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September 23, 2003

THE IRAQ MEDIA-BIAS STORY has hit USA Today. There's a survey of reporters with different views on how things are going, which leads Virginia Postrel to observe that "There's good news and bad news, not a single coherent narrative. . . . All of which explains why I don't, from my perch in the United States, opine on the 'real' situation in Iraq."

And neither do I, of course. But what has been obvious from here is that the bad news has been consistently overplayed and the good news consistently underplayed, as demonstrated by the mismatch between the very coherent "quagmire" narrative from the Big Media and what we've heard from returning members of Congress, federal judges, touring musicians, military bloggers, returning servicemembers and -- now, finally -- members of the press.

To make an Amartya Sen sort of point, what's unfortunate about the slanted (and lazy) nature of most of the reporting is that it doesn't point out real problems in ways that can let them be fixed, and that will bring them to the attention of people who can fix them. When the coverage continues to come from the same tired Vietnam template, applied to a very different situation, it's not terribly useful and I suspect that it's largely tuned out by folks in the White House who assume (more or less correctly) that it's intended to hurt them.

But that means that they have to rely on the reports of people in the chain of command, who have their own agendas. The press is supposed to be a check on that sort of thing, but it's fallen down on the job in postwar Iraq. Fortunately, the Internet has taken up some of the slack, and is (I'm being hopeful here) spurring the Big Media folks to take a second look at what they're doing.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis has some comments.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Susanna Cornett offers perspective.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Kevin Drum thinks that I can't tell if the reporting is biased because I'm not in Iraq. Huh? When the media reports are contradicted by the reports from all sorts of other people in the region, and when even the reporters admit that they're not telling the whole story, and when Dan Rather is freakin' apologizing, and when we've heard the same "quagmire" stuff in the past only to have it turn out bogus, I think I can tell. (And Kevin doesn't let his own distance from Iraq stop him from offering his own opinion on what's going on there, in the very same post.)

The defensiveness that the left is showing on this issue suggests to me that it's hit a nerve. The "quagmire" political strategy is looking like a loser -- again.

STILL MORE: And here's another firsthand report:

On the ground in Iraq, Iíve caught wind of and read recent news articles back in the states. I figured I could clarify some things. As usual, the news media has blown some things way out of proportion.

The countryside is getting more safe by the day despite all the attacks you are hearing about. Imagine if every shooting incident or robbery committed in Los Angeles was blown way out of proportion. This is a country where most of the Saddam Hussein thugs are being chased around like scared rabbits by coalition forces. It is literally open season on them! We hunt them down like animals.

We just keep hearing things like this.

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