Once upon a time the bad old American news media reported stories in ways the Pentagon didn’t like. No, strike that. The media reported the facts on the ground, and by doing so, the media “unfairly” portrayed military actions. Thus, the media became America’s enemy, one potent enough to make the US military lose battles in Iraq, if not in the military sense, than in the political one. Now however, the media is doing a much better job portraying the “successes” of US forces in Iraq, and have rejoined Team America in the War against Global Extremism (Rumsfeld Trademark Pending).
Nice fairy tale by a loony lefty, right? Well, not exactly. It seems the above analysis comes straight from the military itself, or more specifically, from an assessment prepared by the Army’s National Ground Intelligence Center:
A secret intelligence assessment of the first battle of Fallujah shows that the U.S. military thinks that it lost control over information about what was happening in the town, leading to “political pressure” that ended its April 2004 offensive with control being handed to Sunni insurgents.
“The outcome of a purely military contest in Fallujah was always a foregone conclusion — coalition victory,” read the assessment, prepared by analysts at the U.S. Army’s National Ground Intelligence Center, or NGIC.
“But Fallujah was not simply a military action, it was a political and informational battle. … The effects of media coverage, enemy information operations and the fragility of the political environment conspired to force a halt to U.S. military operations,” concluded the assessment.
Yep, America’s media were the bad guys back in the pre-surge days. Reporting on Abu Ghraib. Reporting on the use of white phosphorus combined with high explosives against civilian populations in Fallujah. Reporting on American support and training for Shi’ite death squads which helped ethnically cleanse Baghdad. Reporting on the ongoing violence in general, including the fact that our troops are in the middle of a sectarian civil war which is the direct result of the Bush administration’s incompetence and strategic failures that commenced on the first day Bush ordered the Pentagon to plan for Iraqi regime change through the use of America’s military might.
Now however, the media has regained its “good relations” with the US military, thanks to its “proper” reporting of General Petraeus’ surge strategy. Indeed, the US military in Iraq once more hearts the US media in Iraq, at least according to The New York Times. Compare and contrast how the military used to view the media according to the NYT:
As insurgent violence rose in 2003, echoes of that earlier conflict in Southeast Asia could be heard. The downturn accelerated with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in 2004. The credibility of the armed forces fell even further in the eyes of reporters when it was disclosed that military contractors in Baghdad had paid Iraqi reporters for stories in the local news media.
In return, the military’s familiar complaints resumed: There is no coverage of the good news from Iraq, officers said. The focus is on violence and daily casualty counts, and not progress. Reporters cannot or will not get out and about in Iraq to tell the whole story. Editors and reporters are biased. […]
But that was then. This is now.
“It is obvious that many of the stories in print and television now have a more positive tenor; it ties directly to what is happening on the ground,” said Lt. Col. James Hutton, public affairs officer for Multinational Corps-Iraq and the spokesman for Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of day-to-day military operations.
“I’m satisfied that the majority of reporters on the ground want to get the story right and are responsive when their reporting is seen as less than accurate and we call them on it,” said Colonel Hutton, who is nearing the end of his second tour of duty in Iraq.
Setting the tone from the top, General Petraeus decided that managing the military’s media mission required a high-ranking career public affairs officer, and he assigned Rear Adm. Greg Smith, previously chief of information for the Navy, to be director of communications for Multinational Force-Iraq, the top military command structure in the country. […]
“I think there was a period time in the past in which reporting was behind reality,” Admiral Smith said. “Today, that gap between perception and reality has closed, if not completely.”
Yes, if nothing else, our forces are winning the war against the media. Nothing like hiring a public relations expert to manage the news coming out of Iraq better. That General Petraeus really is a genius. It doesn’t matter if the story is getting told right, so long as what is being reported makes him look good. The fact is that, as Juan Cole pointed out, the “surge” has been largely ineffectual. As for the vaunted reduction in violence in Sunni strongholds such as Anbar province, it was the military’s decision to stop harsh raids and patrols by American forces in those Sunni areas and let the locals provide their own security while giving them US arms and money which has led to the reduction of US troop deaths from IED’s and “terrorist fighters.” The surge is also not responsible for Muqtada al-Sadr’s decision to have the Mehdi Army stand down in order to avoid confrontations with US forces. Nor is the surge responsible for the number of Iraqi refugees who are returning to Iraq, not because of any downward trend in violence, but because they are being forced to leave those countries, like Syria, to which they fled, by a combination of economic necessity and more stringent immigration policies by Iraq’s neighbors.
Stories all reported by the foreign media, but little commented upon here in these United States by our own newspapers, broadcasters and multinational media conglomerates. I don’t doubt that it is incredibly difficult for reporters to cover Iraq in a manner which would allow them to discern as much of the truth as is possible regarding ongoing events there. However, it now appears that what many of us have suspected for a long time is occurring: in the interest of keeping on General Petraeus’ “good side” we are now seeing stories slanted by reporters (or their editors) to show the US military in Iraq in a “positive” light. No wonder we aren’t hearing much from our American media in Iraq these days. No news is always good news, true?
I’m sure that’s the way General Petraeus looks at it.