Iraq is shaping up to be the crucial election issue, so when Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi came to Washington last week to thank America for liberating Iraq, the hardened liberal press corps reacted predictably. Their message to America: don't let Bush's puppet perk you up.
Gratitude? We don't want America to hear too much of that. Liberation? The very idea that this quagmire reflects a "liberation" sounds like a sick joke. There is no light at the end of this tunnel, the media declareth. Spiro Agnew's old tag "nattering nabobs of negativism" defines this press corps with pinpoint precision.
While TV news stars like Dan Rather can still be remembered gazing deep into Saddam Hussein's eyes and asking if this would be the last time they would meet, the liberal media cannot muster any admiration for Allawi, the man who barely escaped an axe attack by one of Saddam's henchmen. Instead, he was seen through partisan media eyes as a Bush campaign tool.
The pro-Kerry media's cynicism was in the air as last week began. On CNN, political analyst William Schneider was asked if Allawi's visit would have any political impact. He said only scary events in Iraq, not optimistic happy talk in Washington, should be important: "They're going to talk about the advance of democracy, and an outlook that's for very rosy for elections in Iraq and democracy, but that could very easily be undercut by very dangerous developments on the ground in Iraq." Only gloom is news.
Minutes after Bush and Allawi held a press conference in the Rose Garden, CNN reporter John King told viewers "we cannot understate" the degree to which Bush is "invested" in Allawi, so that he may convince the American people that "yes, there is hardship; yes, there is sometimes chaos; yes, there is this incredibly violent, horrific insurgency, but that progress is being made." In other words, CNN wants you to know that Bush is Pollyanna, while the media's entrenched negativism is the whole truth on Iraq.
Most press outlets underlined how Allawi "echoed" Bush, never considering that perhaps Bush's policies are informed by Allawi's reports on events on the ground. Several reporters worked hard to sell the American-puppet line on Allawi. USA Today reporter Steven Komarow wrote Allawi was "named interim prime minister in June under a U.S.-backed transition plan, was unyielding in his support of Bush, echoing the president's optimism."
In a "news analysis," USA Today's Judy Keen began with the picture of Bush in the Rose Garden "with "the most faithful advocate of his Iraq policies at his side." She underlined how Allawi's words echoed Bush and "seemed mindful" of his role in the American presidential race.
These lines seemed mindful of Kerry's line on Allawi, oozing liberal contempt for the leader of Iraq's embryonic democracy. Kerry spokesman of the week Joe Lockhart brazenly called Allawi a puppet, "and you can almost see the hand underneath the shirt today moving the lips." This, to the liberal media, was not an outrageous gaffe as America tries to rebuild Iraq after Saddam's brutal dictatorship.
Pardon some counter-cynicism here. What, to our media, makes a credible Middle East leader? Could we see last week's news coverage - and the last few decades of news coverage - and suspect that hostility to democracy, if not the United States, makes one a more credible world leader to our media elite? Isn't it quite obvious at this point that crooked, violence-affirming Yasser Arafat has received a much better press than Prime Minister Allawi? Hasn't "moderate" Ayatollah Khatemi of Iran received a much better press? Hasn't iron-fisted Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak received a much better press?
The media should consider that it is they who sound like puppets - puppets of Moqtada el-Sadr and Abu Musab Zarqawi, who want America to think that Iraq is a hopeless sinkhole, and America would be wise to say uncle and withdraw. They are the ones who sound almost eager to delay Iraqi elections. They are the ones who make every suicide bombing and every savage beheading the only political facts from Iraq that matter. They are the primary audience for the terrorists' P.R. campaign of fear - and it's working.
When November comes, the voters who saw this parade of horrors and gloom will have asked themselves: do we want a steady hand on the ship of state, or do we want someone who will let a cowardly cabal of suicide bombers and a panel of panicked anchormen decide the direction of the world? The press might well discover the American people are not their puppets.