Kathleen Parker

Here are the headlines you may have missed: "Iraqi democracy takes bow to standing ovation, global applause" Or "Iraqi voter turnout another blow to al-Qaida." Or perhaps: "Joyful Americans dance in streets as Iraqi voters approve new constitution."

Fat chance. In some towns and cities, Americans who rely on the local paper for news might not have known there was a constitutional referendum in Iraq on Saturday. Or that there was almost no violence. Or that more than 10 million Iraqis voted, including many Sunnis.

Sure, many Sunnis opposed the referendum, but many more apparently didn't. Early ballot counts as of Monday seemed to indicate that the constitution had passed, from which we might infer that more Sunnis than not found the constitution acceptable.

Not perfect, but acceptable. Workable. Amendable.

What matters is, they voted. They went to the polls and practiced democracy - again - in a country that three years ago staggered under tyrannical rule. So that even a grouchy old headline writer might concede that this was rather fabulous news.

Instead, the American print media have been relatively muted in reporting the referendum. Given that ballots are still being counted, some caution is appropriate. But surely there's some ground between cautiously optimistic and spiritually stingy.

Curious to see how the story played across the country, I took a tour of America's front pages, which are available at the Newseum's Web site (www.newseum.org). It's fascinating to see how different newspapers play the same news stories on a given day, and how that play may reflect the paper's community.

There also may be a lesson buried in the bold type as to why increasing numbers of Americans have been finding alternative news sources, principally among blogs. Often, traditional news sources and the blogs reflect different realities, as with the story I tracked.

The tone of a majority of newspapers I viewed both Sunday and Monday was restrained to tepid. With some exceptions, headlines conveyed that familiar "yes, but" qualification. As in, "Yeah, sure, Iraq got a new constitution and took a giant stride toward independent self-rule, but life is still hell and, by the way, six American soldiers died."

Admittedly, my cursory review hardly qualifies as scientific, but a quick survey suggests that the public's perception that the media take a glass-half-empty approach to news coverage, especially the war in Iraq, is justified. Here, for instance, is The Baltimore Sun's Monday headline: "Arguments begin over count of Iraq vote."

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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