BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Times' note underscores the argument now raging over whether the coverage of Iraq has been too upbeat or so excessively biased that it actually hurts the war effort, as charged by conservatives and some in the military. This week, media critic and educator Jay Rosen wrote in his weblog, Press Think, that he objects to the very terms of that debate. It's not about quantifying the positive and the negative. It's about completeness, he says. The coverage is distorted because it's too narrow. Jay, welcome back to the show.
JAY ROSEN: Thank you so much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, Jay, I assume you're a voracious news consumer. What aren't you getting?
JAY ROSEN: Any picture of how it's going in creating a democracy in Iraq, in rebuilding that country after the devastation of both Saddam and the war.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can you give me some specifics of the stories you'd like to hear or read?
JAY ROSEN: I want to know how much of the electricity is on; how much of the water is on; how many of the schools are open; how is life returning to normal, or not, as well as the 400 political parties that I'm told now exist on the Iraqi landscape. Who knows about these parties? What do they have to say? What are they about? I just don't have that picture in between the battles and the government stories that we do need -- something has been left out.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And why do you think this is such a vital piece of the puzzle?
JAY ROSEN: The rebuilding of Iraq is something that billions of American dollars are going to. Thousands of people are employed in it. Lots of those who are on the planes to Iraq are not involved in the violence at all. They're involved in this huge enterprise. And that enterprise deserves accountability journalism just as much as the political enterprise, the coalition, the government, the military.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What news do you consume on a daily basis? Where do you get it?
JAY ROSEN: Well, I'm a regular reader of the New York Times and the Washington Post. Semi-regular of The Guardian, UK. And then, of course, because of the web I'm able to sample reporting and commentary all over the place, and I read about ten to twelve weblogs a day. And then I usually, at night I'm watching cable television for an hour or so.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are you saying you can't find these stories in the Times or NPR or--?
JAY ROSEN: No, I'm not saying I can't find these stories. I'm saying the portrait over all has not provided, I think, a really good account of that. I think what you end up knowing, if you pay attention to the news, is actually a very good measure of what the news is about. I mean do it yourself -- people at home. If you close your eyes, what do you have a clear picture of, and what do you not have a clear picture of? And I know I have a clear picture of American soldiers going into battle, and car bombs and explosions and the, the authorities making their announcements, and I don't have the sense, and I don't think any consumer of the news has a good sense of the rebuilding of Iraq in which the American people are extremely invested.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now a lot of conservative media critics would agree with you, because I think they would assume that's where a lot of the good news is. But don't reporters risk, you know, going with military guards to staged hospital openings or soccer games or Barbie distribution sites, and are these stories newsworthy?
JAY ROSEN: Absolutely not. The only way to find out whether life is better in Iraq is to do independent, skeptical, even investigative reporting. But I also think that it might be good, occasionally, for the press to find something in what their critics are saying that makes sense, and I think the neglect of the rebuilding story is a piece of the right's critique of the media that is real. Why not take it?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We've spoken to reporters who say it's very difficult to safely venture out of the green zone, the part that's under the control of the Coalition Provisional Authority, without risking their lives. How do you suggest they go about getting the daily life story?
JAY ROSEN: I think it's an enormously difficult story, even before they were confined to the green zone. After all, it doesn't explode like a bomb. It's something that creeps along. Daily life doesn't have press conferences, either, so it's a difficult story to tell, and if you're confined to your hotel, yeah, it's even harder. That's one reason why a network of sources of Iraqis, ordinary Iraqis, who somehow or another might be trained, deputized to provide information coming in -- if a lot of work had gone into the development of that kind of a network, maybe all the press would be benefiting from it now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You really feel that this story is possible to get if the resources were put towards it.
JAY ROSEN: Absolutely. Out there, somebody knows this story. A lot of people do. And there are ways of getting it, but I don't think it's necessarily been seen as a problem or it - the important challenge that it should be. What I think is that journalists know that they should do this, but it's a sidebar, it's a feature. Okay. But it really isn't a feature. It's at the very heart of the American enterprise in Iraq right now. You know, the division of labor in American journalism is really funny sometimes, you know. If you look at the whole press, you'll find 90 percent of it trying to do the same thing. And then ten percent of it, perhaps, off doing something different. So within the American press, there's certainly enough capital and resources and intelligence to do a really good job on this story.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thanks very much.
JAY ROSEN: You're welcome, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jay Rosen's weblog is PressThink.org, and he's the chairman of the Journalism Department at New York University.