Twelve years ago, exactly to a day – 19 May 2004 – I became a minor blogging celebrity on the back of an observation that the mainstream media’s unrelentingly negative reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan was failing to give the public a more balanced picture of the situation on the ground in the Middle East and Central Asia. What flowed from that observation was a (eventually) weekly “Good News from Iraq” round-up of otherwise little heralded successes and under-reported good news stories. “Good News from Afghanistan” subsequently became a monthly feature.
What people thought about the “Good News” series pretty much depended on what they thought about the wisdom of the American foreign policy in the Bush 43 era. Andrew Sullivan, then still on the right and a supporter of the invasion, called it an “Essential summary. Why, one wonders, couldn’t a mainstream newspaper produce something like this” – which was the whole point of the series: they couldn’t because they wouldn’t. My friend Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit mused, “You’ve got to wonder why the Bush Administration is doing such a bad job at getting its message out that it has to rely on Australian bloggers to pick up its slack”. The Bush Administration didn’t offer me a job, probably considering me a part of the allied contribution to Operation Iraqi Freedom, but James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal’s Online Journal came on board for the USA, giving the “Good News” series an infinitely larger audience than a humble Chrenkoff.Blogspot blog could have ever dreamed of. I was told later than the “Good News” round-ups were being regularly circulated within CENTCOM as well as the American embassy in Kabul. But it was the messages from the serving and the returned service personnel and their families that really made all the armchair warfare worthwhile – and confirmed to me that the gist of the “Good News” series was closer to the real experience at the proverbial coalface (make that oilface) than was the mainstream reporting.
The anti-war, anti-Bush crowd, not surprisingly, saw things differently. At best I was a Panglossian naif, at worst a paid CIA shill (if only!), spreading war-mongering, imperialist propaganda and lies.
The critics largely missed the point. The purpose of “Good News” round-ups was not to convince people States-side and world-wide that all was hunky-dory in Mesopotamia. Clearly, it wasn’t in 2004, as it wasn’t in subsequent years and it is still not today. It was to demonstrate that the picture on the ground was far more nuanced than that painted by the New York Times or CNN. “Good News from Iraq” and “Good News from Afghanistan” were not meant to be read instead of the mainstream news reporting but in addition to, and in this way hopefully provide a fuller and more balanced picture. My philosophy was that of my grandmother who used to say “Things are rarely as good or as bad as people say they are.” She survived the Depression, the Nazis and the communists, so I guess she knew what she was talking about.
A discussion of media bias as well as sensationalistic tendencies is for another time. The question today, in May 2016, exactly twelve years since the first “Good News from Iraq” has popped up on people’s computer screens, is not whether we still need “Good News” round-ups. It’s whether we now need “Good News from America”, “Good News from Europe” or “Good News from Australia” instead.
P.S. Yes, I’m being facetious. My grandmother would smack me otherwise. But something to ponder on nevertheless.