My son's friend Todd Jones just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. At a celebratory gathering at his parents' home, we chatted a while, and I asked him what he thought were the biggest problems facing the military. Without hesitating, he shot back: "The terrorists and the media."
In a rare moment of balance on CBS, Army Capt. Christopher Vick echoed that sentiment: "I think it's hard for Americans to get up every day and turn on the news and see the horrible things that are going on here, because there's no focus on the good things that go on. What they see is another car bomb went off." This kind of coverage is exactly what the terrorists are seeking to achieve, believes Vick.
Mark Yost, who served in the Navy during the Reagan years, caused a stir in media circles for stating the obvious in an editorial in the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "to judge by the dispatches, all the Iraqis do is stand outside markets and government buildings waiting to be blown up."
On CNN's "Reliable Sources," host Howard Kurtz asked Frank Sesno, a former Washington bureau chief for CNN, about the Yost column. Sesno acknowledged you get more depth from print coverage, but suggested "even then, the bias is towards that which is going wrong, that which is blowing up and that which is not working." He said Americans ask: "Is anything getting rebuilt? Are they really democrats over there? How engaged are the Sunnis? Could I see an interview with any of these founding fathers and founding mothers of this new emerging country? Can you find that? You'll have a hard time doing it."
He's not kidding. In late June, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibraham al-Jafari came to Washington. On June 24, he appeared with President Bush at the White House and gave a speech at the National Press Club. But try and find Jafari's name in a Nexis search of TV news. Of the Big Three, only CBS seemed to notice him in Washington -- on their little-seen Saturday morning show.
One cable-news exception was MSNBC's "Hardball" on June 23, in which NBC White House reporter David Gregory, substitute-hosting for Chris Matthews, kept trying to bait Jafari with negative questions about the Iraq "quagmire." Jafari was especially upset at Gregory's consistent use of the word "insurgents," insisting that this word would suggest the fighters are Iraqis, which many are not, and they have a broad base of popular support, which they do not.