For three years, President Bush has been portrayed as stubborn on Iraq, so defiant that it's disturbing, perhaps even a sign of delusional certitude. There's a mirror image at play: Those doing the portraying -- i.e., the media -- have been every bit as stubborn when it comes to their defiant insistence that everything that happens in Iraq, no matter how positive, is another peg for bad news coverage.
We acknowledge that the daily drumbeat of death pounded by the media is based on facts. That does not mean that all death is bad. In war, it is a tragedy to learn that your countrymen have fallen. It is cause for celebration when the enemy dies. But for the American news media, all news is bad news if the theater is Iraq.
When American forces killed Saddam's evil sons, Uday and Qusay, in July of 2003, the press reported the news as a P.R. disaster. NBC's Richard Engel said the display of their bodies was "offensive to Muslim sensibilities." ABC's Terry Moran suggested the United States violated the Geneva Conventions. Eleanor Clift said we lost a "major opportunity" for Saddam's boys to tell us where the WMD were hidden.
A new study of cable-news coverage by the Media Research Center demonstrated the same pattern when American bombs took out terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi last July. CNN counter-programmed that achievement by interviewing a leftist journalist who defiantly complained: "There's no good news in Iraq. There's no corner that's been turned. There's no milestone." Over on MSNBC, reporters took time away from covering the breaking news of Zarqawi's death to feature four stories profiling U.S. military deserters, the "new face of the antiwar movement."
This was just part of a routine. MRC analysts reviewed two months of Iraq coverage during the midday hours on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News in mid-2006, and the numbers speak volumes. Fully three-fifths (60 percent) of all CNN stories on the war emphasized pessimism about progress in Iraq, compared to just 10 percent that reported on achievements or victories. MSNBC's tilt was similar, with four times more bad news stories (48 percent) than reports stressing good news (12 percent). Fox News, so often cartooned as the rosy-news channel, had a ratio of 30 percent negative stories to 20 percent positive.
Now add the execution of Saddam Hussein to the mix. It is amazing that the American -- the American! -- media couldn't stand the thought that this in any way could be interpreted as a brief occasion for good news. This tyrant, whose brutal regime of torture and murder left hundreds of thousands dead and a nation destroyed, now rots in Hell, thanks to us. Us. As in the United States -- us. Yet there was no moment of brief satisfaction on TV.