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Glass Half-Empty: Iraq Good News "Grim Gauge" Pointing To Afghanistan

From the Associated Press, a report that US casualties in Iraq have dipped below that in Afghanistan seemingly cannot be expressed without reference to the contrast as "a grim gauge."

It's a grim gauge of U.S. wars going in opposite directions: American and allied combat deaths in Afghanistan in May passed the monthly toll in Iraq for the first time.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates used the statistical comparison to dramatize his point to NATO defense ministers that they need to do more to get Afghanistan moving in a better direction. He wants more allied combat troops, more trainers and more public commitment.

More positively, the May death totals point to security improvements in Iraq that few thought likely a year ago.

But the deterioration in Afghanistan suggests a troubling additional possibility: a widening of the war to Pakistan, where the Taliban and al-Qaida have found haven.

Without minimizing the rising level of conflict in Afghanistan, it remains nearly impossible for much of the media to cite conditions in Iraq in any positive light without finding some mechanism through which to diminish the same.

The above Robert Burns report is not inaccurate. In fact, it's a good report in total. But its introduction is striking as an example of the subtleties of negative reporting and selective framing. The complaint is not simply on style and slant, but on a technical omission as well.

The Associated Press account would do well to draw into such a comparison the shift of al-Qaeda's resources since the joint US-Iraqi offensive still ongoing has decimated al-Qaeda in Iraq and isolated them to remote corners, save for disjointed cells still capable of the spectacular attack. But since losing virtually all Iraqi territory once held by al-Qaeda's Mesopotamian branch, the shift of resources elsewhere has been undeniable.

Unfortunately, the AP report carried by thousands of news outlets does not provide this context. This report and many others would do well to inform the public of this reality within its reports in the same manner such reports draw on pertinent past quotes from relevant individuals for context.