War is hell, but a short, successful war that ends with the natives dancing in the streets presents a particular hell for the "peace" movement. It hasn't been a great time for some reporters, either, at least the ones who live and breathe to rain skepticism on the power, the potential and the idealism of America.
Think Ted Koppel. Embedded with the troops but never to be accused of being Mr. Rah-Rah, Koppel has been quite the opposite, Mr. Carp-Carp. Just after the war started three weeks ago, Koppel said achieving military success would be very difficult and we can "forget the easy victories of the last 20 years." Oops.
Once coalition troops took control of Baghdad and images of elated Iraqis were bounced around the world (except in Arab tyrannies), Koppel just had to throw cold water on it all. "Those are the benign photogenic events that can delude us into misunderstanding what lies ahead," Koppel complained. "Now comes the hard part," even the "toughest part," rebuilding Iraq and building new political institutions. (Are we going to lose 100 American soldiers rebuilding palaces and parliaments?)
It's as if Koppel is trapped in a Sixties-vintage leftist novel, where the Americans are always deluded and ethnocentric boors who misunderstand the world around them are doomed to failure. Or maybe he's trapped in a leftist movie. A few days into the war, Koppel ended a "Nightline" by quoting the movie "A Few Good Men," promising his best "to give you the truth," citing the Jack Nicholson line, "You can't handle the truth," Koppel expressed "the hope that you can handle it."
So who can't handle the truth now?
While the war was on and progressing fabulously, the leftist press critics relentlessly complained. The press was too soft on the generals! Too shy about bloody images of death! Too willing to accept Team Bush propaganda! Too eager to humanize American soldiers! Too unwilling to give the itsy-bitsy "peace" movement fully 50 percent of the airtime! (Can you imagine? "We break into this analysis of the tactics and strategies being used in the battle of Basra for this hour's segment of War! Good God, Y'all! What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing.") These kooky critiques got the lion's share of attention because they reflected the worldview of those who control the news.
Now it's time for the conservative media critics to get our due. Now that the war is over and Iraqis are cheering in the streets, isn't it high time to assess how all of the press's negativity -- especially before the war, if not just during -- has made the Fourth Estate look positively goofy?
I suppose we could just thank our lucky stars that all the negative prognostications were all wet and leave it at that. But we shouldn't. We should remind ourselves, and remind them that contrary to the predictions, there were no homeland terrorist attacks, no chemical gassings of the troops, no mass mobilization of Arab killers, no 100-percent-of-the-vote fierce support for Saddam Hussein, no quagmire of unending length, no public-opinion debacle for President Bush, no hopelessly fractured alliances. But being a journalist means never having to say you're sorry.
Too much journalism today in our 24-hour news cycle is crystal ball speculation into the future, not reporting on the present. Thus we see so many in the media already launching into critiques against the administration's allegedly haughty approach to reconstruction, using the same U.N.-promoting template from the pre-war period.
Wait two seconds. Hasn't anything changed for the better? Haven't we learned anything from the last few weeks? Isn't Free Iraq now a great place for journalists to assess what they got wrong in speculating about the war, instead of simply moving on to speculate that now the political phase is the "toughest" part? Shouldn't journalists -- along with the rest of the world -- acknowledge that the United States has removed a threat to the world that the United Nations would never dare to remove?
Maybe the "toughest" part of this war is not left to armed forces, but to those members of the news media who were too relentlessly negative to be fair. Now they should have to explain why they squeezed news events through their own prejudicial anti-war filter at the risk of threatening to undermine the war effort. There's a lot for which they should answer, but they won't.