Hold the Good News

Iraq's pathetic payoff.


"The American people are being fed a steady stream of negative stories about Iraq that in no way represent reality," writes Bill Crawford in National Review. Reporting on the "overwhelmingly pessimistic" and "increasingly negative" coverage of the war, L. Brent Bozell III's Media Research Center found that "network TV's profoundly pessimistic coverage has…certainly contributed to the public's growing discontent with the war." In June Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld complained that "the news media seem to want to carry the negative." In the words of blogger Stephen "Vodkapundit" Green, reporters put "their hatred of a Republican President before their love of country."

Thus the American media ignore the joyful, voluminous, ever-increasing good news that has apparently become Iraq's chief export now that its oil pipelines have been sabotaged beyond functionality. If only the media were reporting the positive developments, it's argued, the public would stop questioning whether the effort is worth the deaths of two or three brave Americans a day.

Unfortunately, the same people who bellow that the media are ignoring the good news become suspiciously quiet when it's time to say what that good news is. Fox News, The Weekly Standard, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, and other war supporters run occasional features on Good News You're Not Hearing, but it's clear the real attraction is the "not hearing" rather than the "good news." Like the rest of the press, pro-war media outlets spend more time on battle deaths, terror attacks, and an insurgency whose death throes are entering a third year with no end in sight.

At press time, Iraq was planning a third post-invasion election and the Bush administration had published a "victory strategy"–positive events that got full media coverage. So what's this good news we keep hearing about not hearing about?

According to National Review's Crawford, an electrical plant in Nineveh "that had not been used for several years" has been turned back on after a $3 million renovation; the first of a planned 120 family health centers has been opened in Baghdad; and 15.7 kilometers of roads in Samawah have been paved. According to a newsletter from the U.S. Central Command, a grant for rehabilitating a road will lead to employment for 60 Iraqis; work "continues" on Al-Sadder Stadium; and a Wassit Internet center will benefit persons with disabilities.

But these accomplishments are a pittance compared to the progress that's been made in the area of America's greatest genius: public schools. Did you know that 58 Iraqi teachers, supervisors, and administrators attend training to improve teaching methods? That Centcom's Model Schools training program "shows continued success in preparing secondary school teachers"? That a new primary school is being built in the Qadisiyah governorate?

That's what you've bought with more than $220 billion and 2,000 American lives: a set of process-oriented half-measures so humble they wouldn't have made it into a Brezhnev-era progress report to the Supreme Soviet. War supporters counter that while these achievements may look pathetic to Americans, they're vital to Iraqis. That may or may not be true, but the point is whether this stuff is worth it to Americans. Can any American worthy of the name suggest that public-works boondoggles in a foreign country are worth a red cent or a drop of American blood?

The story isn't that the media ignore the good news out of hatred for President Bush. It's that, just as in the prewar period, the media are doing the president a huge favor. If the good news were regularly circulated, if the American people were daily presented with the idea that this is what success looks like and that teacher training programs are the payoff for a grim toll of blood and treasure, they'd be abandoning the war effort even faster than they are now.