Knight-Ridder has earned the reputation as the American Al-Jazeera.
Yost couldnt have imagined he was bathing in blood and throwing himself into the shark pen. His media colleagues were merciless. "With your column, you have spat on the copy of the brave men and women who are doing their best in terrible conditions," reporter Chuck Laszewski at the same newspaper charged in an open letter. "You have insulted them and demeaned them," he wrote. "I am embarrassed to call you my colleague."
Knight-Ridder D.C. Bureau Chief Clark Hoyt devoted a column to a Yost roast, taking time out only to slam U.S. progress in Iraq. To read it is to know exactly why so many Americans believe we cant trust the media to fairly cover the war.
Of course the war coverage is slanted: The adage "If it bleeds it leads" doesnt halt at the Iraqi border. Thats why when two small shells land in a barren section of city the size of Boston CNN.com blares: "Blasts rock Baghdad near coalition headquarters" whereas the completion of an electrification program or water main gets not a column inch.
It was the very obviousness of Yosts observation that led to such incredible media ferocity and ridiculous efforts to justify the bias. One reporter claimed on the Poynter Institutes Romenesko open blog for journalists that Yost "must not be watching the network nightly newscasts," yet thats exactly what Yost was criticizing. David Hannners, another Pioneer Press reporter, insisted the media have no obligation to present positive stories because war itself is a negative thing. Come again?
Fumento, as guest, gets to blow the IED. You cant do this kind of work from inside a barricaded hotel.
Behold, then, a clear double standard for columnists writing on Iraq. If you attack U.S. war efforts, you may do so all you wish from the safety and comfort of an American office. Conversely, dont even think about writing something positive unless youve spent time in Iraq – notwithstanding that your dispatches may be filed from the safety and comfort of a cozy hotel behind layers of concrete barriers and concertina wire.
One of the reporters who was gnawing on Yosts right leg and working her way up to the pelvis, Knight-Ridder Baghdad Bureau Chief Hannah Allam, challenged him to go to Baghdad, adding facetiously "it might be too far for Mr. Yost to travel (and I dont blame him, given the treacherous airport road to reach our fortress-like hotel)."
So shes admitting she stays in a heavily protected hotel, most of which are also in the safety of the Green Zone. She doesnt say that all civilians taking the airport road can travel in a vehicle thats so heavily armored it would take a nuclear improvised explosive to stop it.
As it happens, I did go to Iraq. I was embedded with the Marines at Camp Fallujah in hostile Anbar province, nearly lost my life, and returned with a colostomy bag as a souvenir. But before that I walked and drove through the streets of Fallujah, which for some odd reason fell off the media map right after the major blood-letting ended. I reported back on progress in reconstruction of buildings and providing electricity and water to parts of the area that NEVER had it. And I cant begin to count the e-mails I got from soldiers and Marines thanking me for telling it like it is.
Yost was right; media coverage on the war is terribly slanted – such that it may threaten our ability to win. This was much more clearly shown in the reaction to his piece than in the column itself. In any case, its astonishing that his attackers, from the distance and safety of Washington, D.C. or St. Paul, presume to know whats going on in Iraq.