Newspaper editors are complaining about the Associated Press coverage of Iraq. Katharine Q. Seelye in the New York Times quotes the Tampa Bay Tribune’s editorial page editor:
“The bottom-line question was, people wanted to know if we’re making progress in Iraq,” Ms. Goudreau said, and the A.P. articles were not helping to answer that question.
“It was uncomfortable questioning The A.P., knowing that Iraq is such a dangerous place,” she said. “But there’s a perception that we’re not telling the whole story.”
It’s an interesting topic that speaks to the difficulty of reporting accurately in a chronically unsafe environment. Mike Silverman, managing editor of The A.P. makes some good points:
Mr. Silverman said the wire service was covering Iraq “as accurately as we can” while “also trying to keep our people out of harm’s way.”
“The main obstacle we face,” he said, “is the severe limitation on our movement and our ability to get out and report. It’s very confining for our staff to go into Baghdad and have to spend most of their time on the fifth floor of the Palestine Hotel,” which is home to most of the press corps. The hotel was struck by a tank shell in 2003, killing two journalists.
But, there’s plenty of information accessible to reporters that’s not dangerous to collect. Plenty of U.S. government and military Web sites describe the daily progress in Iraq — look here, here, and here. Click here for the weekly construction update from US AID, updated on August 11, 2005.
The problem with these sources? All this information comes from the U.S. government. In the post-Watergate era, most journalists (I’ve worked with a lot) are thoroughly cynical and distrustful of the government — especially the military. Many feel information from the these sources should be viewed skeptically. Some journalists believe they’ll become purveyors of propaganda if they amplify the government’s company line.
Now, journalistic skepticism is certainly a great character trait. Oftentimes officials in the government are indeed trying to hoodwink us. But reporters and editors often take this distrust to a level that makes them biased against the government — and the U.S. cause. It’s time for the AP to find a happy medium and start reporting some of this good news.