The Administration is getting used to the idea that this Iraq war thing is not working out. And they know to pin it on: the media. This week's onslaught started with the Bush press conference on Tuesday and concluded with William Bennett on Reliable Sources, who was wearing a leather windbreaker that I assume served him well last night at the tables in Atlantic City.
The clearest in blaming the press for the upcoming defeat was Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds aka Instapundit who said
"The other thing I think [the media has] figured out is imagine that in fact, what they're doing succeeds, that we do lose the war, that it is seen as another Vietnam. A substantial portion of the American public, 30, 40%, at least, is going to blame them and hold a grudge that will last decades. Now is that a position they want to be in? Because that's what's going to happen, and they will have earned it."
But, the main event was Laura Ingraham, who decided to filibuster on the Today Show that reporters should get off the hotel balconies, go out with the Iraqi troops, and talk to the Iraqi people, something she apparently managed to do during an 8 day stay in the country. Ms. Ingraham was particularly graceless, as she didn't even acknowledge the injuries and deaths to reporters who tried to go out into a country that wants Americans to leave, including ABC's anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman Doug Vogt, who were doing just as Ms. Ingraham advised, and kidnapped reporter Jill Carroll.
Others, most eloquently Keith Olberman on Countdown and Lara Logan, chief foreign correspondent for CBS News on Reliable Sources, have defended the media's courage and have pointed out both that acts of violence will always steal the headlines and that getting out of the Green Zone is dangerous. My question is what good news are Bush et al talking about?
Is it the Iraqis taking over the battle? We have heard that before and the statistics then went backwards. Laura Ingraham acknowledges that the previous iterations were false ("I think what we're doing now in Iraq is maybe finally the right thing. The Iraqi military is taking over more of the battle space."), but neither she nor the government seems to have anything specific. Saying that "more and more Iraqis are taking the fight," as President Bush did on Thursday is a little short in the evidence department.
Is it the election? We heard about the election three months ago when it occurred. Now, we have a stalemate, which at least is better than already having installed the Islamic, Iran oriented government for which the people voted. Maybe the news is that in Iraq, unlike in W's United States, the minority parties are to have a significant voice in government.
Is it "schools and health clinics and rebuilding," as Bennett said? On Monday in Cleveland, President Bush said, "Footage of children playing, or shops opening, and people resuming their normal lives will never be as dramatic as the footage of an IED explosion, or the destruction of a mosque, or soldiers and civilians being killed or injured." No one can possibly think that anecdotal stories of stores opening are more significant than finding dozens of bodies, often police, beheaded on a regular basis. If there are some statistics showing that more electricity is connected or more oil flowing, bring them on, but there does not seem to be any overview that would be "good news," just anecdotal evidence of isolated situations.
The best news I have heard was President Bush's upbeat tale of the liberation of Tal Afar. Too bad that liberal press, in this case Reuters, had to rain on his parade:
"Market bombings, roadside blasts and explosions are no longer the constant threat they were a year ago in Tal Afar. But there is still danger and the mood of many residents is grim.
A comprehensive sounding of local opinion was not possible.
But more than a dozen local people who spoke to a Reuters reporter on Friday said they had little faith in the future of their town, where the offensive fuelled sensitivities in an ethnically and religiously mixed region.
Sunni Turkmen Rafat Ahmed, 35, a shop owner said: 'As I'm talking now the Americans and the Iraqi army are surrounding my neighbourhood. If we leave our houses we could be arrested.'
The town's population of some 250,000 is dominated by Turkish-speaking ethnic Turkmen, about half Sunni Muslims and half Shi'ites. Most of the remaining 20 percent are Sunni Arabs.
The deployment last year of Iraqi troops, who were widely perceived locally as Shi'ite Arab outsiders, prompted the Sunni mayor of Tal Afar to tender his resignation in protest at what he described as a sectarian operation. The involvement of ethnic Kurdish forces was also a source of tension, local people said.
'Anyone who says Tal Afar is good and safe actually knows nothing because the reality is we are unsafe, even inside our houses, because we don't know when we'll be arrested,' said pensioner Abdul Karim al-Anizi, 60, a Shi'ite Turkmen
Some of the anger is being directed back at the U.S. forces that pushed out the militants.
'The situation in Tal Afar is deteriorating and the smell of death is everywhere. People never know why they are killed. They only know that the Americans are the cause of their agonies,' said Hussein Mahmoud, a Shi'ite Turkmen university professor."
UPDATE: Newsweek is out with a further debunking of Bush's good news. This does not make me happy. I wish there were good news.
(Lara Logan's name corrected, thanks)