Friday 28 March 2003
Popular belief that the United States is coasting to victory in Iraq has fallen sharply, a new U.S. opinion poll showed on Friday, as Washington struggled in the image battle at home and abroad.
The Gallup survey for CNN and USA Today said public support for the war remained steady at around 70 percent, in line with the findings of other opinion polls also released on Friday.
However, the number of Americans who thought the conflict was going "very well" shot down after news reports from the front lines of U.S. military setbacks and cautions from President George W. Bush against any talk of a quick victory.
Gallup said just 34 percent of Americans surveyed on Monday and Tuesday thought the war was going very well.
That was down from 44 percent on Sunday, the day Iraqi television broadcast graphic images of killed and captured American soldiers, and from 62 percent on Saturday.
A CBS News poll found 55 percent of respondents thought the United States had underestimated the Iraqi army while an ABC News/Washington Post survey said 57 percent of Americans now expected fighting to last months rather than weeks.
David W. Moore, a senior editor at the Gallup Organization, said public expectations of the duration of the war and the U.S. casualties it could cause would probably shift further, although Bush's approval rating was likely to hold up.
"Given how closely people are following events, I wouldn't be surprised if there were to be even more of a shift in expectations," Moore told Reuters.
"I do think the TV coverage has had an impact."
'SILLY,' SAYS BUSH
Frustration burst into the open from the Bush administration on Friday that news coverage of the war -- in particular from journalists that the Pentagon "embedded" with U.S. fighting units -- rather than official pronouncements appeared to be shaping public perceptions.
One senior administration official said Bush thought it was "silly" of journalists to raise doubts about how the war was unfolding and to question the battle plan.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused the media of rapid "mood swings" despite what he called solid progress by U.S. and British forces just over a week into the invasion.
"For some, the massive volume of television -- and it is massive -- and the breathless reports can seem to be somewhat disorienting," Rumsfeld said. "Fortunately, my sense is that the American people have a very good center of gravity and can absorb and balance what they see and hear."
Some experts were not so sure.
Faculty member Kelly McBride of The Poynter Institute, a respected force in American journalism, said action images were always more powerful than a "talking head" and were sometimes flashed across television screens without the broader context.
"Sometimes I get the feeling 'Oh my God, we're losing the war," McBride said. "What you recall are the dramatic situations and the images of people being hurt or the graphic images of where the fighting has occurred."
Judith Kipper, an expert on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Rumsfeld's remarks were unlikely to help America's image in the region, where footage of Iraqi civilian casualties from Iraqi television and other Arab broadcasters has already inflamed anti-American sentiment.
"He is angry at the journalists, but that is not how it comes across in the region," Kipper said. "It comes across as 'We're out there conquering, so get out of our way'."
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