Earlier this morning, I chastised ABC News for essentially coming out and saying they were uninterested in seriously covering the Iraq War anymore, and that Americans basically just don't care about what's going on there. Their statement was truly outrageous on a number of levels - and unfortunately gives other media even more justification to not cover what is the most important foreign policy/national security challenge facing our country.
Not surprisingly, I received a number of angry emails from Washington reporters whining and crying (something I am used to). One guy I know at ABC wrote me and said that they weren't actually endorsing this supposed "conventional wisdom" and that it's "just what is dominating the minds of the Gang of 500" - their term for the insulated Washington, D.C. media who lately seems more interested in preserving their insider connections and cocktail party friendships than doing serious reporting. I'm glad he at least claimed that wasn't the motivation (though who knows if that's really the case had they not been called out). He also said that my "comments were read and digested" at the network - and I do sincerely appreciate that.
But whatever comfort I took in that quickly turned to gagging and heart palpitations when he continued on by saying the networks aren't interested in Iraq, in part, "because it's a very hard story to cover these days."
That was about as disheartening as the New York Times top White House reporter telling the public that the reason the media refused to ask the President hard questions before the war was because the reporters wanted to be "very deferential" and that "no one want[s] to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time."
For any reporters reading this, here's the deal: As my dad (and Tom Hanks in "League of Their Own") always said, your work is supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it (and granted, some of the no-talent clowns on TV prove, unfortunately, that everyone is doing it). The fact that Iraq is a "hard" story means you need to work extra hard to cover it - not simply ignore the story altogether, and create/justify an insulated Washington, D.C. conventional wisdom that says no one cares. If you spend more than 6 seconds outside the beltway echo chamber, you'd know damn well that people do.
This is a truly sad state of affairs that should make serious journalists from an earlier era (such as Walter Cronkite) sick to their stomach. Polls consistently show that the national media has become a laughinstock. And while some reporters lament this as unfair - this little interchange with ABC proves that it is grounded in reality. Far from stupid, the American public keenly recognizes that many major media today are simply no longer interested in reporting on anything that might fundamentally challenge the Establishment power structure. For when the media seems more interested in covering what"s on the President's Ipod and what the President's dancing habits are than they are the death/maiming of American soldiers in Iraq, well, we've got a serious problem.
UPDATE: One thing to consider, in the interest of absolute fairness. ABC's The Note wasn't necessarily claiming THEY didn't take the Iraq War seriously "because it's hard." They were letting it be known that they thought the media as a whole won't take it seriously (which is a troubling indictment coming from people in the media itself who do, in fact, know the thinking, and who do establish conventional wisdom for other reporters). That said, ABC itself has taken the war as seriously as the rest of them, and is, in general, no worse than the rest of them (in fact, in certain respects it has been better). But that doesn't undermine the overall point, which is not to target one network, but to try to let the media in general know that an attitude of complacency in the future toward the quagmire in Iraq is unacceptable. Let's hope they get the message that we are watching - and expecting more.