John Leo

A. Well, we recommended stressing the daily count of dead American soldiers. We also pioneered all those references to terrorists attacks as "the bloodiest since" some day or other--January 1, maybe, or any date picked at random, like Lincoln's Birthday or Groundhog Day. Nice. Nobody thought to make that "bloodiest since" comparison during World War II or Vietnam. It's been a big breakthrough. Now we're working on the theme that American soldiers murdered a lot of journalists in Iraq, but people tend to want evidence when you bring that up, so it's a problem. We've also generated two year's worth of claims that Iraqi women are no better off and in some cases worse off today than they were under Saddam. Of course under Saddam they got turned over to rape squads, sexually tortured, and beheaded. So we have some work to do there.

Q. Weren't you afraid that the Iraqi vote would make Bush look good?

A. That's been a tough one. A lot of folks have been looking forward to a collapse in Iraq, so they could gloat over Bush's failure. But rooting for your own country to lose a war doesn't seem to play well in the media for some reason. When the Soviet Union fell apart, to deny Reagan any credit, we pushed the idea that it would have happened anyway. Iraq has been a mess, but things seem to be going Bush's way, and we can't say he didn't shake up the Middle East just as he said he would.

Q. So how are you handling things, given the uprising in Lebanon, the pro-election noises in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, democracy restored in Ukraine, restiveness in Iran and the brightening prospect of a deal between Israelis and Palestinians?

A. Well, we're trying a bit of it-would-have-happened-anyway to keep from crediting Bush. We're also suggesting mixed press reports saying that, yes, there are signs of optimism, but disaster may be right around the corner. Just look at all the headlines that included "New Promise of Democracy and Threat of Instability" and "Iraq's Election, Its Outcome Murky, Is Seen as a 'Jungle of Ambiguity.'" "Future Looks Bright But Is Really Bleak" would be our ideal headline. We're taking our usual doom-and-gloom predictions and gluing them on the end of the optimistic reports. This is just an interim strategy, mind you. The Druze leader in Lebanon, Walid Jumblatt, said he had been cynical about elections in Iraq, but the democratic revolt is spreading. He said, "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all are saying that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it." So you can see what we're up against. We badly need a new infusion of pessimism. Maybe I should just call Teddy again.

John Leo

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

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