Truth and Fantasy

We are well into a cultural moment where the concept of “journalism,” at least in the minds of the blog-reading and cable news-watching public, has become nebulous. But even some self-proclaimed “citizen journalists” and political partisans have grown weary of wailing about “bias” in the media — a label, as far as we can tell, they attach to any report that doesn’t conform to their own biases. So now they’re taking it up a notch, busily setting about to create their own reality. And quite a reality it is, it turns out — a place where, among other miracles, things are going great in Iraq.

Exhibit A: An upcoming “Truth Tour” of right-wing radio talk show hosts (who better to report the truth?) is leaving on Friday for Iraq to let Americans know that things couldn’t be better over there. And how, exactly, do we know what they’ll report back before they even leave? Because they’ve already told us.

As one of the trip’s organizers, retired Col. Buzz Patterson recently wrote on the Villainous Company blog: “The good news [in Iraq] exponentially outweighs what CNN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post would have us (you) believe.”

The truth, they say, sets you free. It has certainly set Patterson free from “reporting” anything so far, other than his already-solidified opinion that the media (as one monolithic entity with a single, agreed-upon agenda) isn’t leveling with the American people. Yes, somehow, Buzz and his cohorts, sitting in their cool, dark radio studios stateside, have somehow beat the hundreds of reporters actually in Iraq to the scoop: Iraq is in great shape! And now they’re taking a trip, with government-approved handlers, to Baghdad’s “Green Zone,” essentially a heavily guarded and fortified American military outpost in Baghdad, to prove it. From there, they’ll regurgitate military press releases and ready-made quotes from commanders and flacks.

See? Reporting isn’t so hard after all!

According to, “Mark Williams, talk show host for KFBK in Sacramento and a member of the delegation, said the group will report ‘what we see and what we are told,’ but their collective feeling is that there is mostly good. ‘We are Americans first and journalists second, as opposed to the crop of “pinkos” that tell us on the news every night that America is going to hell in a hand basket,’ he said.”

Now, it’s unclear if Williams truly believes that the nightly news, as reported by broadcast and cable outlets, is brought to us entirely by “pinkos,” or if this is just a gimmick to polish his conservative bona fides, but his quote couldn’t illuminate the situation better. He and his fellow truth-squadders are guilty of precisely what they accuse the mainstream media of — reporting their own political convictions as independent truths.

And when we say that they’re “reporting,” we use that word loosely, since members of this group have done about as much reporting in their lives as your basic pet shop parrot. Never have most of them even attempted a reporter’s basic task, which is, suppressing preconceived notions, to go, see, come back and tell.

“This is the most pathetic thing I’ve heard in a long time. They should be ashamed of themselves,” New Republic editor Peter Beinart told Fox. “They have no idea what journalism is, and to pretend they are journalists is laughable,” Beinart said. “You do not achieve victory by not facing reality. I think these are the kinds of people that will lead us to lose there.”

Such downbeat negativism is not for Buzz, who already knows what’s what in Iraq. “The war is being won, if not already won,” he told Fox. “[Iraq] is stabilized.”

Since the conclusions are already reached, we have a suggestion and a cautionary note for the group: Save yourself the trouble. Even getting from the airport to the Green Zone is going to introduce you to an Iraq you do not want to understand. And before you know it, if you’re not careful, you might actually find yourself reporting.

Sometimes reality does that to a person.

Paul McLeary

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.