Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Sneering Lede, Buried Context

AP writer John Solomon goes for a new low in the "sneering lede" contest:

WASHINGTON - President Bush is fond of telling Americans they have liberated Iraq and that the country's future generations will be thankful. The current generation, however, overwhelmingly views U.S. forces as occupiers and wishes they would just leave, according to a poll commissioned by the administration.

Oh, it's grim news. And the AP's Solomon just delights in rubbing it in, even giving the impression that, somehow, the CPA tried to cover it up (though the intrepid AP somehow got hold of it, as did every other news outlet).

The poll, requested by the Coalition Provisional Authority last month but not released to the American public, found more than half of Iraqis surveyed believed both that they'd be safer without U.S. forces and that all Americans behave like the military prison guards pictured in the Abu Ghraib abuse photos.

And after more damning statistics, especially compared to earlier reports, and more armchair experts weighing in on the death of the Bush Administration, in the 19th paragraph out of 21 in the story comes the key bit you needed all along to put this in context.

The coalition's Iraq polling of 1,093 adults selected randomly in six cities — Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Diwaniyah, Hillah and Baquba ....

All city-dwellers. The security and progress in the cities of Iraq tends to be less than that of the country as a whole. The change in quality of life in some village along the Euphrates in the Southern Marshes since the war began is dramatic. In Baghdad, some things are still worse, in part because Saddam steered some resources, like electricity, into the capital before the war and starved the countryside.

And look at the cities: Three Shiite and two Sunni and Baghdad. Baquba and Mosul are two of the most restive in the country. Basra and Diwaniyah were shaken by al-Sadr's uprising during just the period of the polling.

And look whose missing: not just all the rural folk, but all the Kurds. A full 15 percent or so of Iraq, where people consistently report that they are as happy as clams with the U.S. effort. Take that 15 percent off all the "pro-American" results of all the earlier, balanced polls, and you'll get the point that the numbers, while not good, are not in fact spiraling out of hand.

But don't count on the AP to tell you that.