Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Everything I thought I knew was wrong...

Margaret Friedenauer is a reporter for the Fairbanks News-Miner, and is currently embedded with the 172nd Stryker Brigade in Iraq. In addition to whatever reporting she's producing for the newspaper, she's also blogging her experiences. Yesterday, she put up an interesting entry on "The view from on the ground" (H/T to K-Lo in The Corner) which was enlightening in ways she intended, and also in ways that I don't think she intended. It dealt with the situation on the ground in Iraq, and the comment she had was that "everything I thought I knew was wrong."
Think about everything you’ve heard about the conditions in Iraq, the role of U.S. forces, the multi-layered complexities of the war.

Then think again.

I’m a journalist. I read the news everyday, from several sources. I have the luxury of reading stuff newspapers don’t always have room to print. I read every tidbit I could on Iraq and the war before coming.

Everything I thought I knew was wrong.

Well, that's certainly an interesting way to start. So here we have a reporter, someone who's following the news carefully, thinks that she has great sources and a clear picture of what's happening, and discovers that it's all wrong. What, exactly, does that tell us about the media's coverage of what's happening in Iraq?

Well, it tells us that it doesn't match reality. To many of us, this is not a surprise. But I thought she revealed more than she intended when she wrote of some of the things that didn't match her preconceptions.
I still haven’t seen U.S. troops engaged or encounter car bombs or explosives. But I did see them play backgammon with some local police and Iraqi soldiers. I saw them take photos with more locals and make jokes mostly lost in translation. They gave advice and expertise to local troops on how to conduct a neighborhood patrol. They drank the local customary tea, and many admitted they’ve become addicted to it. They know several locals by name. I didn’t hear one slight or ridicule of a very distinct culture. One soldier mentioned it might be a good idea to clean up the trash around one polling place, and another commented on the status of women in the culture, but they were nothing but respectful, friendly and buddy-buddy with the Iraqis they mingled with today.

This is what got to me. She's a J-school graduate, a member of the media, she thinks that she's getting all of the relevant information to understand what's happening. And yet she seems to be shocked that the US Military is behaving in a professional manner, that they are not mocking and ridiculing the natives. And she seems to be shocked that the natives are interacting with them, not treating them like barbarian hordes.

And then she admits what every reporter makes such an effort not to. She's biased. She's biased against good news stories. She was biased against the US Military, though she didn't admit it in so many words, but she's clearly biased against reporting good news.
I’ve listened to the soldiers and Parrish about the missing pieces of the puzzles that don’t reach home. My selfish, journalistic drive immediately thinks “Perfect. A story that hasn’t been told. Let me at it.”

But I have a slight hesitation; I need to keep balanced. I can’t be a cheerleader, even if I have a soft spot for the hometown troops, especially after the welcome they’ve shown me. I still need to be truthful and walk the centerline and report the good or bad.

But then I realize it’s not a conflict of interest. If I am truly unbiased, then I need to get used to this one simple fact; that the untold story, might in fact, be a positive one. It takes a minute to wrap my mind around it, as a news junkie that became a news writer. The great, career-making, breaking news stories usually don’t have happy endings; they usually revolve around disturbing news, deceit and downfall. Nasty political doings. Gruesome crimes and murders. Revealing secrets.

If only more of them would realize that, it might make a significant difference in the coverage of Iraq...

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