So how are we doing in Iraq? What are those tens of thousands of our sons and daughters, brothers and wives, doing in that distant land? We went there to help build freedom and make the world safer for all. What’s the progress report?

I checked the Associated Press photo wire today to get an overview of the war as it is seen through the eyes of the Associated Press. I looked back through all the pictures for the previous week. Here’s what I saw keywording “soldier” and “Iraq” on the AP:

  • Sixteen pictures of Sgt. Kevin Benderman and/or various members of his family and defense team. Benderman is an Army mechanic who refused to go to Iraq while he sought conscientious objector status. Apparently, he is the most newsworthy U.S. soldier. There are far more pictures of him than anyone else in uniform.
  • Three file photo headshots of U.S. soldiers & Marines recently killed. Also one photo of a casket of a female Nebraska Army National Guard medic who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq. Also, one photo of an Army captain kneeling before a memorial to one of his soldiers who was killed near Abu Ghraib. Apparently, the most important thing our soldiers do in Iraq, other than desert, is die.
  • Three photos of “Electronic musician Moby.” Why? Because “Moby says he has a newfound respect for Eminem, who once mocked him in a song, because the rapper criticized U.S. President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq in his last album.”
  • Three pictures of U.S. troops standing helplessly amid the smashed cars and shreaded flesh at the scene of a suicide bombing that killed dozens of people. Other than deserting and getting killed, this apparently is the number three most newsworthy activity for U.S. troops.
  • One photo of a U.S. Army soldier who is doing something other than deserting, dying, or not preventing a suicide attack. But it’s a file photo from 2004, from the fighting in Najaf. The AP re-ran the photo this week because the “photograph was among those honored by the Associated Press Managing Editors Association in its annual awards to the AP staff.” It’s a story about the AP, not the soldier.

Oh, and five pictures of Michael Moore.

Now, the AP photo wire doesn’t set out to be a complete picture of anything. But it does show you where the big media’s camera lens is firmly focused in any given period. And for most American newspapers, including mine, AP is the only source of pictures for the world. You need pictures to make a paper. If it doesn’t have art, chances are it won’t run. Even if the AP should run a story about the physical reconstruction of Iraq, or counter-insurgency operations, or hearts-and-minds patrols, there would be no art to accompany it.

Are desertions and deaths newsworthy? Yes, they are. (Moby I’m not so sure about.) But the stories I’m missing from Iraq are about the reconstruction, and the daily business of U.S. troops in-country. When we invaded Iraq we said we’d do three things: overthrow Saddam, install a responsible government, and get the country back on its feet again after years of neglect.

That third “leg” of the mission has gone AWOL in the news coverage. Really, it never showed up in most news outlets. This is not a plea for “good news.” It can be bad news — such as the number of hours the power still isn’t on in some places — but, please, tell me about it. It’s just as important as Abu Ghraib.

To ignore it is bias by neglect.

When I want to know what U.S. men and women are doing in Iraq on a daily basis, I don’t turn to the AP or Fox or CNN. Thanks to the Internet, I can go right to the sources (many good Milblogger links at those sites).

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