A one-day P.R. win for the war

But nine more U.S. soldiers died as Petraeus and Crocker confirmed there's no political solution in sight.

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Is it only the Internet that made the testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and ambassador Ryan Crocker Monday seem like yesterday’s news? Most everything had been leaked; both sides in the war debate had previewed all their best arguments. You could follow the day’s events online, without television — on Salon alone, in fact, thanks to Glenn Greenwald’s set-up of war hawkers and timeline of Petraeus pronouncements, Tom Engelhardt’s “Brand Petraeus,” Tim Grieve’s play-by-play throughout the day, Alex Koppelman’s round-up of right-wing bloggers and their talking points, and finally Walter Shapiro’s great if depressing wrap of the day’s events.

I know it was possible to follow it all online, because I did that: I was in Salon meetings all day (as you know, blogging isn’t my real job, and it’s the planning time of year), so I couldn’t watch television. Reading Salon hourly is how I stayed informed. My belated impressions? I thought Petraeus’ saying that troop levels wouldn’t return to pre-surge levels until next summer sounded even more depressing than when it was leaked; I think it’s clear that the audience for Petraeus and Crocker are those restive Republican senators up for election next year, who probably heard enough to stay the course. I think not nearly enough was said about the devastating ethnic cleansing of Sunnis and Shiites in various parts of the country that likely led to much of the purported reduction in violence. Maybe the Senate will dig into that more on Tuesday.

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But as wounded as this administration is, clearly it did several things right: First, it pushed a guy with a lot of medals out in front of Congress and the media, instead of the discredited president, which made for predictable deference. Equally important, it set up a false reporting deadline that the media would then have to cover as an “event,” which is easier than covering the unfolding nightmare in Iraq. You saw the success of both strategies last week as “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric traveled to Iraq to present the Petraeus-eye view, which provided a convenient, all-in-one-place case study of the way much of the media coverage unfolded. I was on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday debating Couric’s Iraq reporting with Michael Medved, and boy, the boys at Brent Bozell’s “Newsbusters” weren’t happy with me. When the right wing is defending Couric, whom they’ve always derided as a liberal shill, you know she’s doing something wrong.

But the Couric coverage was a template for the overall media approach to the Petraeus P.R. surge. MoveOn did a great video summary of Couric’s Iraq trip, with close attention to detail, which also distinguished its ad in the New York Times (although it was marred, in my opinion, by the right-baiting play on Petraeus as “Betray us”). Petraeus won the battle, but with nine more American soldiers dead in Iraq today, American doubts about this mission are likely to cost him the public opinion war. Eventually.

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