Thursday, March 31, 2005

 

Spinning Good News In To Bad

Okay Bob, we get the point--you think, in face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that Iraq is a mess, but you should not allow that to color your reporting. You are in the fair and balanced business after all. What has me so angry? An article in today's "newspaper" reporting that terrorist attacks against U.S. Troops are decreasing:
Insurgent attacks in Iraq have fallen dramatically since the Jan. 30 elections, and the number of U.S. deaths reported this month dropped to the lowest in a year.

So far so good. We have a story about attacks against our troops decreasing and the first paragraph proudly states that fact, and rightly so. But don't get your hopes up because this is the second paragraph:
But the news isn't all good. Militants are focusing their attacks on Iraqi government and security officials as the new leaders of Iraq assume a greater role in their fragile nation.

Okay, so what happened to the story about insurgent attacks against U.S. troops declining? This is just another sign that Bob Rivard & Co. refuse to allow their readers an unbiased look at events in Iraq. Now for some good news:
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, which has been tracking the insurgency, said attacks against U.S. forces have dropped by at least 25 percent since last fall, when U.S. officials launched a major offensive against the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. Attacks then ranged from 80 to 90 a day, O'Hanlon said.

But wait, the SAEN isn't finished with the bad news:
Still, insurgents haven't forgotten the Americans. On Saturday, two U.S. soldiers were killed and two others were wounded by a car bomb in Baghdad.

Lucky for you, SAEN Watch is loathe to end on a sour note, so how about some great news:
The change was apparent after the elections, with the number of U.S. soldiers killed dropping from 58 in February to 30 in March — the lowest monthly death toll since 20 American soldiers were killed in February 2004, according to an Associated Press count.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith said U.S. forces could begin coming home in significant numbers if insurgent violence is low through general elections scheduled for the end of the year.

That's right General, bring them all home, and soon. The SAEN is behind the curve on Iraq; they just cannot bring themselves to admit that it is becoming a success story.

Update:

Some of our readers aren't getting the point I am trying to make here. So, thanks to Mark, we have a comparison of the SAEN's article on page 11A today, and the AP story I linked to above. Bold sentences are not included by the SAEN in today's story. So the he question is, why did the SAEN edit the story the way it did, if not to spin good news into bad:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgent attacks in Iraq have fallen dramatically since the Jan. 30 elections, and the number of U.S. deaths reported this month dropped to the lowest in a year.

But the news isn't all good. Militants are focusing their attacks on Iraqi government and security officials as the new leaders of Iraq assume a greater role in their fragile nation.

Both U.S. and Iraqi officials agree that attacks overall have fallen since the Jan. 30 elections, although it is unclear if the trend is just a temporary lull as militants change tactics, or a sign that the insurgency is weakening.

Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, which has been tracking the insurgency, said attacks against U.S. forces have dropped by at least 25 percent since last fall, when U.S. officials launched a major offensive against the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. Attacks then ranged from 80 to 90 a day, O'Hanlon said.
However, attacks still haven't fallen below the level of a year ago — between 10 to 20 a day, according to a Defense Department document dated July 2004.
U.S. defense officials say they were down to 40 to 45 a day in recent weeks, lower than the pre-election average of 50 to 60 a day.

The change was apparent after the elections, with the number of U.S. soldiers killed dropping from 58 in February to 30 in March — the lowest monthly death toll since 20 American soldiers were killed in February 2004, according to an Associated Press count.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith said U.S. forces could begin coming home in significant numbers if insurgent violence is low through general elections scheduled for the end of the year.

A larger and more capable insurgency, setbacks in the efforts to develop Iraq security forces, or missed deadlines by the transitional government could delay any significant drawdown, said Smith, the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command.

As reports of car bombings and ambushes noticeably dwindle, another trend has been seen as more Iraqi police and soldiers are put out on the street.

Attackers are targeting Iraqi officials seen as traitors for working with — and eventually replacing — the U.S.-led coalition, Army Capt. Salman Abdul Wahid said, adding that many attacks in March were against Iraqi forces.

"The Iraqi army and police are easy targets for terrorists," he said. "They lack the modern equipment of the Americans."
There are also more of them on the streets every day. Ali al-Faisal, a member of the Shiite clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of lawmakers leading the new parliament, said the change was because Iraqi police are taking the lead in fighting the insurgency.

"In the past, they were targeting the American forces because they were in charge of security," he said. "After the new Iraqi army and police were established — and succeeded in maintaining security and began annihilating (the insurgents) — they shifted their attacks."

Still, insurgents haven't forgotten the Americans. On Saturday, two U.S. soldiers were killed and two others were wounded by a car bomb in Baghdad.

The developments are being closely watched, as U.S. and Iraqi officials try to determine when the U.S. government will withdraw from the country.

On Monday, interim Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib outlined progress by the growing number of security forces and said attacks were not only decreasing, but claiming fewer victims. He credited the growing role of Iraqi forces, saying it was easier for them to gather intelligence on insurgents than it was for U.S. troops.

Encouraged by the Jan. 30 elections and a state-run television station that broadcasts the confessions of alleged insurgents, Iraqis have also begun turning in information on suspicious activities or people, U.S. and Iraqi officials say.

O'Hanlon said the relative optimism has hurt insurgent recruitment and turned public opinion against the militants.

"There's just more and more a sense that the insurgents are attacking Iraqis and Iraq itself," he said.

If the insurgents continue to focus attacks on Iraqi officials, O'Hanlon said, the conflict "could become more of a civil war."

Al-Naqib said the situation has improved so much that some cities will see foreign troops pulling out soon.

"If the same pace of the last six or seven months continues, then God willing, during the coming 18 months we will be able to preserve security inside Iraq," he said.

Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, a spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division based in Baghdad, said soldiers are noticing an improvement on the streets, as "Iraqi police and security units are standing up and becoming more effective."

"It's uplifting," he said.

Abdul Hamid al-Ghanami, a 35-year-old engineer in Baghdad, said he has felt safer.

"I did feel like I was staring down death each time I left my house," he said. "In terms of security, there is now a kind of comfortable feeling of victory, and we feel like terrorism has been isolated to far pockets, outside of the cities."

Comments:
Your criticisms miss the mark. Insurgent attacks on U.S. forces are declining while attacks on Iraqis have increased. You seem interested only in the former, not the latter.

The article presents the situation in all its complexity. To do anything less would be a disservice to the paper's readers.
 
Yeah, I kind of got that, but the point I am making is that it is literally imposiible for the SAEN to write a purely positive story about Iraq.
 
Anonymous is misleading when he writes "Insurgent attacks on U.S. forces are declining while attacks on Iraqis have increased." His implication is that the violence is steady, just redirected at Iraqis now, instead of American troops. As the article states: "Both U.S. and Iraqi officials agree that attacks overall have fallen since the Jan. 30 elections"
 
Mark's comment is well taken. Yet I believe the article's point was to stress that the violence that continues in Iraq has been largely redirected toward Iraqis. That is a notable point. Gregg (formerly anonymous)
 
Gregg, welcome! Please see our update to the post.
 
the violence that continues in Iraq has been largely redirected toward Iraqis. That is a notable point.

Gregg, I share your concern with the continued suffering of the Iraqi people...after all, I supported their liberation in the first place.

You are absolutely correct that the redirection of violence toward Iraqis is a notable point: it shows that the insurgency is failing as the Iraqis gain the training, manpower and materiel required to deal with it. (After all, last year, there were hardly any Iraqi government troops for the insurgents TO attack). This is great news, and, in my opinion, the AP article fails to acknowledges that.
 
As for the SAEN: In the update, Commando shows that the deletion of the last 2/3 of the article erases instance after instance of positive news - for example the Iraqi quoted as saying "In terms of security, there is now a kind of comfortable feeling of victory, and we feel like terrorism has been isolated to far pockets, outside of the cities."

Did the SAEN leave this part out for space reasons only? Possibly...although they also made a conscious decision as to how much space would be allocated to this story. Seems like the negative stories they have incessantly published always have room for the whole thing...and AP? Do they always put the best news toward the end of the article, where it is most likely to be truncated by space-conscious local editors?
 
I only have time for a quick post, but from my reading of the Express News they consistenly truncate articles from wire services, the NYT, etc. Personally, I don't believe they were trying to slant the story--at least in this instance. Gregg
 
Gregg,
While I disagree with you on this one I do appreciate your comments. I base my conclusion regarding this comment on the SAEN's history of only telling the negative side of the story in Iraq. Your comments have been well reasoned and I hope that you will continue to visit SAEN Watch and let us know what you think. You know, keep us honest, and if you like what you see here please tell your friends and family about us. I look forward to future debates with you! Have an excellent weekend.
 
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