The Short, Happy Iraq War of Howard Kurtz
As the world marks the sixth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of
It's a good question to ask-- but is Kurtz really the best person to ask it? In the heady days of "post-war"
In a column he wrote on April 14, 2003, Kurtz congratulated the press for its coverage of the just-concluded Iraq War. The piece provides a useful guide to the conventional wisdom that guides not just journalism, but also the profession's most powerful internal critics.
Kurtz began, "It's been the best of times and the worst of times for journalists." On the negative side, "The worst because they nearly got submerged in a sea of second-guessing just days into the fighting." After remarking that "unnamed critics, it turns out, are never in short supply," he elaborated by citing some examples of apparently too-pessimistic reporting:
* The Washington Post, March 27: "Despite the rapid advance of Army and Marine forces across
* Los Angeles Times, March 28: "The stiff resistance shown by Iraqi forces in the last week has forced administration officials to consider the prospect of a longer, costlier war."
* The New York Times, April 1: "Long-simmering tensions between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Army commanders have erupted in a series of complaints from officers on the Iraqi battlefield that the Pentagon has not sent enough troops to wage the war as they want to fight it."
So journalists who were the right track--raising questions ("second-guessing") about whether the war would last "months," or noticing tensions between military commanders and Rumsfeld--were the "worst," according to Kurtz. He also stuck up for Dick Cheney, writing:
On the other hand, Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom Watch" gave Cheney a down arrow: "Tells Meet the Press just before war, 'We will be greeted as liberators.' An arrogant blunder for the ages." Or not.
The arrogant blunder here seems to be all Kurtz's.
Kurtz recalled other highlights from the media's performance:
No anchor-gab was needed when it came to the powerful images produced by this short war. The American POWs cruelly displayed by the Iraqis; the dazed face of the wounded Jessica Lynch during the rescue that freed her; the sheer joy of
Of course, there was plenty of "anchor-gab" about the Jessica Lynch "rescue" and the Saddam Hussein statue, which were indeed more effective than leaflets dropped from planes--precisely because they were celebrated by the press corps in wildly exaggerated accounts rather than exposed as the propaganda stunts they were (London Times, 4/16/03; L.A. Times, 6/3/04).
There were other lessons to be learned, according to Kurtz, from the other short war the
Now comes the difficult part of the story--forming a government, rebuilding a shattered country, fending off suicide attacks--that lacks the obvious drama of toppling a brutal dictator. (Anyone seen a television report from Kabul lately?) Once the embedded reporters are liberated, it's all too easy to imagine the media drifting off to other obsessions while the future of Iraq is hammered out.
Kurtz was right about one thing, in retrospect: Corporate media did eventually "drift off" from Iraq--hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars later. In the meantime, that forgotten Afghanistan conflict is still underway, with more U.S. troops on the way.