Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rice trip to Iraq coverage

Compare and contrast the coverage on Secretary of State Rice's surprise visit to Iraq from several mainstream media outlets today:

The AP heralded her "call out" to Muqtada, picked up by Fox:
"I know he's sitting in Iran," Rice said dismissively, when asked about al-Sadr's latest threat to lift a self-imposed cease-fire with government and U.S. forces. "I guess it's all-out war for anybody but him," Rice said. "I guess that's the message; his followers can go too their deaths and he's in Iran."
CNN had an earlier story about Rice's trip that focused mainly on the unusual "force protection" measures necessary (ie, protecting the bigwig) but a later story said only this:
Rice is scheduled to be in Kuwait on Tuesday's for the Iraqi neighbors conference.
The story focused on Sadr's calls for war and his slams of Bush and Rice. The headline was Maliki's comment that Iraq cannot become "another Somalia". The New York Times was a bit more revealing, reporting on Rice's journey:
As rockets or mortars crashed into the fortified Green Zone, Ms. Rice met with Mr. Maliki, Mr. Talabani and other government leaders,
Wow, sorta like real sniper fire! The Times didn't describe her call out but to their credit they seemed less enamored with printing the propaganda of al-Sadr, at one point debunking a claim he made about deaths of Mahdi forces in Nasiriyah. They also printed Rice's invitation to Sadr's group to rejoin the political process.

The WaPo's coverage focused on the dramatic, painting a picture of a near-continual "duck and cover" exercise (Hillary must really be jealous) with the following mention of the call out:
She noted that Sadr has taken up residence in Iran, while "his followers can go to their deaths" in Iraq.
They also mentioned her call to the Sadrists re the political process so overall not so bad, but certainly they didn't give very much weight to that one remark. ABC News, now supposedly in the pockets of the neocons after the last debate, was just terrible. In a headline touting Rice's visit they gave us this:
Rice told reporters she sees signs that the campaign has brought sectarian and ethnic groups together in an unprecedented way, and she said she wants to capitalize on it.
That was on page 3 immediately following two solid pages of carnage about al-Sadr and the fighting and the rockets. Last but not least, the LA Times didn't mention Rice on their front page but did offer this headline: "Dozens killed in Iraq violence". Hmm, let's see if that's it. Yes, there she is! Actually, she figures prominently in the article, which mentioned the call out and several other new bits, such as:
"They want the entire country to be a place where the legitimate security forces of Iraq are in control, not the militias,"
So if a reader wants the whole story they've little choice but to traipse around to four or five web sites to get it. Give the LA Times some credit (unlike their immigration story earlier), they got right to Rice's comments and gave us more than any other outlet except AP. Too bad they had no mention of her trip in the headline.

But the common theme from CNN, NYT and the WaPo, other than not mentioning her call out in its entirety, was the placement of her comments when they did decide to print them. All buried them relatively far down the page, usually after explaining unusual force protections, incoming rockets (were they Iranian-made?) or propaganda from al-Sadr. CNN even included a nice picture of some carnage prominently at the top.

This is by no means a man bites dog story but as the election approaches such nuanced coverage certainly tends to favors one set of candidates over the other. This morning the Captain opined that the lack of mention was a sign that things are "approaching normalcy" (sort of like the lack of coverage of Space Shuttle missions as the luster wears off) but to this observer it's just another day.

Matter of fact, perhaps the heralding of Rice in a war zone might tend to make Clinton's war zone tall-tale even taller while reminding readers that Barack doesn't have any war zone stories at all. As to McCain, well...

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