Deteriorating security in Iraq has made it much more difficult to provide the news coverage Americans need to understand the war and reconstruction efforts, journalists said on Friday.
As the military death toll rises, the media also is under pressure from critics in the US to cover the "good news" of the US-led reconstruction efforts, the journalists noted as part of a panel at the Associated Press Managing Editors conference. But the projects being rebuilt with US funds, often are inaccessible to reporters in Iraq, they said.
Tony Castaneda, now working in Baghdad for the AP, said he's also troubled by the media's inability to cover Sunni-dominated areas where the insurgency is brewing.
"It's nearly impossible for us to get in there and I would argue that nobody has a real understanding of where the Sunni Arab population is right now" politically, he said.
That thought was seconded by other panelists -- investigative reporters Seymour Hersh, whose book Chain of Command details the Abu Ghraib scandal, and Kevin Begos, who has reported on US reconstruction efforts for North Carolina's Winston-Salem Journal.
Both said the media has done a poor job of explaining what's going on in Iraq -- and both blamed Bush administration secrecy, along with the lack of security for journalists in Iraq, where at least 57 reporters and 22 support staffers have been killed since March 2003, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
"The thing we've done the poorest job on is really giving the Iraqi perspective of what's happened over the last two years. People who once welcomed us are much more suspicious now," Begos said.
"In past conflicts, reporters could for the most part move around," he said. "It's a whole different set of realities in Iraq that make it so much harder for journalists. There's such a mix of emotions and things happening and we're not getting the full feed of that. It must be confusing for readers."
Hersh described a "perfect trifecta" of problems as the conflict unfolds -- an Iran-friendly Shiite regime in the south that is hostile to Sunni-led Arab governments in nearby countries, an independence-minded Kurd region in the north that may go to war with Turkey, and a war of attrition in central Iraq.
"The exit plan is really simple, folks -- you're going to see fewer troops and more bombs," Hersh said. "We don't control anything outside the Green Zone," the fortified district of Baghdad where most non-Iraqis stay.
Hersh also predicted that the new Iraqi constitution practically guarantees civil war.
"The religions and ethnic divisions there are not only deep and complicated, we don't know much about them," he said.