We seem to be picking on The New York Times this week, but if you want an example of the type of story that drives media critics nuts, look no further that this morning’s front-page piece by Mark Mazzetti, headlined, “Iraq Snapshots Give 2 Views.”
What about it offends the critics’ delicate sensibilities? It’s right there in the headline: the billing that there are basically two views on the war, which carries the implicit promise that Mazzetti is going to split the difference between pro-war and anti-war. He delivers on this promise fully, with a bloodless bit of he said-she said journalism masked as “News Analysis.”
That tag notwithstanding, there is precious little analysis in this piece. Mazzetti doesn’t do much more than report two sides of the debate. In the fourth paragraph, he sums up the entire piece, writing that, “With a promised progress report from the top American commander in Iraq now just six weeks away, partisans on both sides of the debate in Washington are searching desperately for evidence to bolster their judgments about the success or failure of the strategy that the Bush administration calls a ‘surge.’”
And the next two paragraphs don’t give us much red meat, either:
The war’s staunchest supporters have seized on the reduced death toll in July for American troops as a sign that an influx of troops is dampening sectarian violence in the country.
Yet even before the car bombings on Wednesday, opponents of the war were citing reports that the Iraqi civilian deaths were on the rise—a fact they say belies any notion that the White House strategy is having its intended effect of protecting the Iraqi population.
That’s pretty much all you’re going to get here, since the remainder of the piece essentially just goes back and forth between the two camps. The points Mazzetti raises are certainly valid, and do represent some of the major claims in the Iraq debate; but that debate is a rich brew of gripes, stats, historical analogies, projects completed and abandoned, mistakes, successes, innovation, and political maneuvering. Obviously, Mazetti’s piece wasn’t intended to capture all this (several books have barely captured all of it) but it also doesn’t make any headway in analyzing the situation, or even giving us anything new to chew over, either. A more apt tag would have been “News Summary.” It’s frustrating, because we need more from our best newspapers.