Monday, July 05, 2004

"Washington Post" exposed

I'm a little late with this June 29 piece (I was on vacation last week), but Eric M. Johnson has a fine critique of the WaPo's Iraq coverage. The Post is one of the handful of Big Media outlets that drive the total U.S. coverage of that war, by having an actual staff in Iraq. Smaller papers buy its stories to supplement the AP's, because they have no eyes and ears of their own in Iraq.

Not that it matters that the Post has anyone in the country. Military men and women coming back say they don't recognize Iraq when they read about it in newspapers like the Post. As I suspected, these "reporters" rarely venture out of the safe zones and their editors have an overwhelmingly negative bias about the U.S. effort there. This badly warps the paper's coverage, because the stories are either seeking out bad news or being willfully out of touch with the daily realities of most Iraqis.

Don't take my word for it that the Post’s reporting is substandard and superficial. Take the word of Philip Bennett, the Post's assistant managing editor for foreign news. In a surprisingly candid June 6 piece, he admits that "the threat of violence has distanced us from Iraqis." Further, "we have relied on Iraqi stringers filing by telephone to our correspondents in Baghdad, and on embedding with the military. The stringers are not professional journalists, and their reports are heavy on the simplest direct observation." Translation: we are reprinting things from people we barely know, from a safe location dozens of miles away from the fighting.

Bennett flatly concedes that they have a “dim picture” of what is happening in Iraq, (not that you would know it from the actual news articles he approves for publication.) "The people of Iraq...are leading their country, and ours, down an uncertain path. This is a story waiting to be told."

Waiting to be told? They have four or five full-time reporters there at any given time. What are they doing, if they're not telling the story of Iraq's new birth?

Bennett might have added that not only are the reporters "distanced" from Iraqis, they're distanced from Iraq itself. Covering it from Baghdad is like covering California from a secure bunker in south-central Los Angeles. Sure, a lot happens in L.A., but you're going to miss important things if you don't go to San Diego or San Francisco, or even Bakersfield once in a while.