Media Pessimism Loses in Iraq

Sunday's elections in Iraq were glorious for Americans who relish the concept of freedom somewhere, anywhere in the Arab world. The televised images were too rich and emotional and inspirational for the Quagmire Corps in the press to dismiss. The cameras revealed the Iraqi people hiking to the polls in droves, facing down the dangers of terrorist violence to dip their fingers in purple ink and say to the world after fifty years of tyranny that "My voice matters."

While our national media were for the most part greeting these images with warm words - after all, who wants to look like they oppose elections? - this sudden bubble of idealism was in marked contrast to the daily diet of doom and dread they feed the public from Iraq. Journalists have defended themselves from those objecting to their overwhelming pessimism by saying they're only reporting "reality," unlike the president's supporters, who were mocked as a passel of Pollyannas. But doesn't the election prove that the Pollyannas were right, and the Quagmire Corps were the ones out of touch with "reality"?

For two years, the liberal media have tried to transform Iraq into Vietnam. On the Saturday morning before the elections, there was Todd Purdum in the New York Times: "Nearly two years after the American invasion of Iraq, such comparisons are no longer dismissed in mainstream political discourse as facile and flawed, but are instead bubbling to the top." It would have been nice to put Todd Purdum's story at polling places so every voter could smudge some of their purple ink on his pessimistic copy.

Iraq is not Vietnam. It is El Salvador. It is Nicaragua. It is just one more country where, when given the chance, the people turn out in droves to choose a "fledgling democracy" - one that first staggers out of the egg, and then stabilizes from global "hot spot" to a cold spot of calm. It is another country where liberal media pessimists suggested that bellicose American ideologues and their corporate puppet-masters were clueless about the natives. But in the end, who painted the picture all wrong? Once again, it was the New York Times and Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel and the rest of the "realists" who put their geopolitical bets on people who shoot at voters who have the egg on their faces.

Let's take a moment to reconsider the avalanche of media pessimism that aimed to kick the can and postpone all this happiness into a nebulous future somewhere down the road. In November, CBS reporter Kimberly Dozier warned that "Some believe just talking about elections can get them killed." In December, CBS Sunday anchor Mika Brzezinski was positively despondent: "To the battle for Iraq now, which seems to only worsen as Election Day gets closer and closer," she said. "Some are now saying there is no way the election deadline can be met." Who were these "some," the anonymous stand-ins for every pessimistic media brain cramp?

The numerical predictions could turn out to be quite embarrassing. On "The Chris Matthews Show" in December, the perfectly named Katty Kay of the BBC predicted "five percent" turnout in Mosul. (Mosul's turnout, while it may end up being comparatively low, was one of the really joyous surprises.) In mid-January, CBS reporter David Hawkins lobbied for electoral delay: "Despite warnings that in some places voter turnout may be less than 10 percent...Is there any discussion about delaying the vote?" NBC reporter Jim Maceda warned "only half" of Iraq's voters would turn out because "as the violence spreads, so does the panic. Election workers are under siege. Candidates are dropping out. An election some call historic, but the fear factor is taking its toll."

Even on January 25, CBS's Dozier was back to insult Iraq as "an unlikely place for a free and fair election...Now many Iraqis say they're under siege by an unwelcome, sometimes brutal occupier and trapped in a war between those foreign forces and terrorists." Could we have a more ridiculous example of moral equivalence? She then warned "Election officials optimistically predict a 50 percent voter turnout."

Despite the powerful rebuke they've taken from those glorious election pictures, nobody should expect the media's brief episode of happy talk to last. They're too invested in the idea that Iraq just has to end up a fiasco. But everyone else should remember Sunday, January 30 as a lasting rebuttal to the myopic zeal behind Bomb of the Day coverage. This vote showed that day after day, while the democracy-hating bombers were getting all the publicity, the Iraqi people and the emerging governing elite were quietly building a civil society, a dream that sensation-obsessed and pessimistic "news" crews haven't really wanted to admit could be possible.