A petty, partisan press

Posted: Apr 18, 2003 12:00 AM

Perhaps nothing so epitomized what is wrong with the media as Wolf Blitzer of CNN "reporting" on the war in Iraq, talking not about what had happened but about something that had not happened. No one had yet found weapons of mass destruction, he said, even though it was almost a month since the war began.

A month!

If only we could have asked Wolf Blitzer how many countries he had invaded, that he was able to blithely assume that a month was a long time to get things under control and to search a country that is far larger than Italy.

From the earliest days of the war against Iraq, many in the media have been like the proverbial little kid on a trip who keeps asking, "Are we there yet?" A notable exception have been the reporters traveling with the troops, who have apparently gotten some sense of reality from being shot at and seeing fellow Americans being wounded and killed.

As shrinking percentages of our population have ever served in the military -- especially among those in the media and in politics -- you might think that their ignorance would make them reluctant to pontificate. But, on the contrary, it seems to have emboldened more people into second guessing of a kind that was seldom seen in World War II.

More than ignorance is involved, however. There has been a systematic and persistent emphasis on the peripheral and negative aspects of this war in most of the media. Not only have the editorial office heroes fixed their attention on the little picture, they have accentuated the negative, such as collateral damage during the war and looting by civilians in captured cities.

The big story about collateral damage is how relatively little of it there was, in the midst of devastating bombings of military targets. After Iraqi civilians realized that the bombs were not falling on their neighborhoods, but on the regime's strongholds, they began going out to restaurants in Baghdad, despite nightly air raids, and it was common to see televised pictures of traffic on the streets of the besieged city.

Nothing can make war anything other than tragic. But comparing this war with other wars -- rather than with perfection -- it has been a marvel of military accomplishment and humanitarian concerns.

When historians look back on these times, the big picture they will see is the destruction of a recklessly dangerous dictatorship that has been a menace to its neighbors and a murderous scourge to its own people.

In global perspective, they will see this as the United States finally striking back in a serious way against centers of international terrorism, instead of continuing the policies of previous administrations of speaking loudly and carrying a little stick.

When Normandy was invaded, everyone understood that the big picture was the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe, not how many innocent French civilians were killed -- though there were thousands -- or how many American soldiers died from being bombed accidentally by American planes, though there were about as many killed this way in one incident in Normandy as have died in combat during the entire war in Iraq.

There is more outcry in today's media about looting in Iraq than there ever was about looting in American cities during riots. They have treated every pause in military action in Iraq as a quagmire and a sign of Pentagon plans gone awry -- even though journalists haven't seen those plans.

The more remarkable the successes on the battlefield in Iraq, the more desperate much of the media have striven to find something -- anything -- to complain about. The more the polls have shown overwhelming support for the war and the president by the American people at large, the more the media cover anti-war demonstrations and provide a forum for those who organize them.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the media are less concerned about the big picture today, or how all this will look in history, than with how the Bush administration's victory in Iraq will affect the 2004 elections. After all, studies have shown that nine out of ten journalists vote for the Democrats.