Our 'Est' Culture: How Should We Actually Measure Success?

On the way home from Virginia I read a piece in Time ("Hold The Cheers," 13 Dec. 2007) about the troop surge in Iraq. I wanted help in how to go for deeper understanding of how we're actually doing there - and not the processed nuggets of information we are fed by the national media.

This print article describes a much different yardstick for success than the Bush administration would have us use, and I thought it important to put it out there: while fewer combat deaths are of course desirable, circumstances on the ground make the calm there tenuous at best. Without a viable political structure, we can talk success all we want; you might want to think twice before you swallow the bullshit that the bragging administration spokespeople put out there.

Cut to this afternoon, when I caught The Situation Room reporting by Barbara Starr, which was, in my view, a gravely limited evaluation of what's going on over there. CNN's own sister magazine is reporting the whole story, but Starr's report - and the ensuing tag by Wolf - focused mainly on troop deaths. So, I fired off the following e-mail:

"To the Sit Room producers: Barbara Starr's reporting about combat-troop deaths was unbalanced and missing important pieces of how the country is still divided down religious and ethnic lines -- which, in *combination* with the so-called "surge," has produced lower fatalities.Does it actually matter that we've only lost 20 troops this month when 2.5 million Iraqis have been driven from their own country, and the ones who are there don't feel safe? This is YOUR reporting in Time, but it is apparently lost on CNN.In future reporting, please read articles like this one:


In it, Bobby Ghosh reports about the four elements that temper, and at worst, make irrelevant, any improvements in conditions there.I am SICK and tired of having CNN and other news outlets serve as an "EST" mouthpiece for the Bush administration ("fifth least", "safest month", "quietest week"). The time for that has come and gone now after pounding the drumbeat for war in the winter months of 2002.You are in effect doing their bragging for them -- you know as well as I do that they do that just fine without Barbara Starr's help.So... go back to the drawing board and pull these other threads into your reporting about combat deaths. otherwise, it's hollow, incomplete... and wrong."

All I'm urging you to do is not fall prey to flat, one-dimensional accounts of progress. And don't settle for a surface understanding (succumbing to highly palatable, simplified "Est" language) when something more meaningful is there when you dig deeper.
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