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Is the media helping the enemy in Iraq?

President Bush says the media is helping the enemy by continually airing bad news from Iraq. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough digs into the story with Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center and Democratic strategist Flavia Colgan
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Some Americans feel the media may be aiding the enemy in Iraq by reporting bombings and bloodshed while ignoring the good news.  President Bush accused the media of being manipulated by the enemy in his press conference Wednesday at the White House. 

And while selling the war today in West Virginia’s town hall meeting that he held, President Bush once again suggested the media was biased in its war coverage.  The president’s words have obviously angered news executives across America as he tries to make a point in regards to his wartime woes. 

Bob Jensen from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas, Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center, Democratic strategist, Flavia Colgan and Georgia’s U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson joined‘Scarborough Country’ to discuss whether Bush is placing accurate blame on the media.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, ‘SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY’: Professor Jensen, you’re a journalism professor, how do you respond to the president’s charges that the media is in effect aiding and abetting the enemy? 

PROF.  BOB JENSEN, UNIVERSITY OF Texas:  Well, I think the media has performed poorly, but not by aiding and abetting the enemy, by failing to aggressive in challenging the Bush rational for the war.  So in fact, the press is often falling down on the job, but not the way George Bush is saying.  What the press is doing is trying to report the reality of the disaster of this occupation.  It’s a phenomenal disaster.  It’s shown in the data.  Oil production is down, electricity production is down, deaths are up, car bombs are up and most importantly the percentage of the Iraqi people who want U.S. to set a withdrawal date is up.  So I think, to the degree the press is failing, it’s not the way George Bush would say. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And Brent Bozell, that brings up an interesting point, liberals have long accused the “New York Times” and other left-wing publications of being too conservative, of being lap dogs for the president and yet conservatives are now saying they’re too negative.  What’s the true story?

BRENT BOZELL, MEDIA RESEARCH CENTER:  I don’t think liberals has anything to worry about when it comes to the “New York Times.”  Look what your last guess just said is precisely what the president is talking about.  That’s not the reality of Iraq.  Iraq is a many fold stories.  Look at the numbers and the numbers tell you everything.  We did a study last year of the big three networks over a nine-month period.  Sixty-one percent of the stories were negative, only 15 percent of the stories were positive.  By the end of the nine month period it was 73 percent negative, seven percent positive.  Now you talk to people on the ground in Iraq, the soldiers and they are aghast that this kind of story is being reported.  Look, the enemy cannot defeat us militarily, they know that, but they can defeat us in the world of public opinion and that’s where the battle is and they’re winning that one because the media are helping whether they’re trying to or not the reality is they are helping the enemy. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well Brent, what’s the good news over there? 

BOZELL:  When you talk to soldiers there, they will talk about military accomplishments, they will talk about humanitarian accomplishments.  You talk about the people the children in the streets who are celebrating the G.I.’s who are there on a daily basis.  A day doesn’t go by where I don’t get an e-mail passed directly or indirectly from someone on the ground in Iraq saying why won’t the media tell the full story about what is down—what is going on over here?  Look, it’s not perfect.  The media ought to report the bad news when it happens, I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but there’s an awful lot of good news and that’s not being reported because the media don’t want to report it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Flavia Colgan, there seem to have been two different theories that have been out over the past several months on why the media’s coverage is negative.  One is that they’re biased and the other is that old adage if it bleeds, it leads.  Why do you think media coverage has been overwhelmingly negative? 

FLAVIA COLGAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Unfortunately, for Brent and the administration, the facts are biased and I realize that facts are very stubborn and they’re enormously inconvenient.  One, I would echo Bob’s point that I’m happy the media decided to get a backbone.  They were too busy impersonating stenographers in the lead-up to the war, and I completely agree with that. 

There are a couple of issues here, No.  1 in terms of progress, 30 percent of the country has clean water.  Electricity is only up 10 hours a day, OK.  Incidents are up.  Bodies are coming home daily in body bags.  We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars and we have paid in tons lives.  So of course, am I surprised hospitals that hospitals are being built and schools are opening?  Well, heaven sake, I should hope so.  We have incredible Americans over there working very hard.  And I don’t know who Brent is speaking to, but 72 percent of our men and women on the ground feel that we should leave within the next year.  Is the administration going to start saying that they’re aiding and abetting the terrorists too?  Because almost half of them don’t even know what they’re mission is? 

SCARBOROUGH:  What poll are you talking about that 72 percent of the soldiers want to come home? 

COLGAN:  The Zogby Poll last week, 72 percent said—this poll came out last week—that we should come out within the next, you know, within the next year. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I need to go back right now to Brent Bozell because last week Nick Christoff also wrote about this Zogby poll.  I think it’s important to talk about that Zogby has—I think Zogby himself may be biased on this issue regarding this war, regarding Middle East—the Middle East situation.  But Brent, what do you have to say about this poll?  It seems to turn everything I’ve heard from G.I.s on their—in its ear? 

BOZELL:  Go on the ground and ask the G.I.’s what they think?  You know, I’m so sick and tired of these polls that are coming out, these skewed, loaded polls, especially the ones—now, I’m not suggesting the president doesn’t have approval problems.  He does.  But the numbers where they are being put out in some of these polls where they’re skewing it overwhelmingly to democratic voters.  When you ask somebody on the ground do you want to come home in a year, what the hell do you think they’re going to tell you? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, to Senator Isakson- obviously, from what I’ve heard, you obviously believe that the media is not reporting the facts on the ground.  Give us some hard evidence. 

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON ®, GEORGIA:  Well, I’ve been to Iraq twice, once shortly after the election, a year ago and once two weekends ago.  And I can tell you—I don’t know where the 72 percent number from the Zogby poll comes from, but I’ve been on the ground in Balad, on the ground in Talia, on the ground in Baghdad talking to the soldiers, 2,800 from the 48th Brigade in Georgia where reenlistments in Iraq are at an all-time high.  They’re proud of what they’re doing, they do know what they’re doing and they do understand why they are there.  So, I would dispute the Zogby poll from basically having been there and talked to the soldiers on the ground. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What about the chaos that goes on in the streets everyday?  I’m sure you and any other member of Congress that goes over there doesn’t feel safe to walk down the street in Baghdad.  How do you get the security situation better and how does the media not report that everyday? 

ISAKSON:  Well, you know, look, there is no question there is some civil disobedience.  There’s no question there’s some secular violence.  There’s no question that there are some random terroristic (SIC) acts.  We are fighting terrorists, we are not fighting the Iraqis.  And the terrorists don’t want to defeat us.  All they want us to do is to lose our heart, lose our will, and lose our determination to stay.  We must see the course.  This is the ultimate war between good and evil.  We have done the right thing for the right reasons in the right place at the right time.  Staying the course is essential. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, do you believe as the president said yesterday in the press conference, that the United States media, and I got to ad Europe’s media also into this, but that the United States media is, in a sense, helping out our enemy on the ground by just showing these negative pictures day in and day out? 

ISAKSON:  I would never accuse them of knowingly doing it, but I would have to tell you, Joe, having been there twice in the last year, what I see on television and what I’ve seen in Iraq are two entirely different stories.  I don’t think there’s a balance in the presentation.  I’m not interested in having a media that sells whatever the government of America wants, but I am very much interested in a media that will give Americans a balanced picture of what’s really happening. 

SCARBOROUGH: Bob, it seems that as you go across America and as you go across Iraq, there just are people that have varied opinions on this war.  Why does it seem, though, that again, most of the images that we see coming back from Iraq are negative?  I mean, we won’t see schools being built, we won’t see the hospitals being built, we won’t see the interaction between the Iraqi troops and our soldiers and our Marines.  You know, I get e-mails from these guys all the time talking about all the positive things that are happening over there, but that never seems to make it through the media filter.  Why? 

JENSEN:  Well listen, there are positive things that go on in any war zone, in any chaotic situation you’ll find positive things.  I get e-mails from conservatives with pictures attached of U.S. soldiers giving candy to children as if this is evidence that the occupation is successful.  It’s a fracture because themed a station continued with arrogance that was stunning.  The occupation is in abject failure.  It’s a failure because the Bush administration proceeded with an arrogance and incompetence that was quite stunning.  Now that’s not—it’s not a question of balance, it’s a question of reality.  The reality is that the occupation is failing.  The reality is that 87 percent of the Iraqi people want the U.S. out and the reality of the Zogby poll no matter what the conservative critics want to says, is that the American troops on the ground, when they’re talking a pollster, not to a congressmen who’s got a stake in this, tell the truth. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I want to let Brent respond, but Brent, I think it’s also fair to say that only 26 percent of Americans believe this country’s headed in the right direction, and in a large part because of what’s going on in Iraq. 

BOZELL:  I think the administration has done a dreadful job of selling the fact that we’re in a war right now. 

JENSEN:  You don’t sell a war.  A war is a reality.  It’s not a product to sell. 

BOZELL:  What I’d like to ask is this question:  Having talked about all these terrible things that you are happening over there, please tell me the last battle the terrorists won in this military conflict? 

JENSEN:  First of all, it’s a mixture of insurgents, it’s nationalists. 

BOZELL:  OK, give me the last one.  Give me the last one. 

JENSEN:  In case you didn’t pay attention during the Vietnam War, resistance forces to an occupation didn’t win battle. 

BOZELL:  Give me one battle.  One the won.

JENSEN:  Did you learn nothing from the last 20 years of history. 

BOZELL:  Then how are we losing?  They haven’t won a battle against us. 

JENSEN:  But, you know, we didn’t lose a lot of battles in Vietnam and what happened, Brent?  Come on, I mean, at least deal with reality. 

BOZELL:  It’s public opinion.  That’s the battle.  That’s my point. 

JENSEN:  No, no.

BOZELL:  It’s not militarily.  Militarily we’re winning, but nothing’s being reported. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me say thisthat if you look at PB—there were after the war, PBS, I remember, had a great mini-series of on Vietnam and they, I remember, the part of it that really struck me the most was when they had the north Vietnamese generals coming on the air saying we knew we would never win in the jungles of Vietnam, but we didn’t have to because all we had to was win in the streets of America.  Isn’t that the same thing that’s going on 30 years later?

COLGAN:  Bush is spending all this time on a campaign trial trying to convince the American people that his rhetoric somehow matches the reality on the ground, and the American public isn’t buying it.  I would prefer, as I’m sure a lot of other Americans would, for him to get back into the White House, sit down with people, start mapping out metrics and a plan for success in Iraq.  And I have criticized democrats also.  Rhetoric won’t win the war.  And the thing that we also don’t see reported, and I do talk to 30 or 40 or so, guys in Iraq daily, I’m leaving this set so that I can pack my bags and go to, yet again, another funeral.  And the images they send me are very gruesome.  We don’t see about the civilian deaths.  A lot of other things we barely saw coffins, for heaven sake.