On July 30 and the morning of July 31, the co-authors of the July 30 New York Times op-ed "A War We Just Might Win," Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, appeared on six live television news programs to discuss their conclusion that "[w]e are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms." O'Hanlon and Pollack wrote that they had recently returned from Iraq, where they "spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel." But only one interviewer, CNN's Wolf Blitzer, asked either O'Hanlon or Pollack about the circumstances of their visit. Blitzer asked, "[D]id you have the freedom to say, 'I want to go here, I want to go there'? Who organized, in other words, the stopovers, the visits that you were having?" Pollack responded that the trip "was largely organized by the military." In other words, Pollack and O'Hanlon "largely" saw what the military wanted them to see. On several previous occasions, the media have similarly reported on public figures who have visited Iraq and cited progress on security matters without reporting whether those figures were allowed to choose the locations they visited, if their trips were organized by the military, or the extent of the protection they received during their trip.
Media outlets have failed to ask O'Hanlon, Pollack, and other visitors to Iraq about whether they had military escorts -- and the extent to which the military chose the sites that they visited -- even after the media uncritically reported that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) touted the military's purported success in making a Baghdad market safer. On April 1, McCain, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC), and Reps. Mike Pence (R-IN) and Rick Renzi (R-AZ) visited Baghdad's Shorja market under heavy guard. Shortly thereafter, McCain asserted that "things are getting better in Iraq," and Graham argued that "[i]t will be a huge mistake to set a deadline. It (the U.S. troop surge) is working." Pence said the market "was 'like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summer time.' " While April 1 reports by The Washington Post and the Associated Press described the delegation's walk through the market as "heavily guarded," an April 2 online article from The Hill did not report the security measures that made it possible for the members of Congress to stroll through the market, located outside the Green Zone, as Media Matters for America documented. Additionally, on the April 2 edition of MSNBC Live, on-screen text read: "Sen. John McCain: Baghdad crackdown is working" and "Sen. John McCain says there are reasons for 'cautious optimism.' " However, as this text appeared, NBC News correspondent Tom Aspell said, "It's hard to see where he's getting his information from." In fact, after subsequent reports, McCain was forced to admit that he had "miss[poken]" when he declared the market safe, as Media Matters has noted. Indeed, an April 3 New York Times article reported that the delegation arrived "with more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees -- the equivalent of an entire company -- and attack helicopters circled overhead" and that "the merchants there [in the market] were incredulous about the Americans' conclusions."
On July 30, Pollack appeared live during the 9 a.m. ET hour of CNN Newsroom and the 5 p.m. ET hour of CNN's The Situation Room, as well as MSNBC's Tucker and National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation. O'Hanlon appeared on the July 30 edition of MSNBC's Hardball and the July 31 edition of CBS' Early Show. But only Blitzer asked if their trip was organized by the military and whether they had "the freedom to say, 'I want to go here, I want to go there.' " From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the July 30 edition of The Situation Room:
BLITZER: Was this part, though, of a U.S. military tour, if you will, that they took you around, you were escorted from location to location to location, and they were the ones who took you to certain, specific places, or did you have the freedom to say, "I want to go here, I want to go there"? Who organized, in other words, the stopovers, the visits that you were having?
POLLACK: It was -- largely this -- it was largely organized by the military. We felt that was important because right now, the big story is the military story. We went specifically because we finally had a change in strategy. And, you know, you're aware of this, Wolf. I've been on your show after all my previous trips to Iraq. Every single one of those trips, I came back more depressed and more frustrated than when I left. This was the first one that I came back actually somewhat more hopeful than when I left.
Moreover, in their op-ed, Pollack and O'Hanlon reported visiting Ramadi, Baghdad's Ghazaliya neighborhood, Tal Afar, and Mosul, describing the latter two as being in an "ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens." But in a July 30 post on the Time magazine blog Swampland, political columnist Joe Klein noted that they did not report visiting any Shiite areas and wrote: "Iraq is primarily a Shi'ite country -- and we're not doing so well with those guys, especially the most prominent of them, Muqtada al-Sadr." Klein added:
I should also note that their optimism about the Iraqi Army might look a bit different if they went to mixed areas like Diyala province, where a corrupt Shi'ite-dominated Army is going to have to deal with a police force that is being recruited from former Sunni insurgents. There certainly are a few excellent, mixed units in the Iraqi Security Forces, but the majority of units are local, sect-specific and awful.
The media's failure to ask individuals who tout "progress" after a trip to Iraq about the extent of the military protection they received and the extent to which the military determined what they would see is not limited to interviews with Pollack and O'Hanlon. Despite McCain and Graham's statements about their trip to Iraq in April, a July 6 McClatchy Newspapers article reported that during a July 4 trip to Iraq, "Graham and McCain ate lunch in Ramadi, a former terrorist stronghold 100 miles west of Baghdad that two U.S. senators couldn't have visited six months ago, Graham said." The article did not mention whether Graham and McCain were able to choose that location for their lunch, if their trip was "largely organized" by the military, or whether the reporter had raised those questions.
Similarly, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT) mentioned his May 30 visit to Baghdad -- which led him to the conclusion that "victory is still possible in Iraq" -- during the June 7 edition of CNN's American Morning, the June 10 edition of Fox News' Hannity's America, the June 10 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, the June 11 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, and the July 1 edition of ABC's This Week. But a Media Matters review of each program's transcript showed that none of the shows' hosts asked Lieberman about the circumstances of his trip, the extent of his military protection, or the extent to which he deferred to the military on what he would see -- all of which presumably informed his conclusion that the "security environment had undergone a dramatic reversal."