In recent months, the gruesome images and stories emanating from Iraq have hardened the public's perception about the conflict there. The war is increasingly viewed as a grim, chaotic mess.
Voters made their disappointment in the war known a month ago in the midterm elections, according to exit polls that showed the issue was an important vote driver. Official Washington sanctioned that view last week when the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, wrote in its report that the situation on the ground was "grave and deteriorating."
But for those who troll the blogosphere for news, there is a distinctly different view of the Iraq war available. In this version, the United States is "winning the war on the battlefield, albeit with difficulties in some areas," but "losing the information war."
This is the war as seen and posted by Bill Roggio, a former active duty soldier (in the early 1990s) and current blogger embedded with marines in Iraq. His site is www.billroggio.com. Mr. Roggio is no small-time Web scribe. He has written for The Weekly Standard, National Review, and the New York Post. And his posts, such as his recent ones filed from Fallujah, have created a buzz among conservative bloggers.
Roggio's view on the conflict in Iraq is decidedly personal and naturally one-sided, but it is engaging. When he's embedded with troops, as he is now, Roggio offers something not often seen in the media – stories about soldiers on the job in dangerous places.
"Today I patrolled Route Mobile with the Marines of 2nd Platoon, 3rd Section, lead [sic] by Staff Sergeant Joshua Meyers. The section calls itself The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," Roggio wrote Dec. 6. "This route can be dangerous. Insurgents drop roadside bombs out of cars, place them in craters or dig holes and bury them, in an attempt to kill Marines and destroy their vehicles. Most of the patrols are uneventful however. Many of the roadside bombs are easily spotted and subsequently destroyed by an Explosive Ordinance [sic] Disposal team."
There is little question about whether Roggio has a point of view. He is there to report on the scene, but more important, he reports on the soldiers' experiences.
His bias can be overwhelming at times – his posts can sound a lot like government talking points filtered through war stories. When he's not filing stories from a war zone, he likes to take issue with the mainstream media's reporting of events, such as The Washington Post's recent report on the dangers of Anbar Province. He often sees Al Qaeda as the hand behind most of what's going on in Iraq, such as the Thanksgiving bombings that killed more than 200.
Those views are not in the mainstream and many people, including Iraq Study Group cochairmen James Baker and Lee Hamilton, do not subscribe to them. But while some might discount Roggio as a journalist who lets his patriotism and ties to the military get in the way of his work, there is value in his reportage.
In the voices of Roggio's soldiers, readers hear a soldier's perspective – or at least some soldiers' perspectives – on the efforts in Iraq and the way the media are covering them. In Fallujah, for instance, Roggio writes of the distinctions the US troops draw between the Iraqi Army, which they have some faith in, and the Iraqi police, which they discount as "gangsters." And in another recent post, he describes a real and growing dislike for the press among the soldiers who, he says, feel the media have "abandoned" them.
Granted, these are only a few voices and anecdotes, but they do bring home a feel for what the US troops are facing in Iraq.
That's the positive side of what an independent blogger such as Roggio can do for Iraq coverage. He is unafraid to go into dangerous places and he offers a very different perspective. For that reason, he is a worthwhile read on Iraq, so long as he is not the only read on the subject. He shows what one blogger in a war zone can do.
The problem, one all too common in the blogosphere, is that Roggio has become less a reporter than a validator of the pro-war viewpoint to many. He has become a phenomenon among war supporters, most of whom, judging from reader comments, read him largely because they agree with his views.
And that's too bad for the war's supporters and its detractors as well. Bloggers such as Roggio can create a fuller picture of the conflict in Iraq. But if only one side of the political spectrum reads him – or one side reads him and only him – both sides will be missing some important perspective.
• Dante Chinni, a senior associate at the Project for Excellence in Journalism, writes a twice-monthly column on media issues. E-mail him at Dante Chinni.