Apparently this past weekend several reporters made the profound mistake of appearing on Howard Kurtz and discussing coverage of the Iraq War, and Robin Wright answered the following question:
Kurtz: Robin Wright, should that decline in Iraq casualties have gotten more media attention?
Wright: Not necessarily. The fact is we’re at the beginning of a trend — and it’s not even sure that it is a trend yet. There is also an enormous dispute over how to count the numbers. There are different kinds of deaths in Iraq.
There are combat deaths. There are sectarian deaths. And there are the deaths of criminal — from criminal acts. There are also a lot of numbers that the U.S. frankly is not counting. For example, in southern Iraq, there is Shiite upon Shiite violence, which is not sectarian in the Shiite versus Sunni. And the U.S. also doesn’t have much of a capability in the south.
So the numbers themselves are tricky.
Seems like a pretty reasonable answer. The media covered the story, but did not know how significant the data was at that point (or if it is significant). There are a number of different mechanisms for counting the fatalities, and the dip may be an anomaly. Regardless, it was covered, and the question by Kurtz was whether it should have received MORE coverage.
Again, it seems like a reasonable answer, because it was. But you and I live here on Planet Earth. On Planet Wingnut, where the air is laced with ether and tales of media bias, this response was seized upon as additional proof of TEH LIBERAL MEDIA CONSPIRACY AGAINST GEORGE BUSH, THE GREAT STRUGGLE IN IRAQ, AND ALL THINGS REPUBLICAN.
Wow. Numbers shouldn’t be reported because they’re “tricky,” “at the beginning of a trend,” and there’s “enormous dispute over how to count” them?
No such moral conundrum existed last month when media predicted a looming recession after the Labor Department announced a surprising decline in non-farm payrolls that ended up being revised up four weeks later to show an increase.
And, in the middle of a three and a half-year bull run in stocks, such “journalists” have no quandary predicting a bear market every time the Dow Jones Industrial Average falls a few hundred points.
Yet, when good news regarding military casualties comes from the Defense Department, these same people show uncharacteristic restraint in not wanting to report what could end up being an a anomaly.
The Jawa Report:
Guess it got too hard with all of that free-speech on the Internet dogging them all the time. They’re essentially treating Iraq coverage as if it were sports coverage of a team’s season. Except they don’t report the wins, and only report the losses.
So only report the enemy’s news, and not ours. It’s not like we need to have a more complete and balanced picture of what’s going on in Iraq, is it MSM? Gotta get those anti-war Democrats into the White House, after all!
Bad news from Iraq is “news.” Good news from Iraq is not “news.” You’ve noticed that this distinction seems to drive mainstream media coverage of the war, but this is the first time I’ve seen a reporter spell out the difference. Give Howard Kurtz credit for asking the right questions.
According to a couple of our MSM’s finest, if casualties go up in Iraq “that, by any definition, is news”. If casualties go down, though….well, that’s just “the beginning of a trend — and it’s not even sure that it is a trend yet” and besides, “[t]here is also an enormous dispute over how to count the numbers”.
And you know how those numbers are. They can just be so “tricky”!
Here you go, folks. Good news from Iraq causes reporters to be “skeptical” while bad news is unquestionably big news.
So there you have it. Because the media will not immediate declare Iraq a success after a one month decline in casualties, the media is biased. Because they will not make sweeping generalizations about everything in Iraq based on a one month decline in troop fatalaties, the media hates America. The notion of bias seems to come from the perception that “if more soldiers had been killed, it would have been reported more heavily,” compared to the difficulty in reporting soldiers who didn’t die (if casualties spike upwards, we have offcial numbers, and it is an obvious surge in deaths. If they go down, less dead soldiers is obviously a good thing, but it isn’t proof of a trend). Even then, the numbers were reported, as I commented about it. Here is the AP report I linked to:
Deaths among American forces and Iraqi civilians fell dramatically last month to their lowest levels in more than a year, according to figures compiled by the U.S. military, the Iraqi government and The Associated Press.
The decline signaled a U.S. success in bringing down violence in Baghdad and surrounding regions since Washington completed its infusion of 30,000 more troops on June 15.
A total of 64 American forces died in September — the lowest monthly toll since July 2006.
The numbers of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians reported killed across the country last month fell to their lowest levels in more than a year, a sharp decrease in violent deaths that American military officials attribute in part to the thousands of additional soldiers who have arrived here this year.
The death toll for Iraqi civilians fell sharply in September, according to Iraqi government and U.S. military figures. One count from Iraq’s Health Ministry put the monthly death toll at 827 civilians, a 48 percent drop from the total in August, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the statistics.
The downward trend in victims of violence was mirrored by dropping fatalities among U.S. soldiers. By month’s end, at least 66 U.S. soldiers were killed, the lowest monthly total since 65 died in August 2006, and about half the number who died during the deadliest month this year, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks military deaths in Iraq.
The drop in casualties was covered- what didn’t happen was that the press didn’t make all sorts of sweeping generalizations about the data. They acted, in other words, like a responsible press corps. And that is just it- these folks don’t want an independent press reporting “news,” they want a conservative version of Pravda. To some extent, they already have it- most of them get their news almost exclusively from Fox, the Washington Times, and magazines like the Weekly Standard and NRO. They then reinforce their beliefs by reading each other in the blogosphere, linking to each other, reifying their fantasies through a blogospheric circle-jerk.
So when I read things like this Gallup Poll stating most Republicans are deeply distrustful of the media, I take it with a grain of salt. It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that “too liberal” is, for many of these folks, code for “they don’t tell me exactly what I want to hear.”