The Iraq Study Group’s Media Blindness

In the 96 pages of the ISG report, there is not a single reference to television, radio, newspapers, or any other media in Iraq or worldwide.

Yesterday the Bush family consigliore, James Baker, and his Leisure World Rockettes, released the product of their nine month review of the sad state of affairs (pdf) in Iraq. Their conclusion?

“The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.”

Beyond this mind-numbingly obvious revelation, the report of this fiasco has produced some additional significant news. That news is that: there is no news to report about the news. In the 96 pages of the ISG report, there is not a single reference to television, radio, newspapers, or any other media in Iraq or worldwide. This despite the fact that media has played a central role in the execution and marketing of the war. From paying Iraqi newspapers to publish positive stories, to inventing front groups to spread misinformation, to propagandizing on behalf of a dishonest administration, the media has been an accomplice to the monumental failures that much of the ISG report documents.

For this group to ignore the role played by the media, a role media kingpin David Gergen himself describes as “cheerleaders,” leaves a hole in the search for solutions big enough to drive an inadequately armored HumVee through. The report’s omission of the media component even fails to rise to the level of responsibility that many in the media belatedly acknowledged. Mea culpas from the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, and others, at least superficially recognized that their dereliction to duty may have made things worse.

The truth is, they made things into a disaster of nightmarish proportions. Through lies, distortions, and collusion with BushCo’s warmongers, the press betrayed the American people, the Iraqis, and a broad array of citizens of the world, who are also suffering from the media’s deceit.

The ISG compounds the problem by not addressing the media’s role and proposing some sort of corrective action. The closest they come to this is to call on the president to communicate honestly with the American and world communities:

“Our leaders must be candid and forthright with the American people in order to win their support.” And…

“In public diplomacy, the President should convey as much detail as possible about the substance of these exchanges [between U.S. and Iraqi leadership] in order to keep the American people, the Iraqi people, and the countries in the region well informed.” And…

“Funding requests for the war in Iraq should be presented clearly to Congress and the American people.”

But that might be a lot to expect from an administration even the ISG criticizes for a lack of credibility in reporting:

“…there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases. A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn’t hurt U.S. personnel doesn’t count. For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.

Obviously, we have a long ways to go. We can’t trust the press to do their jobs responsibly, and we can’t trust our leaders to be honest with us, much less with the press or even themselves. And since the Blue Ribbon Commissions of the world aren’t going to take up these matters, we’ll have to do it on our own. So be alert, be proactive, be aggressive, and let the media know that we, the people, are watching them. Their apologies do not give them absolution. They must repent and reform. And then they must go forth and never sin again.