A standard conservative complain about media coverage in Iraq is that it concentrates too much on car bombs and casualties, and not enough on any successes that are taking place. As I wrote recently in comments, I think that part of this has to do with the constraints journalists are under in Iraq, and specifically the fact that many of them don't seem to think that they can safely leave their hotels unless they are embedded with coalition forces, or in some other way traveling with a military escort. I also don't think the media is particularly reluctant to report successes -- at any rate, they rightly went to town covering the Iraqi elections. Nor do I think the media is particularly liberal these days, just superficial and lazy in an equal-opportunity way.
In some ways my biggest question about this line of criticism has always been a different one, though. On what basis can any of us, liberal or conservative, form assumptions about what is not being told to us? Obviously, not everything is reported; what gives conservatives such confidence that what is left out is better, not worse, than what makes it on the air? The fact that the news we hear is bad does not imply that what is not being reported is good. It might be even worse (via Body and Soul, here's the text for those who don't subscribe to the Independent):
"July was the bloodiest month in Baghdad’s modern history - in all, 1,100 bodies were brought to the city’s mortuary; executed for the most part, eviscerated, stabbed, bludgeoned, tortured to death. The figure is secret. We are not supposed to know that the Iraqi capital’s death toll last month was only 700 short of the total American fatalities in Iraq since April of 2003. Of the dead, 963 were men - many with their hands bound, their eyes taped and bullets in their heads - and 137 women. The statistics are as shameful as they are horrifying. For these are the men and women we supposedly came to "liberate" - and about whose fate we do not care.
The figures for this month cannot, of course, yet be calculated. But last Sunday, the mortuary received the bodies of 36 men and women, all killed by violence. By 8am on Monday, nine more human remains had been received. By midday, the figure had reached 25. "I consider this a quiet day," one of the mortuary officials said to me as we stood close to the dead. So in just 36 hours - from dawn on Sunday to midday on Monday, 62 Baghdad civilians had been killed. No Western official, no Iraqi government minister, no civil servant, no press release from the authorities, no newspaper, mentioned this terrible statistic. The dead of Iraq - as they have from the beginning of our illegal invasion - were simply written out of the script. Officially they do not exist.
Thus there has been no disclosure of the fact that in July 2003 - three months after the invasion - 700 corpses were brought to the mortuary in Baghdad. In July of 2004, this rose to around 800. The mortuary records the violent death toll for June of this year as 879 - 764 of them male, 115 female. Of the men, 480 had been killed by firearms, along with 25 of the women. By comparison, equivalent figures for July 1997, 1998 and 1999 were all below 200. (...)
Mortuary officials have been appalled at the sadism visited on the victims. "We have many who have obviously been tortured - mostly men," one said. "They have terrible burn marks on hands and feet and other parts of their bodies. Many have their hands fastened behind their backs with handcuffs and their eyes have been bound with Sellotape. Then they have been shot in the head - in the back of the head, the face, the eyes. These are executions." While Saddam’s regime visited death by official execution upon its opponents, the scale of anarchy now existing in Baghdad, Mosul, Basra and other cities is unprecedented. "The July figures are the largest ever recorded in the history of the Baghdad Medical Institute," a senior member of the management told The Independent.
It is clear that death squads are roaming the streets of a city which is supposed to be under the control of the US military and the American-supported, elected government of Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Never in recent history has such anarchy been let loose on the civilians of this city - yet the Western and Iraqi authorities show no interest in disclosing the details. The writing of the new constitution - or the failure to complete it - now occupies the time of Western diplomats and journalists. The dead, it seems, do not count. (...)
So many civilians are dying that the morgue has had to rely on volunteers from the holy city of Najaf to transport unidentified Shia Muslim dead to the central city’s large graveyard for burial, their plots donated by religious institutions. "In some of the bodies, we find American bullets," a mortuary attendant told me. "But these could be American bullets fired by Iraqis. We don’t know who’s killing who - it’s not our job to find out, but civilians are killing each other. We had a body here the other day and the relatives said he had been murdered because he had been a Baathist in the old regime. Then they said that his brother had been killed three or four weeks back because he was a member of the religious Shia Dawa party which was the enemy of Saddam. But this is the real story - the killing of the people. I don’t want to die under a new constitution. I want security."
One of the problems in cataloguing the daily death toll is that the official radio often declines to report explosions. On Monday, the thump of a bomb in the Karada district was never officially explained. Only yesterday was it discovered that a suicide bomber had walked into a popular café, the Emir, and blown himself up, killing two policemen. Another explosion, officially said to be caused by a mortar, turned out to be a mine set off beneath a pile of watermelons as a US patrol was passing. A civilian died. Again, there was no official account of these deaths. They were not recorded by the government nor by the occupying armies nor, of course, by the Western press. Like the bodies in the Baghdad city mortuary, they did not exist."
"Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," Rumsfeld said. "They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here."
And clap louder.