HOUSTON, TX - Traveling around America - as I have been these past two weeks on a national book tour for my new novel, The Assassins - has been great therapy. It got me away from Washington, D.C. I got to travel the length and breadth of the country in red states and blue states. I've met and talked and listened to tens of thousands of people from every walk of life. And best of all, they reaffirmed my longstanding belief that the American people are a whole lot smarter than the so-called mainstream media thinks they are.
Now I'll be the first to acknowledge that sampling public opinion by listening to the comments of people standing in line to buy my latest book is no scientific survey. But the results are nonetheless refreshing.
The Americans with whom I've spoken have been far more interested in the baseball playoffs and the upcoming World Series than they are in Judith Miller or putting Karl Rove in leg irons. They don't believe George Bush is responsible for levees bursting in New Orleans, and they think Tom DeLay is getting a raw deal. They admire the young Americans serving on the frontlines of the war on terror and don't like Cindy Sheehan or her anti-military, blame-America-first friends. They believe Saddam will get a fairer trial than he deserves - and wonder why last weekend's constitutional referendum in Iraq wasn't better covered by the potentates of the press if it was so all-fired important.
All of this begs the question as to how out of touch the media has become - particularly in the midst of a war. The most significant indicator of media detachment is the coverage given to last weekend's constitutional referendum in Iraq. The same potentates of the press who focused for weeks on hanging chads in Florida five years ago widely ignored one of the most dramatic political events of our time. In the midst of a bloody war, politicians in an Islamic country spent seven months drafting their own constitution and then sent it to their people for ratification.
The masters of the media predicted that it wouldn't work - but it did. They said the process was "ugly" - but it went well. They forecast a minimal turnout - but it was better than 63 percent - higher than the voting ratio in our last presidential election. They scrambled to report five U.S. casualties and a handful of "irregularities" during the balloting - but widely ignored 10 million Iraqi men and women peacefully leaving 6,000 polling places with smiles and ink-stained fingers.
Even after the overwhelming turnout for a largely peaceful plebiscite, the grand viziers of the news could find little positive to say about it. On CBS' "Face the Nation," host Bob Schieffer got Senator Joe Biden to agree that the referendum - and the upcoming election in December are unlikely to have any appreciable effect on reducing U.S. casualties. Not surprisingly, online polls found better than 80 percent support for setting a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal.
And now, with the constitution ratified - the critique continues by the prognosticators of gloom and doom. The new constitution provides for free, fair, and direct legislative elections every four years by secret ballot - starting this December. The media now questions whether such a vote can take place given the "cycle of violence." It establishes a democratic system of government with an independent judiciary, checks and balances on power and protection of women's and minority rights. The press forecasts instead a "Sunni-Shia civil war." It spells out how Iraq's vast oil and gas wealth will be distributed to all the Iraqi people. The pundits predict that "the Kurds will break away" to protect their reserves.
The people I have met on this book tour are increasingly disappointed by the pessimism of the press. But this comes as no surprise to the Media Research Center which has just completed a study of the news reports from Iraq by the broadcast networks. MRC reviewed all 1,388 Iraq stories broadcast on ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2005.
What they've found is that network coverage has been overwhelmingly pessimistic. Precisely, 61 percent of all stories on the three networks focused on negative topics or presented a pessimistic analysis of the situation. Not only is the news downbeat, it is increasingly negative. In January and February, 21 percent of stories struck a hopeful note. But by August and September - as the constitution was going through its final negotiations, only 7 percent of stories were positive.
In its Aug. 8, 2005 issue, the liberal New Republic magazine editorialized: "Given what we've learned in the past two years in Iraq - years filled with disappointment, tragedy, and carnage - it would be naive to think the new constitution currently being drafted in Baghdad will resolve that country's deep sectarian and structural problems . . . While Americans must hope that Iraq's new constitution . . . does not thrust Iraq toward theocracy and civil war, both of these prospects now appear distinctly possible."
The constitution alone won't solve Iraq's problems, nor will the next election. But both will move them further from the tyranny they suffered under Saddam's dictatorship and bring them closer to democratic rule. As James Buchanan, our 15th President once said, "the ballot box is the surest arbiter of disputes." Is it too much to hope that our media will come to see a purple finger as the best antidote to terror?