AC: Blame the media

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ANDERSON COOPER: Does he have a point now, however? Does the president -- is the media only reporting the bad news in Iraq? We wanted to talk about that.

Joining us in Baghdad, CNN's Nic Robertson, also "TIME" Magazine's Michael Ware, along with talk show host, author, and blogger Hugh Hewitt.

Appreciate all of you being on the program.

Hugh, let me just start off with you. You pretty much agree with the administration that out of Iraq, we're really only hearing the bad news. Why do you think that is, if that's what you think?

HUGH HEWITT, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Anderson, I think the coverage of the Iraq invasion right from the start, all of the way through to the present day, has been abysmal in the mainstream media.

I think that it goes back even further than that. In April of 2003, Eason Jordan, an executive with this network, admitted that CNN had for years covered up atrocities that Saddam had committed because they were afraid for their reporters.

That history of bad coverage in Iraq began in the invasion when it was declared a quagmire on the third day because of the sandstorm and through all the three elections of last year.

A lot of new media that goes to Iraq, whether it's Michael Totten, whether it is Michael Yon, Bill Rosio (ph), whether it's Victor Davis Hanson or Laura Ingraham or especially Robert Kaplan, whose book "Imperial Grunts," is must-reading on this, report back enormous progress being made in the country. The sort of report that we simply never get because good reporters like the two I'm sharing this time with, do have to cover what Candy Crowley called, "The Boom." But just covering "The Boom," does not represent what is going on in that war.

COOPER: Nic Robertson, what do you think?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I do think that we're able to get to some of the good stories, if you will, power plants being built, water plants being refurbished -- covered those last week. If you look at our coverage, Wednesday, the new parliament being formed, by everybody's assessment, political step forward. Good news by most people's assessment, yes.

We would have been derelict in our duty if we didn't report that there's still a lot of -- a long way to go before they actually form a government. That is a big issue.

The day after Operation Swarmer, touted as being a great shining example of how the new Iraqi army were performing. Covered that big time. I think we do get to the so-called good stories. But also there are the so-called bad stories that are a very important part of what's happening to this country. And we wouldn't be doing our job and we would be failing our audiences if we didn't bring to them the stories that are relevant to how this is going to play out in the future.

I look back to the summer and fall of 2003 when we were covering stories about an insurgency. The military spokesman here at that time, was saying no, no, there isn't an insurgency. This is bad news. It proved we were proven correct.

COOPER: Michael Ware, you've spent probably more time with insurgents and insurgent groups than anyone I know. What do you think? Do you cover "The Boom" too much?

MICHAEL WARE, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, I think it's a matter, Anderson, of trying to reflect the reality on the ground. That all of these critics who are saying that we're not telling the good news stories, I'd like to know just how many of them have spent any time here on the ground. Or any of these people who are reporting the good news from within the belly of the U.S. military, how much time have they spent on the Iraqi street?

I mean, what do you think ordinary Iraqis are talking about? Do you think they're talking about the unfurling of the flag of democracy or that they're grateful that the Americans have unveiled a new electricity plant, when they have not had electricity in their house for four days. When they have to queue at a gas station for two days. When the marketplace is blowing up with car bombs. When their cousins are showing up dead in the morning as a result of sectarian death squads through the night. What do you think is the refining experience for an Iraqi family?

COOPER: Hugh Hewitt, what about that?

HEWITT: Well, I asked Michael Yon about that today. I tried to contact Mr. Ware in Baghdad from my radio show. We spent three hours on this. And Michael Yon simply disagrees with Mr. Ware. He's also spent a lot of time in the war zone, often with the military, sometimes without. Michael Totten's done the same, so as Robert Kaplan. So I think there are many, many people with on the ground experience, who simply reject what Mr. Ware is saying.

COOPER: Hugh, can I..

HEWITT: Important thing I think, though...


HEWITT: ... is that it's not what's going on today alone. It's about the context. Because five years ago, you would not have the story of kidnapped people and torture that Eason Jordan referred to.

Five years ago we did not know what the quality of life for the Iraqis was. But it was a dismal, totalitarian regime, from which escape was not possible. And so while "The Boom" matters and while those conditions are certainly desperate in many parts of the country, and Baghdad is a dangerous place, compared to what, Mr. Ware? Compared to Baghdad under Saddam? Are you arguing that Iraqis are worse off today than they were four years ago?

COOPER: Michael Ware, do you want to respond?

WARE: Yes, well, I think if you asked a lot of Iraqis, I think you'd be surprised by what the answer is. A lot of them say, "what, this is democracy?" The joke is, "you call this liberation?" And, okay, let's look at the context, as you suggest. Let's look at the even bigger picture. What is the bigger picture? Who is winning from this war? Who is benefiting right now?

Well, the main winners so far are al Qaeda, which is stronger than it was before the invasion. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a nobody, now he's the superstar of international Jihad. And Iran, Iran essentially has a proxy government in place, a very, very friendly government. Its sphere of influence has expanded and any U.S. diplomat or senior military intelligence commander here, will tell you that. So that's the big picture. Where is that being reported?

COOPER: Nic Robertson, let me ask you, how easy is it for you to move around? I mean, in Baghdad. You know, obviously probably it's easier than outside the country, but how often are you out with the military reporting stories out on patrol with U.S. soldiers?

ROBERTSON: I would just backtrack a little bit, Anderson. If I go back to my days here under Saddam Hussein, when we would sit around waiting days to go out anywhere because we wouldn't be given permission -- it's bad. If I go to right after the war when we could literally go anywhere at any time and talk to anyone and drive all over the country, that was the best time.

Now our situation now, it's very difficult because it is not safe for us to go out and walk the streets. We can't do that. We need to go out with security or essentially disguise ourselves to blend in with the population. We can't drive around the country because that's a dangerous thing to do.

If we want to get to other areas of the country, we need to embed, we need to fly with the military. Often times these days I find they're very, very accommodating when we arrive, that they will give us much better access than they were ever given to doing a couple of years ago.

They certainly understand the need of our job to talk to Iraqis, and they facilitate that. But it's not the same. And it doesn't bring the same results as being able to go around the country freely. It is a much, much tougher environment to work in. You are far more constrained than in any other story I've worked on. And that does have an impact on what we produce.

I believe we still perform a very valuable job, having said all of that -- Anderson.

COOPER: Hugh Hewitt, we're almost out of time, but I want to give you the final word. And I just want to ask you, do you believe that it is an intentional misleading by reporters on the ground -- not all reporters, but I guess, mainstream reporters on the ground, that they are anti-Bush and therefore intentionally only looking negative? Or do you believe that some of the negativism is just by the fact that it is more difficult to move around, you can't just go into Iraqi family's house because of the security situation? Do you make a distinction between it?

HEWITT: Anderson, it's complicated because there are some fine reporters working there, and Jill Carroll's in custody tonight. People pray for her, her safe release. And there are people who risk their lives every day to get a story, and I've been told by Michael Yon, for example, Michael Ware is a very, very fine reporter who goes in harm's way to get the story.

That having been said, a great deal of American mainstream media is invested in the idea that this is a disaster, that it will bring down Bush, that it was a mistake at the beginning, and disaster for the Middle East. They are pushing that agenda, quite obviously, over and over again, to the exclusion of important stories like the book by Georges Sada, Saddam's general, like the Philippine -- the documents released today, covered in "The Weekly Standard," about the Kuwaiti hostages denied by Iraq having even been there, but now revealed today to have been used as human shields by the mad-as-a-hatter sons of Saddam.

There's quite a lot not being covered because to cover it and to cover it extensively, will not only support the Bush administration decision to go to war here, but make it appear as though one of the wisest he has made. And indeed, investment in the failure of this operation is what is bringing increased contempt for the American media across the land except on the noisy left. And the noisy left doesn't win elections.

COOPER: Well, I wish we had time to talk, especially about the Georges Sada books. I got to tell you, I disagree with you on that, having looked into it. I mean, the guy is making claims that he can't verify and that are based on what friends of his have told him. But anyway, we don't have the time to go into it. Another time.

Hugh Hewitt, we'd love to have you on the program again. Thank you very much.

HEWITT: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Michael Ware and Nic Robertson, as well. Stay safe. Thanks guys.