John Tierney's media credibility plan

Bill Safire's replacement on the op-ed page suggests that the military should stop providing details about suicide attacks in Iraq. And if the military won't do it, he says that reporters should.

Published May 10, 2005 3:25PM (EDT)

It all makes sense to us now.

The problems in Iraq? The insurgency that won't go away, the Iraqi civilians and security forces and the U.S. troops who just keep dying? There's an explanation for it all, and John Tierney, Bill Safire's replacement on the op-ed page of the New York Times, sets it all out for us today.

It's the media's fault.

While Tierney says that he understands that the press has "a duty to report suicide bombings in the Middle East," he suggests that it's time for the press to stop, you know, reporting on them. Reporting out the details only helps the terrorists' "media strategy," Teirney says, and it's time for the press to stop playing along. Rather than getting details about the names and faces of the people who suffered, Tierney asks, wouldn't we all just be better off if the media gave us a "box score" on each suicide attack listing the number of dead and the size of the explosion? "I suspect the public would welcome a respite from gore," Tierney says.

He's surely right about that part: The public -- the American public and the Iraqi public -- would surely welcome a respite from the reports about the "gore." But what they'd welcome more would be a respite from the gore itself. Tierney doesn't offer up any ideas on how U.S. or Iraqi forces could put an end to the suicide bombings in Iraq; instead, he suggests -- without really suggesting -- that the U.S military stop giving reporters information about suicide attacks. Failing that, he says, reporters should "reconsider" their interest in providing readers the details.

The Bush administration must be pleased as punch with Teirney's suggestion; no news is good news when the war is going badly, and a sterile listing of casualities is a hell of a lot easier to ignore than pictures of bleeding children and grieving families. As a public relations measure from the Pentagon's perspective, Tierney's ideas make perfectly good sense. But what are they thinking at the New York Times? We know that there's a separation between the news division and the op-ed page. But for a paper that seems so concerned about restoring credibility with readers, Tierney's column -- with its suggestion that the government supress the news and that the press do so if the government won't -- is still a strange way to start.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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