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Fallujah Appeals to the Voters
by Michael R. Bowen, M.D.
12 April 2004Iraqi Flag

The terrorists in Iraq have generally left reporters alone because the reporters are useful to them.

Last week my family was watching Peter Jennings reporting on the fighting in Iraq.  There was dramatic footage of the fighting, and my sons were glued to the screen.  One of them noticed a striking contrast: soldiers and Marines firing their weapons from behind cover, while news reporters and cameramen strolled freely among the Iraqis firing on the Marines.

"Dad, how come Iraqis don't shoot the reporters?  They're Americans, too!"

Good question.  And as I listened to Mr. Jennings carefully pair any bit of positive news about America with another bit casting doubt on our progress, the answer came to me.  "Boys, they leave the reporters alone because the reporters are useful to them.  It's through the reporters that they hope to undermine America's resolve.  They're not so much fighting the Marines as playing to the American media. "

Comparisons to the 1968 Tet offensive are hard to avoid.  In that battle the Vietcong shot their bolt, gambling all on a Vietnam-wide simultaneous assault on American targets.  They were slaughtered, and it was a decisive American victory. The Vietcong were effectively finished as a fighting force, and thereafter Hanoi was forced to rely on North Vietnamese regulars. But what America saw on television was a very different picture, and I don't recall ever hearing how great a defeat it was for the Vietcong until more than 10 years later.  Long before then, of course, the public relations battle had been won decisively by Hanoi, in a campaign they conducted through the American media.

The more things change...  Today we have headlines reporting the number of Marine deaths and the location and severity of the fighting but you will search in vain, in print or on the screen, for any prominent mention of why we're in Iraq.  Bloodthirsty mullahs will be handed a microphone with no precautionary comment afterward, but every administration declaration of progress and purpose will be followed with a "balancing" qualifier, or an opposing quote from Bush's enemies at home.

President Bush's administration will be described as "troubled," or "embattled," but no Islamist will be described as "hate-filled" or "murderous," though the appellations are accurate and fair.  Murderers of women and children will be described as "militants."  Any American mistreatment of Iraqis will be big news, but the destruction of a bus by a bomb filled with nails and razor blades and rat poison will be no one’s fault; instead it will be part of the "cycle of violence."

Our media friends strive, or rather flatter themselves that they strive, to be fair and balanced.  But "warts and all" reporting is impossible when you think the slightest blemish at home is as big as a cancer, and you can't really see the warts on our enemies.

Or, worse yet, if you think they aren't really warts.

Michael R. Bowen practices Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine, and has a weekly column on America's Voices

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