On The Beltway Boys, Fred Barnes baselessly asserted that recent violence in the Middle East is the result in part of the voters' "repudiat[ion]" of President Bush in the midterm elections. Later Barnes asserted that "five, 10 years ago," Americans "didn't see dead bodies all over the front page of newspapers, whether it's an accident or an explosion or Iraq or something." By contrast, CNN's John Roberts stated that "the pictures on television are sanitized compared to" the events occurring "on the ground."
On the November 25 edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys, co-host and Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes asserted that the voters' "repudiat[ion]" of President Bush in the November 7 midterm elections contributed to recent violence in the Middle East. Later, Barnes asserted that "five, 10 years ago," Americans "didn't see dead bodies all over the front page of newspapers, whether it's an accident or an explosion or Iraq or something." Five years ago, there was no Iraq war.
During a discussion about the November 21 assassination of Lebanese politician Pierre Gemayel, co-host and Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke stated "when the United States is weak ... anywhere in the world ... it becomes scoundrel time," adding "assassins, the fanatics, the murderers ... the bombers are out all over the place and especially in the Middle East. This is the case in Lebanon right now." Barnes agreed with Kondracke and declared the "first" reason for this was the "election in which Bush [was] repudiated."
Later, in a discussion about whether "good taste is making a comeback" in the media, Barnes stated he was "encouraged... by the spontaneous national outrage" over the promotion and subsequent cancellations of O.J. Simpson's book If I Did It (ReganBooks) and the related Fox Broadcasting Co. special about the book. Then, after noting "when you get to [anti-Semitic comments by actor] Mel Gibson and [racist comments by comedian] Michael Richards and so on, that's just old-fashioned bigotry that we hear," Barnes added: "I'll know good taste is returning when we don't see these dead bodies all over the front page of newspapers whether it's an accident or explosion or Iraq or something. ... [F]ive, 10 years ago, you didn't see that." The U.S. led the invasion of Iraq just over 3 1/2 years ago.
By contrast, during a discussion about the media coverage of the Iraq war on the November 26 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, CNN senior national correspondent John Roberts stated that "the pictures on television are sanitized compared to" the events occurring "on the ground." In response to Bush administration criticisms that media coverage was, as host and Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz described it, "too focused on the violence and not paying any attention to ... progress," Roberts replied he "never thought it was a solid argument to begin with. ... [W]hen most of the news is bad, it's difficult to show what good things that are happening there." Roberts added that "the amount of violence in Iraq is absolutely preventing any real progress on the reconstruction front. So until they get a handle on the violence, it's going to be very difficult to see the good news."
Further, in contrast to Kurtz's assertion that "[t]he conventional wisdom is that American troops resent the media's coverage of this war as too negative," Roberts noted that while the U.S. military in Iraq was "always trying to put a positive spin on things from a command level ... by and large, I didn't hear any complaints about the [media] coverage."
From the November 24 edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys:
KONDRACKE: The United States and others think that Syria is behind this week's assassination of Lebanese cabinet member who was a vocal critic of Syria, Pierre Gemayel. He's the fifth anti-Syrian politician to be killed over the last two years in Lebanon. Well, when the United States is weak, this is -- anywhere in the world -- this is, it becomes scoundrel time. This is the assassins, the fanatics, the murderers are, the bombers are out all over the place and especially in the Middle East. This is the case in Lebanon right now.
BARNES: Well, I agree with you. You know, first there's an election in which Bush is repudiated. Then we have these studies going on that we just talked about where it is unclear what America's policy is going to be toward Iraq, and that goes for Lebanon for that matter. And so what happens? The Syrians and Iranians are together. What do they want? They want -- one, they want to destroy the elected democratic government. They want to make sure there is not a Lebanese government that approves this U.N. tribunal, which would put the Syrians on trial for the assassination -- what, two years ago -- of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister, and they'd like to have Hezbollah become the biggest political player in Lebanon. And all this is possible. It really could happen.
BARNES: Fox keeps O.J. [Simpson] from spilling the juice. There was universal condemnation of Michael Richards after his racial tirade. Even Mel Gibson is still digging out after his meltdown. Maybe, just maybe, good taste is making a comeback.
BARNES: Just maybe, no?
KONDRACKE: Well, look, there -- what these incidents have shown is that there are, fortunately, limits to what the American people will tolerate, and the idea that somebody is going to go and sort of explain how he would have killed his wife and her friend if he had really done it, which he claims he didn't do but everybody believes he did -- you know, that's beyond the bonds of good taste. Hurling racial epithets in the open is beyond the pale. But there's not a lot that's beyond the pale. And all you have to do is listen to hip-hop music or watch these violent video games and watch most of what's on national television to see that we've sunk pretty low as a society. It's nice to know that there are limits, but there aren't -- they're not very -- they're not very high limits, that's for sure.
BARNES: Well, I was encouraged, though, by the spontaneous national outrage -- and it really was spontaneous -- over this O.J. confession. And it's off the air, which is good. I think that's good. These other things you talked about, though, when you get to Mel Gibson and Michael Richards and so on, that's just old-fashioned bigotry that we hear. What I would like to see are the kind of things you are talking about, you know, smut on television. And, for instance, I'll know good taste is returning when we don't see these dead bodies all over the front page of newspapers, whether it's an accident or an explosion or Iraq or something. We -- you know, five, 10 years ago, you didn't see that. They were not all over the front page.
From the November 26 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
KURTZ: Welcome back. If anything is as hotly debated as the war in Iraq, it's the media coverage of the war in Iraq. CNN's John Roberts recently returned from a month-long visit to the country, so I sat down with him on the set of [CNN's] This Week at War to talk about how the conflict looks up close.
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KURTZ: John Roberts, welcome.
ROBERTS: Good to be here.
KURTZ: The conventional wisdom is that American troops resent the media's coverage of this war as too negative. But there's a Zogby poll of U.S. forces that say 72 percent think they should leave within a year. What did you find when you were in Iraq -- military people saying about the mission and the media?
ROBERTS: You know, I spent a lot of time with U.S. troops. In the month that I was there, I spent probably two weeks or a little bit more than that on the ground with them, north of Baghdad, in Baghdad, traveling with a lot of the Stryker units who had been there for 16 months now.
They were very optimistic on the unit level about what they were doing. They believed in the mission that they were undertaking -- you know, clearing operations, trying to secure the streets of Baghdad, trying to get some of the weapons off the streets, trying to deal with these militia members who are the cause of so much of this sectarian violence. When they stepped back, though, and took a look at the larger picture, there were a lot of questions about where the direction was headed, where they were going to go in the future --
KURTZ: And did they think --
ROBERTS: -- whether the plan immediately was the right plan.
KURTZ: And did they think the coverage, generally, on balance, was fair or unfair?
ROBERTS: You know, they didn't seem to have too many complaints about the coverage. They appreciated the fact that we were there, and anytime you're embedded with U.S. forces, you're going to see the bad along with the good. They were always trying to put a positive spin on things from a command level. You know, taking us to certain areas to show us certain things they thought would play well. But by and large, I didn't hear any complaints about the coverage.
KURTZ: If you're sitting at home watching it on TV, you see mass kidnappings, suicide bombings, mosque bombings, death squads. When you're there as a journalist, does the situation seem as chaotic to you as it does to a viewer?
ROBERTS: You know, Howie, I had a perception of Iraq going in, and it was the first time I'd been there in three-and-a-half years. I got out a couple of days after the Saddam statue fell, after the initial invasion. So it was quite a shock to go back and see the chaotic state that the country was in. And as -- I guess you could say as realistic as my perceptions were about going in there, the reality on the ground far exceeded that.
The place is a mess. It's an absolute mess. There is nowhere you can go in the Baghdad area as a Western journalist without an escort where you could feel safe from being kidnapped, shot at, whatever. The amount of death that's on the streets of Baghdad for U.S. forces and for the Iraqi people is at an astronomical level.
I was out riding with a Stryker unit a couple of days after the election. They got the 911 call, an IED attack against an American convoy. This convoy of Humvees had just been driving up the on-ramp on to a highway when one of those formed projectiles hit it. It literally disintegrated the guy in the passenger seat, who was right there where the projectile came through, killed the driver. I watched him die on the roadside. And when you look at that from such a personal level, it does affect your perceptions of what's going on on the ground. And I know that that's not everywhere, all the time, but it does suggest that death lurks at every step in Iraq, and any place where death lurks at every step can be in nothing but a state of chaos.
KURTZ: So in a nutshell, you're saying that the coverage -- that the situation in Iraq on the ground, as you saw close up, is worse -- is worse than it appears from the television and newspaper coverage. Why is that? Why are we not capturing the full anarchy there?
ROBERTS: Because television can't -- and even print -- can't fully capture the scope of what's going on in Iraq. To some degree, too, over the last three-and-a-half years, Howie, it's become the daily traffic report, the daily drumbeat.
When you get there and you see it on a personal level, when you watch somebody die before your eyes, it gives you a much different perspective on it than it does being a half a world away, reading about it or watching it on television. Also, you know, the pictures on television are sanitized compared to what they are on the ground. For example, when we came across that IED attack, we did not shoot pictures that we would show on television of the carnage. We showed --
KURTZ: Because? Because?
ROBERTS: -- we showed pictures of people carrying litters, et cetera, because it's, A, --
KURTZ: It's too raw?
ROBERTS: -- it's too raw for television. B, it's too personal for the families who were involved, because the fellow who I saw on the ground, Howie, he was ripped apart. And that's just not the sort of thing that you want a family to know. If a loved one died in Iraq, they died in Iraq. You don't need to show them the graphic pictures of it. So, to some degree, what we're seeing is sanitized.
KURTZ: But here you have administration officials, as you know, repeatedly, relentlessly criticizing the coverage of this war as too focused on the violence and not paying any attention to what they claim are -- is progress, at least in other areas. Is that argument now collapsing or fading as the violence apparently continues to get worse there?
ROBERTS: I never thought it was a solid argument to begin with. You know, you could say, "Hey, why aren't you showing the good news?" But when most of the news is bad, it's difficult to show what good things that are happening there.
You know, I did notice that in some of the areas of Old Baghdad, when we were out on patrol with the Stryker units, that there is electricity, there is running water to a greater degree than there was before. There are some things that are getting done.
But you talk to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, whom I know quite well, and he'll tell you, face-to-face, that the amount of violence in Iraq is absolutely preventing any real progress on the reconstruction front. So until they get a handle on the violence, it's going to be very difficult to see the good news.
KURTZ: So you're saying the violence is the story; everything else is secondary.
ROBERTS: The violence affects everything in Iraq.
KURTZ: As public opinion has swung against this war, and we certainly saw that in the results of the midterm elections, do you think that the media's coverage, and what you described as the traffic report, the daily death toll, both Iraqis and Americans, have helped to turn the coverage -- almost reminiscent of Vietnam, John -- have helped to turn the country against this war?
ROBERTS: I think it's because you're not seeing any definable progress. If people were fighting and dying, and yet there was a lot of progress, I think you could -- people back home could make the case in their own minds that yes, this is worth it. But when you see people fighting and dying, and in greater numbers -- I mean, look at the death toll in October, 105 -- fourth deadliest month --
KURTZ: And you see Iraqis killing each other in greater numbers and with increasing brutality, and then you question what -- and the media increasingly have questioned, what are U.S. soldiers accomplishing?
ROBERTS: Exactly. What's the endgame here? How is this going to turn out? Vietnam, after the Tet Offensive in 1968, public opinion started turning against it. President Bush suggested recently that this upswing in violence by insurgent groups and Al Qaeda may be their attempt at instigating a certain Tet Offensive backlash.
And I've got to tell you, if that's what they're doing, it's working. But I think to a larger degree, it's not anything strategic on their part, it's just that this is the way that things are going in Iraq. And the more chaotic it gets, the more death there is, and the more people will look at the U.S. involvement in Iraq and say, if there's no progress, if there's no defined endgame here, if there's no way of knowing when people are coming home, why are we there?
KURTZ: A firsthand report. John Roberts, thanks for letting us visit you on the set of This Week at War.
ROBERTS: I appreciate it. Thanks, Howie.