Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Are rebels drug users? Is there a two term limit Geneva "Rule"?

Two issues with two stories in today's New York Times.

Robert F. Worth's "9 Iraqis Die in Car Bombing At the Official Compund" (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/14/international/middleeast/14iraq.html?oref=login) is a strong article but I do want to highlight one section:

Recently, American and Iraqi troops discovered tunnel networks, sewer systems and hiding places where insurgents have managed to evade capture and then carry out ambushes, sometimes with deadly effect. "In many instances, they are hiding under beds, or in spider holes, then firing at the last second in very close quarters," said Lt. Col. Dan Wilson, a Marine spokesman.

Marines have also found evidence that some insurgents are using drugs before they attack, he said.

Despite the deaths of the seven marines on Sunday and another on Saturday, the number of attacks in Falluja and the surrounding area has dropped since the Falluja offensive, and local residents have begun assisting the American-led effort in ways they never did in the past, Colonel Wilson said. . . .

Where's the evidence? I get that Lt. Col. Dan Wilson "a Marine spokesman" says that they've found evidence. But maybe the better verb here is "claims?"

I don't know whether rebels are using drugs or not. If I were to claim they were, it seems to me, the burden of proof would be upon me. Considering the hype coming from spokespeople that tends to fade as facts come out, I do questions that Wilson's assertion is printed with no backing. Worth may know it's true, but the allegation isn't supported within the story.

Is this part of a psyops program? Convince Iraqis that the rebels are wild drug users? I don't know. It could be. Maybe it's propaganda aimed at the domestic population? Maybe it is in fact true that rebels are using drugs? I don't know.

I do know there's no proof offered for Wilson's assertion so I'm unclear on how it made it into the paper.

Steven R. Weisman's "U.S. Presses for New Director of the U.N.'s Atomic Agency" (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/14/politics/14baradei.html?pagewanted=all) downplays the spying on Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. (See http://thecommonills.blogspot.com/2004/12/democracy-now-matthew-rothschild-on.html for yesterday's Democracy Now! report on spying.)

Weisman tells us the Bush adminstration wants ElBaradei out and, in the fifth paragraph, in an oh-by-the-way aside:

The administration's comments were prompted by a report in The Washington Post on Sunday that secret negotiations conducted by Dr. ElBaradei with Iran had been intercepted by American intelligence services, but that they did not reveal anything incriminating to strengthen the hand of conservatives in the administration seeking his ouster.

That's an aside? That's a minor detail to raise and never develop? Apparently so.

Weisman reports that there's no support in the international community for the US push to dump ElBaradei and that there are even those who doubt the wisdom of the push within the Bush admistration.

The White House is still pushing "the so-called Geneva rule" (a limit of two terms only for leaders of international orgs.). This has been popping up for some time. Sec. of State Colin Powell was using it in a Sept. 29 AFP wire story to argue that ElBaradei be replaced.

Weisman gives us no background on this "so-called Geneva rule." Is it a rule? What's the history on this?

BBC weighed in on this in October (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/not_in_website/syndication/monitoring/media_reports/2596447.stm):

According to officials, Washington is in favour of the so-called "Geneva rule," the position of the Geneva group of top 10 contributors that heads of international organisations should not server more than two terms.

So then it's not a rule? It's a position? An opinion? Then Weisman needs to explain that to readers.

Weisman deserves credit for using "so-called Geneva rule" (though the press appears to be using it in most reporting) but the reader needs to know why it's a "so-called" rule. The administration continues using it. They continue to call it a rule when in fact it's not a rule.

Like this administration is knowledgable in Geneva rules, let alone Geneva conventions?

The point is, when the administration implies something is a "rule" and it's an opinion, the press needs to make sure the public has that information. Maybe the Times has dealt with this before? If so Weisman might have felt that using the term "so-called Geneva rule" was enough. If this is not a rule, that is not enough.

Weisman's use of "so-called" clues the reader in that there's debate on this and that's important to pass on to the reader. But with the administration still claiming this is an actual rule and using it to argue that ElBaradei needs to step down, I'd argue the reality needs to be made very clear.

Europe isn't supporting the administration on the move to force ElBaradei out. At some point, if a large number of Americans start paying attention to this story, some may start saying, "It's a rule! Why won't Europe support us on enforcing a rule!"

It's apparently not a rule. The administration keeps claiming it is. This is very basic information that the press needs to walk us through. If Weisman (or any other reporter at the Times) has walked us through it, I think we still need walking. And will continue to do so as long as the administration continues to insist it's a "rule."

How did people get so misinformed regarding basic information during the lead up to the war in Iraq? Some of it is just not paying attention, true. Some of it is choosing to believe myth over fact. But the press has a responsibility and it needs to live up to that. I'll give the Times credit for the mea culpa but "nothing changes, if nothing changes." Which means they've identified problems in the mea culpa. Now they need to make sure those problems are not occuring again.

No, the Times isn't the only news source to express regret over their lead up to the war coverage. The New Republic reportedly expressed concern -- I don't read The New Republic. The Washington Post did not express regret. That was a piece by Howard Kurtz that Howard Kurtz chose to write not the paper's official position. (As Kurtz noted in "Ultimately, Newspapers Can't Move the Earth," "No one in management asked me to write the story.")

"The Post on WMDs: An Inside Story" ran on August 12th of this year in the paper (front page article, in fact). The Washington Post got a great deal of credit for running this on the front page. But the paper doesn't admit wrong doing. Executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr. offers excuses as do many others.

"Do I feel we owe our readers an apology? I don't think so." So said Liz Spayd (assistant managing editor of national news). "We are inevitably the mouthpiece of whatever administration is in power." So explained reporter Karen DeYoung. Dana Priest (reporter) offered that stories "skeptical" of the administration's positions resulted in "hate mail" (Kurtz's term, not Preist's).

Speaking of peace adovcates and others against the war, Downie opined, "They have the mistaken impression that somehow if the media's coverage had been different, there wouldn't have been a war."

Where would they get that opinion? From unsigned editorials? If those don't have any weight why do so many papers run them? From op-ed columns? Again, if they carry no weight, why do papers run them? In fact, if "one paper" makes so little difference, perhaps it's time to do to stop turning trees into paper.

Could one paper have prevented all the destruction and lost lives that have occurred since March of 2003? I don't know if only one paper could have. But I do know there was a chorus that the mainstream media sang repeatedly with few exceptions ("It's off to war we go . . .").

And I do believe that one of anything shows bravery, others can follow. One person, one paper, one anchor, whatever, it does make a difference.

That's my opinion, Downie feels differently. One wonders why, with that attitude, he's in the newspaper business?

Individuals have also expressed their own mea culpas. Ted Koppel expressed some reservations as did Lesley Stahl. Daniel Okrent, in his public editor space, was much more detailed than the Times' in their mea culpa.

But the point is, the Times offered a mea culpa and we focus on the Times on this blog. (No other paper has offered a mea culpa that I'm aware of. E-mail me if you know of one I'm forgetting.) If that mea culpa means anything, they need to act accordingly.

In the original post, I'd referred people to The Daily Howler (people who'd e-mailed regarding the Times' social security story this morning). Though it didn't cover that story, Bob Somerby is still addressing the social security issue (and may address the Times' story yet) so please check in at www.dailyhowler.com if you're trying to follow that issue.

[Note: This post has been edited. Typos and other things have been caught. For clarity somethings have been added -- including the section on mea culpas. Thanks to Shirley, as always, for catching mistakes and for indicating where additional clarification was needed.]