"Does anyone know or care that we're turning things around over here?" The query was in one of several dozen e-mails I received last week from troops with whom our Fox News "War Stories" team has been embedded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of them are on their third — some even their fourth — combat tour. The sender was chiding me for going to the Philippines to cover his comrades-in-arms in the campaign against Abu Sayyaf — instead of heading back to Mesopotamia. In fact, his plaint could have been aimed at anyone in the so-called mainstream media — where good news is no news — and no bad news story is too old to resurrect with a new lead.
The soldier's lament is valid. As Congress prepares to embark on a weeklong Independence Day recess, there will be no vacation at the beach for the 177,000 U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. While the rest of their countrymen are carping about $3 per gallon gasoline and whining about long lines at airports, young Americans deployed along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers will don 50-pound flak jackets and Kevlar helmets and go out to battle suicidal Islamic radicals in 130-degree heat.
But no matter how effective our troops are — it's unlikely to make its way to the Page One of most newspapers or the evening news on TV.
If things continue as they began last week on Operation Arrowhead Ripper, there will be ongoing major successes against al Qaeda and their affiliates in Baqubah and Diyala Province. In Al Anbar Province, the Marines and their Sunni allies will continue building new police stations — and bringing security to neighborhoods once dominated by al Qaeda. And in Maysan Province, Iranian-supported Shi'ite militias will continue to get rolled up by U.S. and British Special Operations. But little of that — other than the inevitable casualty figures — will be deemed worthy of being "news" by the potentates of the press.
Instead of good news from the war zone, the masters of our media have decided to feed us a steady diet of bad news from a different battlefield: Washington. To do so, they have had to scrape the bottom of every political barrel they can find.
Tony Blair's departure from office — after more than a decade as prime minister of Great Britain — was depicted as a "Major blow to Bush." Descriptions of Mr. Blair as the president's "last foreign ally" were a common theme — along with prognostications that the new PM — Gordon Brown — would move to "expeditiously withdraw British troops from Iraq." The fact Mr. Blair had announced his intention to step down nearly a year ago was barely mentioned in these commentaries.
To ensure that younger Americans who weren't even alive in the 1970s know just how evil our government really is, the media hyped the re-release of 693 pages of internal reports on "CIA misdeeds" and "bungled illegal operations." The Associated Press ballyhooed the release as a catalog of "misconduct" and "agency excesses" as if the information was brand new. Only those who are very young, illiterate or suffering from amnesia would think of this as "news" — but that's the treatment it received.
Fidel Castro had to be pleased. Resurrecting the CIA's failed, Kennedy-era, assassination attempt against the Cuban communist may give the fading dictator a new lease on life — and help Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Patrick Leahy build support in Congress for new limits on counterterror wiretaps.
Messrs. Blair and Castro weren't the only ones making "war news" this week. Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, depicted as a "wise man of the Republican Party," also made headlines by declaring in a floor speech that, "In my judgment our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond." Though his remarks continued for more than 50 minutes, the media hyped his belief that "the current surge strategy is not an effective means of protecting America's vital interests in Iraq." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Mr. Lugar's remarks a "turning point" in the war.
Nobody mentioned that the "surge strategy" has actually been in effect for one week. Instead, breathless headline writers and broadcast newsreaders who failed to read Mr. Lugar's entire remarks cited "GOP leaders defecting" and "Tide shifting on GOP support for war," as if Mr. Lugar was a longstanding advocate for the appropriate use of force who suddenly saw the light.
In reality, Mr. Lugar's long tenure in Congress reveals a pattern of uncertainty on the forceful prosecution of American foreign policy. In 1986, he led the fight to overturn Ronald Reagan's veto of congressionally-imposed economic sanctions on South Africa. He voted against aid to the Nicaraguan anti-communist resistance in the fiscal 1989 defense budget; voted repeatedly against funding for the B-2 bomber; "yes" for nuclear disarmament in 1991 and against funding the Strategic Defense Initiative ("star wars") in 1992.
Those are inconvenient facts for people who want to depict Mr. Lugar's recent statement on the war as some kind of tectonic shift. But for America's media elites, it's enough. They have determined the outcome of the war against radical Islam will be decided not on the battlefields of Iraq but in the corridors of power in Washington. And about that they may very well be right.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of "War Stories" on Fox News Channel and founder of Freedom Alliance, a foundation that provides support for the troops and scholarships to the dependents of military personnel killed in action.