In August 2005, the Associated Press was put on notice by readers and editors that the stream of negative AP reports from Iraq needed to be balanced with positives from Iraq. The AP responded by posting FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions) on their website explaining how the war is covered. Based on a review of Associated Press articles in October 2005, the FAQ’s should be renamed the “falsely answered questions”.
The AP claimed their stories focused on “political developments in Iraq, writing daily about both political success and stalled efforts”. Based on Internet searches, the AP published approximately 207 articles about the war in Iraq during October 2005. Out of the 207 articles, 127 began with negative titles. In addition, titles of 65 articles referred to deaths in Iraq.
The AP was obsessed with reports of deaths in October, fueled by the countdown to the 2000 mark. Articles such as, “A Daily Look at US Military Deaths in Iraq”, saturated the news from the AP. They meticulously counted every single death in the march to the 2000th death with “Deadly Milestone Nears…”, “US Military Death Toll Hits 1999” and “Bracing For More Losses”. The AP tried to use different tactics when coming up with titles for the articles of death including one that read “Military Announces Four New Soldier Deaths”. When the 2000th US soldier died, the AP trumpeted the news with “Grim Milestone for US Military in Iraq”. It was followed by “The Fallen 2000”, “A Personal Look at Some Who Died in Iraq” and “Quarter of Dead are National Guard Troops”.
The article, “A Look at US Military Deaths in Iraq War”, treated the deaths as statistics. The writer, Jeff Donn, called it a “numerical portrait of US military members who have died so far in the war in Iraq.” Other articles started out reporting other news from Iraq but then tossed in some news of deaths for good measure.
What about the balance of negative and positive reports from Iraq? I reviewed 94 Associated Press articles from October 2005. Of the 94 articles reviewed, 58 were overall negative reports. Balanced articles (positive and negative reports) totaled 30. How many articles came across as strictly positive? SIX! Yes - 6 out of the 93 were positive reports from Iraq.
In the FAQ’s, the AP claimed that reconstruction efforts were frequently covered in the stories. Reconstruction in Iraq was mentioned less than 10 times in the 94 articles reviewed. Even when describing reconstruction efforts, the AP managed to throw in some “yes, but’s” in the mix – for example, electricity supply has risen steadily but well below the projected goal. Several times, the reconstruction reporting was buried in an article that was overtly negative such as the reconstruction of electricity plants covered in the article “AP Count Tallies Suicide Bombing Deaths”.
The October stories from AP covered the trial of Saddam Hussein extensively. One day of hearings provided the AP with over 25 stories. Several writers were very sympathetic to the plight of Saddam Hussein. Hussein was described as “defiant” with the same “swagger and smirk”. Miriam Fam proclaimed “throughout pre-trial hearings, Saddam has tried to put on a tough face after the humiliation of his capture and captivity.” Nadia Abou El-Magd called Saddam a “consummate survivor in Iraq’s cutthroat politics” and described how he had been seen “mostly in humiliating photos” since being taken into custody.
The vote on the Iraq Constitution was the leading topic covered in October. Since it was such a momentous step in Iraq’s road to democracy, you would think that negative reporting on the vote would be difficult. Not for the Associated Press. While most of the stories were balanced, some could not resist playing up the “stolen votes” theory. Articles ranged from “Numbers May Not Add Up” to “Questions, Delays in Iraq Vote”. Of course, there were several stories about the “disenfranchised” Sunnis and the lack of violence on voting day.
The Associated Press did admit to attempting to get information from insurgents or from the sympathizers. Most people were aware of this considering that the AP photographers, especially Bilal Hussein, frequently post photos of insurgents firing at US soldiers. An AP photo of insurgents murdering an Iraqi election worker won the coveted Pulitzer Prize.
The Associated Press does a great disservice to Americans and US soldiers with the overwhelming negative reports from Iraq. Americans do not want a sugar-coated version of the war. We only want fair coverage – both negative and positive. Even the soldiers have asked for more balance in the media coverage of the war in Iraq. Based on the October 2005 coverage, balance from the AP is just a FAQ.