Debate rages over media’s role in Iraq war

Are the images Americans are seeing from Iraq due to the level of violence or is it just the messenger? And, as President Bush suggested Tuesday at a White House news conference, are the media also being used by the insurgents?

“They're capable of blowing up innocent life,” Bush said, “So it ends up on your TV show.”

As opposition to the war rises, it's a theme amplified by Vice President Dick Cheney and conservative talk show hosts: a supposedly passive, even lazy media is focusing too much on random violence.

“And they go out and find video of a burning, smoldering vehicle blown up by an IED and that's the news of the day,” Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show Tuesday.

Radio host Laura Ingraham was on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday morning with NBC’s David Gregory.

“David, to do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military, to go out with the Iraqi military, to actually have a conversation with the people,” Ingraham said, “Instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off."

Veteran Baghdad reporters like NBC's Richard Engel point out they still go out every day, despite the risks.

“There have been about 70 reporters killed over here while trying to go out and find the stories,” Engel says. “Another 40 of them have been taken hostage, three are still being detained by kidnappers.”

That includes journalist Jill Carroll, who has now been missing for 10 weeks.

Nor are their “balconies” safe. On Monday, an IED exploded outside the NBC compound. But Richard Engel also reported on the birth of a baby and the everyday lives of Iraqis.

Reporters used to travel more freely, before the rise in violence during the last year and a half. But why is the administration now seeming to blame the media?

George Packer, author of “The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq,” has reported from Iraq since the war began. 

"I think they may well be laying the groundwork for a kind of ‘who lost Iraq strategy’ if and when American forces have to withdraw,” he says.

In fact, it's a familiar tactic.

“I think they are batting around the press because they are frustrated they have been down in the polls so long,” says former presidential adviser David Gergen.

It's a political strategy by a White House struggling with an unpopular war.