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Seeking Positive Press For Iraq War

Critiques about media coverage of Iraq often highlight the claim that news outlets don't treat positive events related to the war in Iraq with the same amount of attention that they give to bad news about the war. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, often a critic along these lines, recently remarked that terrorists have been successful in "manipulating the media."

The Pentagon's concern about how the media relays events related to the war is substantial enough that it is being addressed with a bid for "a two-year, $20 million public relations contract that calls for extensive monitoring of U.S. and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq," writes Walter Pincus in the Washington Post today. According to the proposal, "the contract calls for assembling a database of selected news stories and assessing their tone as part of a program to provide 'public relations products' that would improve coverage of the military command's performance." One anonymous "public relations practictioner" told the Post that "military commanders 'are overwhelmed by the media out there and are trying to understand how to get their information out.'

"'They want it [news] to be received by audiences as it is transmitted [by them], but they don't like how it turns out,' he said. As an example, he said, there are complaints that reports from Iraq sometimes quote Shiite cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr more than military commanders."
The article notes a similar example from Rumsfeld during a speech Tuesday: "a search of leading newspapers revealed that a soldier punished for misconduct was written about '10 times' as often as the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in anti-terrorism efforts."

The entire article is worth reading, and it will likely generate much fodder for those engaged in the ever-present "why isn't there more good news coming out of Iraq?" debate -- an issue that we've touched on before, so it's worth revisiting a few of those posts. While a good deal of criticism about the lack of positive coverage of the war in Iraq concludes that it is the result of ideological bias among reporters, some critics disagree. Almost a year ago, we spoke with The Wall Street Journal editorial board's Bret Stephens, who said this about media coverage of Iraq:

"I would say that events in Iraq are better than they are commonly portrayed in the media," says Stephens. The primary reason, he says, isn't ideological bias, though that's a part of it. "The basic problem is the way news organizations assemble stories. You don't report on a dog that doesn't bite."
Back in May, we asked correspondent Lara Logan to respond to criticisms that the media ignores progress like school openings and other improvements in Iraq. She responded thusly:
Logan said she sympathizes with the feeling among individuals involved in those type of improvements that they are seeing a different picture but insists that is an isolated view that ignores the bigger picture. She says new schools, water projects and sewer improvements so far represent "a fraction" of what is needed. Looking back to her recent trip to Ramadi to report on the violence in that city, Logan pointed to the fact that she found herself on patrol in the streets, "wading knee-deep in human waste."
The Post story will likely reignite a bit of the debate surrounding this issue, and bloggers are, predictably, already weighing in on the article in droves ... let us know what you think in comments or via e-mail.

UPDATE: Rumsfeld expands on his recent comments in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, concluding:

"Those who know the truth need to speak out against the myths and distortions being told about our troops and our country. My remarks at the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion conventions have generated much discussion. I encourage everyone to read what I actually said at"
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