Sunday, August 14, 2005
The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.So: The Bush administration is embarking on an effort to lower expectations about Iraq--news certainly worth sharing with readers.
The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.
But what follows for the next 1000+ words isn't evidence of a shift in the administration's public stance: There aren't excerpts from recent statements or leaked passages from upcoming speeches.
Instead, we get an article chock full of sober, dismaying quotes about Iraq's future from anonymous officials.
But doesn't that off-the-record approach raise questions about the story's premise?
After all, doesn't the act of "lowering expectations" entail direct, deliberate communication between the people who are lowering expectations and those whose expectations are being lowered?
To put it another way, if the Bushies really are in the process of lowering expectations, shouldn't there be evidence--outside of anonymous statements--to corroborate this?
Ah, but there's the rub.
The unspoken truth: The article isn't about the administration's effort to lower expectations. It is that effort--or at least that effort's product.
Simply put, Wright and Knickmeyer have been used--by Bush administration officials hiding behind the cloak of anonymity--to lower the expectations of the American public on Iraq.
Wright and Knickmeyer know this. They aren't stupid. But the quotes they've been given are journalistic gold, so it's not as if they've been taken advantage of: They get something out of the exchange as well.
Meanwhile, an essential truth gets glossed over: That the article is less a journalistic account of an objective political reality than it is a piece of political theater meant to effect a new political reality.
That doesn't mean it shouldn't have been written: The administration has decided to recalibrate its Iraq message, and to share news of that recalibration with the Washington Post. That's an important scoop.
But Wright and Knickmeyer might have given the piece a slightly different slant.
A more forthright approach, in the story's opening lines, might have looked something like this:
The Bush administration has embarked on a campaign to get two reporters from the Washington Post to write an article about the administration's desire to significantly lower expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq. These administration sources appear to be counting on the fact that, by communicating to Post readers that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, the American public might begin a process of lowering the bar for success in Iraq.A bit clunky, granted. And the post-modern style probably wouldn't make it past the Post's editors. But in this instance at least, a self-referential approach would have given readers something much closer to the truth than the opening Wright and Knickmeyer delivered.
These officials wanted to get readers of the Post to believe that the United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges. But they would like this expectation to become widely held among the American people without the administration having to address the issue head-on or publicly acknowledge failure.