Boy, one little POW rescue can sure change the tone of the press coverage.

By the time Ari Fleischer faced reporters yesterday, many of the questions were about who would be running Iraq once Saddam is permanently sidelined.

Goodbye, quagmire.

Of course, it didn't hurt that U.S. forces apparently whipped a Republican Guard unit south of Baghdad. The TV anchors had something to crow about: 25 miles away! 15 miles away!

After a week that produced its share of negative images and stories -- from the Iraqi propaganda tape of American POWs to the awful shooting of Iraqi women and children in a truck that wouldn't stop at a checkpoint -- the rescue of Jessica Lynch seemed to give the press corps a shot of adrenaline. (Journalists were also pumped up over two Newsday correspondents and photographer Molly Bingham being found alive after a week of Iraqi imprisonment.)

A Special Ops helicopter rescue of a wounded prisoner from an Iraqi hospital would be uplifting news in any event. But it has helped personalize -- with a young woman's face, to boot -- the blur of war. The story line shifts to one brave woman and her fight to survive. ("Saving Private Lynch," say the graphics on CBS and NBC.) Reporters descend on her jubilant hometown of Palestine, W. Va., and the family faces the cameras.

Even the stock market shot up.

Things are going so badly for the Iraqis they they're muzzling al-Jazeera.

Fox News is so psyched it's running promo spots featuring axed NBC'er Peter Arnett speaking to Iraqi TV (in contrast to its "fair and balanced" journalism). Will MSNBC retaliate with footage of the now-withdrawn Geraldo drawing his map in the sand?

There's a great New York Post cartoon of Bush driving a convertible past a sign labeled "Victory," with an annoying media kid with a camera in the backseat asking: "Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

Yesterday, the media coverage suggested we might be getting there. CNN started headlining it the "March Toward Baghdad."

This is not unlike a political campaign, when setbacks (in the form of bad polls) produces a spate of who-screwed-up stories, while good news (in the form of better polls) produces a spate of comeback stories.

Virginia Postrel http://www.dynamist.com/weblog/archives/000059.html

has one bone to pick:

"Reporters on Fox News Channel and MSNBC are displaying an exceedingly annoying habit of referring to Pfc. Jessica Lynch as just 'Jessica' in news stories, the better to tug the viewers' paternal/maternal heartstrings. But Jessica Lynch is not the little girl who fell down the well. She is a U.S. soldier serving in harm's way. If you're old enough to be a POW, you're old enough to be referred to as 'Private Lynch.' Even if you're female."

Check out these upbeat stories. The Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/iraq/battle/la-war-assess3apr03,1,2576967.story?coll=la%2Dhome%2Dheadlines

"With a powerful drive through Iraqi lines south of Baghdad, U.S. forces have reached an important milestone in their 2-week-old war: They are now positioned to encircle and gradually destroy the Republican Guard troops ringing the city. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"The key decision for U.S. war planners now is how long to wait before mounting the final assault."

The New York Times: http://nytimes.com/2003/04/03/international/worldspecial/03STRA.html

"With the new American push toward Baghdad .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. the pendulum has swung decisively in the favor of the United States. After an unexpectedly difficult start, in which allied forces were slowed and harassed by paramilitary forces, the coalition now has the momentum."

The Wall Street Journal:

"The rapid success of U.S. forces in punching through Iraqi defenses south of Baghdad is presenting military commanders with fresh choices about how swiftly they can take the capital while limiting both American and civilian casualties."

The Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0304030304apr03,1,2045303.story?coll=chi%2Dnewsnationworld%2Dhed "Pfc. Jessica Lynch's rescue is believed to be the first successful planned military rescue of a prisoner of war since World War II."

The New York Post: "WE CAN SEE BAGHDAD."

Sounds like the fourth quarter of a lopsided football game.

David Frum http://nationalreview.com/frum/frum-diary.asp wants the nattering nabobs of negativity to get with the program:

"Are my ears deceiving me -- or are we hearing the beginnings of a great turn in the press coverage of the war?

"With the daring rescue of American POW Jessica Lynch after 9 days of Iraqi captivity -- the opening of the battle for Baghdad -- the sudden rush of reports of jubilation in liberated Iraq -- and the over-running of Ansar al-Islam's base in northern Iraq, it seems at last to be dawning on the press: The allies are winning.

"So -- can we get all those disgruntled retired generals off the front pages of the papers?

"I am not a believer in journalistic 'objectivity' in wartime. Journalists who cover fires cheer for the firefighters. Journalists who cover crime don't keep neutral between the crooks and their victims. What kind of warped system of values forbids journalists to support their country when the guns are blasting?"

Before we move on to the headlines, media junkies can find our take from The Washington Post on the dangers facing unembedded correspondents http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16094-2003Apr2.html, a report on TV's war coverage http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16119-2003Apr2.html and a fabricated war photo at the L.A. Times http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16152-2003Apr3.html. Too bad we don't get paid by the story.

Slate's http://slate.msn.com/id/2080889/ William Saletan says we've all gone overboard on Jessica Lynch:

"On television, it was wall-to-wall Jessica. In the newspapers, it's yards of column inches on Jessica. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. I don't mean to be callous or unpatriotic, but why are we celebrating so loudly? .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Lynch isn't one of the millions of Iraqis we're supposed to be liberating. She's one of the putative liberators. We've said this war isn't an invasion. We've said it isn't for us but for Iraq. And yet, while the average Iraqi's liberation gets no Pentagon fanfare and no air time, the liberation of Jessica Lynch is a 24-hour mediathon. We're celebrating her rescue for the worst of all reasons: because she's American."

Josh Marshall http://talkingpointsmemo.com/ ponders the arguments about "victory" and "defeat" in Iraq:

"By this they mean, how many weeks or months and how many US casualties? Does victory in two months count as success? Is more than three months a failure? Does under 500 battlefield deaths count as success? Over 500? People who are critical of the conduct of this war apparently have to choose their numbers to be credible.

"You start to see how these folks operate. It's sort of like our national debate over the war is a big Iraq-war office pool, like with the NCAA championships or the NFL playoffs. ('I put down for six months and 843 war dead! It was a longshot. But I won big! My foreign policy cred is now assured!')

"But this game-playing is either foolishness or a deliberate attempt to shift people's eyes from what's really being discussed. Duration of combat and numbers of casualties aren't yardsticks for measuring victory or failure. They're costs you incur in achieving your goals. So the numbers game -- in days and bodies -- is bogus. The question is, what are we trying achieve and how close are we to achieving it."

On National Review, http://nationalreview.com/may/may040103.asp Clifford May explores the continuing Saddam mystery:

"Well, one thing's for certain: Saddam Hussein has not hired David Frum and Peggy Noonan as speechwriters.

"After Iraqi state television announced 'Saddam to Address Nation Tuesday Night,' the big event turned out to be a bureaucrat reading boilerplate to a camera. That's like promising the finale of The Bachelorette and getting a rerun of The Dating Game.

"(And isn't it telling that when Saddam's regime sends out a flack to read a statement or to interview a fellow propagandist such as Peter Arnett, he wears a uniform. When they send soldiers out to fight, they're more likely to be dressed in civvies.)

"The Saddam no-show has to be seen as a major flub by what had seemed to be a pretty shrewd public-relations shop. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"At times, Saddam's spokesman sounded almost like a QVC pitchman. He told Iraqi fighters that the war now underway offers 'your chance for immortality' and that, if they acted now, there would be this special bonus: 'Those who are martyred will be rewarded in heaven."

The Weekly Standard's http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/002/473ydukt.asp Jonathan Last turns the spotlight on the scribes at CentCom in Qatar:

"These journalists aren't interested in finding out what's going on so much as browbeating the United States. I don't know how representative the sample is, but from the crowd of scribes assembled in Doha, it looks like we've got a planet full of Helen Thomases on our hands.

"And those questions are some of the more respectable ones. At the March 26 briefing, one foreign correspondent proclaimed/asked: 'This war talks about humanity a lot, and according to a Russian radio station that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter, Elizabeth, is on her way to Baghdad to join an antiwar group who use themselves as human shields to defend further aggression from coalition. What do you have to say to the innocent civilian people who are willing to risk their own lives in a hope to stop this war?'

"A few moments later, another foreign journo--leaning on junk science so discredited that even the U.N. thinks it's bunk--asked: 'General, how much of your weaponry uses depleted uranium? And what are your concerns about the effects of that on Iraqi civilians?'

"On the one hand, it's frightening to realize that the global media operate on a professional level roughly equivalent to a bad college paper. But on the other hand, it's a little bit liberating: After all, with press like this, no wonder the rest of the world hates us--America really is besieged by a vast, left-wing conspiracy."

Since Rummy has been complaining about military second-guessers, Salon's http://www.salon.com/opinion/conason/2003/04/02/rumsfeld/index.html Joe Conason goes to the videotape:

"Rumsfeld didn't hesitate to offer his own criticisms, back when the Clinton administration and NATO, led by Gen. Wesley Clark (now a CNN commentator) were prosecuting what turned out to be a highly successful war in Kosovo.

"Four years ago, he told CNN that he saw a 'similar pattern' to the Vietnam debacle in that conflict. 'There is always a risk in gradualism. It pacifies the hesitant and the tentative,' whatever that meant. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"A few weeks later, Rumsfeld showed up on CNBC's 'Hardball' to reiterate the same critique, while again insisting that with troops in battle he wanted 'to be supportive.' .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"'I'm not a fan of how we seem to have drifted into this, and I -- I worry about a gradualist approach .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. I think it was a mistake to say that we would not use ground forces, because it simplifies the problem for Milosevic,' he told Chris Matthews."

The New Republic's http://tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=iraq&s=easterbrook040103.1 Gregg Easterbrook deconstructs the Rummy-bashing as a turf battle:

"Television figures--who don't like Rumsfeld because he fails to defer to TV figures and at times lectures them as if they were children--now twist the news about him in the least flattering way.

"As regards the Pentagon budget wars, the Army, which intensely dislikes Rumsfeld, is using this opportunity to stage a leaking campaign intended to make him look bad. Yesterday's New York Times front pager ("RUMSFELD'S DESIGN FOR WAR CRITICIZED ON THE BATTLEFIELD") surely consists primarily of Army leaks. And they're precision-guided smart leaks at that.

"The Army dislikes Rumsfeld because the 'revolution in military affairs' faction, of which he is grand vizier, wants to cut the Army's divisions and budget, while boosting funding for Air Force and Navy aviation. Making Rumsfeld, a former Navy pilot, look like he doesn't understand land warfare issues is essential to the Army counterattack."

Arnett speaks! To the Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/custom/showcase/la-war-arnett2apr02.story

"Peter Arnett said Tuesday he was upset with how NBC severed ties with him the day before, and sounded more defiant than apologetic over his decision to grant an interview to state-run Iraqi TV.

"In an interview from Baghdad, where he hopes to stay if he can find enough work, Arnett called the controversy a 'storm in a bloody teacup.' He said he was irritated that he had spent 19 days helping NBC, whose own reporters left citing safety concerns, and 'then I'm being trashed.' .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"NBC, he said, 'was just grateful for anything I could give them' and used him up to 20 hours per day. 'But in the end, I was thrown out on the street, and very casually, my reputation in shreds -- for what? For helping them out.' .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"An NBC News spokeswoman said: 'On the 'Today' show, Peter Arnett said that he had made 'a stupid misjudgment.' And he apologized to us and the American people. We'll leave it at that.'"

Perhaps Arnett should have left it at that.

Still, this sounds a little harsh:

"Correspondent Peter Arnett should be 'tried as a traitor' for remarks he made in an interview with Iraqi state television, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., said Tuesday," the Cincinnati Enquirer http://enquirer.com/editions/2003/04/02/loc_rail.bunning02.html reports.

"'I think Mr. Arnett should be met at the border and arrested should he come back to America,' said Bunning."

Anyone else you'd like locked up, senator?

Another senator takes aim not Arnett but at Bush, according to the boston Globe: http://boston.com/dailyglobe2/093/nation/Kerry_says_US_needs_its_own_regime_change_+.shtml

"Senator John F. Kerry said yesterday that President Bush committed a 'breach of trust' in the eyes of many United Nations members by going to war with Iraq, creating a diplomatic chasm that will not be bridged as long as Bush remains in office.

"'What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States,' Kerry said in a speech at the Peterborough Town Library. Despite pledging two weeks ago to cool his criticism of the administration once war began, Kerry unleashed a barrage of criticism as US troops fought within 25 miles of Baghdad."

Finally, we were wondering about this word "cakewalk" that kept getting applied to Iraq (where's Safire when you need him?). Public relations man Chris Ullman tracked down this explanation on the Bedtime Browser: http://www.briggs13.fsnet.co.uk/idioms%20list.htm

"Most authorities consider that this saying goes back to the days of slavery in the USA. The slaves used to hold competitions to see which couple could produce the most elegant walk. The best promenaders won a prize, almost always a cake. The extravagant walk required for this type of competition came to be called a Cakewalk and this gave rise to the old fashioned expression 'it's a cakewalk'. However the meaning later came to emphasise the trivial nature of the competition and began to imply that the effort needed was minor and of little account."