq directly to Americans. The media won’t help.