To the casual observer, the situation in Iraq is bleak, the Iraqi people don?t really want democracy, and the only worthwhile story is the brutality and intimidation of Iraqi prisoners.
To the ?casual observer? of the mainstream media, that is.
Although common sense and a semi-continuous pulse would be enough to notice the media?s pack mentality in its Iraq coverage, the numbers paint a compelling?and disturbing?picture.
On any given day, Americans are treated to maybe a dozen stories highlighting the good deeds being done by coalition forces?building bridges, literally and figuratively, and generally improving daily life for ordinary Iraqis?and that?s among all cable news outlets and hundreds of newspapers and magazines.
How many Americans know about the five million Iraqis who are now returning to school or the many non-Baathist professionals who are now finally starting to earn a decent salary?
We?ve been inundated with literally thousands of hand-wringing stories about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. The media?s obsession is to some degree understandable given the images, as a visual component inherently gives any story that much more life.
But all that can be said about the savage slaughter of American Nicholas Berg at the hands of terrorists?on video?and then some.
The disparity is striking. The numbers speak for themselves.
From May 11 to May 19, there were more than 6,600 stories in the Lexis-Nexis news database with ?Abu Ghraib? somewhere in the text. During the same span, there were just over 3,000 with both ?Berg? and ?Iraq.?
To fully appreciate the significance of those statistics, though, the prisoner abuse story was already two weeks old at that point, and the news of Berg?s beheading broke on May 11.
Why is this important? Because the ?noise??the collective impact of news from various sources?has been so focused on Abu Ghraib, the political backdrop is the savagery of Americans, not that of the terrorists we are fighting.
In some respects, the terrorists are winning more favorable coverage.
The terrorists who cut off the 26-year-old American?s head claimed their brutality was revenge for the prisoner abuses. The news media bit. More than half of all stories on Berg mentioned Abu Ghraib, with many leading newspapers running the story with ?revenge? or ?vengeance? in the headline.
But since when can terrorists be taken at face value? Just because the terrorists claim a certain motive doesn?t mean it is so. Before the Abu Ghraib photos surfaced, terrorists didn?t exactly lack for motivation to kill Americans.
With all the attention on ?revenge? or ?vengeance,? another possible motive has been almost universally ignored.
Less than 10% of stories on Berg stated that he was Jewish, not an unimportant fact when radical Islamic terrorists say ?Death to Israel? or ?Death to the Jews? like most people breathe.
It?s plausible that Berg?s religion was not a factor in his death. But according to news reports, he had an Israeli stamp in his passport, and it?s more than likely that his murderers knew he was Jewish.
At the very least, it is an important data point that cannot be ignored.
But ignoring is something at which the media specialize.
Consider that during the same May 11 ? May 19 period, there were more than 2,500 stories on Fallujah or Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shi?ite cleric who is leading a spirited rebellion?with relatively few followers?in the south.
The particular focus on al-Sadr, in fact, has enhanced the perception among many Americans that Shi?ites are radicals who oppose the very concept of democracy.
And why wouldn?t they believe that when the mainstream media has produced precious few stories on the many peaceful demonstrations?led by Shi?ites?calling for al-Sadr to lay down his arms? Look at the numbers: of the 1,571 stories in Lexis-Nexis on al-Sadr, only 31 also contain ?peaceful demonstration? (or its plural).
With the June 30 deadline to transfer power to the Iraqi people approaching, the Washington Post on Wednesday offered the following page-one headline: ?U.S. Faces Growing Fears of Failure.? Media groupthink dictates that the next buzzword to watch is ?failure.?
Kinda describes the media?s selective outrage in covering the war in Iraq, doesn?t it?
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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