September 28, 2003

UPI CORRESPONDENT PAMELA HESS has an interesting piece on media coverage of matters in Iraq. It’s long, and complex, enough to defy simple summary, but here are some excerpts:

It is an important debate to have. Coverage out of Iraq is largely negative, and the surprise to me upon arriving there in July was that it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as I thought it was going to be. People are on the streets evening and morning, eating at restaurants and doing their shopping. They swim in the Tigris to keep cool. They play soccer. . . .

If the CPA feels that its successes are not getting appropriate media attention, they might ask themselves why.

On my first day in Baghdad, I submitted the required written request for more than a dozen interviews and briefings, knowing many would not be granted. Four weeks later, when I left Baghdad, my requests had never even been formally acknowledged — although a CPA spokesman confirmed they had been received — and none were ever acted upon. . . .

These Marines, from Gen. Mattis down, understood what Keane talked about Thursday: that the deaths of American soldiers (not a single Marine has been killed by hostile fire since April 12) are statistically small but play into the hands of the enemy, who depend on the daily news report of the grim statistic for psychological victory. They want Iraq to seem lawless and ungovernable and most of all dangerous, so the Americans and the 20,000 other troops will leave.

There is another reason they are dismayed by the media coverage: It gives way too much credit to the enemy. The attacks on U.S. soldiers are relatively “cheap” — they are remotely detonated bombs or mortar or grenade attacks conducted from far off. They don’t require much in the way of expertise or bravery. Each news report of each hostile death — and there have been 81 since combat operations supposedly ended May 1 — contributes (the military says unjustly) to their image as a credible fighting force.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Rapid response!

Just read the Pam Hess piece you linked to about media coverage in Iraq. Given that I am sitting squarely in the middle of the CPA press shop in Baghdad as I write this, I feel qualified enough to comment.

First, Hess completely leaves out one of the reasons for the easier time the Marines (and the Army’s 101st Airborne in the north) are having with the population. Namely, the Shia and Kurds were more favorably disposed to the Americans deposing Saddam and hence more likely to “give peace a chance” once the Americans settled in to rebuild. Not so in “the triangle” and in Baghdad proper, and it is Army units that got that assignment.

This is a critical point because it explains some of of the Army’s skittishnes about reporters. This isn’t to say that the Marines didn’t approach this correctly right from the start, they have. It’s just to highlight that the (Army) units in and around Baghdad got the tougher assignment and hence are a little more strained in their daily effort. Which in turn tends to mean they are more restrained with reporters roaming around. . . .

Her piece here is just one long apologia for the press who are now being rightly) assailed for letting their biases choose what actually makes it into print and this seems to be in line with her previous work and reputation.

Finally, Hess fails to mention how understaffed the CPA itself is and thus by extension its public affairs effort. It’s tough to give all the media everything they want when you lack the manpower to do it. Sure, more people would be great. But more people come with more logistical and other problems and, while I am not privy to this decision, I would not be surprised if there was a conscious decision to limit the “footprint” of CPA in order to avoid the perception that the CPA is here to stay. Already you can find grumbling on the Iraqi General Council that they are ready to take on more governing responsibility. Increasing the footprint of CPA would tend to send a signal that we’re overly paternalistic here. Not an image we are trying to foster.

Not sure if any of this is interesting to you or not. But I just thought I’d take 5 minutes to point out just a SMALL part of the other side. I’d appreciate being anonymous if you use any of this.

Done. I must say that I’ve found Hess’s commentary on this pretty balanced — but then, I’m not square in the middle of things in Baghdad, so I can only compare it to what I’m hearing from other reporters.

In a related vein, read this.