The Times' liberal readership surely got indigestion over Tuesday's lead story from Baghdad by Damien Cave and Alissa Rubin, "Baghdad Starts to Exhale as Security Improves ." It's even accompanied by three photos of normal life in the Iraqi capital.
And yes, this is the same paper that declared less than a month ago , in the lead sentence to a lead editorial: "The news out of Iraq just keeps getting worse."
But on Tuesday the Times made a public bow to reality, admitting:
"The security improvements in most neighborhoods are real. Days now pass without a car bomb, after a high of 44 in the city in February. The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad's streets has plummeted to about 5 a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March, the American military says.
"As a result, for the first time in nearly two years, people are moving with freedom around much of this city. In more than 50 interviews across Baghdad, it became clear that while there were still no-go zones, more Iraqis now drive between Sunni and Shiite areas for work, shopping or school, a few even after dark. In the most stable neighborhoods of Baghdad, some secular women are also dressing as they wish. Wedding bands are playing in public again, and at a handful of once shuttered liquor stores customers now line up outside in a collective rebuke to religious vigilantes from the Shiite Mahdi Army.
"Iraqis are clearly surprised and relieved to see commerce and movement finally increase, five months after an extra 30,000 American troops arrived in the country. But the depth and sustainability of the changes remain open to question."
To be sure, the article has plenty of anecdotes suggesting people still live in fear in Baghdad, and emphasized the incomplete nature of the gains.
"By one revealing measure of security - whether people who fled their home have returned - the gains are still limited. About 20,000 Iraqis have gone back to their Baghdad homes, a fraction of the more than 4 million who fled nationwide, and the 1.4 million people in Baghdad who are still internally displaced, according to a recent Iraqi Red Crescent Society survey."
"Let's put the Times report into context. Just two months ago, the paper gave MoveOn a price break to run an ad that accused General David Petraeus of treason and perjury even before he testified about the security improvements. The editorial board called Petraeus' testimony 'empty calories' and complained of his 'broken promises and false claims of success' and asserted that Petraeus had not given an 'honest accounting' in his Congressional briefings.
"The Times waited until the success of Petraeus could no longer be denied to publish the truth. With every other news agency in the world reporting on the drop in violence, the rise in commerce, the flight of the militias even from Baghdad, and the unifying efforts such as the rebuilding of St. John's Catholic Church in the heart of the capital, the Times has no other choice but to rescue its credibility with an acknowledgment of reality. Even then, they use the hoary device of individual anecdotes to temper the news, as if to assert that even success cannot be enjoyed if even one individual feels fear of entering a specific neighborhood.
"One wonders how many Times execs wander freely through the Bronx at night, or even in the daytime."