As Petraeus Testifies: How Press Helped Bring Him the 'Surge'

By Mitchell, Greg | Editor & Publisher, April 8, 2008 | Go to article overview

As Petraeus Testifies: How Press Helped Bring Him the 'Surge'


Mitchell, Greg, Editor & Publisher


With Gen. David Petraeus testifying before Congress today, it is worth pointing out that the media, just as in the run-up to the war, is complicit in the current "surge" debacle. Back in early January 2007, I labeled the press "surge protectors," calling the media's performance in the days before President Bush announced the surge their single greatest failing since the war began. More than a year later, with the "surge" at best a mixed success, and few troops brought home so far, that judgment appears even more accurate.

For two months before the president announced the surge, I had been warning that Bush was bent on sending more troops to Iraq, but pundits and editorialists didn't seem very alarmed about the prospect, even though it promised to be one of the true (not fake) "turning points" in the war -- perhaps #1 at that. If the war didn't belong to the press and pundits before, it sure did after that (as I outline in my new book on Iraq and the media).

You recall that when the Iraq Study Group issued its report many predicted it would give Bush a chance to grab onto this bi-partisan life raft and start to disengage from Iraq. But Bush promptly pushed it away and said he would come up with his own plan. The handwriting was on the wall for weeks but the media -- maybe distracted by the Christmas season -- failed to take it seriously. Polls showed that the public opposed sending more troops.

As this critical turning point in the Iraq war neared, the editorial pages of the largest U.S. newspapers were surprisingly -- even appallingly -- silent on President Bush's likely decision to send thousands of more troops to the country. It followed a long pattern, however, of opinion writers and TV talking heads strongly criticizing the conduct of the war -- without advocating a major change in direction.

Newspapers, in their editorials, chose to retreat to the sidelines, even as some hawkish conservative columnists, such as Oliver North and David Brooks, came out against the idea. Then there were the new revelations that the troops we already had in Iraq were not properly equipped or protected. That would seem to set the stage for editorials taking a strong stand. But very few -- hardly any -- editorials said much of anything about the well-publicized "surge" idea, pro OR con. …

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