|||Reports on war provoke strong feelings in readers|
By Saundra Keyes
A member of our community editorial board asked the other day whether opinion polls influence our editorials on the war with Iraq.
The answer is that they don't, just as polls don't determine which candidates we endorse or where we stand on pending legislation.
To base our editorials on poll results would guarantee a degree of popularity, because we'd always stand for what the polled majority prefers. But that would abdicate one of our essential obligations: to weigh the facts as we know them and take the stand we believe is right.
That responsibility is accompanied by two others: to publish views that differ from ours and to fairly report the news without regard to the editorial opinion we have expressed.
Those are the values that guide us daily and the responsibilities we work to fulfill in reporting on this war.
In a companion column, senior editor Anne Harpham addresses specific concerns about war coverage that have come to her as our reader representative.
My intention here is to explain the broad assumptions that guide our coverage and the distinctions we make between opinion and news pages.
Our editorial position, based on the facts as we know them, has been that although Saddam Hussein is indisputably brutal, deceptive and dangerous, a first-strike war was neither the preferred option for dealing with him nor the best positioning of U.S. interests in the years ahead.
Having said that, we have consistently devoted opinion-page space to opposing views and news-page space to the Bush administration's case for war.
Some readers disagree with our editorials and write to tell us why. Others go further, accusing us of slanting coverage of the war to match our editorial position.
To do so would be unthinkable, because it would mean abandoning our core journalistic values.
If a newspaper were willing to do that, slanting war coverage would be easy.
Want readers to believe the Iraqis are folding without a fight? Publish the story we ran last Wednesday about a scared Iraqi private who escaped from a unit that he said had executed 10 other would-be defectors. Accompany it only with reports on the most successful U.S. and British missions to date.
Want to convince readers that the Iraqis will prevail? Publish the story we ran that same day on how TV reports of American POWs caused jubilation in many parts of the Arab world. Accompany it only with reports on coalition setbacks.
Want to suggest that coalition forces are indiscriminately attacking innocent people? Publish only the photos that show maimed or dead Iraqi civilians.
Want to highlight American soldiers' efforts to win the hearts and minds of a nation that we must help rebuild? Publish only the photos that show them distributing food and water, or tenderly helping wounded children.
The truth is that this war involves a complex mix of military successes and setbacks, of good intentions and of strategies gone awry, of Iraqis who welcome coalition troops as liberators and of those who hate and fear Saddam but see Americans as culturally insensitive invaders.
And it would be misleading for us not to report on all of these things.
We know our readers feel concern and aloha, as we do, for the men and women who wear this country's uniform, and want to know about their experiences in this war.
We know our readers are thoughtful citizens of the world who value coverage that both chronicles the war's daily progress and puts it in context.
We are committed to providing a war report that does all of these things. As always, we welcome your feedback on how we're living up to our goal.