- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Purple fingers, jubilation, hope and courage: Most news organizations offered positive and often uplifting coverage of the Iraqi elections in the past 48 hours.

Then, there were the holdouts.

“Dan Rather looked like he was about to burst into tears,” radio host Laura Ingraham said yesterday.

Indeed, the CBS newsman appeared initially mournful over news events that might reflect the success of White House plans to establish Iraq as a democratic stronghold in the Middle East.

“Fear is running high. … Bombs exploded at two Baghdad schools that are expected to serve as polling stations, and anti-election leaflets were everywhere threatening to, quote, ‘Wash the streets of Baghdad with the blood of voters,’” Mr. Rather told viewers.

He later began his main election report with more bad news: “More than 30 people died in insurgent attacks today.”

Habitual negativity can exact a toll on credibility, though.

“Most everyone had positive reports, particularly on cable. But there were glaring exceptions who emphasized violence or uncertainty,” said Brent Baker of the Alexandria-based Media Research Center.

“Reporters look bad when they insist on being dour and sour when actual images on TV screens are so happy and thrilling,” Mr. Baker said. “These correspondents look out of touch, grasping the negative so hard.”

Such reporting caps off weeks of critical coverage, which often predicted the worst outcome for Iraq, Mr. Baker said.

“But in the end, these correspondents just couldn’t compete with such powerful, positive images,” he added.

Mr. Rather was not the only gloomy anchor as the election coverage unfolded.

ABC’s Peter Jennings noted Sunday, “All over Baghdad today, there is no question that it looked like an occupation.”

He later observed that in Sunni regions, “The election process has been rejected. Somehow, the future here is still pretty bleak.”

Even after the Baghdad polling places had closed, NBC’s Brian Williams detected “general unease,” calling the events “a fairly unquantifiable election so far.”

Although many press accounts of the election were initially positive, few said the election guaranteed that Iraq would become a full-fledged democracy — or that U.S. troops will return home soon.

Sour or guarded reports result because many journalists “think Bush’s foreign policy is crude, and it reflects in their coverage,” National Review’s Rich Lowry told Fox News yesterday.

The tendency was more pronounced overseas, where reports were dire enough to warrant criticism from Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

“Yesterday, Iraq became the most democratic country in the Arab world. What a pity that so many writers who, in other circumstances, are optimists about human progress, should shut their eyes to what is happening. In their determination to say: ‘I told you so,’ they are coming perilously close to siding with jihadi murderers. Shame on them,” an editorial noted yesterday.

• Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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