Press slants Iraq news: Members

Sep 23, 2003
From <u>The Hill</u> - by Hans Nichols
Journalists are giving a slanted and unduly negative account of events in Iraq, a bipartisan congressional group that has just returned from a three-day House Armed Services Committee visit to assess stabilization efforts and the condition of U.S. troops said. Click here for original story Lawmakers charged that reporters rarely stray from Baghdad and have a “police-blotter” mindset that results in terror attacks, deaths and injuries displacing accounts of progress in other areas. Comparisons with Vietnam were farfetched, members said. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the committee’s ranking member, said, “The media stresses the wounds, the injuries, and the deaths, as they should, but for instance in Northern Iraq, Gen. [Dave] Petraeus has 3,100 projects — from soccer fields to schools to refineries — all good stuff and that isn’t being reported.” Skelton and other Democrats on the trip said they plan to reach out to all members of their caucus and explain what they observed. The seven member congressional delegation (Codel) was briefed by U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer; Maj. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, overall commander of military forces in Iraq; and Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division. The lawmakers said they worry that the overall negative tone of American press outlets’ reports did not do justice to the progress being made by an occupying force reconstructing a country after years of neglect and in the face of remaining hostile elements that profited under the old regime. Skelton also trained his sights on the administration for its postwar policy. Joined by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at a Democratic press conference, Skelton said, “Failure is not an option.” He warned that should the reconstruction effort fail, Iraq would become “a snake pit, a haven for terrorists.” Skelton also demanded that the administration’s supplemental spending request receive hearings in his authorizing committee as well as in the Appropriations Committee. But Skelton tempered his dire warnings with anecdotal evidence that progress is being made on the ground. He said he was impressed with the flexibility and innovative spirit of the American forces, as they shift their strategy from defeating the Ba’athist regime to earning the trust of the population. It is precisely that innovative spirit, Skelton said, that gives him hope that Iraq will be stabilized. “Foreign troops would not have that kind of improvisation,” Skelton said. Another member of the delegation, Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), agreed that the stabilization effort is making headway. “In fairness, the war is neither going as well as the administration says it’s going or as badly as the media says it is going,” Taylor said. Republicans were left out of the press conference, but they stressed that they shared their Democratic counterparts’ assessments about the bravery of the troops and the innovative programs, especially in the northern part of the country. Democrats concurred that the delegation of Armed Services Committee members was a model of harmony and bipartisan consensus. “We agreed on 99 percent of what we saw,” Skelton told The Hill. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said: “We were all like-minded in our conversations, not robotic at all, but we saw the real progress that is being made, that we are not at all mired.” Wilson, once a print reporter, strongly criticized the balance of his former profession’s story selection. “Sure, show the bloody side, but get away from this police-blotter mindset. There’s much more going on, ” he said. “Just on Friday, I heard a CBS radio report on the three deaths and then they had this analysis that just bordered on the hysterical,” Wilson said. Adding, “CBS got it exactly wrong, the media portrayed it as an act of sophistication and a regrouping of Saddam’s forces, when in fact, it’s an indication of disorganization and desperation.” Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) explained that the longer he was in Iraq, the more skeptical he became of his previous assumptions. Some of the media reports led him to believe that “it was Vietnam revisited,” he said. But he said there was “a disconnect between the reporting and the reality.” Marshall also claimed that there now are only 27 reporters in Iraq, down from 779 at the height of the war. “The reporters that are there are all huddled in a hotel. They are not getting out and reporting,” he told The Hill. He added, “The good news is not being reported in the conventional press.” Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), noting that the reconstruction effort includes over 6,000 projects, said, “The positive nature of that is just not being reported back here. “We came away with the realization that a lot of the debate back here is really irrelevant.” Reps. John Spratt (D-S.C.) and Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) also were on the trip. © 2003 The Hill 733 Fifteenth Street, NW Suite 1140 Washington, DC 20005 202-628-8500 tel | 202-628-8503 fax