Selling the Story of Failure

In a recent newspaper profile, CNN anchor Aaron Brown is captured trying to be witty as he cobbles together his "Newsnight" show. He asks his co-workers, "So what the hell are we going to sell here?"

There's an easy answer if you watch television: failure.

For most of the post-war period, the networks have sold us failure. The details change here and there, but the pitch remains the same. Failure to find weapons of mass destruction. Failure to work with do-nothings at the UN. Failure to restore water and electricity supplies even as saboteurs seek to undo every good deed. Failure to anticipate that snipers would be paid to shoot our soldiers in the neck while they buy a soda. Failure to create Iraqi democracy out of thin air within two weeks. Failure to keep sixteen dubious words out of the State of the Union address. Failure to nab Saddam or his odious sons.

But what happens when one of these failures turns upside down into a success, as in killing Uday and Qusay? Easy. More failures. Failure to capture the sons alive for their intelligence value. Failure to understand that Iraqis need to see the corpses. Failure to understand Muslims don't like to see corpses preserved. Eleanor Clift even suggested the failure to keep Saddam's sons alive in order to cover up the failure to find weapons of mass destruction - failure squared.

The ideology of failure makes journalism so easy and carefree. When yesterday's media beef (we can't kill the sons) totally contradicts today's (we shouldn't have killed the sons), that's okay. Coherence isn't required. Building a daily soundtrack of doom is the objective. Since the "major fighting" ended, the media have tried to turn the world upside down. In the daily episode of self-fulfilling prophecy, reporters like CBS's Joie Chen proclaim that as soldiers die "day by day" in Iraq, "the concerns, and the doubts, of many of the folks back home grow."

Joie Chen should try visiting the troops. E-mails home from soldiers in Baghdad paint an almost entirely different picture than what the networks are offering. One Green Beret's e-mail (he asks for anonymity) about the unreality of the staged news from Iraq is hotly making the Internet rounds. In raw language, he laments being unable to touch "those taunting bags of gas that scream in [soldiers'] faces and riot on cue when they spot a camera man from ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, or NBC. If they did, then they know the next nightly news will be about how chaotic things are and how much the Iraqi people hate us. Some do. But the vast majority don't."

This soldier, who says he's spent time "babysitting the pukes" from TV networks, also maintains that the more Iraqis see that our soldiers don't start any violence, and try to be friendly and compassionate to children and the elderly, the more their hostility dissolves. "I saw a bunch of 19-year-olds from the 82nd Airborne not return fire coming from a mosque until they got a group of elderly civilians out of harm's way. So did the Iraqis."

When some enemy combatants rounded up women and children as human shields, the soldiers negotiated their release. When a young girl was discovered thrown down the stairs after the standoff, "the G.I.s called in a MedVac helicopter to take her and her mother to the nearest field hospital. The Iraqis watched it all, and there hasn't been a problem in that neighborhood since. How many such stories, and there are hundreds of them, ever get reported in the fair and balanced press? You know, nada."

The soldier's missive is long, bitter, and instructive. He is stunned that the American press is so hostile to the U.S. mission. He oughtn't be. This is the American media at its most typical.

Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard has just returned from Baghdad, where he found "Most Iraqis are overjoyed about their liberation. The American troops I spoke with, even those from units that have suffered postwar casualties, said they have received a warm welcome from their hosts. But most surprising were the strong words of praise for postwar Iraq from [non-government organization] leaders. If even some of what this delegation heard is true, the reconstruction of Iraq is going much better than reports in the American media suggest." Another journalist on the trip, the Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot, reported that Iraqis are "petrified" that President Bush will lose office and U.S. troops will leave too soon.

These accounts do not match the daily drip-drip-drip of our Bush-bashing press, always focusing on failures - real, alleged, or invented. There is one failure they ignore: their own failure to recognize the public's - and the military's - growing disdain for the nattering nabobs of negativism.