Reporting Terrorism Forum At The National Press Club

A few dozen attendees gathered in one of the National Press Club’s smaller conference rooms last week for the program “Reporting Terrorism, the Iraq Conflict and the Middle East.” Panelists included Donatella Lorch, former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and Newsweek; Judith Kipper, director, Middle East Forum, Council on Foreign Relations; Shibley Telhami, Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland-College Park; and Howard La Franchi, foreign affairs writer and diplomatic correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. Susan Bennett moderated.

The rest of the story after the jump…

The panelists discussed various topics, such as the “real story” in Iraq,” which Lorch noted was being viewed through a “very narrow prism.” Before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, she pointed out, the vast majority of the American media was uninformed about the region — particularly the Sunni/Shia divide. Couple that with the fact that it is unsafe to travel, particularly without a U.S. military escort, and getting a full story is quite difficult.

Judith Kipper berated the American media for what she considered to be the failure to show the effects of the war on the Iraqi people. She believes that the American people still haven’t seen the Iraqi people in the context of the war. Iraqis, she said, are saying their goodbyes and doing their religious “whatever it is” before going to buy groceries because they don’t know if they’ll make it home. She also stated that the media can’t even describe how bad the situation is in Iraq.

Defending the media, Howard La Franchi noted that the American media is reporting for a country that has never been so polarized during a time of war. As anecdotal evidence, he said that of reader reaction to his coverage, roughly half think he’s being too negatively biased toward the war and the other half thinks he’s being too positively biased.

The panel was then asked if the war in Iraq had taken away from coverage of other issues in the region. Professor Telhami said that there were many effects from the war outside of Iraq. For example, Iran has become much more powerful now that Iraq is substantially weaker. It has also diverted resources, he claims, from settling the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Judith Kipper noted that the focus on Iraq had taken away from the coverage of Afghanistan, despite the fact that the outcome there is just as important — if not moreso — than the outcome in Iraq. She also believes that Americans aren’t getting news about the “99.99 percent” of Muslims that are peaceful.

The changing face of the Middle East media was mentioned by Donatella Lorch, who noted that there are some 260 satellite channels now broadcasting in the region — more than twice as many as there were only two years ago. She also noted that the Voice of America isn’t even heard anymore because the frequency isn’t available.

Perhaps the most important information disclosed during the discussion came about when Professor Telhami admitted his ignorance of the Anna Nicole Smith story. Hearing this, Donatella Lorch exclaimed “Well, he’s not the father of her baby!”

That’s a load off all of our minds.