Chaos In Iraq

ff John Roberts explains the situation to Howard Kurtz on "Reliable Sources" this morning. It was an excellent segment. I wish Kurtz wouldn&

ffrs-iraq-roberts.jpg John Roberts explains the situation to Howard Kurtz on "Reliable Sources" this morning. It was an excellent segment. I wish Kurtz wouldn't throw out right wing propaganda lines when he's asking very important questions about the media coverage in Iraq.

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KURTZ: The conventional wisdom is that American troops resent the media's coverage of this war as too negative. But there's a Zogby poll of U.S. forces that say 72 percent think they should leave within the year. What did you find, when you were in Iraq, military people saying about the mission and the media?

KURTZ: And did they think the coverage, generally, on balance, was fair or unfair?

ROBERTS: They didn't seem to have too many complaints about the coverage. They appreciated the fact that we were there and anytime you're embedded with U.S. forces, you're going to see the bad along with the good. They were always trying to put a positive spin on things, from a command level -- taking us to certain areas to show us certain things they thought would play well. But by and large, I didn't hear any complaints about the coverage

Roberts tells us that the military has no problems with the media coverage---so can Howard explain to us what the " conventional wisdom" is he's talking about? I really want to know. Roberts paints a horrifying picture of the war---one where death and destruction is front and center and is almost too dangerous for a journalist to cover.

Roberts: So it was quite a shock to go back and see the chaotic state that the country was in. And as -- I guess you could say, as realistic as my perceptions were about going in there, the reality on the ground far exceeded that.

The place is a mess -- it's an absolute mess. There is nowhere you can go in the Baghdad area, as a Western journalist, without an escort, where you could feel safe from being kidnapped, shot at, whatever.

CNN's full transcript below the fold...Duncan has the video also


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KURTZ: The conventional wisdom is that American troops resent the media's coverage of this war as too negative. But there's a Zogby poll of U.S. forces that say 72 percent think they should leave within the year. What did you find, when you were in Iraq, military people saying about the mission and the media?

ROBERTS: You know, I spent a lot of time with U.S. troops in the month that I was there -- I spent probably two weeks, or a little bit more than that, on the ground with them, north of Baghdad, in Baghdad, travelling with a lot of the Stryker units who had been there for 16 months now. They were very optimistic on the unit level about what they were doing. They believed in the mission that they were undertaking -- clearing operations, trying to secure thee streets of Baghdad, trying to get some of the weapons off the streets, trying to deal with these militia members who are the cause of so much of this sectarian violence.

When they stepped back, though, and took a look at the larger picture, there were a lot of questions about where the direction was headed, where they were going to go in the future --

KURTZ: And did they think --

ROBERTS: -- whether the plan immediately was the right plan.

KURTZ: And did they think the coverage, generally, on balance, was fair or unfair?

ROBERTS: They didn't seem to have too many complaints about the coverage. They appreciated the fact that we were there and anytime you're embedded with U.S. forces, you're going to see the bad along with the good. They were always trying to put a positive spin on things, from a command level -- taking us to certain areas to show us certain things they thought would play well. But by and large, I didn't hear any complaints about the coverage.

KURTZ: If you're sitting at home, watching it on TV, you see mass kidnappings, suicide bombings, mosque bombings, death squads -- when you're there as a journalist, does the situation seem as chaotic to you as it does to a viewer?

ROBERTS: Howie, I had a perception of Iraq going in, and it was the first time I'd been there in three-and-a-half years, I got out a couple of days after the Saddam statue fell, after the initial invasion. So it was quite a shock to go back and see the chaotic state that the country was in. And as -- I guess you could say, as realistic as my perceptions were about going in there, the reality on the ground far exceeded that.

The place is a mess -- it's an absolute mess. There is nowhere you can go in the Baghdad area, as a Western journalist, without an escort, where you could feel safe from being kidnapped, shot at, whatever.

The amount of death that's on the streets of Baghdad for U.S. forces and for the Iraqi people is at an astronomical level. I was out riding with a Stryker unit couple of days after the election -- they got the

911 call on an IED attack against an American convoy. This convoy of Humvees had just been driving up the onramp onto a highway when one of those formed projectiles hit it -- literally disintegrated the guy in the passenger seat, who was right there where the projectile came through, killed the driver. I watched him die, on the roadside. And when you look at that from such a personal level, it does affect your perceptions of what's going on on the ground. And I know that that's not everywhere, all the time, but it does suggest that death lurks at every step in Iraq, and any place where death lurks at every step can be in nothing but a state of chaos.

KURTZ: So in a nutshell, you're saying that the coverage -- that the situation in Iraq on the ground, as you saw close up, is worse -- is worse -- than it appears from the television and newspaper coverage.

Why is that? Why are we not capturing the full anarchy there?

ROBERTS: Because television can't -- and even print -- can't fully capture the scope of what's going on in Iraq. And to some degree, too, over the last three-and-a-half years, Howie, it's become the daily traffic report, the daily drumbeat. When you get there and you see it on a personal level, when you watch somebody die before your eyes, it gives you a much different perspective on it than it does being a half a world away, reading about it or watching it on television.

Also, the pictures on television are sanitized compared to what they are on the ground. For example, when we came across that IED attack, we did not shoot pictures that we would show on television of the carnage

-- we showed pictures of people carrying litters, et cetera -- because it's a) --

KURTZ: Too raw?

ROBERTS: -- it's too raw for television, b), it's too personal for the families who are involved -- because the fellow who I saw on the ground, Howie, he was ripped apart. And that's just not the sort of thing that you want the family to know. If a loved one died in Iraq, they died in Iraq. You don't need to show them the graphic pictures of it. So, to some degree, what we're seeing is sanitized.

KURTZ: But here you have administration officials, as you know, repeatedly, relentlessly, criticizing the coverage of this war as too focused on the violence and not paying any attention to what they claim are -- is progress, at least in other areas. Is that argument now collapsing or fading as the violence apparently continues to get worse?

ROBERTS: I never thought it was a solid argument to begin with.

You could say, Hey, why aren't you showing the good news, but when most of the news is bad, it's difficult to show what good things are happening there. I did notice that in some of the areas of Old Baghdad, when we were out on patrol with the Stryker units, that there is electricity, there is running water to a greater degree than there was before. There are some things that are getting done.

But you talk to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stewart Bone (ph), whom I know quite well, and he'll tell you, face-to-face, that the amount of violence in Iraq is absolutely preventing any real progress on the reconstruction front. So until they get a handle on the violence, it's going to be very difficult to see the good news.

KURTZ: So you're saying the violence is the story; everything else is secondary.

ROBERTS: The violence affects everything in Iraq.

KURTZ: As public opinion has swung against this war -- and we certainly saw that in the results of the midterm elections -- do you think that the media's coverage, and what you described as `the traffic report,' the daily death toll, both Iraqis and Americans, have helped to turn the coverage -- almost reminiscent of Vietnam, John -- have helped to turn the country against this war?

ROBERTS: I think it's because you're not seeing any definable progress. If people were fighting and dying, and yet there was a lot of progress, I think you could -- people back home could make the case in their own minds that yes, this is worth it. But when you see people fighting and dying, and in greater numbers -- I mean, look at the death toll in October, 105, fourth deadliest month --

KURTZ: And you see Iraqis killing each other in greater numbers and with increasing brutality, and then you question what -- and the media increasingly have questioned, what are you U.S. soldiers accomplishing?

ROBERTS: Exactly. What's the end game here, how is this going to turn out? Vietnam, after the Tet Offensive in 1968, public opinion started turning against it. President Bush suggested recently that the upswing in violence by insurgent groups and al Qaeda may be their attempt at instigating a certain Tet Offensive backlash. I've got to tell you, if that's what they're doing, it's working. But I think to a larger degree, it's not anything strategic on their part, it's just that this is the way that things are going in Iraq. And the more chaotic it gets, the more death there is, and the more people will look at the U.S.

involvement in Iraq and say, If there's no progress, if there's no defined end game here, if there's no way of knowing when people are coming home, why are we there?

KURTZ: A firsthand report -- John Roberts, thanks for letting us visit you on the set of "THIS WEEK AT WAR."

ROBERTS: I appreciate it. Thanks, Howie.
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