Friday, June 04, 2004

Wrapping the Week, rapping the weak

Zeyad's blog has a good reaction to the news of a new government.

Meanwhile, The Greenside has a fascinating from-the-spot post on the dynamic of the U.S. military in Fallujah.

Since we have stayed out of Fallujah and focused elsewhere, the mujahadeen have had their run of the town. As they have had no one to fight, they have turned their criminal instincts on the citizens. The clerics who once were whipping these idiots into a suicidal frenzy are now having to issue Fatwas (holy decrees) admonishing the muj for extortion, rape, murder and kidnapping. It is unfortunate for the "innocent people" of Fallujah but the mujahadeen have betrayed themselves as the thugs that they are by brutalizing the civilians. There are, in fact, reports of rape, etc from inside the town.

While the muj are thugging away inside the town, we are about 1/2 mile away paying claims, entering into dialogue and contracting jobs. The citizens come outside the city for work and money and are treated like human beings. They go back inside and enter a lawless hell. In short, the muj have done more to show the people what hypocrites they are in a few short weeks than we could have hoped for in a year.

I should be appalled. I've been in journalism since 1983. My boss in West Chester taught me the only job we had, really, was to be indispensible. I have access to a dozen wire services and thousands of pictures every day. Yet when I want to know what's going on in Iraq, I read Zeyad, and Alaa and Muhammad and Omar. When I want to get into the lives of soldiers, I go milblogging.

This is not just blog-logic. I read two essays this week, the one from Jay Rosen, the head of NYU school of journalism, the other from Rod Dreher, an editorial writer at the Dallas Morning News. Both men frankly confessed that the media was ignoring major chunks of the Iraq story, and both mentioned Iraqi blogs as the place to go for it.

Are you hearing this? These aren't idle critics. They are pillars of the vaunted Amendment-protected American press, the Fourth Estate of the Free World, the cornerstone of democracy. Their industry that has poured billions of dollars, millions of miles of cable, and thousands of reporters into coverage of Iraq.

And the head of one of the four top journalism teaching institutions in the United States confesses, offhand, that when he wants to know what's going on in the mind and life of an average Iraqi, he logs on to the Internet and reads from a blog written by a dentist in Basra.

Rosen writes that the missing story is the rebuilding of Iraq. Along with the military fights and the political fights, this is one of the three "legs" of the Iraq story. He points out that the success or failure of this is one of the essential things Americans need to know to determine whether to re-elect Bush or not.

It could be either good news or bad news; the work could be going well or poorly, but we just don't know. The few facts that seep into converage lack context.

Dreher's piece from Dallas was a response to readers' charges that a biased media overlooked the "good news," especially regarding the hearts-and-minds work that soldiers and Marines are doing in Iraq. That, too, is an undertold story, certainly, and fiercely frustrating to those of us who support the war and are tuned to it.

But I think what's really missing from our military coverage is not so much the good news, but the Ernie Pyle quality. I don't mean his "doing my part" presumption about the essential goodness of the soldiers or the unquestioned justness of the fight. I am convinced that the war on terror is as desperate and important as World War II, but I accept that many, probably most, Americans do not (if they did, we'd be rationing gas).

But when Pyle wrote a war story, he wrote about GIs. I've read hundreds of AP and Reuters stories in the past year about battles and skirmishes in Iraq. They quote enemy militia fighters. They quote U.S. generals in the Green Zone. They quote White House spokesmen in Washington.

Where are the G.I.s? The exact people Pyle put at the center of everything he wrote, the people most Americans are most interested in. The ones who performed splendidly, picking off the thugs without putting a scratch in the precious Shi'ite mosques. Where are they? They're invisible in these stories.

And so I go to the blogs of military men and women or their families. That's where I read the story of both the firefights and the soccer games with the local kids.

Indispensible? Well, the day someone finds a way to line your cat box with a blog, I think I better get out of newspapers.