In a recent newspaper profile, CNN anchor Aaron Brown is captured trying to be witty as he cobbles together his "Newsnight" show. He asks his co-workers, "So, what the hell are we going to sell here?"
There's an easy answer if you watch television: failure.
For most of the post-war period, the networks have sold us failure. The details change here and there, but the pitch remains the same. Failure to find weapons of mass destruction. Failure to work with do-nothings at the United Nations. Failure to restore water and electricity supplies even as saboteurs seek to undo every good deed. Failure to anticipate that snipers would be paid to shoot our soldiers in the neck while they buy a soda. Failure to create Iraqi democracy out of thin air within two weeks. Failure to keep 16 dubious words out of the State of the Union address. Failure to nab Saddam or his odious sons.
But what happens when one of these failures turns upside down into a success, as in killing Uday and Qusay? Easy. More failures. Failure to capture the sons alive for their intelligence value. Failure to understand that Iraqis need to see the corpses. Failure to understand Muslims don't like to see corpses preserved. Eleanor Clift even suggested the failure to keep Saddam's sons alive in order to cover up the failure to find weapons of mass destruction -- failure squared.
The ideology of failure makes journalism so easy and carefree. When yesterday's media beef (we can't kill the sons) totally contradicts today's (we shouldn't have killed the sons), that's OK. Coherence isn't required. Building a daily soundtrack of doom is the objective. Since the "major fighting" ended, the media have tried to turn the world upside down. In the daily episode of self-fulfilling prophecy, reporters like CBS's Joie Chen proclaim that as soldiers die "day by day" in Iraq, "the concerns, and the doubts, of many of the folks back home grow."
Joie Chen should try visiting the troops. E-mails home from soldiers in Baghdad paint an almost entirely different picture than what the networks are offering. One Green Beret's e-mail (he asks for anonymity) about the unreality of the staged news from Iraq is hotly making the Internet rounds. In raw language, he laments being unable to touch "those taunting bags of gas that scream in (soldiers') faces and riot on cue when they spot a cameraman from ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN or NBC. If they did, then they know the next nightly news will be about how chaotic things are and how much the Iraqi people hate us. Some do. But the vast majority don't."