Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Why They Hate Us

Good stuff...

St. Paul Pioneer Press
July 12, 2005

Why They Hate Us

By Mark Yost

This is a belated Fourth of July column (superseded by the state shutdown). The headline isn't a prelude to a column justifying why the Islamists hate Westerners so much that they're pouring into Iraq to kill our soldiers (along with innocent fellow Arabs, including Egyptian diplomats). Or defending the sleeper cells planted to blow up Madrid, London and who knows where next. Rather, it's about why most Americans, particularly soldiers, hate the media.

I decided to become a journalist when I was a soldier. I was in the U.S. Navy in the early and mid-1980s — "the glory years," as I like to say, a reference to President Ronald Reagan. As part of my duties, I went to some of the world's hot spots.

While sailing in the South China Sea, my ship picked up some refugee boat people on a rickety raft that I wouldn't take out on Como Lake, much less try to float across the Pacific Ocean. One of the survivors, shortly after coming up the accommodation ladder dripping wet, grabbed me (the nearest sailor), hugged me as tightly as his strength would allow, and could only murmur "thank you" through sobs of joy.

I'd then come back to the U.S. and read accounts of places I'd just been — in papers like the New York Times and Washington Post —that bore no resemblance to what I'd seen. There was one exception: the Wall Street Journal editorial page. I began reading a column called "Thinking Things Over" by Vermont Connecticut Royster, one of the legends of that august page. He would later become a mentor — a God, really — and I eventually worked there.

I'm reminded of why I became a journalist by the horribly slanted reporting coming out of Iraq. Not much has changed since the mid-1980s. Substitute "insurgent" for "Sandinista," "Iraq" for "Soviet Union," "Bush" for "Reagan" and "war on terror" for "Cold War," and the stories need little editing. The U.S. is "bad," our enemies "understandable" if not downright "good."

I know the reporting's bad because I know people in Iraq. A Marine colonel buddy just finished a stint overseeing the power grid. When's the last time you read a story about the progress being made on the power grid? Or the new desalination plant that just came on-line, or the school that just opened, or the Iraqi policeman who died doing something heroic? No, to judge by the dispatches, all the Iraqis do is stand outside markets and government buildings waiting to be blown up.

I also get unfiltered news from Iraq through an e-mail network of military friends who aren't so blinded by their own politics that they can't see the real good we're doing there. More important, they can see beyond their own navel and see the real good we're doing to promote peace and prosperity in the world. What makes this all the more ironic is the fact that the people who are fighting and dying want to stay and the people who are merely observers want to cut and run.

I feel for these soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan because I'm sure they're coming home and noticing the same disconnect that I did when I served. Moreover, stories about their families and others who are here and trying to make a difference largely go unreported.

Ever heard of Soldiers' Angels (http:soldiersangels.homestead.com/index.html) or Operation Minnesota Nice (www.operationminnesotanice.com)?

Probably not.

There have been just two mentions of Operation Minnesota Nice by the Twin Cities metro dailies, one a brief in the Pioneer Press and the other a front-page story in the paper across the river. Operation Minnesota Nice collects care packages — of baby wipes, lip balm, baby powder and other items — for soldiers serving overseas. Soldiers' Angels does the same thing, mating civilians who maybe don't have a loved one overseas with soldiers who don't have loved ones.

Where's the daily coverage of these groups and others like them?

Moreover, where are the stories on nearly every VFW and American Legion hall that's actively supporting the troops? What about their stories?

Instead, we get Monday's front-page story about a "secret" memo about "emerging U.S. plans" to withdraw troops next year. Why isn't the focus of the story the fact that 14 of 18 Iraqi provinces are stable and the four that aren't are primarily home to the genocidal gang of thugs who terrorized that country for 30 years?

And reporters wonder why they're despised.

Yost is associate editor of the Pioneer Press editorial page.
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