The New York Times looks at the interim Iraqi government and tells its readers not that there is great hope and potential here, but that there's a great deal these people have to do to prove themselves -- to the New York Times. Maybe I've just missed it, but I still haven't seen any mention of the poll showing that the Iraqi people view the interim government as legitimate and popular in the Times. Why would it be mentioned? It isn't something the Times really cares about. That isn't the constituency the Good Gray Lady, in her heart of hearts, really believes important.
And the Lady is a strick taskmaster. (Uh, mistress. Work with me here, I had a thing going.)
Look at the way this article starts:
The four big smokestacks at the Doura power plant in Baghdad have always served as subversive truth-tellers. No matter what Saddam Hussein's propagandists said about electricity supplies, people knew they could get a better idea of the coming day's power by counting how many stacks at Doura were spewing smoke.
That's good isn't, it? It's got a homey, literary ring. It makes it sound as if it's about Saddam, and putting the blame on Saddam for the problems. When what its really doing is saying -- we aren't rubes. Don't try and fool us because we know what the score is (and we fully expect you to try and fool us.)
But what's this about?
More than a year into an aid effort that American officials likened to the Marshall Plan, occupation authorities acknowledge that fewer than 140 of 2,300 promised construction projects are under way. Only three months after L. Paul Bremer III, the American administrator who departed Monday, pledged that 50,000 Iraqis would find jobs at construction sites before the formal transfer of sovereignty, fewer than 20,000 local workers are employed. (My emph.)
How was that number calculated? Because State's figure, Bremer's figure, is a little different. Here's what the State Department says:
According to the fact sheet on reconstruction, the coalition has so far completed over 20,000 reconstruction projects employing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and will finance thousands of additional projects through more than $19 billion provided by the United States. Iraqi firms will be given priority in heading the new projects, which will create over a million and a half jobs for Iraqis next year. (My emph.)
That's an awfully big gap to be explained away purely by government "spin." There just ain't no government agency that bold. The difference is either the difference between what's ongoing and what's been completed, or the difference between Baghdad and country-wide. But there's enough of a discrepancy here that the Times is leaving something out (if only the fact that the CPA was claiming far more than the Times believes to be accurate. If the Times believes the CPA's numbers are that wrong, then isn't that newsworthy?)
But I especially love this:
At the same time, an economy that is supposed to become a beacon of free enterprise remains warped by central controls and huge subsidies for energy and food, leaving politically explosive policy choices for the fledgling Iraqi government
Yes, after being roundly criticized for what was called an effort to "Republicanize" the Iraqi economy, state enterprises were ultimately left for an Iraqi government to make determinations about. Ending the subsidies, it was decided, would have been just too disruptive. Now, after having sniped that many of Bremer's ideas would have been too much too soon, critics are sniping that Bremer didn't accomplish all he set out to do in fourteen months.
Here's another thing. More and more complaints are starting to surface in the press that the money allocated for reconstruction has been spent far too slowly. (No kidding.) For example:
Scrambling to speed up the process, the Pentagon has recently begun pumping out long-awaited money and work orders, committing $1.4 billion in just the last week even as a spreading insurgency cripples the ability of Western contractors to oversee their projects and has made targets of Iraqi workers.
Now, there's no doubt that the "insurgency" is a big part of the reason reconstruction is slow. But it's hardly the reason the money has been slow in getting into the country. But the American press will never consider the possibility that it might have an effect on events. Now, you might think that the effect is both legitimate and beneficial, you might think the effect is overblown and dangerous, but it would be foolish to not admit the fact that when the press goes on a bender that that isn't going to have some kind of impact. Like, for example, making sure that contracts for spending money in Iraq are double, triple, and quadruple checked before they leave the Pentagon and actually lead to goods getting into the country.
Here's the Times accounting:
Of the $9 billion in contracts the Pentagon has issued so far, only $5.2 billion has actually been nailed down for defined tasks. Most of those projects are still in planning stages, though officials insist that the rebuilding effort will soon flower.
From the outset the designing of projects and awarding of billions of dollars in contracts proved slower than some officials had imagined.
Among other things, planning, oversight and competitive procedures were tightened after some of the earliest postwar contracts, awarded without competition to companies including Halliburton, were tainted by evidence of waste and overcharging.
That's actually more fair than some I've seen, allowing as it does that there are real concerns slowing the contract process.
This comes deep in the article, but at least its there:
But even more, the glowing economic promises met the realities of Iraq. Decades of neglect, sanctions and war left the country's physical infrastructure in far worse condition than many expected. And as an anti-American uprising gained force, the reconstruction effort became a prime target, with oil pipes and power lines blown up as soon as they were repaired and Iraqi workers put in fear of retribution.
But, look at this:
But more than a year later, supplies of electricity and water are no better for most Iraqis, and in some cases are worse, than they were before the invasion in the spring of 2003.
I still think any time a reporter mentions this they should always bring up the fact that part of the reason some Iraqis have less power now is that the American insisted that the power be distributed equally across the country, something that was never true before. So of course Baghdadis are worse off -- and angrier. (And of course, those are the people who are available to be interviewed by reporters. They never talk to the Iraqis who'd never had power before.)
This kind of quote, for example, tells us more about the reporters than the situation in Iraq:
For Iraqis, the delays have bred frustration and anger. Recent interviews in the upscale Baghdad neighborhood of Harethiya suggest that the electricity woes have, among other things, created a nation of insomniacs, sweltering in their apartments through oppressive nights. (My emph.)
I'm sick to death of reading claims about the entire nation based on interviews in "upscale neighborhoods" in Baghdad. I'm sure that the reporter's fixers and translators, if they worked for the old Information Ministry, are happy to lead the reporters to these neighborhoods. At what point, exactly, will these guys figure out that there is only one way people got houses in upscale neighborhoods in Baghdad? If I had a big grant and a team of graduate students I would do a study of the percentage of interviews done in Sadr City and rich Baghdad neighborhoods, because it is way too damn high. Where are the interviews in quiet middle class neighborhoods?
And where's the argument defending the idea that such a neighborhood would be in any sense representative?
And information is, of course, partial.
One clear improvement is in telephone service, but an annoying patchwork system does not allow mobile phones from one part of the country to communicate easily with those in other parts.
That's temporary, and the hope is to get a single national, interconnected system. But there's kind of a feeling that the fact that a cell system could just spring to life is proof that there's an energy and vitality in Iraq to be encouraged and celebrated.
Look, nobody thinks the place is Shangri-la who's been paying any attention at all. But there is absolutely nothing new or newsworthy in this article. The point of it is to say that we left the Iraqis holding the bag, an unfinished job, made worse by the fact that mistakes were made and the security situation wasn't fixed.
Tell us something we don't know.
I mean it. Isn't that, after all, the point of a newspaper?
What if, instead of flogging poor Paul Bremer one last time the reporter had done something fresh and new -- something that still could have been done from within the Green Zone, I bet.
Which ministries will have responsibility for the economy? How will they intersect with reconstruction? Who are those ministers? What are their backgrounds? How do they feel about the economy? The US? The best why to spend the reconstruction dollar, the Iraqi economy, the way to intertwine the two?
Tell us something we don't know.
Update: You wanna talk media bias? Reporters are very well educated people, as a group. Many have very sophisticated tastes. Maybe they like talking to other well educated people with sophisticated tastes, gravitate towards them. If they begin to think of people like themselves as "average" (with no political undertones whatsoever) that might carry its own kind of bias, don't you think? It certainly can effect the way stories get written, as in this case, via Instapundit. (To be clear, I'm suggest a certain degree of naivety, not that there was an effort to fool people consciously made.)