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Television Networks Fade To Black As The U.S. Surge Succeeds In Iraq

By RICH NOYES | Posted Wednesday, December 05, 2007 4:30 PM PT
Investor's Business Daily

Eleven months ago, when President Bush decided to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Iraq in an effort to win the war, correspondents for the big broadcast networks were openly hostile.

On NBC, anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw scoffed that sending more troops would "seem to most people . . . like a folly," while White House reporter David Gregory touted the charge of unnamed critics that "the President's resolve has become stubbornness."

Over on CBS, Baghdad correspondent Lara Logan chastised that the last time troop levels were increased "it made absolutely no difference. In fact, security here in Baghdad got even worse." The day after Mr. Bush unveiled his "surge" strategy, Katie Couric argued that "selling the American public on it could be a mission impossible."

Her Evening News highlighted the reaction of GOP Senator Chuck Hagel, a media favorite: "I think this speech, given last night by this President, represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."

No Victory In Sight

So now that the president's surge strategy has demonstrably paid off in lower casualty rates for our troops and improved security for Iraq citizens, where are the network stories documenting this achievement?

A new Media Research Center study of the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts finds that as the news from Iraq has steadily improved, the war has practically disappeared from TV screens.

In September, when Gen. David Petraeus told Congress that the surge had begun to bear fruit, the networks offered lots of Iraq coverage (178 stories), but were decidedly skeptical of the positive trend. "Victory is not at hand, not even in sight," Pentagon reporter David Martin contended on the Sept. 10 CBS Evening News.

November Shift

The producers at NBC Nightly News so liked a pessimistic video report from New York Times reporter Damien Cave, they aired it themselves. "The gains look encouraging, but shallow," Cave intoned. "There may be fewer killings, but the reality is that Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents still rule the streets."

In October, as the number of U.S. troop deaths dropped to their lowest levels in a year and a half, the networks trimmed their war coverage by 40%, to 108 stories. Most of the coverage continued the negative spin. NBC's Richard Engel argued in an Oct. 14 report that the continuing war has hurt U.S. security. "The war in Iraq created a giant recruiting tool for al-Qaida," Engel asserted.

Only in November did all three networks begin to shift their coverage away from the pessimism that prevailed for most of the year. Yet as the news became unmistakably good — fewer casualties, displaced refugees returning — TV coverage dropped by another 38%, to a mere 68 stories.

Combined, all three networks in the month of November aired just 11 reports actually from the war zone itself. ABC's World News has stood out as the best of the Big Three in documenting this new, more encouraging phase of the Iraq War.

"Not only is there a huge increase in Iraqi citizens groups who are coming forward to help the Americans, but overall levels of violence have gone way down," ABC reporter Terry McCarthy told viewers on Nov. 22.

In a Thanksgiving week interview with President Bush, anchor Charles Gibson was actually congratulatory: "You took a lot of doubting and rather skeptical questions about the surge. I'll give you a chance to crow. Do you want to say I told you so?"

Perhaps one reason why TV took so long to recognize the turnaround was reporters' long-standing pessimism about the war.

A recently released survey of 111 Iraq War journalists conducted between late September and early November for the Project for Excellence in Journalism found most still see the war through a gloomy prism. "They do not believe the coverage of Iraq over time has been too negative. If anything, many believe the situation over the course of the war has been worse than the American public has perceived," the report found.

Top Story

But for three years, the establishment media — particularly the big broadcast networks — have inundated Americans with the bad news from Iraq: car bombings, kidnappings, sectarian violence and the deaths of our soldiers. Now that our military is making obvious progress against a dangerous enemy, such important news must not be buried. Indeed, the success of the U.S. surge in Iraq may wind up being the biggest news of the year.

Noyes is director of research for the Media Research Center (www.MRC.org).

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