Amman, Jordan -- As Schramm has reported, I am currently on my way to Iraq to report on the progress of Iraqi regime change for the next few months. Before I provide an update of my trip to date, it is worth saying a few words about how this project came about, and why we are doing this.
By my recollection, the idea for this project was hatched about six months ago. Schramm decided that he should send the most horrible weapon ever devised by man to Iraq--a lawyer. I was struck at that time--and I still am today--by the disconnect between what was being reported on the news, and what people (mostly those unburdened by press credentials) returning from Iraq were saying. The former gave us only body counts, while the latter provided numerous examples of the slow success of regime change, both from the point of view of the soldiers and the Iraqis. While there is a certain bias to news coverage in favor of "bad" news, the drumbeat here was and is particularly pernicious . . . and particularly political. This skew is not particularly surprising coming from outlets such as CNN, which admitted to knowing yet failing to report about Saddam’s recent (pre-war) atrocities, lest it lose access to the country whose last confrontation with the U.S. put the network on the map.
This media disconnect is particularly disconcerting given the importance of the U.S. effort in Iraq. The effort to oust the Saddam and replace him with a democratic regime is an historic undertaking. The removal of a bloody tyrant and the attempt to bring freedom to an oppressed people is one worthy of the American people. But the task is one filled with both promise and peril. If regime change is done well, then Iraq will serve as an example in the Middle East and will likely contribute to the stability of the region. However, if regime change is done poorly, then Iraq will also serve as an example both of democracy in the Middle East and of U.S. foreign policy, and its failure would likely further destabilize the region.
Because so much is at stake, the skewed media perspective which provides the lone window into the region for most Americans is all the more dangerous. Dangerous because it misinforms Americans as to what our role is in Iraq, what kind of progress is being made, and therefore what sort of action we should take next.
This project is designed to provide some counterbalance. It will be different from the standard reporting in several ways. First, unlike the majority of publications, we will not just be reporting from within the Green Zone in Baghdad. While I certainly will spend time there, Iraq is bigger than Baghdad, and I intend to explore it. The plan therefore is to provide reports, for example, on the Shiites from Basra and on the Sunnis and Kurds from Mosul. Second, the project will include both embedded and non-embedded reporting. From my contacts with the DOD, the vast majority of reporters do one or the other. Third, it will be for a period of months, not weeks. Most embedded reporters are in country for a period of only 4-6 weeks. Fourth, the product of the reporting will be varied, including blogs with pictures, as well as standard newspaper and magazine reporting. And finally, the perspective will be different--that is, it will be written from a perspective that the regime change, if done right, is a worthy goal. This is not a cheerleading expedition, however. We will look to expose failings as well as successes. But unlike the vast majority of the media, we do not look to cheapen the sacrifice of the fallen by reporting only upon their death, while ignoring what it is that they died for.