May 10, 2007

Cheney In Baghdad: The Progress Of No Progress

1. Cheney-Baghdad-Nyt-1


2. Cheney-Baghdad-Nyt-2


3. Cheney-Baghdad-Nyt-3

I was interested (both visually and headline-wise) in how the coverage of Dick Cheney’s one-day Baghdad visit evolved overnight.

Specifically, I’m curious about John Burns’ report last evening on the trip (#1) as compared to his follow-up piece this morning (#2).  As well, I was interested in the headline change made early this morning to the original report (#3).  I’m interested in all this, by the way, not as a journalistic exercise as much as to better understand how domestic political events and actions “on the ground” might have contributed to these editorial moves.

So, what were the key events that took place over the past 12 – 18 hours that might have shifted these elements this way?  (If there are a handful of things to point to, I’m just going with the biggies.)

On the political front, the biggest happening involved Bush’s meeting with the “Tuesday Group,” consisting of 30 Republican members of Congress who, as reported, “bluntly warned” the Prez that Iraq had better dramatically improve by fall or they would abandon him.

Regarding circumstances “on the ground,” first an explosion in the vicinity of the Green Zone rattled the U.S. embassy where Cheney spent the day.  Second (and illustrating article #2 above), a powerful truck bombing took place outside the Interior Ministry in the normally quiet city of Irbil.  According to The Daily Star (link): “The attack was a blow to the Kurdish region’s campaign to portray itself as an investor-friendly haven of calm.”

I have a few simple takes on the editorial dynamics, first regarding the headline shift in article #1, then the contrast in images between article #1 versus #2.  Then, I’d like to hear your reading.

Constantly (if, only marginally) taking the edge off the urgency, the Administration has been buying time by floating and re-floating the presumption of improvement in Iraq.  Perhaps BushCo. — given that bubble the Administration still lives in — didn’t anticipate the broadside from their fellow Repubs (strangely scheduled the same day that Cheney was in Baghdad).  It seems reasonable that the increased heat over the war generated by these colleagues might have, overnight, turned up the (domestic and media) pressure on Bush not just for progress, but decisive results.  (You can’t say the pressure increased on the Iraqis since the main purpose of the Cheney visit was to read everyone and anyone over there the riot act.)

Regarding the visual shift between the original Burns story and the update (#1–> #2), the shot of the bombing in Irbil couldn’t have gone any further in mocking the headline (and repudiating Cheney’s efforts).  Someone might argue Cheney was partly the victim of “bad timing.”  On the other hand, if the Administration had any real credibility on Iraq, this photo would never have earned equal billing.

If the confrontation in Washington upped the ante in article #1, the Irbil photo seems to demonstrate — again, far more more bluntly than the previous day’s cranky Veep behind his smiling, thrust-to-the-foreground puppet general — an Administration suffering (here, almost in real time) an even fuller “credibility eclipse.”

(image 1 & 3:  Pool photo by Gerald Herbert.  Baghdad. published May 9, 2007.  caption: Vice President Dick Cheney with Gen. David H. Petraeus at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. image 2:  Safin Hamed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. Baghdad. published May 10, 2007.  caption: Police officers evacuated the site of a bombing Wednesday in Erbil, in the northern Kurdish part of Iraq. The attack, which killed at least 19 people and wounded more than 70, was one of the city’s most violent in recent years. It took place in front of offices for the Kurdish regional government.)

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Michael Shaw
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