They Saw Potemkin
Michael Ubaldi, July 27, 2005.
Iraq is telling one story and leftist elites are determined to tell you and I another. If that is difficult to believe, consider St. Paul Pioneer Press editor Mark Yost, who accused his industry of negligence and invited — at the hands of his peers — cross-examination, humiliation and excommunication. A fortnight ago Yost wrote a column whose thesis rested on the phrase "I'm reminded of why I became a journalist by the horribly slanted reporting coming out of Iraq." Where are the articles, he asked, about reconstruction and reconciliation; communities and repatriation; enterprise and heroism? Yost drew a sharp line between reports from troops in theater and reports with bylines; soldiers in action were challenged yet confident, journalists chronicling those actions were cynical and moribund.
Mark Yost's colleagues organized quickly to correct a reporter insolent enough to trust the word of military men over theirs. Days after the publication of Yost's article one of them — Clark Hoyt, the Washington, D.C. editor for Pioneer Press distributer Knight-Ridder Newspapers — put in print his own commentary. Yost was wrong to question the veracity of media work, wrote Hoyt, who explained the dearth of stories on, say, Iraq's electricity by resolving that "Maybe it's because there is no progress." To this Hoyt hitched a statistic identifying a one-hour drop per day in household power between this year and last, then leapt to his next repudiation.
Hoyt's conviction was misplaced. The day before his article ran, the Army Corps of Engineers announced repairs of a generating station north of Baghdad nearing seven-eighths completion; full operation would add 10 percent to the entire country's output total. Two months before that, Iraq blogger Omar Fadhil offered similar news on a plant south of Baghdad.
So there is progress. OK, what about performance? Reserving column space for a letter from Knight-Ridder's Baghdad Bureau Chief that read half-obloquy, half-dirge in its vituperation of Yost, Hoyt did not inform his readers that liberated Iraq's electrical plants met and surpassed Ba'athist production levels within six months — and that Iraqi ownership of consumer electronics has aggrandized demand beyond what the improved and expanded grid can currently supply. Hoyt left all this out, rightists suppose, for one of two reasons: he was ignorant of public data; or was aware but decided clarification would mar his neat, three-sentence rebuttal. Either way, reread Yost's charges and ask — Why does a journalist passing up information relevant to a material dispute serve as one of the agency's bureau chiefs?
Why? Because he lives in and works for, respectively, a class and industry that for half a century has maintained perception, knowledge, circulation, reflection and review as indiscrete enterprises under one cartel. The class is leftist, intrinsically relativist and contemporarily opposed to both Western and American assertions. The industry is mainstream journalism, populated by leftists and bound to the ideological Making of a Difference. Democratic success in Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations will be this generation's evidence of universal values that rest high on an absolute scale — and success will deliver a staggering blow to relativism. An increasingly egalitarian exchange of news and opinion delineates two narratives, one from military and Iraqi observers that fairly well describes the shared struggle against authoritarianism and one from establishment journalists that does not. The left, deluded or deceptive, refuses to see anything but a Potemkin village erected in conspiracy. Through denial mainstream journalism has contrived a false place of its own.
In May I debated writing an essay on leftist media distortion of the Iraq campaign but elected not to. Two years of blogging Iraq's emancipation is as accurate and comprehensive an accounting I could ever have managed. The abridged leftist media narrative follows. American-led armies were never to breach Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein. Immediately after the Ba'athists fell, Iraqis were alternately described as wistful for the Stalinist routine or eager to found a theocracy. Troops were dispirited, or marauders, or ill-equipped, or costing the taxpayer too much. What became known as the "insurgency" was, through the 2004 presidential election, portrayed as a popular, political and legitimate native uprising. Liberty and civility were insoluble to such a foreign culture. This meme was tested twice and failed each time: once during Bloody April of 2004 and again on the January 30, 2005 elections. Rather than concede, the left repositioned and adopted its current explanation for regime agents and foreign terrorists, insofar as the West created them — on the order of blaming Eisenhower for drawing the Third Reich's brunt into France in 1944.
Interpose the creation of the Iraqi National Assembly, a first draft constitution, a spasm of indiscriminate terrorist brutality and Allied penetration of gangs and al Qaeda cells: we are now at present. The two narratives are irreconcilable. The left's enemy is flourishing — but persistent slaughter of the defenseless and unprepared is a exhibition of malice, not strength. The mainstream drones about a palpable civil war — but civil war was the impending disaster last month, and three months before that, and six months before that and eighteen months before that.
One justification for dreary reporting is that while crime and murder may not represent events they sell newspapers. Is that entirely true? For about every day that a terrorist bomb goes off, Iraqi and Allied soldiers and police chase, apprehend, thwart and best the enemy. Freelance journalist Michael Yon transformed a Mosul weapons cache demolition into a vignette of depth and grit. Iraqi bloggers and commercial newspapers depict a rich daily life. Yet those stories hardly rate ledes. If mainstream media war coverage were a radio broadcast of the first million-dollar gate, only Carpentier's strikes would be announced, leaving any listeners enduring four rounds dumbfounded by Dempsey's knockout win.
Induction is helpful here. Iraq's economy is growing independently of its strong reliance on oil exports and the dinar is both stable and appreciating. Commercial flights have resumed, dozens of roads and train lines have been laid, hundreds of modest schoolhouses have been built. Systems for advanced irrigation, sanitation and agriculture are underway. A draft constitution was written by elected representatives, debated on Iraqi television, and will soon be judged by popular ballot. Men who deprived Iraqis of even nominal parliamentary representation for three of its five modern totalitarian decades will be judged in court — hanged or jailed after the due process they once saw fit to dispossess. How can all this be possible in the terminally unstable country Hoyt and so many others project, impress and telecast?
The answer to that question is obvious. What the leftward newsman's Quixotic betrayal of truth will bring, as he peddles an impatience and faithlessness critical to the enemy, we cannot yet say.
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