- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Ask most Americans if they were aware that Iraqis, by almost a 2-to-1 margin, believe that life today is better than it was under Saddam Hussein, and you’d most likely elicit incredulousness, blank stares or outright laughter. Not because it isn’t true, though. It is.

The mainstream media just forgot to mention it.

In the past month, two surveys that involved face-to-face interviews with thousands of ordinary Iraqis have been released. While each contained significantly different results, both provided substantial evidence that Iraqis are not nearly as gloomy as Americans have been told to believe.

To the extent the mainstream media covered the surveys, far more attention was given to the one with more negative results, which was sponsored by ABC News, USA Today, BBC and a German TV network. Most Americans would not have even known about the poll conducted by British market research firm Opinion Research Business, which self-funded its survey of face-to-face interviews with 5,019 Iraqis, were it not for the Drudge Report.

Only because of Drudge, which linked to the Sunday Times of London coverage of the poll, did Americans have a chance to learn that Iraqis believe life today is better than under Saddam, by 49 percent to 26 percent. Coverage of this important fact was almost non-existent in the mainstream media, found in fewer than five straight-ahead news stories in the entire Nexis database.

As with most polls, how one reads the results determines how to cast the findings. Each poll actually contained both good and bad news for the Bush administration. Even the ABC News/USA Today poll found that a plurality of Iraqis believe life today is better post-Saddam by 43 percent to 36 percent.

Apparently desperate to find even more bad news coming out of Iraq, most of those who covered the ABC News/USA Today poll portrayed it ominously. Of the major newspapers, the New York Times was perhaps most generous with its headline, “Iraqis Say They Are Less Hopeful.” USA Today’s bleak headline was, “Iraqis see hope drain away.” The Washington Post was almost as downbeat: “Poll Shows Dramatic Decline in How Iraqis View Lives, Future.”

The ABC News poll results were cast as so negative only because a similar survey conducted in late 2005 was so positive. The percentage of Iraqis then who said life was better post-Saddam and who were optimistic about the future was at a lofty 70 percent.

How many people remember the media showcasing the glowing results of the 2005 poll? Remember that by late 2005, President Bush’s approval numbers were already cratering, and American support for the war was plummeting.

Since the media supposedly loves stories that defy conventional wisdom, Iraqi exuberance captured by the 2005 poll should have been major news. It wasn’t.

The New York Times never so much as mentioned the 2005 poll, and The Post spent one paragraph on it — albeit depicting the results as decidedly mixed — 600 words into a 1,000 word story on an unrelated Iraq topic on page A19. True, the poll was commissioned by other news organizations, but that same fact didn’t stop the behemoth newspapers from reporting the bad news contained in the recent ABC News/USA Today poll.

If only the mainstream media were content to ignore cause for optimism while blaring reasons for pessimism.

In what appears to be a compulsion to attack any good news coming out of Iraq — assuming it bothers to report the information in the first place — The Post offered the caveat that the Opinion Research Business poll had found more positive results, but then made a strange assertion, referring to the ABC poll as “more comprehensive.” Given that opinion Research Business interviewed more than 5,000 Iraqis — more than double the other poll’s sample size — The Post must be “arguing some odd definition of ‘comprehensive’ that does not include breadth and volume,” quips Kellyanne Conway, president of the polling company.

Considering the daily drumbeat of dim news from the cradle of civilization, any reasonable person would expect that ordinary Iraqis rued the day we liberated them. Mainstream media execs defend the tenor of the coverage, reminding us that the news business must report what is new — and it is true that the security situation, particularly in and around Baghdad, has deteriorated.

Reporting news events without context, however, can easily create dangerously false perceptions.

The context we do have, though, has been fashioned by the mainstream media to fit journalists’ views of the reality in Iraq. This massaging of the news has had consequences. Following year after year of almost exclusively grim news out of Iraq — even when positive stories such as the 2005 poll were readily available to cover — Americans have now soured on a war they once strongly supported.

The mainstream media repeatedly reminds us, correctly, that mistakes have been made in the execution of the war. What those same outlets will not report, though, is that the same could be said for their coverage of the war.

Joel Mowbray occasionally writes for The Washington Times.

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