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Civil War Or Not, At Least The Media Focus Is On Iraq

There's no shortage of folks weighing in on NBC's decision to officially term the ongoing violence in Iraq a "civil war." As usual, you can find a roundup of media takes over at Romenesko, where you can see what some other media organizations are calling it. Editor & Publisher is doing a good job tracking the issue as well. At TV Newser, you'll discover some of the commentary. And, of course, we updated you yesterday on CBS News' current position on covering the conflict.

There some other comments out there worth noting. In his online Media Notes column, Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz makes this observation, noting that the announcement was made on the "Today" show by co-host Matt Lauer:

Actually, all the networks and major newspapers have been using terms like sliding into civil war, on the verge of civil war, and so on. The L.A. Times used the C.W. phrase on Saturday, without a public fuss. What I've been saying all along is that if this isn't a civil war, it's a pretty good imitation.

So Lauer and NBC deserve some credit, I suppose, for dropping the qualifiers, even though the semantic debate is basically a sideshow to the main act of sectarian violence that has been spiraling out of control for many months now. The way that MSNBC pounded the linguistic issue all day, though, seemed to carry a whiff of self-congratulation.

I have no problem with using the term civil war, not with more than 3,700 Iraqi civilians having been killed last month, according to a U.N. report. I also have no problem with the word mess. I do think you can dream up any name you want and you've still got a situation--for the U.S., for the Sunnis and Shiites, for the region and for the world--that is getting worse rather than better. And the leaked semi-conclusions of the Baker commission certainly don't sound like a magic bullet. Perhaps because there isn't one.

Part of that sentiment is being echoed by bloggers like Dean Barnett at Hugh Hewitt's blog:
Things in Iraq are obviously tough, except in the Kurdish regions in regards to which our media seem to have a strange reticence. I have no interest in squabbling over semantics. Call it a civil war if you like. Call it sectarian violence. Call it a Hobbesian state of nature rife with IED's. Makes no nevermind to me.
Many left-leaning blogs are pointing to CNN correspondent Michael Ware's Friday appearance on the cable channel as a sort of "duh" moment. Ware said:
Well, firstly, let me say, perhaps it's easier to deny that this is a civil war, when essentially you live in the most heavily fortified place in the country within the Green Zone, which is true of both the prime minister, the national security adviser for Iraq and, of course, the top U.S. military commanders. However, for the people living on the streets, for Iraqis in their homes, if this is not civil war, or a form of it, then they do not want to see what one really looks like.

This is what we're talking about. We're talking about Sunni neighborhoods shelling Shia neighborhoods, and Shia neighborhoods shelling back.

We're having Sunni communities dig fighting positions to protect their streets. We're seeing Sunni extremists plunging car bombs into heavily-populated Shia marketplaces. We're seeing institutionalized Shia death squads in legitimate police and national police commando uniforms going in, systematically, to Sunni homes in the middle of the night and dragging them out, never to be seen again.

I mean, if this is not civil war, where there is, on average, 40 to 50 tortured, mutilated, executed bodies showing up on the capital streets each morning, where we have thousands of unaccounted for dead bodies mounting up every month, and where the list of those who have simply disappeared for the sake of the fact that they have the wrong name, a name that is either Sunni or Shia, so much so that we have people getting dual identity cards, where parents cannot send their children to school, because they have to cross a sectarian line, then, goodness, me, I don't want to see what a civil war looks like either if this isn't one.

Some on the right, like Stephen Spruiell at NRO's Media Blog smell agenda-pushing at work:
Let's cut right to what this "civil war" fanfare in the media is really all about: It has nothing to do with the ongoing violence in Iraq, and everything to do with the fact that these media organizations, which are struggling to maintain their relevance in a rapidly changing industry, feel the need to assert themselves and remind the public of their importance, and what better way than by calling the war for the insurgents and starting a push to solidify public opinion in favor of immediate withdrawal?
This whole flap initially struck me as a meaningless semantic debate over terms which are hardly well-defined for most. The insistence of the administration to avoid the term perhaps makes the discussion a little more important. But war is war, do we really need to categorize it? After watching some of the reaction, however, it strikes me that it may be worthwhile after all. Having seen the war pushed toward the back pages so often over the past few years in favor of the latest celebrity divorce/wedding story, any discussion which puts it squarely back on the national agenda has to have some merit. At least we're talking about what's happening there instead of O.J.
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