Iraq's "Civil War" -- Will the Networks Ever Get It Right?

Wednesday’s Early Show on CBS carried a segment on Iraq emblazoned with the headline “Iraq Civil War.” The worry that Iraq is about to tip over into an all-out fight between the Sunnis and the Shiites has been thick in the media since terrorists bombed an important Shiite mosque a week ago. As CBS anchor Bob Schieffer announced that night (February 22): “One of the worst days ever in Iraq, and it’s Iraqis against Iraqis. A Middle East expert tells us the country has been plunged into civil war.”

But while there’s been a definite uptick in violence and death in the week since the mosque bombing, the “civil war” scenario has failed to materialize. On FNC’s Your World with Neil Cavuto earlier this afternoon, a panel discussed whether notions of an imminent Iraq “civil war” are a grim reality, or a media myth. Former CBS and NBC reporter Marvin Kalb spoke for the rest of the liberal establishment: "What is going on in Iraq now is deadly, serious stuff. People are dying there....This is not a myth. This is what is happening and the American people deserve to know the truth.”

Well, if Iraq’s future matches the current prognostications from the liberal media, it’s purely a matter of coincidence. Pessimistic media mavens have been fretting about a “civil war” since shortly after the coalition liberated Baghdad in April 2003. A brief review:

“Senator McCain, are you concerned that if the transfer of power does take place on June 30th that a huge vacuum will be created and it will be an invitation to civil war? Because no matter how deplorable Saddam Hussein was considered, he was the ultimate referee who kept the Sunnis and the Shiites apart from killing each other.” — NBC’s Katie Couric to John McCain on Today, April 5, 2004.

Moderator Bob Schieffer: “So what you’re saying is that we may be looking at something like a Yugoslavia there, which wasn’t really a country, but Tito held it together with the iron fist, and once he went, it really came apart.”
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman: “What we’re gonna find out, Bob, in the next six to nine months is whether we have liberated a country or uncorked a civil war.” — CBS’s Face the Nation, October 3, 2004.

Moderator Tim Russert: “Tipping point, could it tip back into a potential civil war if the Sunnis continue to stay out of the government?”
The ubiquitous Tom Friedman: “Absolutely. Right now in Iraq the big question, Tim, is can the Shiites, who will dominate the next government basically, will they reach out and share power?” — NBC’s Meet the Press, February 27, 2005.

“I’m Bob Schieffer. It just keeps getting worse in Iraq. The death toll is rising. Tension is growing between Shiites and Sunnis. Is the country sliding toward civil war?” — Schieffer beginning the May 19, 2005 CBS Evening News.

“Whenever violence breaks out, many go looking for old enemies to blame. US commanders have privately noted every time a bomb goes off in a Shiite neighborhood, something bad seems to happen in a Sunni area. And that simply adds the specter of civil war to the overall mayhem, which is probably just what the insurgents had in mind.” — CBS reporter Kimberly Dozier on the July 18, 2005 Evening News.

Senator John Thune: “I think we’re making, what I believe is progress in that direction.”
Host George Stephanopoulos: “But you say it’s progress. But there have been an awful lot of signs that it’s not. We know that they presented, for example, the constitution to the assembly but have not called a vote on it. We hear this opposition from the Sunnis, from Muqtada al Sadr. Aren’t you at all concerned that this constitution may in fact be a prelude to civil war? That it may be deepening the divisions?” — ABC’s This Week, August 28, 2005.

Maybe this time the networks will be right in predicting doom for the mission in Iraq. But their track record thus far suggests reasons for optimism.

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