“I really resent the fact that people say that we’re not reflecting the true picture here. That’s totally unfair and it’s really unfounded,” CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan said on CNN’s Reliable Sources today.
Howard Kurtz said: “Critics would say, well, no wonder people back home think things are falling apart because we get this steady drumbeat of negativity from the correspondents there.”
Logan responded: “Well, who says things aren’t falling apart in Iraq? I mean, what you didn’t see on your screens this week was all the unidentified bodies that have been turning up, all the allegations here of militias that are really controlling the security forces…”
The full transcript is after the jump…
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today from Baghdad to here at home we turn our critical lens on this charge: that the media are providing a distorted picture on Iraq.
I’m Howard Kurtz.
President Bush and Vice President Cheney launched an all-out blitz to sell their policy this week, and the media’s tendency to focus on the violence in Iraq was part of their message.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Perception, if you will, that’s created because what’s newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad. It’s not all the work that went on that day in 15 other provinces in terms of making progress towards rebuilding Iraq.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Footage of children playing or shops opening and people resuming their normal lives will never be as dramatic as the footage of an IED explosion.
They’re capable of blowing up innocent life so it ends up on your TV show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And joining us now from Baghdad is Laura Logan, chief foreign correspondent for CBS News.
Lara Logan, you just heard the president and the vice president.
LARA LOGAN, CBS NEWS: Thank you for having me.
KURTZ: Thank you.
Bush and Cheney essentially seem to be accusing you and your colleagues of carrying the terrorist message by reporting on so many of these attacks. What do you make of that?
LOGAN: Well, I think that’s — that is a very convenient way of looking at it. It doesn’t reflect the value judgment that’s implicit in that.
As a journalist, if an American soldier or an Iraqi person dies that day, you have to make a decision about how you weigh the value of reporting that news over the value of something that may be happening, say, a water plant that’s being turned on that brings fresh water to 200 Iraqi people. I mean, you get accused of valuing human life in a certain way depending on how you report it.
And also, as — I mean, what I would point out is that you can’t travel around this country anymore without military protection. You can’t travel without armed guards. You’re not free to go every time there’s a school opening or there’s some reconstruction project that’s being done.
We don’t have the ability to go out and cover those. If they want to see a fair picture of what’s happening in Iraq, then you have to first start with the security issue.
When journalists are free to move around this country, then they will be free to report on everything that’s going on. But as long as you’re a prisoner of the terrible security situation here, then that’s going to be reflected in your coverage.
And not only that, but their own figures show that their reconstruction project was supposed to create 1.5 million Iraqi jobs. To date, 77,000 Iraqi government jobs have been created. That should give you an indication of how far along they are in terms of reconstruction.
We have to put everything in its context. We can’t go to one small unit and say, oh, they did a great job in this village and ignore all the other villages that haven’t seen any improvement in their conditions.
KURTZ: There is no question that the dangerous conditions for journalists there are making it much harder to report on some of these signs of progress, as you point out. But I look at just the last couple of weeks of your coverage. Besides covering the Saddam trial, you reported on allegations that U.S. troops had killed a group of civilians. Then you reported an attack on a police station, the bombing of a police convoy, you talked about the threat of a civil war.
All legitimate stories. But critics would say, well, no wonder people back home think things are falling apart because we get this steady drumbeat of negativity from the correspondents there.
LOGAN: Well, who says things aren’t falling apart in Iraq? I mean, what you didn’t see on your screens this week was all the unidentified bodies that have been turning up, all the allegations here of militias that are really controlling the security forces.
What about all the American soldiers that died this week that you didn’t see on our screens? I mean, we’ve reported on reconstruction stories over and over again, but the order to (ph) general for Iraqi reconstruction says that only 49 of well over 100 planned electricity projects happened.
So we can’t keep doing the same stories over and over again. When a police station’s attacked, that’s something new that happened this week. If you had any idea of the number of Iraqis that come to us with stories of abuses of U.S. soldiers and you look at our coverage over the last — my coverage over the last few weeks, or even over the last three years, there’s been maybe two or three stories that have related to that.
So, I mean, we have to do the stories that when we’ve tested them and tested them and checked all our sources, and that they are legitimate stories on that day, that that is the biggest news coming out of Iraq, then that’s what we have to do.
KURTZ: So what you’re saying…
LOGAN: I mean, I really resent the fact that people say that we’re not reflecting the true picture here. That’s totally unfair and it’s really unfounded.
KURTZ: So what you’re saying is that what we see on the “CBS Evening News” or other networks actually is only a snapshot, is only perhaps scratching the surface of the kinds of violence and difficulties that you are witnessing day after day because you can only get so much of this on the air?
LOGAN: Oh, yes. Absolutely. And, I mean, our own — you know, our own editors back in New York are asking us the same things.
They read the same comments. You know, are there positive stories? Can’t you find them?
You don’t think that I haven’t been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let’s see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on? Oh, sorry, we can’t take to you that school project, because if you put that on TV, they’re going to be attacked about, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack.
Oh, sorry, we can’t show this reconstruction project because then that’s going to expose it to sabotage. And the last time we had journalists down here, the plant was attacked.
I mean, security dominates every single thing that happens in this country.
Reconstruction funds have been diverted to cover away from reconstruction to — they’ve been diverted to security.
Soldiers, their lives are occupied most of the time with security issues.
Iraqi civilians’ lives are taken up most of the time with security issues.
So how it is that security issues should not then dominate the media coverage coming out of here?
KURTZ: I want to play for you a piece of tape involving Laura Ingraham, the conservative radio talk show how who was on “The Today Show” earlier this week and criticized “The Today Show” for not doing more from Iraq.
Let’s listen to what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: To do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military, to go out with the Iraqi military, to actually have a conversation with the people instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What do you make of that comment about reporting from hotel balconies?
LOGAN: Well, I think it’s outrageous. I mean, Laura Ingraham should come to Iraq and not be talking about what journalists are doing from the comfort of her studio in the United States, the comfort and the safety.
I mean, I don’t know any journalist that wants to just sit in a hotel room in Iraq. Does anybody understand that for us we used to be able to drive to Ramadi, we used to drive to Falluja, we used to drive to Najaf. We could travel all over this country without having to fly in military helicopters.
That’s the only way we can move around here. So, it’s when the military can accommodate us, if the military can accommodate us, then we can go out and see.
I have been out with Iraqi security forces over and over again. And you know what? When Bob Woodruff was out with Iraqi security forces and he was injured, the first thing that people were asking was, oh, was he being responsible by placing himself in this position with Iraqi forces? And they started to question his responsibility and integrity as a journalist.
I mean, we just can’t win. I think it’s an outrage to point the finger at journalists and say that this is our fault. I really do. And I think it shows an abject lack of respect for any journalist that’s prepared to come to this country and risk their lives.
KURTZ: All right. I do…
LOGAN: And that’s not just me. That’s the crews, that’s all the people that make up our teams here.
KURTZ: I do want to point out that Laura Ingraham was in Iraq last month for eight days, and that was part of the reason for her appearance.
Lara Logan, stay with us. I want to bring…
LOGAN: For eight days.
KURTZ: I want to bring into our discussion Richard Wolffe, “Newsweek” senior White House correspondent, and Pam Hess, Pentagon correspondent for UPI.
Pam Hess, you spent nine weeks in Iraq. What do you make of this notion that some people apparently have that reporters are reporting from the balconies when basically some of them are just trying to avoid getting blown up?
PAMELA HESS, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL: And I’ve actually spent five months in Iraq over the last three years.
Television reports from balconies because that’s where the infrastructure was.
But I was up in Tal Afar with Laura Logan. I can promise you that she’s out in the country. And everything that Lara Logan said is true.
But there’s an important part here. And it’s — and it sort of plays in with what the president said, which is, news media is biased towards drama. And in an insurgent campaign, drama is always on the side of the insurgents. So there is something that we need to do as reporters, which is to recognize how media is used by both sides, by the U.S. and by the insurgents, and try to balance our coverage that way.
And the way that you do that is by developing sources within the military who are out in other places where you can find out about things that are going on that you can’t get to.
KURTZ: Whatever the reasons, Richard Wolffe, is it true, does the administration at least have a point that the press is not giving us a complete picture of what’s happening in Iraq?
RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”: No, I don’t think so. Let’s face it, the administration is winding down spending on reconstruction. And, at the same time, they’re going out saying, we should do more reconstruction stories. It’s a bogus argument.
The reason they’re doing it is a political strategy. It’s much easier to talk about the media. It’s a common enemy for their base, for their supporters, than it is to talk about Iraq itself, to talk about port security, to talk about immigration.
It’s a political — it’s a political ploy, and it’s successful. But that’s what it is.
KURTZ: Pam Hess, are there times when you want to report on something the military has done, perhaps something more positively, and you don’t get much help from the Pentagon?
HESS: Just this week, as a matter of fact, we asked Donald Rumsfeld and Admiral Giambastiani about the successful hostage rescue in Baghdad which released the British hostages that had been there. One of their — a number — an American had been killed. And they punted on it. They said read the transcript from Baghdad. They didn’t tell us about it.
So when we want to report something positive, a rescue, they didn’t give us the information.
KURTZ: Richard Wolffe, the people who complain that the coverage of Iraq is bias — and there are a lot of them out there…
KURTZ: … do they want objective reporting?
WOLFFE: No, they don’t. They want to replace one piece of bias with another. And that’s what we should know about the sort of bias witch hunt that has been going on, not just about Iraq, but about politics and political reporting in general over the last 18 months or so.
If they were defending objective reporting, they would say, let’s uphold journalistic standards that many journalists, by and large, want to support and perform and execute every day. In fact, what they’re saying is, no, set aside the violence and just deal with the positive things. It’s not a reporter’s job…
KURTZ: I don’t think they’re saying just deal with the positive aspects.
WOLFFE: They are saying that the balance is wrong and they want to see us doing things that advance a cause. Our job is not to advance a cause. Our job is to report on what’s newsworthy.
Why do cable shows talk about the murder of pretty young women and not about positive things in life like childbirth or cooking? Why? Because what grabs people’s attention is violence and murder. It’s a fact of life.
KURTZ: All right.
Lara Logan in Baghdad, do you sometimes get flack from the military over your reporting or of this perception that television trains its camera lens particularly on negative news and on the continuing spate of attacks?
LOGAN: You know, it’s a question that soldiers often raise with me, but from watching my report and knowing my work, they know that I am extremely fair and extremely balanced and don’t just go out and do the bad news stories. So it’s not so much an issue for me.
I mean, I’d like to point out, I’ve been vilified by certain Web sites because of my recent piece on Tal Afar, where I showed how the administration is taking back a city and is working to rebuild the city and improve the situation for Iraqi lives. I mean, you really can’t win.
You’re in a situation where you’re being attacked by both sides. And I can honestly tell you that you go out and you report to the best of your ability based on years and years of doing this. You frame it in a context that is the most accurate. And you hope that the picture that you present overall reflects the picture that you see on the ground here.
And I really — the soldiers ask about it, but I think that, you know, the smarter ones realize that journalists report what they see. And we’re very, very fair. And there’s a lot of stuff that you pick up from being with the soldiers that the military would hate you to have out there on air.
And if you’re — you know, if you’re smart enough and you can put in it your context, you realize that may be the view of an individual soldier who is tired of being here after six months, and so you don’t put it out there. But you do have to use your judgment.
KURTZ: Absolutely. It’s interesting that you are getting it from both sides, not just people who think that the coverage is too negative.
Lara Logan, in Baghdad, thanks very much for joining us. Stay safe. We appreciate it.
Up next, the president takes his P.R. blitz on the war into dangerous territory, the White House briefing room.