First in a series
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Last week, our "War Stories" team was on the U.S.-Mexico border documenting the tidal wave of violence and illegal activity on America's "southern front." This week, we're back in Afghanistan to detail what's happening in the shadows of the Hindu Kush. The outcomes of both these fights are of vital importance to the American people. But it's hard to get the facts on the fights from the way these stories are being covered by the so-called mainstream media.
The potentates of the press apparently have decided that the "war on drugs" has been lost and that "amnesty" for illegal aliens is a substitute for secure borders. In their exuberance to convince the public of these positions, major U.S. print and broadcast outlets provide breathless reports of wholesale bloodshed in Mexico, but they overlook slow but steady improvements in border security and successes in dismantling drug cartels. In short, "surrender" is being presented as the only option. This same sentiment is evident in the coverage of the campaign here in Afghanistan.
On Sept. 18, the Afghan people went to the polls to elect a new national parliament. It was similar to the kind of legislative election we will hold in less than six weeks -- with the same portent for political change. Yet most U.S. media coverage of Afghanistan's experiment in representative government focused on insurgent attacks aimed at disrupting the vote. Newspaper and television reports claimed "low voter interest" and highlighted "Taliban attacks aimed at reducing turnout." But, as we learned once we arrived here, those stories were simply wrong.
There were insurgent attacks -- but one-third fewer than during last year's presidential elections. According to international observers, fewer than 1 percent of polling stations had any violence at all. And those same monitors reported voter turnout -- an estimated 3.6 million, or about 40 percent of those eligible -- was actually higher than it was in the 2009 election.
Set aside for a moment that most Afghan voters had to ignore the risk of violence, walk to their local polling stations and wait in long lines -- and that turnout was higher than it is in most of our "off-year" elections. Ask instead how those who reported this story managed to get it so wrong. The answer, of course, is that there is an agenda in many of our media. Those who "shape the news" have a predisposition for the negative and make a conscious choice to ignore "good news" that contradicts their bias.
Therefore, "news" from here tends to spotlight corruption in the Karzai government, the tribulations caused by pervasive opium production and American military losses. Reports datelined "Kabul" and stories filed from Kandahar and Herat frequently cite the ineffectiveness of the Afghan National Security Forces. Yet when Gen. David Petraeus commended the ANSF after the recent elections for "safeguarding a weapon with greater potential than any other: the people's right to vote," he was all but ignored.
The consistent theme in the U.S. media is that we are engaged in a war that cannot be won. "Reporters" here and editors at home have decided their theme: Afghanistan is a lost cause. It's all George W. Bush's fault for ignoring "the necessary war" and picking a fight with Saddam Hussein.
Negative news infatuation disorder is the only rational explanation for the exuberant coverage of the palace intrigues perpetrated by Washington insiders depicted in Bob Woodward's new book, "Obama's Wars." Instead of covering the troops fighting this war and concentrating on the far more relevant issue of how it is being fought, it's far easier -- and apparently more fun -- to focus on internecine battles within the present administration.
Some of the salacious gossip Woodward chronicles does, of course, matter to the outcome of the campaign in this difficult and dangerous place. In one passage widely circulated in advance of the book's release, the president is quoted as saying: "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever ... we absorbed it and we are stronger." If this comment is cited accurately, it is a stunning, unprecedented and particularly heartless perspective for a democratically elected head of state.
Totalitarians often speak of the punishment their followers will tolerate. But no other Western president or prime minister -- even in the midst of World War II -- is quoted as saying his civilian population should be expected to "absorb" nearly 3,000 killed and nearly as many injured by an adversary in order to fulfill a political goal.
Thank goodness few of the warriors we are covering here in Afghanistan are even aware of the intrigues swirling in Washington or the negative news so fascinating to our media elites. The troops here are too busy fighting America's real enemies.