Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Is the Times letting average Iraqis voice their opinions?

Frank in Orlando e-mailed regarding "New Election Issues: Electricity and Water" by James Glanz in this morning New York Times. "Did you miss this?" No, but never take it for granted that I've read the entire morning section by the time I blog.

Frank in Orlando: They're dealing with the water and electricity being out and they quote eleven to twelve average Iraqis.

Frank in Orlando is entitled to his opinion. (And I'm glad he shared it.) I disagree.

Only after Christian Parenti and Laura Flanders have made a strong issue out of what Baghdad Burning has been reporting does the Times finally do what should be their job and actually report on it.

However, they still can't give the reader the information they need.

Let's note two points Baghdad Burning (

Baghdad Burning: "People in many areas are being told that if they don’t vote- Sunnis and Shia alike- the food and supply rations we are supposed to get monthly will be cut off. We’ve been getting these rations since the beginning of the nineties and for many families, it’s their main source of sustenance. What sort of democracy is it when you FORCE people to go vote for someone or another they don’t want?"

This isn't dealt with at all unless the Times' love to paint someone as a conspiracy nut is their attempt at dealing with this ("intense emotions" -- how would New Yorkers feel after what the Times labels as a week without running water?). Nor it the notion of FORCING "people to go vote." That feeling is valid, whether it's a "should have" feeling (in someone's mind) or not, it's valid, it exists and the paper doesn't recognize this.

Baghdad Burning: "Allawi’s people were passing out pamphlets a few days ago. I went out to the garden to check the low faucet, hoping to find a trickle of water and instead, I found some paper crushed under the garden gate. Upon studying it, it turned out to be some sort of 'Elect Allawi' pamphlet promising security and prosperity, amongst other things, for occupied Iraq. I'd say it was a completely useless pamphlet but that isn't completely true. It fit nicely on the bottom of the cage of E.'s newly acquired pet parakeet."

So the second point, Allawi's people passed out pamphlets. Where is that in the story? (Allawi is praised by one average citizen. For that, the paper makes time to listen.) It's nowhere to be found. Gee, a candidate using scare tactics to win? I guess the Times has never heard of a candidate like that?

As for Frank in Orlando's belief that eleven to twelve average Iraqis are quoted in this piece . . .
Check my math always. But we're of two minds on what an average Iraqi is. I count three: The woman without water (until the end of the story -- Nice, the Times waits a week to report on this and passes it on only when the water -- in one woman's house at least -- is back on), an Iraqi driver (of what I don't know, that's never addressed) and "an Angry Baghdad resident, Muhammad Ali."

The oil minister isn't an average Iraqi to me. (He earned his Ph.D. in Chicago, the Times informs us.) Nor is the electricity minister. Nor is anyone who feels the need to speak of the "good for the Iraqi citizen . . . The citizen now . . ." That's the head of the Iraqi Democratic Nation Party. Is there a place for those voices (and the other offical ones)? Certainly and they should be heard.

I just don't consider them to be the face of the average Iraqi. They are still invisible. And the three in Glanz's story are not the thrust of the story. (They are outnumbered by official sources and the limited space available to quote them is far outweighed by the space given to the officials' quotes.) They are used as local flavor, sprinkled here and there, while the official voices weigh in.

Tariq Ali is speaking to Rachel Maddow and Lizz Winstead on Unfiltered right now. What are his expectations for the election? "The boycott will be much more wide spread." But if you read the Times, you're not hearing that or the reasons for that. Whether the New York Times likes the term "occupation" or not doesn't matter. They exist to report. (Carl thinks they exist to manipulate opinion -- he may be right.) And when the sentiment is prevalent in Iraq, the Times needs to address it. That's my opinion and I could be wrong. (Wouldn't be the first time.)