By Joseph Perkins, San Diego Union-Tribune December 17, 2004 A new Gallup survey is rather disquieting for those of us in the media. It finds that not even a quarter of Americans perceive either television or newspaper reporters to have "very high" or "high" standards of ethics and honesty. There are various explanations for that perception in the eyes of the public. But the belief here is that one major contributing factor is the public's perception that some of what they read on the front pages of the major dailies or watch on the evening news is politically slanted. Indeed, the public need look no further than coverage of the war in Iraq to see prima facie evidence of media bias. Take the recent incident involving Edward Lee Pitts, a reporter with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Pitts sat in on a town-hall style meeting in Kuwait between Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and soldiers awaiting deployment to Iraq. Rather than simply report the give and take between Rummy and the troops, Pitts got himself into the act. He surreptitiously fed one soldier a "gotcha" question about vehicle armor, that the soldier almost certainly would not have asked on his own, that the reporter knew would put the defense secretary on the spot. Then, as Pitts later boasted in an e-mail, he "went and found the Sgt. in charge of microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out the crowd." What was really groovy, Pitts continued, "was that after the event was over the throng of national media following Rumsfeld The New York Times, AP, all the major networks swarmed to the two soldiers I brought from the unit I am embedded with." Then there's Kevin Sites, the NBC News correspondent, who was embedded with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. During last month's military campaign to retake Fallujah from the insurgents, Sites filmed the shooting of an apparently injured enemy fighter by a Marine. The footage was broadcast not only here in the United States, but throughout the world. It further inflamed anti-American sentiments in the Arab street, not to mention among Iraq's Sunni minority. Sites denies being an anti-war activist. He professes to be "shocked to see myself painted" that way. Yet, his previous work, featuring photos of captured Iraqis, appears on a Web site entitled "Images Against War." Surely, the anti-war site did not use the lensman's work without his assent. Finally, there's the Abu Ghraib story. It made worldwide news after a sensational report last spring on "60 Minutes II," featuring CBS news "correspondent" Dan Rather, exposing abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of American soldiers. Now CBS producers have never seen fit to broadcast footage of the various men (and at least one woman) who have been beheaded by insurgents (or terrorists) in Iraq. Yet, they chose to air highly inflammatory photographs showing American soldiers mistreating captured Iraqis. It would be one thing if CBS had been exposing a cover-up by the Pentagon. But the fact is that, a month before the "60 Minutes II" report aired, the Army announced that 17 soldiers in Iraq, including a brigadier general, had been removed from duty for degrading Iraqi prisoners. As it happens, the Abu Ghraib prison photos that aired on "60 Minutes II" were obtained by CBS News producer Mary Mapes. She's the same producer who obtained the phony documents suggesting that President Bush did not fulfill his Vietnam-era National Guard obligations. Of course, Mapes and her colleagues at CBS News would deny being anti-Bush, would deny being anti-war. Questions about armor plating for the Humvees used in Iraq needed asking. The story about the Marine shooting an apparently injured, apparently unarmed insurgent fighter needed telling. And scandalous treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib needed exposure. But as Marshall McLuhan, the so-called Oracle of the Electronic Age, famously said: "The medium is the massage." Indeed, when stories appear on the front pages of major dailies or air on the evening news offering decidedly negative assessments of America's prosecution of the war in Iraq or reflecting badly upon this nation's men and women in uniform, many Americans wonder about the reporter's motivation. In many cases, if not most, the reporter may simply be calling it as he or she sees it. But in at least some cases, it seems, the reporter's story is driven by anti-war bias.