Media Bias Taints Perception of Iraq War

By: Greg C. Reeson

There’s general agreement among Americans that when it comes to the subject of bias in the mainstream media, Republicans and Democrats hold very different views. The former often complain that the major news organizations slant considerably to the left, and the latter often counter that the media is generally neutral and sometimes favors the right. Nowhere is the difference in perception more obvious than in the reaction of Republicans and Democrats to media coverage of the war in Iraq.

According to a new survey released by the Pew Research Center, Republicans tend to trust the news they receive from the Pentagon and military spokesmen in Iraq, and distrust the reporting of the mainstream media. For Democrats, the opposite holds true, with most distrusting the information provided by American military leaders, choosing instead to rely on the media for what they consider accurate Iraq war reporting.

Many prominent GOP politicians have complained that the mainstream media’s depiction of the situation in Iraq is unfairly one-sided, and I have written before that most news organizations tend to follow the “If it bleeds, it leads” reporting strategy. Sensationalism sells and images of blown up military vehicles and downed helicopters capture the attention of an audience much more than video streams or pictures of school openings and hospital renovations.

The practice of looking for the next big bang, whether it comes from a suicide bomber in a market or from an ambush on coalition troops, conditions Americans to believe that there is absolutely nothing positive happening in Iraq. The whole place is going to hell and there’s nothing we can do to stop it, or so the mainstream mantra goes. Daily images of violence and chaos frustrate Republicans who support our efforts in Iraq and reinforce the preconceived notions of Democrats who want to get our troops home at any cost.

Such reporting also prevents stories of progress from getting to the American public. For example, Colonel Paul Funk of the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division recently briefed from Iraq that the recent troop increases in Baghdad provided under the President’s plan had reduced the number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in his sector of the city by forty percent. He also told reporters that Iraqi civilian murders in northern Baghdad, the sectarian violence that often dominates the mainstream media’s reporting and is frequently used to justify our departure from a “civil war” that we can’t mediate, were down from a high of about eight per month to just one or two per month since the initiation of the new security program. And that’s just in his sector, which comprises about 900 square miles and is home to 2 million Iraqi citizens. Where was this story on the national news circuit? What about the stories of reduced violence and improved security in other sectors of Baghdad

The good news from Iraq is available for those who want to find it. The problem is that Americans should not have to go looking for the truth from independent web journals or outside sources found in the rapidly evolving “new” or “alternative” media. Fair and accurate reporting could do much to change the public’s opinion of the war, merely by providing both sides of the story.

Imagine if the mainstream media devoted as much time to stories about the good things our troops are doing as they allow for the bombs and the blood. Perhaps Americans would be less skeptical about our prospects for success if they were able to tune in to the evening news and see a balanced approach to Iraq, one that provided a truer picture of what was happening on the ground. Perhaps then the calls for precipitous withdrawal would die down just a bit as the public realized that all wars involve both progress and setbacks, and not just the latter.

A change in perception could go a long way toward allowing the President, as the Constitutionally-designated Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, to focus on making his plan for Iraq work without attempts from the left to sabotage it before it is even fully implemented. Then maybe our military men and women could finish the task at hand and return home with the dignity and honor they deserve, and not as pawns pulled from the battlefield prematurely as part of a defeatist strategy that will surely come back to haunt us in the future.

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