John Leo
If you rely on newspapers and TV networks for your news, chances are you have no idea that the controversial performance of Western reporters in Iraq is emerging as a big issue. The mainstream media have virtually ignored the stunning charges made by John Burns, the New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. But those charges are all over the Internet and carried by Fox News and conservative commentators.

In his new book, "Embedded," Burns says the vast majority of correspondents in prewar Iraq played ball with Saddam and downplayed the viciousness of the regime. He said Iraq was "a grotesque charnel house" and a genuine threat to America, but to protect their access, the reporters did not tell the truth. Burns named no names (he should now) but he was particularly contemptuous of the BBC and CNN.

Burns' comments are echoed by those of U.S. District Court Judge Don Walter of Shreveport, La. This is another Internet story (dozens of sites carry it) that you aren't likely to find in newspapers. Walter was vehemently anti-war but changed his mind after an assignment in Iraq as a U.S. adviser on Iraq's courts. He says we should have invaded sooner to halt the incredible butchery and torture that the United Nations, France and Russia knew all about and were quite willing to tolerate. And he is distressed by the reporting on Iraq now: "The steady drip, drip, drip of bad news may destroy our will to fulfill the obligations we have assumed. WE ARE NOT GETTING THE WHOLE TRUTH FROM THE MEDIA." (Capitals his.)

Some members of Congress are sounding the same theme. Georgia Democrat Jim Marshall says negative media coverage is getting our troops in Iraq killed and is encouraging Baathist holdouts to think they can drive the U.S. from Iraq. Marshall, a Vietnam vet, said there is "a disconnect between the reporting and the reality," partly because the 27 reporters left in Iraq are "all huddled in a hotel."

Marshall and a bipartisan group of six other representatives just returned from Iraq. The lawmakers charged that reporters have developed an overall negative tone and a "police blotter" mind-set, stressing attacks and little else. Ranking member Ike Skelton, D.-Mo., said he was impressed with the flexibility and innovation of the American military, including 3,100 projects in northern Iraq, from soccer fields to schools to refineries, "all good stuff, and that isn't being reported."

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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