Front Page: Iraq — The End

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For nearly a month, CBSNews.com's Andrew Cohen told us how newspapers around the world were telling their readers about the war. Our legal analyst now turns his analytical skills to daily journalism:

What started on March 19 in the middle of Colorado's worst snowstorm ever ended April 15 during a day in which the temperature along the Front Range was over 70 degrees. For 28 straight days, the War News Roundup was compiled and posted online to give readers a bit of a sense of how the Iraq War was "playing" in newspapers across the country and around the world. Parts of nearly 300 separate news reports and commentaries made up the Roundup during its one-month run coinciding with the bulk of the fighting in and over Iraq.

Contributions from newspapers in 49 states — sorry, Arkansas — and the District of Columbia were used in the Roundup. Newspapers in dozens of other countries — Canada, Australia, Germany, Britain, France, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar to name a few — also contributed to the daily offerings. Some newspapers, because of their location, were routinely culled for interesting information about the war. Some online papers, because of the sheer quality of the work they offered from their correspondents and columnists, also were regular visitors to the Roundup. Some vital newspapers, like The New York Times, were purposely avoided as a way of ensuring a broader range of views and perspectives from beyond the Beltway and Broadway.

Based upon the experience gleaned from reviewing thousands of stories over the past month, there are a couple of observations worth sharing about the way the war was covered here in America and across the globe. First, everything you've already heard about the disparity between domestic and international war coverage is pretty much true. Almost universally, American newspapers reported without challenge much of what the Pentagon said about the war. (Let's leave aside for another day whether this was appropriate or not). Just as universally, international newspapers — and not just those in the Arab world — were extremely skeptical of U.S. government claims, even when those claims were fairly innocuous. A reader only of Canadian newspapers, for example, would have had a much different view of the war than would a reader of only American newspapers.

And readers only of Arab newspapers — and here I'm focusing only upon the more moderate ones that had stories online in English — would have been justified in thinking that U.S. soldiers were akin to the Mongol hordes. If anyone has any doubts about just how deep is the distrust in the Arab world for America and her current policies, a troll through these online sites would quickly dispel them. No anti-American rumor, it seemed, went unreported in Syria or Jordan or even Saudi Arabia. Any war-related event that conceivably could generate two reasonable interpretations — say, an explosion in a marketplace in Iraq — was interpreted by these Arab journalists in the most anti-American way possible. U.S. intentions were questioned and dismissed; American conspiracies abounded. Perhaps the nadir of this reporting occurred on April 6, when Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency quoted an Iranian political leader as saying that "the U.S. is waging atomic warfare on Iraqi people."


Papers in Europe, Australia and Canada for the most part mirrored the political positions taken in their particular country. Newspapers in Canada, for example, were far more critical of the Coalition's efforts than were newspapers in Britain and Australia, America's most significant allies in the war effort. Newspapers in Germany and France were less skeptical than their Arab counterparts were when it came to covering the war, but far more skeptical than their American counterparts. And even though Japan may have been a part of the "Coalition of the Willing," newspapers in Asia were decidedly lukewarm even in their coverage of the war. Does journalistic independence transcend national borders? In this war, the answer seems to be decidedly "no."

Which brings us back home to America. The country's best newspapers were at their best covering the war even if they did not always make the Roundup. The Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post provided readers daily with fascinating context, perspective, nuance and the so-called "big picture." I would be shocked if one or more of these papers didn't win a Pulitzer Prize or two next April. Other national papers like USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor also provided valuable perspectives from Iraq.

Regional "biggies" like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune held their own using embedded reporters. Reporters like Scott Bernard Nelson of the Globe, Ann Scott Tyson of the Monitor and John Daniszewski of the Los Angeles Times filed particularly riveting stuff. And smaller, local newspapers kept up by focusing upon stories of their communities' contributions to the war effort or profiles of local soldiers in action or, tragically, when they became casualties. The saddest stories I read either were stories of civilian casualties in Iraq or stories of broken families here at home.

It's fairly clear even this soon after its end that the War in Iraq was the most heavily- and thoroughly-covered war in history. And from my view this coverage wasn't just about quantity — the sheer volume of work produced — it was about quality — the sheer descriptive power of thousands of professional journalists working at their best to tell as many different facets as possible of this enormously complex story. It was, in short, journalism at its best — not perfect, certainly not 100 percent complete, but compelling and vital and important and comprehensive and fair. I guess what I'm saying is that if there are any literary agents, editors or publishers reading this, please consider it my request to edit the definitive, multi-volume "Library of America" work that will undoubtedly be called "Covering the Iraq War." It would be an honor.

Compiled by Andrew Cohen
  • Lloyd Vries

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