Friday, January 28, 2005

There are still people in the mainstream media who profess bewilderment they are accused of bias. But you need look no further than reporting on the war in Iraq to see the bias staring you in the face, day after day, on the Page One of the New York Times and in much of the rest of the media.

If a battle ends with Americans killing 100 guerrillas and terrorists, while sustaining 10 fatalities, that is an American victory. But not in the mainstream media. The headline is more likely to read: “Ten more Americans killed in Iraq today.”

This kind of journalism can turn victory into defeat in print or on TV. Kept up long enough, it can even end up in real defeat, when support for the war collapses at home and abroad.

One of the biggest American victories during the World War II was called “the great Marianas turkey shoot” because American fighter pilots shot down more than 340 Japanese planes over the Marianas Islands while losing only 30 American planes. But what if current reporting practices had been used back then?

The story, as printed and broadcast, could have been: “Today 18 American pilots were killed and five more severely wounded, as the Japanese blasted more than two-dozen American planes out of the sky.” A steady diet of such one-sided reporting and our whole war effort against Japan might have collapsed.

Whether the one-sided reporting of the Vietnam War was a factor in the American defeat once was a matter of controversy. But, in recent years, high officials of Vietnam’s communist government have themselves admitted they lost the war on the battlefields but won it in the U.S. media and on the streets of America, where political pressures from the antiwar movement threw away the victory for which thousands of American lives had been sacrificed.

Too many in the media today regard the reporting of the Vietnam War as one of their greatest triumphs. It certainly showed the power of the media — but also its irresponsibility. Some in the media today seem determined to recapture those glory days by how they report on events in the Iraq war.

First, there is the mainstream media’s almost exclusive focus on American casualties in Iraq, with little or no attention given the often much larger casualties inflicted on the guerrillas and terrorists from inside and outside Iraq.

Since terrorists are pouring into Iraq in response to calls from international terrorist networks, the number killed is especially important, for these are people who will no longer be able to launch more attacks on American soil. Iraq has become a magnet for enemies of the United States, a place where they can be killed wholesale, thousands of miles away.

With all the turmoil and bloodshed in Iraq, both military and civilian personnel returning from that country are increasingly expressing amazement at the difference between what they themselves have seen and the far worse, one-sided picture the media present to the public here.

Our media cannot even call terrorists terrorists but instead give these cutthroats the bland name “insurgents.” You might think these were like the underground fighters in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.

The most obvious difference is that the European underground did not go about targeting innocent civilians. As for the Nazis, they tried to deny the atrocities they committed. But today the “insurgents” in Iraq are proud of their barbarism, videotape it and publicize it — often with the help of the Western media.

Real insurgents want to get the occupying power out of their country. But the fastest way to get Americans out of Iraq would be to do the opposite of what these “insurgents” are doing. Just by letting peace and order return, those who want to see American troops gone would speed their departure.

The United States has voluntarily pulled out of conquered territory all around the world, including neighboring Kuwait after the first Gulf war. But the guerrillas’ and terrorists’ real goal is to prevent democracy from arising in the Middle East.

Still, much of the Western media cannot call a spade a spade. The Fourth Estate sometimes seems more like a Fifth Column.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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