Writing "Home"

(CBS/iStockphoto)
As an unabashed devotee of America's editorial pages, it's been interesting to watch them (almost universally) avoid harsh rebukes of the war in Iraq.

Until recently.

What began with a drip with the Los Angeles Times two months ago is developing into a trickle. And while the New York Times editorial from this past weekend may or may not wind up being a seminal moment in the domestic debate over Iraq, the more noteworthy objections come from some smaller outlets, like last week's Olympian editorial (from Olympia, Washington) and this past Sunday's Tuscaloosa News.

The Tuscaloosa editorial (for those of you keeping score at home, Tuscaloosa County went to Bush 61 percent in 2004, up from his tally in 2000) was a strong condemnation of Bush's Iraq policies, titled "Bush Stands Alone in his Failed Iraqi Democracy Plans." In turns formal and folksy, the piece focused on the Republicans who have abandoned Bush's push of the war:
But the president, far from shaken by these defections, continues to pursue his policies. Increasingly, he resembles the marching band member who insisted that only he was in step; all of his colleagues were wrong.

Recent reporting in The Washington Post shows why Bush chooses to press an indefensible policy. He sees himself as an instrument of God, chosen to bring about a specific set of changes in Iraq. If others — including some of his closest supporters — now think it's impossible to bring about those changes, it's because they lack Bush's divine vision.
Douglas Ray, executive editor of the Tuscaloosa News, told Public Eye that he had sensed "a tipping point" in the war that motivated his editorial staff to write the column. "There is a sense of a 'tipping point.' On the editorial page, we've walked up to the line that we crossed on Sunday a few times, but I think it has been a matter of us watching to see what's happening with the president's plans for a surge and the impending progress report, which the White House is beginning to discount already. We felt now was the time."

While the Tuscaloosa News held its fire a tad, the other three editorials took the next rhetorical step and made the case for pulling the troops out of Iraq. The most striking common thread of the three pieces is the usage of the word "Home" in the headline – connoting comfort and patriotism, much like the usage of the word "homeland." The first-of-its-kind Los Angeles Times piece from May 6 was understandably tentative, using general terms and demonstrating considerable hand-wringing:
This newspaper reluctantly endorsed the U.S. troop surge as the last, best hope for stabilizing conditions so that the elected Iraqi government could assume full responsibility for its affairs. But we also warned that the troops should not be used to referee a civil war. That, regrettably, is what has happened.
Where the LA Times was subdued, the Olympian and New York Times editorials were more thorough – with subheads like "Fed Up" and "The Mechanics of Withdrawal" – to drive their point home.

In the end, what will these public statements mean in the war debate? With poll numbers regularly showing rising dissatisfaction on the part of Americans with the war, do these editorials affect or reflect the conventional wisdom? Do they merely serve as kindling for the shouters who like to claim "liberal media" regularly? Do these make much of a difference?

As the Tuscaloosa News' Ray observed, "We do try to talk about local things as much as we can, but there is a sense of moral responsibility to speak to the most pressing issues of the day. And Iraq seems to be the number one thing we could have written about." Regardless of where a newspaper falls on the Iraq question – stay, go, or some hybrid of the two – more of them should answer that call of 'moral responsibility' and provide their readership with a reasoned, comprehensive view of the war.
  • Matthew Felling

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