Media Missing the Mark on Iraq

Whether from indifference, apathy or just plain ignorance, I cannot call, but one thing’s for certain: the media is missing the mark on Iraq. Some have argued that the media’s liberal bias has distorted its lens, while others say the reason the media isn’t properly covering the war is because of a pro-conservative leaning. Still others blame it on incompetence, claiming the media are not willing to dedicate adequate resources for proper coverage. And of course there is the issue of journalist safety in a country where no walking soul is safe from terrorists. Whatever the reason for the poor coverage, it is sad to say that the American public is not getting the media coverage on Iraq that we deserve.

Most of the public who is still reading and watching the news about Iraq seems to agree that the situation on the ground there has improved but is still tenuous at best. And despite the poor coverage, they are correct. The situation has not only improved in terms of political benchmarks (the Iraqi government achieved “satisfactory” progress on 15 of 18 political benchmarks, almost twice the number it had reached just a year ago, according to a White House report) but also in regards to security and safety on the ground. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly depending on your opinion, we almost never hear about this progress in the news.

After the White House released a progress report last week explaining how much the situation in Iraq has improved, the media barely batted an eye. In fact, the report was hardly considered first page in print or worth an opening segment on the local or national television news.  Although conditions in Iraq have drastically improved since the much publicized “surge”, the American media is dropping the ball with its lack of coverage. Not only are journalists and media outlets ignoring the latest progress, they aren’t pushing hard enough for change in the areas where change must happen for more progress to occur.

For example, why don’t we hear about the huge profits the Iraq government is receiving because of the oil boom? Why aren’t journalists and political pundits everywhere demanding that the Iraqis pick up more of the war tab because of this financial windfall? And maybe worse yet, what a travesty that nearly nobody is covering the story about Iraq’s recent press conference stating that they would open six oil fields to international investment — without giving American companies preference. After the money the United States has invested and devoted to Iraq and the Middle East, we should be given complete control over those oil fields as a thank you for our support. Instead, the Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani is playing the power game, claiming that “no external or internal politics is going to influence our decision. We are blind to the nationality of the oil companies.”

Obviously however, this will never happen because a) it’s pretty much illegal (the Biden Amendment bars the use of United States funds “to exercise United States control over the oil infrastructure or oil resources of Iraq.”) and b) it would look pretty bad for everyone involved because the claim could be directly made that Bush and his cronies went to war knowing they would eventually grab control of the Iraqi fields. Despite changing reasons for the war dozens of times, this administration does not want to be known for starting a devastating war because of oil — no matter how much it could help the pocketbooks of American citizens. Michael Eisenscher, National Coordinator for U.S. Labor Against War, said just as much recently.

“Notwithstanding all of the denials issued by the Bush administration and its international and domestic partners in crime, the announcement this week that Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Total and Chevron are expected to be awarded oil field development contracts by the Iraqi government confirms what critics of the war have charged all along — the principal objective of the invasion and occupation has been and continues to be Western control over Iraqi oil and gas.”

Obviously this is just anti-Iraq war / anti-Bush rhetoric, but the general argument is enough for the Bush team to run as fast as possible from anything along these lines. Even if the Iraqi government were willing to give us control of the oil fields they are opening (and as I said earlier, they should!), the Bush team and the GOP would be wise to block the process until a democratic process for awarding oil producing contracts has been implemented. If only American companies are awarded control, it will look bad for the pioneers and supporters of this war. If however a fair process is used to determine which companies can invest in these fields as al-Shahristani claims, then American oil companies will benefit without further harming America’s already poor international standing and Bush and the GOP’s dwindling approval rates.

All this talk of progress and sharing the spoils may be premature though.  Most of the American public still thinks that most of Iraq is engulfed in hopeless chaos and ceaseless conflict.  In part, this is because the media’s representation of the war relies on sensationalism and reports of tragedy. Until the media reassert themselves and start covering the war like they can and should, Americans will not begin to see that the smoke is clearing in Iraq. And we may risk losing the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of our noble sacrifice.