The Press at War
What ever happened to patriotic reporters?
BY JAMES Q. WILSON
Monday, November 6, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
We are told by careful pollsters that half of the American people believe that American troops should be brought home from Iraq immediately. This news discourages supporters of our efforts there. Not me, though: I am relieved. Given press coverage of our efforts in Iraq, I am surprised that 90% of the public do not want us out right now.
Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2005, nearly 1,400 stories appeared on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening news. More than half focused on the costs and problems of the war, four times as many as those that discussed the successes. About 40% of the stories reported terrorist attacks; scarcely any reported the triumphs of American soldiers and Marines. The few positive stories about progress in Iraq were just a small fraction of all the broadcasts.
When the Center for Media and Public Affairs made a nonpartisan evaluation of network news broadcasts, it found that during the active war against Saddam Hussein, 51% of the reports about the conflict were negative. Six months after the land battle ended, 77% were negative; in the 2004 general election, 89% were negative; by the spring of 2006, 94% were negative. This decline in media support was much faster than during Korea or Vietnam.
Naturally, some of the hostile commentary reflects the nature of reporting. When every news outlet struggles to grab and hold an audience, no one should be surprised that this competition leads journalists to emphasize bloody events. To some degree, the press covers Iraq in much the same way that it covers America: it highlights conflict, shootings, bombings, hurricanes, tornadoes, and corruption.
But the war coverage does not reflect merely an interest in conflict. People who oppose the entire war on terror run much of the national press, and they go to great lengths to make waging it difficult. Thus the New York Times ran a front-page story about President Bush's allowing, without court warrants, electronic monitoring of phone calls between overseas terrorists and people inside the U.S. On the heels of this, the Times reported that the FBI had been conducting a top-secret program to monitor radiation levels around U.S. Muslim sites, including mosques. And then both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times ran stories about America's effort to monitor foreign banking transactions in order to frustrate terrorist plans. The revelation of this secret effort followed five years after the New York Times urged, in an editorial, that precisely such a program be started.
Virtually every government official consulted on these matters urged that the press not run the stories because they endangered secret and important tasks. They ran them anyway. The media suggested that the National Security Agency surveillance might be illegal, but since we do not know exactly what kind of surveillance is undertaken, we cannot be clear about its legal basis. No one should assume that the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires the president to obtain warrants from the special FISA court before he can monitor foreign intelligence contacts. Though the Supreme Court has never decided this issue, the lower federal courts, almost without exception, have held that "the Executive Branch need not always obtain a warrant for foreign intelligence surveillance."
It's a long article, well worth the read. It reiterates what I've been saying on this blog, albeit more eloquently.
What I'm baffled about: if government officals are aware the stories damage national security, why don't they do something about it? Hang an editor or two for treason, and we'll see the media tide change.