The Journal Editorial Report | January 28, 2005 | PBS
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Briefing and Opinion
January 28, 2005

Anchors Aweigh in Iraq
ABC's Peter Jennings asks an Iraqi man who is is going to vote for in the January 30 elections. NBC's Brian Williams with soldiers. ABC's Peter Jennings asks an Iraqi man who is is going to vote for in the January 30 elections. NBC's Brian Williams with soldiers.

PAUL GIGOT: If you had any doubt about the importance of this story, consider this: all three network anchormen were reporting from Iraq this week, instead of introducing other reporters from behind their desks in New York studios. Since roughly 30 million Americans watch the network news in the evening -- far more than watch cable or surf the web for news -- we thought we'd look at what the anchors were reporting and offer some opinions on what impact they might have.

Dan Rather with troops PETER JENNINGS: Good evening from Baghdad. It will soon be time to vote in Iraq, and this is a momentous week here because Iraqis have not been able to vote in a genuine election since 1953.

DAN RATHER: A judge and three Iraqi police officers were gunned down today. Nine more were wounded, several while trying to keep insurgents from putting up posters denouncing the elections. This poster warns anyone tampering with it would have their hands cut off.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: In the final days now before this election, four star General George Casey, the Pentagon's number one man in Iraq, invited us along for his final tour of the front before Sunday's vote.

GENERAL GEORGE CASEY: For me, just the fact that millions of Iraqis are going to turn out and vote on the 30th is a huge step forward. And it's the triumph of democracy over tyranny. It's happened yet again.

General George Casey SOLDIER: The election is going to make a huge difference to the people of Iraq. People want the election to come, and people are ready to get on with their lives and have the insurgency stop.

GIGOT: Joining us for this discussion is Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of the editorial board and a columnist who writes about television. Dorothy, first of all I'd have to say, you have to salute the bravery of the American journalists being over there. It is dangerous over there, there's no question about it. It would be easier staying in New York. You watch the coverage, though. What message do you think it's been sending about what's happening in Iraq to America?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ: I think it's very like sending a brand new picture of everything, because you have these three guys. They're the big guns of all the networks. And Peter Jennings offered a -- I want to say relentlessly but steadfastly optimistic view. And one of the most memorable things I've heard him say was, you know, people are buying flowers. They're going to work. There is a normal life here. And he didn't just mean today. There was something in his voice that said, you know, this has been going on all along.

The second message I think, which is subtler but very real, is, I think there's been a general in the media view that we had better look at this election without that dark side, that maybe it had something to do with Mr. Aba's problems, maybe they understand this is a serious turn of events, but there is a whole general feeling of optimistic, positive willingness to see something really good happening.

Iraqi children GIGOT: We've had pretty relentlessly negative coverage for a long time. Is this a turning point, as Dorothy suggests maybe it is?

DAN HENNINGER: I'd be kind of doubtful about that. I think the relentless negativism frankly goes back to the early days of the Vietnam War, when the media felt it reported the government view too uncritically and that they were taken. When that war went bad they felt they'd been burned. Ever since, the media in the United States anyway, has felt that they had to press the government's view of any event like this. So you get this kind of push back. It's always a hurdle. The government's got to prove itself. It's got to get over it. I do think it was overdone, and to the point where it's just kind of a battle constantly and the public suffers in the middle.

RABINOWITZ: I think there have been more and more stories, though, relating to that. Here's a generalism that was echoed in one of these reports, saying this is a story that hasn't been told of an Iraqi sitting in a tea house talking to a reporter who said, "You know, a member of the American military called me 'sir.' Do you know what it means for an Iraqi to be called 'sir' by somebody in a uniform?" That summed the whole matter up.

campaign posters on a wall I also think that these network anchors are going to go away having a different attitude, temporarily, maybe. You can't help but having learned something from this.

GIGOT: Michael, you've been there. You saw what happened when you were there, and you came back and then saw how it was covered. How do you see it?

MICHAEL RUBIN: There's definitely a discrepancy between the feelings of the people over in Iraq -- both Iraqis and Americans -- and the image which is portrayed back here. Many of the American servicemen I talked to felt that the media was constantly playing "gotcha." They were ignoring everything that might be good, but they were looking for one little discrepancy which they could try to harp on, even if in the whole scheme of things it wasn't that big of a deal.