Media Coverage of Iraq Suffers After Katrina

The monomaniacs in the media are at it again, focusing all their attention on a single story to the exclusion of all others.

At least this time, the story the galloping herd has focused on is a mega-disaster and not Michael Jackson or Natalee Holloway or the Brad-Jen-Angelina triangle. But as monumental a story as Katrina is, why aren't the American media capable of covering two disasters at the same time?

I'm talking, of course, about the other disaster facing our country, Iraq. You remember Iraq, don't you? I wouldn't blame you if it's slipped your mind, because it has certainly fallen off the media radar screen since Katrina came ashore -- devastating the Gulf Coast and blowing the devastation in the Persian Gulf off the front pages.

But that's definitely where it belongs. Especially given how much there is on the Iraq beat for the media to be covering.

For starters, there were the laughable statements on Iraq the president offered up during his latest tour of the battered Gulf Coast (an Iraq-Katrina press conference twofer that should have made things so easy for the media).

"We've got plenty of troops to do both," said the president when asked about a Katrina-Iraq connection. "It is preposterous to claim that the engagement in Iraq meant there wasn't [sic] enough troops here, just pure and simple."
In fact, what is preposterous is this latest presidential lie. C'mon, Mr. President, there clearly weren't enough troops in Louisiana and Mississippi to keep order after the storm -- just like there weren't enough troops in Iraq to keep order after the fall of Saddam. And our troops over there are still stretched to the breaking point. Things are so bad, the Pentagon has even refused to grant emergency 15-day leaves to hundreds of Mississippi National Guardsmen in Iraq who lost their homes to Katrina -- unable to spare the manpower.

Following the president's lead -- and indeed upping the misrepresentation ante quite a bit -- was Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, who gave a press conference Monday equating our mission in Iraq to our mission in World War II and claiming that Iraq presents the same kind of threat that the Soviet Union did.

Then there is the disturbing spectacle of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani being forced to make like an American pol and ask for a "do over" after the White House slapped him down for telling the Washington Post that the U.S. could start pulling out some troops immediately, and withdraw at least 40,000 to 50,000 by the end of the year. By Tuesday's joint White House press conference with President Bush, Talabani was totally on message, spouting Bush's familiar talking points about how setting a timetable for withdrawal would only "help the terrorists" and give them "a signal they can defeat us." (right now, somewhere in Iraq, a future Talabani opponent is surely scouring eBay, looking for some of those oversized prop flip-flops that were such a hit at the 2004 GOP convention).

Talabani also said Iraqi troops will only take control of Iraq with the "complete agreement of America." Doesn't having to ask the U.S. permission to take control of your own country kinda undermine the idea that this is anything other than an occupation? Colonies ask for permission; independent democracies don't.

And, oh yeah, the war itself continues to be a bloody debacle. Nineteen U.S. soldiers have died since Katrina made landfall on August 29 -- and the bodies of dead Iraqis continue to pile up all across the country. This one AP recap gives a sense of the hell enveloping Iraq, with mortar rounds hitting the Green Zone in Baghdad, a roadside bomb killing four in Basra, two clerics shot and killed in Baqouba, a minivan blowing up in Hilla, a former judge murdered in Sadr City, reports of a bounty being offered for the assassination of key Iraqi officials, including $100,000 for whoever might kill Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. And on and on it goes. Disastrous -- and underreported.

Equally underreported, and perhaps even more troubling, is the woeful state of the reconstruction effort. Twenty-eight months after Bush prematurely announced "Mission Accomplished," and despite the $24 billion in taxpayer money earmarked for reconstruction, the Iraqi people are still facing massive energy shortages, inadequate water and sewage systems, mile-long lines for gas, and a surge in dehydration among children and the elderly. Oh, and also sky-high unemployment and infant mortality rates. As Don Sherwood, a House Republican, put it: "It seems almost incomprehensible to me that we haven't been able to do better."

For all these reasons, Iraq must remain a front-page story, even when other big stories arise. The media will just have to join the 21st century and learn how to multi-task -- covering two disasters at the same time.

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