The Iraq War on Cable TV

CNN and MSNBC vs. The Fox News Channel


In mid-November 2006, CNN polled Americans to find out if they still thought the U.S. "can win" the war in Iraq. Even amid all of the bad news, a majority (54%) said they still thought victory was possible, although the same poll found 56 percent predicted the U.S. "will not win" in Iraq. In other words, while most of us think our country has the inherent capacity to prevail in Iraq, our citizens are not optimistic that such a victory will ever be realized.

The pessimistic reporting of the past few years has helped move the debate over Iraq from "How do we win?" to "How do we get out?" Network reporters have focused on the discouragingly brutal realities of war, but have spent relatively little air time analyzing the consequences of U.S. forces leaving Iraq before even the basic goals of stability and self-defense have been realized. TV news viewers (apart from those who regularly watch FNC) could be forgiven if they believe the American military’s role in Iraq has been primarily destructive, since journalists have focused most of their energy detailing the awfulness of what is happening now. Rarely mentioned is the fact that U.S. soldiers remain a key bulwark preventing even greater chaos and violence, and that it is their bravery that prevents Iraq from falling prey to the car bombers and terrorists.

There’s no doubt that the Fox News Channel offered viewers a different editorial approach than that found at CNN and MSNBC — or ABC, CBS and NBC, for that matter. FNC’s reporters certainly presented their fair share of bad news about Iraq, but did a better job of balancing the setbacks and difficulties with proper acknowledgment of U.S. achievements in Iraq. Given the stakes of the war in Iraq, such a balanced approach seems preferable to lopsidedly negative coverage that seems designed more to influence the course of events than to merely report on them.