Michael starts the dispatch with a glowing account of compliments for patriotic Brits who came out 10,000 strong to watch and cheer at the parades of returning UK veterans from Iraq. He also had kind words for the "royals". Prince Harry and Prince William made unpublicized visits to hospitals to boost the morale of wounded soldiers. Lady Camilla was introduced to him by a British commander, and he wrote about how she has sent many handwritten letters to wounded soldiers, and she greeted the returning soldiers talking with them and their families for hours without an entourage.
After writing what was good Michael turned ugly on the UK media. Here is a snippet of what he wrote
While the pieces about the parades and medal ceremonies that greeted the returning “Lions of Basra” were accurate, it was impossible to miss the sensational headlines that gave equal weight to the bleating of Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s number two leader and number one propagandist.
From The Telegraph came this startling headline:
Ready or not, UK hands Basra back to Iraqis
Leader: Basra is first step to leaving Iraq altogether.
Locals saw troops as conquerors, not saviours.
I had to shake my head a few times. Not only is it not accurate (British soldiers were not “fleeing” anything, they were drawing down wisely, why didn’t their own newspapers report that?), but it is absurd to cite anyone from al Qaeda as relevant to a discussion of Basra. Might as well quote Baghdad Bob. Al Qaeda is not one of the factions vying for control of Basra; it has never had any presence or proxy foothold there, and Saddam Hussein himself would find a warmer welcome. In fact, I challenge Zawahiri to make his asinine claims publicly from Basra, where I venture the locals would give him a chance to demonstrate how one flees from that city. He couldn’t get headlines like that from Iraqi press; for that kind of star treatment, he’s got to work the Western media.
Finally, this from The Independent:
Britain bows out of a five-year war it could never have won
“Britain stumbled into a small war in southern Iraq which it did not expect to fight and where its aims were always unclear. It is now stumbling out with very little achieved and its military reputation dented, after a conflict in which a victory could never have been won.”
This was interesting because if any blame could be placed for the charge of denting the reputation of British military, it has to be said to rest squarely with British media and their failure to get the story right. It’s one thing to ignore your own soldiers; it’s another thing to quote the enemy spokesperson without challenge. Someone needs to tell the newspapers over here in the U.K. that the situation in Iraq is actually looking good and gains that are not being reported are nonetheless holding and expanding. What will The Independent and others report if things actually work out in Iraq?
There is a disconnect between what principles and values a citizen in the UK holds dearly, and what that same citizen reads when he picks up a newspaper. Once upon a time reporters took pride in reporting news instead of writing political editorials, and most of us are too young to remember newspaper reporters like that.