In today’s New York Times, David Carr has a piece about the dwindling media coverage of the Iraq War. Carr begins writing about war fatigue and soon descends into a lament about Pentagon restrictions on media and, of course, the human toll of the war. When a media expert cites the success of the troop surge as a possible cause for decreased coverage, Carr is quick to minimize the point:
“Ironically, the success of the surge and a reduction in violence has led to a reduction in coverage,” said Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “There is evidence that people have made up their minds about this war, and other stories – like the economy and the election – have come along and sucked up all the oxygen.”
But the tactical success of the surge should not be misconstrued as making Iraq a safer place for American soldiers.
(Anyone interested in “misconstruing” the definition of success to actually mean success, should go check out this Los Angeles Times article about the four-year-low in Iraq violence.)
The MSM has reasons beyond widespread anti-war, anti-Bush sentiment to keep post-surge good news out of the headlines. H. Fred Garcia, media consultant at Logos Consulting Group, cites the five C’s that make a story newsworthy: Conflict, Contradiction, Controversy, Cast of Characters and Colorful Language. With the progress made in the last year, the Iraq War has disappointed in delivering the five C’s to outlets like the New York Times. Let’s consider them one-by-one:
Conflict: A more stable Iraq means, by definition, less conflict. Where there was once talk of civil war, there is now talk of reconciliation. Stories about parliamentary sessions don’t contain body counts, and pictures of bill-signings don’t make it to the front page as frequently as battle scenes.
Contradiction: General David Petraeus is in the honorable habit of telling it like it is. Whereas jettisoned personalities like Donald Rumsfeld could be relied upon to observe setbacks and brag of successes, Gen. Petraeus is circumspect when testifying about hard-won progress. How can the media trip up a man who readily concedes that the success he’s seeing is “fragile and reversible”? Furthermore there’s greater public agreement coming out of the Pentagon and the State Department than there was in the early days of the war. The Petraeus plan has been settled upon and there’s very little in-fighting to leak out.
Controversy: If you go to google.com/news and type in “Iraq scandal”, you’ll get hits for Abu Ghraib, Guantanemo Bay, Walter Reed, insufficient body armor, and Blackwater. These are all years-old stories of varying merit. Try as they might, the MSM has been unable to make any fresh controversy stick to the coalition’s effort in Iraq.
Cast of Characters: Iraq isn’t a soap opera anymore. The days of Donald Rumsfeld and Baghdad Bob are over. There is no more hubristic overstatement, wise-cracking insouciance, or delusional ranting. On the American side Gen. Petraeus and Ryan Crocker don’t project primetime appeal. They appear before cameras to make their case and then go back to work. On the Iraqi side, there’s no more Saddam Hussein or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The classic villains have been slain. (The aged and puny Tariq Aziz is currently standing trial for war crimes and no one even notices.) The MSM salivates over Moqtada al-Sadr’s every bark and growl, but as he continues to be marginalized the effort to turn him into a larger-than-life personage grows evermore challenging. As Prime Minister al-Maliki goes about the unglamorous business of Iraqi statehood, he fails to cut the dashing image of, say, (one-time prime minister hopeful) Ahmed Chalibi.
Colorful language: The lexicon of battle is far more lurid than the lexicon of reconciliation. We’ve gone from the pyrotechnics of “Shock and Awe” and the exotic horror of exploding golden domes to the legalese of parliamentary decisions. The most hysterical effort at maintaining the electrified language of war can be found in the lede of a July 27 New York Times story about ice in Bagdhad: “Each day before the midsummer sun rises high enough to bake blood on concrete, Baghdad’s underclass lines up outside Dickensian ice factories.” Blood can bake only so many times as violence decreases.
So: We’re left with the humdrum narrative of slow and steady progress. Happiness, they say, writes white. While no one would characterize Iraq as happy, there’s been more boring good news coming from Mesopotamia in the past year than the MSM knows what to do with.