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Tuesday, Feb 8, 2005, 3:04 am

Survey says…

By Jessica Clark

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By this time in the news cycle, the U.S. media spin on the Iraqi elections has been cemented: Democracy triumphed, freedom reigns supreme, and naysayers need only be referred back to the poignant made-for-TV hug between an Iraqi voter and a soldier's mother to see that--gosh darn it--all of this money, blood and partisan mudslinging has been worth it after all.

Unfortunately, reality has a habit of trumping spin, even if spin is too vain to admit it. In a post-election analysis of the results of a pre-election poll commissioned by Abu Dhabi Television and conducted by Zogby International of New York (ADTV/ZI), Dr. James Zogby writes:

While some US officials have trumpeted the turnout rate, comparing it to US numbers, such comparisons are invalid and dangerous. The turnout, itself, was sectarian, with 80% of Shi'a and 69% of Kurds indicating their intention to vote, while 76% of Sunni Arabs stated that they would definitely not vote. The different expectations and motivations of each group were also clear. Shi'a felt empowered and were voting for control of the government, and Kurds were voting as an expression of their autonomy. The Sunni Arab failure to vote was a function not only of threats, but a clear expression of their growing sense of disenfranchisement. This is a dangerous divide that must be closed.

And, ominously:

Two key sets of numbers to note are the majority of Sunni Arabs who say that the violence in Iraq is legitimate resistance (53%) and the substantial majority of Arabs, both Sunni (82%) and Shi'a (69%) who want the US to leave, now that an elected government is in place. Only Kurds want the US to remain (51%) until "safety and security are restored to the country." Of particular interest here are the attitudes of the supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr. Their positions on both the insurgency and US presence are closer to those of the disenfranchised Sunni Arab community, than they are to other segments of the Shi'a community. It should be recalled that insurgents in both of these groups fought together against the US within the last year. Depending on the direction taken by the new Iraqi government and the US military, this tinderbox could be re-ignited once again.

Of course, how would Americans know any of this? After all, we're treated like simple children who can only understand black-and-white thinking, simple motivating terms, and empty rhetoric. Apparently the rest of the world can handle a few more subtleties, as evidenced by the sort of information available on CNN International. Here's ITN's Julian Manyon on CNNI's program "International Correspondents," describing the limits placed on accurate coverage of this election:

MANYON: A wide range of factors [are] actually preventing journalists from covering this election properly, and one of those factors, for example, is the way in which the American handlers who are actually running the Ministry of Information's affairs here in real terms, have designed the whole thing. I would say that along with the violence, it is just as serious an impediment for journalists.
Why, for example, we've been limited to filming at only five polling stations, and we discovered when the list of the five polling stations was published that four of those five polling stations are actually in Shia areas, and therefore by definition will shed very little light on whether Sunnis vote or not. ("Media Coverage of Iraq," "International Correspondents, CNN International, January 29, 2005, 21:00:00 ET)

Garbage in, garbage out.

Jessica Clark is a writer, editor and researcher, with more than 15 years of experience spanning commercial, educational, independent and public media production. Currently she is the Research Director for American University’s Center for Social Media. She also writes a monthly column for PBS’ MediaShift on new directions in public media. She is the author, with Tracy Van Slyke, of Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media (2010, New Press).

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