Dallas Morning News offered mediocre performance in pre-war coverage

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By CAINE O’REAR
Observer Staff
March 19, 2008

On Feb. 17, 2003, The Dallas Morning News broadened the scope of its Iraq coverage. The paper’s lead article addressed the debate among Arab intellectuals over the prospect of a U.S.-led war in Iraq. One Arab journalist said the war would mark the return of colonialism. Another said it was all about oil. A Kuwaiti Air Force general, certain that Saddam Hussein possessed banned weapons, said an invasion was justified.


Photo courtesy of newseum.org.

The News did not run any other front-page articles about the debate among Arab intellectuals before the invasion. But they did run several articles that depicted viewpoints different from those espoused by the Bush administration.

Findings:

– 43 issues featured Iraq-related articles on front page
– 14 issues featured more than one Iraq-related article on front page
– 21 lead articles on front page were Iraq-related
– 28 of the main Iraq-related articles concerned U.N. negotiations
– 10 Iraq-related editorials appeared on editorial page
– 10 Iraq-related editorials supported case for war
– 36 issues featured one or more Iraq-related letters to the editorials
– 21 issues featured anti-war letters in a prominent position in the letters section

Some critics have alleged that the media failed in its coverage during the run-up to war. These critics claim the media were little more than a mouthpiece for the Bush administration, unwilling to challenge them on any front.

. . .

The Dallas Morning News did not fail completely in its coverage leading up to the invasion of Iraq, as many critics have alleged. However, the paper could have incorporated more viewpoints on the front page, as well as devoted more coverage to other Iraq topics, including post-war planning and the invasion’s possible implications for the greater Middle East. For that reason, the paper gets a mere passing grade.

In the six weeks before the invasion, the main storyline in the American media involved the diplomatic battle being waged by the Bush administration within the U.N.

The same held true for The News. Most of the stories involving the U.N. battle were written by reporters in the paper’s Washington bureau. And most of the articles focused on whether the U.N. Security Council shou¬¬¬¬ld be allowed more time for weapons inspections. France and Germany had called for more time, while the U.S. said inspections had failed. Articles of this kind succeeded in showing both sides of the argument.

An Iraq-related related article appeared on the front page of the paper every day for six weeks prior to the invasion. So The News was definitely not asleep. They devoted a wealth of coverage to the issue. It can be assumed that the Iraq articles they ran during that time were deemed to be the most important of the day by the editors.
There were few articles on the front page that showed different points of view. A story about the debate among Arab intellectuals was written by Jim Landers of the paper’s Washington bureau. But there could have been more.

The paper could also have devoted more coverage to post-war plans. One front-page article from The Washington Post was not sufficient. The administration had announced it would assume full control of Iraq, once Hussein had been deposed. The subject warranted closer inspection. How would it work? What were the specifics? Gregory Katz, reporting out of the paper’s Europe bureau, wrote a March 4 article on the possibility of the invasion inciting violence in other parts of the Middle East. Katz was the only reporter based overseas filing reports on Iraq that appeared on the front page. Perhaps having more reporters based overseas would have widened the scope of the paper’s coverage.

The editorial page supported the war wholeheartedly. Still, more questions could have been raised about the existence of alleged weapons, and plans for the post-war occupation. However, all the editorials did not echo the words of the Bush administration. For example, the editorial page conceded that France’s prediction of escalating violence as a result of the invasion “could prove prophetic.”

In July 2007, the editorial page admitted it had failed in accepting the administration’s case for war. “Americans had reasonable expectations that an invasion of such magnitude would include a viable, well-orchestrated postwar plan to bring stability and democracy to Iraq,” the editorial said. “How wrong we were.”

This article is an excerpt from Caine O’Rear’s “The Dallas Morning News on Iraq: A Mediocre Performance.” Read the full story here.

The American University School of Communication Graduate Program in Journalism works to prepare students for the realities of today's news and information space and the challenges of tomorrow. Find out more by visiting us online at soc.american.edu

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