Troops as Props: Decoding the Press Reports From Gates’ Trip to Iraq


What a strange little world the traveling press is. On Wednesday, an AP story led with the sentence, “Defense Secretary Robert Gates found American commanders wary of a proposal to rush more U.S. troops to Iraq as he visited the war-ravaged country.” The body of the story was the same rundown of “will-he-or-won’t-he” material: Bush is considering sending more troops, which means Gates is considering sending more troops, Gen. Casey says this, Gen. Abizaid says this, yada yada. The only new nugget was in the lede: commanders on the ground, to whom Bush promised to listen, don’t really buy the idea. Not good for the Bushies, if they know sending more troops is likely, or inevitable.

And then this morning, a new AP story with the lede, “U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the rest of the Bush administration may be undecided on whether to send more troops to Iraq. But several soldiers he met with at Camp Victory here on Thursday morning said extra forces would help.”

The story makes note of the dissonance between the commanders’ feelings and the troops’ feelings, but I can’t help but feel the press has been suckered. Was this a PR job intended to repair the damage of Wednesday’s story? The military knew the press would be watching Gates eat his scrambled eggs with the soldiers; in fact, the military probably invited the press and made sure they’d be there. Were the soldiers selected because their viewpoints were likely to match the message the military wanted to get out? Or worse, were they coached? It’s not like this would be the first time the administration used the troops as props in a media stunt.

Maybe the soldiers on the ground really do wish they had more of their colleagues helping out. It’s not surprising: why wouldn’t they want someone to share the burden on a difficult and unwinnable situation? But Nick Kristof noted in February that a poll examining soldiers’ opinions on the war found 72 percent wanted to withdraw in a year and 29 percent wanted to withdraw immediately. So we’re expected to believe that it just so happened that Gates met with a crowd of soldiers and every one present was in the minority of troops that wants to prolong the war? Smells as rotten as a fake turkey.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate