April 17, 2004

HERE'S A LETTER TO THE EDITOR from a recently returned Iraq vet. Like many other such letters, it says that thngs are much better there than media reports suggest.

I tend to believe that -- things are better almost everywhere (except Cuba) than media reports suggest., But as I've said before, the biggest problem with the Iraq reporting isn't that it's too negative, though it is, it's that it doesn't tell us what we need to know. The CERP issue, for example, was probably the most important single thing going on last summer/fall but it got very little attention from the media. Likewise, the big media were slow to follow up on Zeyad's war-crime scoop. And I ran an email regarding problems at the CPA that haven't been addressed by big media much, but that are quite important if they're as bad as my reader suggests.

Despite last week's hysteria, which made factional fighting -- ugly but limited -- out to be a massive popular uprising, it's clear that the real issues in Iraq are political, not military. Is our government doing a good job? It's hard to tell. And the tendency, knowing that the media are overplaying some negatives, is to apply Kentucky windage and assume that things in general are better than they say. This may be true, but it may also be true (as the above examples suggest, and as I've noted before on multiple occasions) that there's not just good news, but bad news, going unreported.

That's especially unfortunate, because good reporting doesn't just inform ordinary folks like us. It's also a check on reports that flow up within the chain of command, making sure that real problems get noticed and not papered over. I'm afraid that the White House, understandably tired of the unrelenting negativity that has given us the Brutal Afghan Winter of 2002, the Invasion-Killing Sandstorm of 2003, and the Mass Popular Uprising of 2004, may have started tuning out negative reports.

That would be a mistake, and here's one that shouldn't be tuned out: Jordan's King Abdullah is worried about increasing chances for civil war in Iraq: "Six months ago, I didn't think it was a possibility. I still don't think it is, but for the first time we're nervous."

He's unimpressed with the de-Baathification program, which he says has turned many people in to malcontents unnecessarily. Is he right? I don't know (though this echoes, in some ways, concerns raised by Chief Wiggles many months ago). But it's the kind of thing people ought to be thinking about, and the kind of thing I'd like to see reporting on. The blogosphere has been carrying more than its share of the load on this stuff, and it's not really something that blogs are ideally suited for. Big media can do it better -- if they want to, and if they bother to.