Media's Basra Narrative Falls Apart. What's the Effect on the Election?

Here's the New York Times on March 27th, 2008 - Iraqi Army's Assault on Militias in Basra Stalls:

An assault by thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police officers to regain control of the southern port city of Basra stalled Wednesday as Shiite militiamen in the Mahdi Army fought daylong hit-and-run battles and refused to withdraw from the neighborhoods that form their base of power there.

Here's the New York Times on March 30th, 2008 - Shiite Militias Cling to Swaths of Basra and Stage Raids:

Shiite militiamen in Basra openly controlled wide swaths of the city on Saturday and staged increasingly bold raids on Iraqi government forces sent five days ago to wrest control from the gunmen, witnesses said, as Iraqi political leaders grew increasingly critical of the stalled assault.

Witnesses in Basra said members of the most powerful militia in the city, the Mahdi Army, were setting up checkpoints and controlling traffic in many places ringing the central district controlled by some of the 30,000 Iraqi Army and police forces involved in the assault. Fighters were regularly attacking the government forces, then quickly retreating.

Here's the New York Times on March 31, 2008 - Firsthand Look at Basra Shows Value of White Flag:

The next morning, Iraqi Interior Ministry forces in a part of the city they supposedly controlled were ambushed with heavy weapons at a hotel 50 yards from mine. On Sunday morning, after I had hired someone to drive me out of the city, an Iraqi soldier fired at our tires but missed. We did not stop.

Iraqi forces started their assault on the Shiite militias in Basra on Tuesday. Whatever the initial goal of the operation, by the time I arrived in Basra it was a patchwork of neighborhoods that were either deserted or overrun by Mahdi fighters. There were scattered Iraqi Army and police checkpoints, but no place seemed to be truly under government control.

Here's Richard Miniter on March 31, 2008 - All The News That Fits:

When reporters write in the first person, the result is rarely good. There are exceptions (such as Peter Kann's Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the war in Bangladesh in 1971 for the Wall Street Journal), but the exceptions tend to prove the rule. Take today's New York Times dispatch from Basra.

Today's coverage of the Iraqi government's fight for Basra is a clear example of the rule.
First of all, who is Qais Mizher, who owns the byline on the piece? Well, he tells us this in passing: "Calling on my experience as a captain in the Iraqi Army before the 2003 invasion and essentially a war correspondent since then..." Got that? The New York Times reporter was an officer in Saddam's army. Nice. By the way, officers were not drafted (that's how the enlisted ranks were filled). Officers had to be selected and regularly vetted for loyalty and effectiveness. So Saddam decided that he could trust our intrepid correspondent and so did the New York Times.

Makes you wonder: Would the Times have hired former Nazi officers to cover the three-year insurgency against the American presence in Germany in the late 1940s? Even if they spoke the language, knew the countryside well and said they "never really believed" in that evil ideology?

And is it smart to send an Iraqi Army captain from the Saddam era to cover the actions of the new Iraqi army? Are they likely to welcome him? Is likely to view them fairly?

Here's a story in the World Politics Review from April 3, 2008 - Was Basra Failure Due to Maliki's Poor Planning?:

The result in Basra clearly did not reflect well on the Iraqi Security Forces. But American officials and other prominent advocates of the idea that victory is within reach -- or at least possible -- in Iraq are saying in the wake of the Basra fighting that the Iraqi Security Forces' poor performance was more a consequence of the poor planning of ISF commanders and Iraqi governemnt officials -- all the way up to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- than of ground-level combat unreadiness.

Here's a story in the New York Times from April 4, 2008 -- More Than 1,000 in Iraq's Forces Quit Basra Fight:

More than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen either refused to fight or simply abandoned their posts during the inconclusive assault against Shiite militias in Basra last week, a senior Iraqi government official said Thursday. Iraqi military officials said the group included dozens of officers, including at least two senior field commanders in the battle.

The desertions in the heat of a major battle cast fresh doubt on the effectiveness of the American-trained Iraqi security forces. The White House has conditioned further withdrawals of American troops on the readiness of the Iraqi military and police.  

And here's the New York Times on page A1 yesterday, May 12th, 2008 - Drive in Basra by Iraqi Army Makes Gains:

Three hundred miles south of Baghdad, the oil-saturated city of Basra has been transformed by its own surge, now seven weeks old.

In a rare success, forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have largely quieted the city, to the initial surprise and growing delight of many inhabitants who only a month ago shuddered under deadly clashes between Iraqi troops and Shiite militias.

There was a very dramatic and interesting story being played out in Basra over the past month and a half, as anyone who reads The Long War Journal or any of the other major military blogs could tell you. As with any battle within a war, it consisted of several "ups", and many "downs" -- but in the end the outcome of the battle is being determined by the quality of both our armed forces and the forces of the nascent Iraqi military, coupled with the Basra residents' abject disdain of the enemy -- the Iranian supported Mahdi Army. The problem for the American public is that they were never told this story -- the New York Times and the rest of the drive-by press had determined in late March and early April that Basra was yet another Iraqi and U.S. failure.

Faced with the absolute failure of their latest prediction, the New York Times was forced to publish a story contradicting their earlier conclusions yesterday. Rest assured that this will be the last story about Basra in the NYT, at least until there is more bad news to be disseminated for the benefit of our enemies.

All Democratic (and even some GOP) pundits will tell you that the public's overwhelming disapproval of the Iraq War will be a major factor benefiting the Dems up and down the ballot in the fall elections.

One can't help but wonder if the public were presented with the actual narrative of what is going on today in Iraq, good and bad, they'd be able to determine for themselves that the fight is worth winning. And conversely, they'd be able to determine that failure in Iraq would make any of the problems we see today in that region pale in comparison.

The overwhelming majority of Americans like winners, not losers. That's true in their personal lives, their work lives, entertainment (see the popularity of American Idol), and with their military. And when the American public feels like they are winning, by any definition, they are repulsed by any suggestion that they concede defeat - "don't quit while you're ahead".

Independents and the so-called Reagan Democrats, the voting blocks most critical to both parties in November 2008, fall right into the middle of that overwhelming majority.