Sometimes it is difficult, even as a seasoned observer, to make sense of the political world. A president leaves office with a recession, the 9/11 plot in place and having acted in such a way to inspire the phrase “doing a Lewinsky,” yet he still enjoys high approval ratings. A president who liberates 50 million people, leads the country out of a recession, enacts tax cuts that result in record economic growth and cuts the deficit in half several years earlier than he promised, constantly struggles to maintain public support. Evidently public opinion of a presidency is not all about “the economy, stupid.”
Public opinion over the past few years has depended less on the economy and more on the situation in Iraq. Even if voters were naming the economy as their number one issue though, President Bush might not be faring much better. Many public opinion polls show Americans rating the economy negatively in spite of most all economic indicators showing a booming economy. I chalk it up in large measure to the way the media have covered economic news. Every piece of good news for the Bush economy, if it even gets reported, gets passed along with warnings of doom and gloom to come, in stark contrast to the rah-rah reporting the economy received in the Clinton years.
If the tone of economic reporting has influenced public opinion, consider how much more significantly the news from Iraq and the war on terror might have. While the spin put on economic reporting has resulted in a public perception at odds with economic facts, in some cases the reporting from Iraq and the war on terror has gone far beyond spin and entered an alternate reality completely divorced from facts.
In August, Mary Katharine Ham listed dozens of reasons conservatives don’t trust the mainstream media, many of them going beyond the bias long tracked by the Media Research Center and others, to reach the level of full-fledged fabrication. Included in her list were instances of “fauxtography” -- photographs faked by computer, and then sold to Reuters and other news agencies and published in news stories all over the world. Since then, the list of such examples has grown even longer.
Recently the blog Flopping Aces exposed yet another case of faulty reporting from Iraq. Not only had the Associated Press source of the widely reported story of the burning of six mosques in Iraq and the live burnings of several individuals been the source of dozens of other AP stories over the past year, but Hussein was not who he said he was. In fact, the elusive “Captain Jamil Hussein” who turns out to not be a captain with the Iraqi police, was the source for 61 AP stories.
Bob Owens explains just how wide reaching this latest story could be. “This developing Associated Press implosion may go back as far as two years, affecting as many as 60 stories from just this one allegedly fake policeman alone. And Jamil Hussein is just one of more than a dozen potentially fake Iraqi policemen used in news reports the AP disseminates around the world. This does not begin to attempt to account for non-official sources which the AP will have an even harder time substantiating. Quite literally, almost all AP reporting from Iraq not verified from reporters of other news organizations is now suspect, and with good reason.”
What I find interesting is the reaction of many in the media to questions about their reporting. I believe Dan Rather and Mary Mapes’, “fake, but accurate” still takes the prize for most incredible reaction, but some others are running a close second. When the credibility of Captain Jamil Hussein was questioned, the reaction of AP International Editor, John Daniszewski, was to lash out at the U.S. military. “The attempt to question the existence of the known police officer who spoke to the AP is frankly ludicrous and hints at a certain level of desperation to dispute or suppress the facts of the incident in question.”
Bill Roggio, reporting from Iraq, described the reaction of many in the military to the reporting they have seen coming from there. “In nearly every conversation, the soldiers, Marines and contractors expressed they were upset with the coverage of the war in Iraq in general, and the public perception of the daily situation on the ground. They felt the media was there to sensationalize the news, and several stated some reporters were only interested in "blood and guts." … This isn't the first time I encountered this sentiment from the troops. I experienced this attitude from the Marines while I was in western Iraq last year, and the soldiers in the Canadian Army in Afghanistan also expressed frustration with the media's presentation of the war.”
While many in the media have included as part of their Iraq reporting editorial comments about President Bush’s denial of the reality there, it is many in the media who now seem to be denying reality. The bias that so many have complained of for years has now been supplemented with something even worse, stories that appear to be made up altogether. Until the Associated Press and others in the media decide to seriously address the problems being uncovered with their international reporting, their credibility will remain in question.