(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans reflects on the recent criticism from the Bush administration over what stories are being reported from Iraq.
(Seamans) President Bush has added a new word to the Washington dialogue – that word is “filter.” He alleges that the news media are filtering out the positive achievements of our occupation in Iraq and reporting a negative picture of what’s going on there.
Bush said that news persons could do a better job by bringing to the American public an Iraq where, he said, markets are crowded, shelves are full, oil is flowing and satellite dishes are sprouting up. Bush added that thousands of new businesses have been launched, schools reopened and new roads, ports and railways are being built.
Allegedly filtered news also was the subject of recent speeches that have been called a public relations effort by Bush. He said he “wanted to go over the heads of the filter and speak directly to the people,” that there was a “sense that people in America aren’t getting the truth.” Our reporters in Iraq could not help but link the words “filter” and “not getting the truth” without feeling that President Bush was calling them liars.
The most sensitive story being reported every day by the filter is the casualty toll of our dead and wounded. It is sensitive news because the guerilla ambush war is growing in both intensity and the sophistication of the enemy attacks. The climbing casualty toll is building up pressure on the White House for more definitive answers regarding our stay in Iraq – especially how long and how much it will cost. With the presidential election campaign looming closer the answers have profound political implications. Is this a story the filter should report?
Apparently Republican Representative George Nethercutt of Washington doesn’t think so. He recently said, “The story of what we’ve done in the postwar period is remarkable. It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.” Yes, that’s what he said, and I can’t imagine the pain his words must have caused the families of the fallen.
Several groups of congressmen after visiting Iraq have given glowing reports about how well things are going and said the morale of our troops is high. Now here is a story that will surely justify in President Bush’s mind his criticism of the filter. The Pentagon-funded Stars and Stripes newspaper, which is distributed to our troops everywhere, told a story that conflicts with what the congressmen and military commanders are saying. The paper surveyed a sample of our troops and found that half of those questioned said their morale was low and that they do not plan to re-enlist. General Ricardo Sanchez, the American forces commander, replied that there was no morale problem and that complaining was a part of Army life.
Question: Should the filter have reported this story?
This is Bill Seamans.
Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.