Conservatives have repeatedly questioned the courage of journalists in Iraq, even with continuing casualties

››› ››› JOE BROWN

Despite the clear risks undertaken by journalists covering the Iraq war, some conservatives in the media have repeatedly questioned the courage of journalists in Iraq, alleging that journalists covering the war fail to report "good news" because they are afraid to leave the heavily fortified Baghdad "Green Zone" to speak with Iraqis and coalition troops elsewhere in the country. Additionally, some conservatives have claimed that journalists' coverage of the Iraq war is distorted by their alleged hostility to President Bush and the war.

The explosion of a car bomb in Baghdad, Iraq, on May 29 killed two members of a CBS News crew -- cameraman Paul Douglas and freelance soundman James Brolan -- and severely wounded correspondent Kimberly Dozier, a third member of the crew. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, this incident brought the total number of journalists killed in the Iraq war to 71; equaling the number of journalists killed or presumed killed during the Vietnam War, according to an Associated Press article; Editor & Publisher reported that, according to the Freedom Forum, it surpasses the number of journalists killed during World War II. The incident followed the serious wounding of ABC World News Tonight co-anchor Bob Woodruff and ABC News cameraman Doug Vogt in a January roadside bomb explosion in Iraq.

Notwithstanding the clear risks undertaken by journalists covering the Iraq war, some conservatives in the media have repeatedly questioned the courage of journalists in Iraq, alleging that journalists covering the war fail to report "good news" because they are afraid to leave the heavily fortified Baghdad "Green Zone" to speak with Iraqis and coalition troops elsewhere in the country. According to these conservatives, journalists overemphasize reports of violence in Iraq because of their failure to visit areas of the country where "progress" is being made. Additionally, some conservatives have claimed that journalists' coverage of the Iraq war is distorted by their alleged hostility to President Bush and the war.

Media Matters for America has compiled the following summary of such attacks by several conservative media figures:

Nationally syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham:

On the March 21 broadcast of NBC's Today, Ingraham decried NBC News for "report[ing] only on the IEDs [improvised explosive devices], only on the killings ... only on the reprisals" in Iraq, and for "reporting from hotel balconies" instead of in the field. She defended her comments on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor later that day, stating that "before the [Today] segment began ... I actually was watching a report by their NBC reporter, Richard Engel, who was doing one of those from the balcony reports, reporting on the bombs going off, reporting on the difficulties in Iraq." When host Bill O'Reilly characterized NBC as "the most anti-Bush network right now," Ingraham replied that "they seem invested right now." She later criticized "a group of people" in the media "who are invested in America's defeat" in Iraq, further stating that although NBC reporter David Bloom -- who died in Iraq in April 2003 -- "was over there covering the war when he died," she didn't know whether NBC News was -- in O'Reilly's words -- "actively trying to undermine the war in Iraq," and she added that "the media obviously has an element underneath it that really despises Bush, and it's blinding them."

Following the attack on the CBS News crew, Ingraham defended her remarks yet again. On the May 31 broadcast of her nationally syndicated radio program, Ingraham stated that when she "brought up the hotel balconies, that was coming right off a Richard Engel report from a hotel balcony about the latest IEDs going off." She added that "[a]ll the guys [troops] I talked to in Iraq were tired of it, and I was speaking for them." Noting Woodruff's injuries in Iraq, Ingraham later stated that although "our hearts and prayers go out" to the "brave" journalists in Iraq "who are on the ground, getting the facts out," "I will not change my view that giving context in this reporting is important." She continued: "[Y]ou have to see the forest through the trees here. The insurgents not only know how to play to the press, they manipulate -- let's make that very clear."

Ingraham also attacked New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, whose May 31 column (subscription required) criticized Ingraham's assertion that journalists in Iraq were too often reporting from "hotel balconies." Ingraham accused Dowd of misinterpreting her comments "as if we were saying that all reporters are reporting from the hotel balcony." Ingraham claimed: "It wasn't the point. The point was, if you're going to spend two hours doing a goodbye show for Katie [Couric, former Today host], that's fine. But just as interesting would be to do a show from Camp Victory or Camp Taji and just talk to the guys and the gals, just talk to them, find out what's on their minds -- the good, the bad and the ugly." When author Vince Flynn -- a guest on the program -- later stated that Dowd's writing focused excessively on "sexuality and latent sexual desires," and alleged that Dowd "projects a lot of her issues onto other people," Ingraham replied that "the media can dish it out but they can't take it."

On the May 30 broadcast of The Laura Ingraham Show, Ingraham stated that "our prayers go out to" the CBS crew and "all the journalists working hard and in harm's way." But she also complained that "this is where we are in the polls" regarding the unpopularity of the war because the media are reporting that "brave men and women" are being killed and kidnapped in Iraq, and that "these journalists were killed and other journalist seriously injured, and American people see that every day, and that's all they see."

Fox News host Sean Hannity:

As Media Matters previously noted, on the March 23 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Hannity stated that in covering the Iraq war, the media "are fat, they are lazy, they have a pack mentality, they are partisan, and they are not doing their job, and they are not doing a service for the American people, and they are failing in their mission, and they purposely fail in their mission, and they get away with it each and every day." As Media Matters also noted, on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes later that day, Hannity stated that although "[t]here are some good, brave reporters," such as Bloom and Woodruff, "the story is not being told about the good news and about the progress [in Iraq]. There is lazy reporting going on. It is somewhat institutional, and there is partisanship on the part of the media." In response, guest and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich placed the blame on editors who refused to run good-news stories that reporters "risk[ed] their life" to get.

Retired Marine colonel and Fox News host Oliver North:

On the January 31 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, North attacked CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who -- following the wounding of Woodruff and Vogt -- had said that the Iraq war "has basically turned out to be a disaster, and journalists have paid for it." Although North acknowledged that "Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt know" that "covering a war is a very dangerous business," he decried "the hubris of a reporter saying [the war is a disaster] now that one of us has been hurt -- 61 of them, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists -- have been killed in Iraq." Invoking the names of famous journalists killed while covering past wars, North said that CNN was "not a network that has an Ernie Pyle working for it. This is not a network that has Marguerite Higgins or Dickie Chapelle."

Additionally, in his May 5 syndicated column, North complained that "[s]o few American reporters venture forth outside the Baghdad Green Zone that good news from Iraq is virtually non-existent." He decried "mainstream media hostility to this president [Bush] and the Global War on Terror," calling the U.S. media "the most Anti-American media on earth."

American Spectator contributing writer Mark Yost:

As Media Matters previously noted, on the May 15 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, Yost responded to guest host David Asman's statement that journalists covering the Iraq war are "not going to report on a lot of heroism" by claiming that he had been told that people are "somewhat embarrassed by people or feel lesser of themselves by people who do incredibly heroic things," and that "they don't make a big deal of it, because they themselves know that maybe, perhaps, in the same situation they wouldn't have done the same thing."

From the March 21 broadcast of NBC's Today, featuring guest host and NBC News White House correspondent David Gregory and Democratic strategist James Carville:

GREGORY: Laura, what's your take on this? Because obviously, the White House has made a determination that speaking about the war as candidly as they can is what's important now, and yet it's clear that the president's having a hard time being heard.

INGRAHAM: Well, here's -- where's what I think, David. I think with all the resources of networks like NBC, the Today show spends all this money to spend people to the Olympics, which is great, it was great programming. All this money for "Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?" Bring the Today show to Iraq. Bring the Today show to Tal Afar. Do the show from the Fourth ID at Camp Victory.

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

INGRAHAM: And then when you talk to those soldiers on the ground, when you go out with the Iraqi military, when you talk to the villagers, when you see the children, then I want NBC to report on only the IEDs, only the killings, own -- only the reprisals.

GREGORY: Right.

INGRAHAM: When people are on the ground, whether it's, recently, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, whether it's recently --

GREGORY: OK, but -- but Laura, let's be -- hold on.

INGRAHAM: Let me finish, David, because you got -- you guys --

GREGORY: Wait a minute, Laura, wait a second. Do you want to be fair --

INGRAHAM: -- are -- no, no, let me state -- let me finish, Da --

GREGORY: -- first of all, the Today show went to Iraq. Matt Lauer --

INGRAHAM: Did you do a show? Did you do a show from Iraq?

GREGORY: -- was there. He reported there. OK, and we --

INGRAHAM: Did -- yeah.

GREGORY: -- we -- we've got a bureau there.

INGRAHAM: David -- David, to do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military. To go out with they Iraqi military --

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

INGRAHAM: -- to actually have a conversation with the people, instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off. It is very difficult in Iraq. The people are struggling --

GREGORY: And you -- and you think Iraq is safe enough to have --

INGRAHAM: The -- the -- the --

GREGORY: Have you been there long enough to venture outside the hotel balconies?

INGRAHAM: Yes, I did. I -- I wasn't in a hotel balcony. I was out with the U.S. military.

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

INGRAHAM: And it can be done in any part of the country. It is dangerous in the Sunni Triangle -- Triangle, but NBC --

GREGORY: All right. So -- so -- OK.

INGRAHAM: -- and the networks of the United States --

GREGORY: Laura, I get -- I get -- I get the point. I get -- I get the anti-network point. James, the argument is that the media --

INGRAHAM: It's not funny.

GREGORY: -- simply isn't getting it. But -- but Ayad Allawi --

CARVILLE: Right. I think he's --

GREGORY: -- the -- the prime minister -- former prime minister said there's a civil war.

CARVILLE: We're going to stipulate for the moment that he's on the ground. OK?

INGRAHAM: No, he actually isn't, James.

From the March 21 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: Joining us now from Washington is Laura Ingraham. You know, I had a caller on The Radio Factor that said you went in there just to whack him around. Is that true?

INGRAHAM: No. I actually was sitting there before the segment began, and I actually was watching a report by their NBC reporter, Richard Engel, who was doing one of those from-the-balcony reports, reporting on the bombs going off, reporting on the difficulties in Iraq. And it came to mind that wow, the Today show, think about, No. 1, how informative it would be, how interesting it would be, and what ratings they'd get if they actually did the Today show from one of our military bases in Iraq and got the kind of stories that reporters who have recently gone over to Iraq have gotten, that are a broader view, including the negative stuff. Put that in there but at least offer a broader context. That could be done. They do "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" And you know, covering the Olympics, they do a great job on that stuff. Why not devote the resources to the most important story of the last 15 years?

O'REILLY: Is it your opinion that NBC News spins the war in Iraq negative?

INGRAHAM: Well, it's not between me and NBC, Bill.

O'REILLY: No, no. Look, you're an analyst. You watch these people. Is it your opinion that NBC News spins the war negative?

INGRAHAM: I think that the coverage of the war by NBC that I've really focused on, especially since I was in Iraq last month, to me it seems bizarrely focused only on the IEDs, only on the latest reprisal killings that are taking place. When -- when stories that are so fascinating and interesting and broader and human interest, stuff the Today show and NBC likes to do, those stories are out there for anyone to get. So I don't get it.

O'REILLY: Is NBC -- OK, well, I don't -- I don't pretend to know what they do over there, but I have said on the record that I think NBC is the most anti-Bush network right now, more than ABC, CNN, and CBS.

INGRAHAM: Well, they seem invested right now. I mean, if I was --

O'REILLY: I don't know if that's true. It just seems to me that way.

INGRAHAM: Yes. Well, it seems to me -- again, it's not hard to get these stories. It really isn't hard to find an Iraqi general to interview. You can do that. Any of us can do that.

[...]

O'REILLY: But here's my problem. And this is a serious problem. We saw it at the top of the show with what's-her-name who was bantering with Bush, the older woman.

INGRAHAM: Helen Thomas.

O'REILLY: Helen Thomas. I believe that there is a segment of the media trying to undermine the policy in Iraq for their own ideological purposes. It's no longer dissent; it's no longer skepticism. It's "We want to undermine it." And that disturbs me. Do you see that?

INGRAHAM: I see that pretty much every day, that there is a group of people who are invested in America's defeat in one of the most important conflicts in our nation's history. And being invested in defeat as an American -- I don't care if you're a reporter, a commentator, or a businessperson. How have we gotten to this point in this country? Regardless of what people think --

O'REILLY: Because of hatred. Ideological hatred brings us to that point. Last point, last question. Is NBC in that category? Do you think NBC News is actively trying to undermine the war in Iraq?

INGRAHAM: You know, I'm going to keep watching it. You know, I know there are brave people. David Bloom was over there covering the war when he died, practically.

O'REILLY: So you don't know whether they are or not?

INGRAHAM: I don't know. I think the media obviously has an element underneath it that really despises Bush, and it's blinding them.

O'REILLY: All right. I think you're absolutely right on that. I think there is an element in the media that has gone way beyond dissent and into actually undermining American policy in the war on terror, and it's frightening. Hey, Laura, thanks -- you're always stand-up. We appreciate you coming on in.

From the May 30 edition of Talk Radio Network's The Laura Ingraham Show:

INGRAHAM: And what's happened as a result is that it's the United States, Britain, a few coalition partners are carrying once again the heavy burden for the rest of the free world, and the Muslim Arab world is, for the most part, is mute when it comes to these types of brutal attacks. I mean, you have these -- not only are brave men and women every day, it seems, dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and committed to their mission but, you know, people are being kidnapped at a ridiculous rate. You have, you know, these journalists were killed and other journalists seriously injured, and American people see that every day, and that's all they see, and this is where we are in the polls. So, is it President Bush's salesmanship that is lacking? Or is there something else that has to happen here for people to say, "Wait, this is worth it."

[...]

INGRAHAM: Obviously, very difficult news out of Afghanistan. It's been very tough times in Afghanistan lately with the resurgence of the Taliban and continued frustration on the part of a lot of the Afghani people, who just want to live in peace and just want to live in safety. And now we're still seeing the violence there -- surge, ebbs a little, surges a little, and in recent weeks, it's been terrible. So we'll get -- we'll touch back onto that. Also in Iraq, two CBS journalists killed, a CBS reporter who's been there for three years badly, badly injured, and our prayers go out to them, and also, of course, all the brave men and women in uniform who were acknowledged and a very somber situation over the weekend Memorial Day observances all across Iraq and Afghanistan.

[...]

INGRAHAM: All right, politics, culture, media bias, and difficult days in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially over the weekend with that accident in Kabul which then sent people, Afghanis, throwing rocks, screaming, "Death to America, death to [Afghani President Hamid] Karzai," and military officials obviously apologizing for what was an accidental traffic situation which ended up injuring people there -- and I think a few people, at least, died. And that, of course, happening at the same time we had eight car bombs go off on one particular day in Iraq, and then the news, of course, about the CBS reporters, two killed, cameraman killed, and one reporter badly, badly injured. Our prayers and thoughts are always with our members of all the branches of our military who are serving in the war against terror, and all the journalists are working hard and in harm's way. It's a very difficult duty for them, and our prayers are with them as well.

From the May 31 edition of The Laura Ingraham Show:

INGRAHAM: We have a lot of stuff linked up under "Need to Know", including a Washington Times story about some of the photos that were taken by some of the Marines at that Haditha massacre -- as it's being dubbed -- the killings in Haditha and what some of the family members of the Marines involved are saying. So make sure to check that out; it's an interesting piece. And it sounds very bad, and it sounds like it could get worse. And lots of emails on our website from our Marines, both in Iraq, Afghanistan and from Camp Pendelton. And understandably, they are the most upset about what they're hearing, and we'll get to some of the emails. But a couple of Marine Corps officers, whose names I'm not going to reveal, but a couple of them said, "Please, just make sure that when you report the bad, you also report the good. Also remember that the duty and sacrifice of the overwhelming majority of men and women in uniform who have served our country throughout history, and now in this very difficult battle in Iraq and in Afghanistan, they work hard to minimize the deaths of innocents. They put their own lives at risk as they minimize civilian casualties. We don't go in and carpet bomb -- we don't go in and flatten villages -- that's not what we do. So please just remember that."

And by the way, when I went on the Today show back in March to talk about the fact that it would be nice for the Today show to go to Iraq and do a show on a military base, and I brought up the hotel balconies, that was coming right off a Richard Engel report from a hotel balcony about the latest IEDs going off. The point of that is all the guys I talked to in Iraq were tired of it, and I was speaking for them. And I heard it consistently from the men and women on the ground in Iraq: Please, don't just report the bad. Come to see what's happening at these hospitals; come to see what's happening with our relationship with these Iraqi villagers. They desperately want us to finish this job. You can report all that stuff, but please talk to us too. And that was my point, and that continues to be my point, by the way. And Lara Logan -- when was that piece, Matt, that Lara Logan did on 60 Minutes? It was maybe six months ago, from Tal Afar, where she was --

MATT FOX (technical producer): I don't even think it was that long ago, maybe a couple months ago.

INGRAHAM: But it was long before my Today show appearance, when we were talking about what a great story she did, walking through Tal Afar with Colonel [H.R.] McMaster [commander of 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and Multinational Force-Northwest] and learning about what happened with that offensive there. It was very informative, very interesting, and I was reminded of the interview I did with the two West Point grads who found Bob Woodruff. They were in the vehicle behind Woodruff when he was hurt in Iraq. And to hear their stories about that day -- because I talked to those guys, I was at the same Camp Taji -- they wouldn't even let me go on a forward combat patrol because a week earlier he [Woodruff] had been exploded, trying to go out there and getting an interesting story.

And he -- the guys at Camp Taji were so grateful that he [Woodruff] had come there. Our hearts and prayers go out to all the men and women in uniform -- the soldiers, the Marines, all branches of the service, and all the brave people, including the brave journalists out there -- who are on the ground, getting the facts out. But I will not change my view that giving context in this reporting is important. It has been very dangerous in Iraq, especially over the last couple of months, and nobody's tried to minimize that. But you have to see the forest through the trees here. The insurgents not only know how to play to the press, they know how to manipulate, and they manipulate, manipulate, manipulate. So let's get that very clear.

Maureen Dowd made some reference to my appearance on the Today show, as if we were saying that all reporters are reporting from the hotel balcony. It wasn't the point. The point is, you know, if you're going to spend two hours doing a goodbye for Katie, that's fine. Enjoy the two-hour tribute, great. But just as interesting would be to do a show from Camp Victory or Camp Taji and just talk to the guys and the gals, just talk to them, find out what's on their minds -- the good, the bad and the ugly.

[...]

FLYNN: You and Maureen Dowd are close buddies, I see.

INGRAHAM: I love her. I actually like her. I actually think she's -- you know, she's a fun writer -- she obviously didn't really hear what I said on the Today show about reporting from balconies, but that's OK.

FLYNN: I think she's probably one of the most talented writers at the Times just by pure -- just by her writing alone. But she gets a little too smarmy sometimes. And then she -- everything has to somehow get wrapped around sexuality and latent sexual desires, and it's -- I think she projects a lot of her issues onto other people.

INGRAHAM: Yeah, well, you know, the media can dish it out but they can't take it. I mean, they can dish it out, and -- As you and I have talked about before, when I went over there for just a short period of time -- I was over there for 10 days -- I came back and I tried to tell people what the soldiers and Marines were telling me, which is they didn't feel like enough time is spent talking to them about the facts on the ground. And they craved more conversations with people who would give a broader perspective.

From the March 23 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: Let me talk about the news media, because the president has been very outspoken against them this week. He said, for every act of violence, there is encouraging progress in Iraq. It's not being captured on the evening news. Similar comments by Dick Cheney. It's something I've been saying often. Now, let me first acknowledge: There are some good, brave reporters -- our own Fox reporters, David Bloom, Bob Woodruff. They were putting themselves in harm's way. But, they're -- in my estimation, the story is not being told about the good news and about the progress. There is lazy reporting going on. It is somewhat institutional, and there is partisanship on the part of the media. Do you see the same thing?

GINGRICH: Well, look, it's worse than that, because it's not about the reporters. Very often, reporters will call in with a good, positive story, with something that is happening -- when children, for example, went back to school, and you had thousands of schools, many of them rebuilt, repainted and restructured by American troops, that wasn't news, if you were one of the major networks. The editors refused to put it on the air. So very often, even when the reporter out in the field is risking their life getting a terrific story -- this mayor, who you know, sent this wonderful letter about how the Americans had saved his town -- that's not news.

From the January 31 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: Joining us now from Durham, North Carolina, journalism professor Napoleon Byars, a former lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, and from Washington, Colonel Oliver North, Fox News military analyst and host of the weekend program War Stories. Because your opinion is different from Ms. Amanpour's, Colonel North, I'll let you begin. Go ahead.

NORTH: Well, first, those of us who pray for the wounded ought to include Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt in their prayers for a quick recovery. It strikes me, Bill, that the purpose of going out there, having now been there seven times, is to cover the war, document what's going on, perhaps if you will, prepare the first draft of history as [News Corp. CEO] Rupert Murdoch's father did at Gallipoli. Second, when one makes the kind of observation that Christiane Amanpour made last night, it crosses the boundary, it seems to me, from journalism into being a commentator.

That the war in Iraq is a disaster is her opinion and, quite frankly, the facts on the ground don't support it. The dictatorship has been removed, and it's now on trial. They've had three elections. The first constitutionally elected government in all of the Arab world is now in power, and the Iraqi military is becoming increasingly effective. I don't know what her definition of victory --

O'REILLY: Well, I think she's talking about the chaotic terror bombings that occur on a daily basis with, you know, horrible casualties. I think that's what the woman is talking about, Colonel. And surely, you understand that there are analysts -- some of them do work for Fox and feel that the war is not going that well, and that the ultimate outcome is still in doubt.

NORTH: But they shouldn't describe themselves as the chief foreign correspondent when --

O'REILLY: No, I got that. I got that. I just want -- I want to let the viewers know that we don't have a slam-dunk victory there right now. OK --

NORTH: And Bill, I certainly understand that. But understand also: Everybody going out there, to include Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt, know covering a war is a very dangerous business.

O'REILLY: Absolutely, absolutely.

NORTH: And the hubris of a reporter saying now that one of us has been hurt -- 61 of them, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists has been killed in Iraq -- just because one of them has been hurt --

O'REILLY: Well, Ms. Amanpour clearly feels from her vantage point -- and she's been there as well, obviously, a brave woman, I must say -- clearly feels that this is not going well for the U.S.A.

[...]

O'REILLY: Colonel, do you believe that Ms. Amanpour, as Professor Byars does, has been a fair correspondent in this conflict?

NORTH: Well, quite frankly, no, I don't. And I think that her bias has been demonstrated consistently since -- actually the war, before it began. I mean, this is not a network, unfortunately -- and full disclosure here: My first paycheck in this business came from that network. But this is not a network that has an Ernie Pyle working for it. This is not a network that has Marguerite Higgins or Dickie Chapelle, who was killed with the Marines in 1965 covering the war in Vietnam.

From North's May 5 syndicated column:

The consequence of mainstream media hostility to this president and the Global War on Terror is to leave the American people woefully ignorant of what's really going on in places like Iraq and Iran and what our options are in either. So few American reporters venture forth outside the Baghdad Green Zone that good news from Iraq is virtually non-existent. Were it not for U.S., British and Australian military "bloggers," stories about battlefield successes -- like last week's counter-terror offensives in Al Anbar Province -- would be practically unknown to the outside world.

[...]

These are but a few of the non-military "options" available for dealing with the despots ruling in Tehran. They are unlikely to adversely affect the welfare of the long-suffering people of Iran. Regrettably, it's equally unlikely that the American people will see or read about them in the most Anti-American media on earth -- our own.

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