The Therapy Sessions
Monday, July 19, 2004
What is wrong with the Times?
In Iraq, the Most Coveted Item Now Is a Passport
There is one thing the sovereign state of Iraq can offer its citizens today, and Iraqis are banging down the doors to get their hands on it: a passport out of the country.
Oh, here we go again.
The Times goes to a passport office in Baghdad. There, our intrepeid reporter finds several people who want to leave the country (surprise!). He interviews a few, and then determines that they are an adequate representation of their countrymen. A journalistic turn of phrase and - presto! A headline: Iraqis are banging down the doors to get out of their country.
Great color. It would be a great story, except it isn't exactly true.
There are certainly many Iraqis who do want out. In particular, ex-Baathists who fear revenge from the neighbors who they once intimidated. Too bad. The guys who once fed their neighbors into plastic shredders are now on the run. They are getting lost as quickly as they can, taking their stashes of wealth to the nearest passport office.
An ex-Baathist fleeing Iraq can be expected to say the things the New York Times wants its readers to hear.
But an ex-Baathist is not a good representative of the average Iraqi.
A writer for the Times isn't going to be troubled by opinion polls, or interview people who appreciate the freedom they now have to actually get a passport (there was no passport office in Saddam's Iraq).
The evidence that Iraqis are glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein and his "security" is overwhelming. The reporter certainly knows that Iraqi exiles have flooded back into the country, and that, on balance, the majority of immigrants have been traveling into Iraq. Iraqis are desperate to get the message out.
I could take a lesson from the Times. I could go to a group of people waiting in line to see "Farenheit 911," and I could ask them about Bush. Bang! I have my headline: Americans are desperate to vote Bush out of office!
Hey look at me! I'm a journalist!
Of course, my writings wouldn't exactly be true. The truth is usually more complex.
The Times has once again crossed the line: Instead of merely reporting news, it seeks to create it.