Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Marcia notes Jim McGovern's "What I Didn't See in Iraq" and some comments on the Times

Marcia e-mailed in to draw our attention to House Representative Jim McGovern's "What I Didn't See in Iraq" from The Nation.

"Trust me when I tell you things are so much better in Iraq," said one US military official to me on my recent visit to that war-ravaged country. I didn't know whether to scream or pull the remaining two strands of hair out of my head. I was in Iraq as part of a delegation of eight members of Congress, led by House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. Everything we have been told about Iraq by the Bush Administration has either been an outright lie or overwhelmingly false. There were no weapons of mass destruction; we have not been greeted as liberators; and the cost in terms of blood and treasure has outpaced even their worst-case scenarios. Trust is something I cannot give to this Administration.
If things in Iraq are so much better, why are we not decreasing the number of US forces there? Why is the insurgency showing no signs of waning? Why are we being told that in a few months the Administration will again ask Congress for billions of dollars more to fight the war? Why, according to the World Food Program, is hunger among the Iraqi people getting worse? It's time for some candor, but candor is hard to come by in Iraq.
We were in Iraq for one day--for security reasons, it is US policy that Congressional delegations are not allowed to spend the night. We spent most of our time in the heavily fortified Green Zone, which serves as coalition headquarters. It's the most heavily guarded encampment I've ever seen--and it still gets attacked. I even had armed guards accompany me to the bathroom. The briefings we received from US military and diplomatic officials were, to say the least, unsatisfying. The Nixonian approach that our military and diplomatic leaders have adopted in dealing with visiting members of Congress is aimed more at saving face than at engaging in an honest dialogue. At first, our briefers wanted to get away with slick slide presentations, but we insisted on asking real questions and attempting to get real answers.

It's an important piece and hopefully people will think about what's being said. Here's another thing to think about, McGovern's conclusion:

What worries me almost as much as our misguided policy in Iraq is that so many of my colleagues and so many citizens have become resigned to the fact that the war will go on. Congress is not being inundated with letters and phone calls and faxes and e-mails and street protests demanding an end to our presence in Iraq. President Bush's re-election seems to have taken much of the energy out of the antiwar movement. My recent visit to Iraq only strengthened my belief that this war is wrong. And only renewed, passionate dissent by the American people can end it.

Marcia: Every few weeks or so, the press starts in on Operation Happy Talk. At best, they put they get that little lie out there for a day or two before truth comes stomping their ass. At what point are we going to get the truth?

Certainly not while the Times hides out in the Green Zone and refuses to address the realities of what went on Falluja, of what is going on there. Certainly not while Filkins' dramatization of a video game is applauded as good reporting. ('From over the shoulder of my troop escorts, I see the blood splatter and feel good about another kill. And happy that the military is escorting me through this area. There are a lot of bodies piling up and I may work in a body count but I'm not going to type up anything that renders them as human casualities because they are my enemy and I am not just a reporter, I am an embed.')

When we posted the link to Filkins' Fresh Air interview, a number of you (those who could hear the segment -- some of you reported problems in attempting to listen online) e-mailed in wondering if Filkins thought he was in the military and if the Times would allow that kind of siding on any other story?

Don't be silly.

Of course they would! Read any news article by Elisabeth Bumiller!

Seriously, history will not look happy on Filkin's prize. It may take ten years, it may take fifty years but that article (and it was one article, not "articles" as some outlets reported) will not stand the test of time. (It doesn't even rate as reporting today.) (My opinion.)

And something to else to remember about the paper of record and Filkins (no, not that they have a lot of time in the Green Zone to plan attacks on one another), Daniel Okrent elected to ignore readers' concerns and questions (when doesn't he?) openly by stating either "what I want to write about" or "what I wanted to write about" and launching into praise-lavish on Filkin's article (which besides lacking perspective, also lacked timeliness -- what was it, six days old by the time it hit the paper? Should it have been in the "magazine reporting" category?).

So when the Times is embarrassed at some future point over this, tell your grandchildren to read that correction/clarification that the paper runs carefully and see if they bother to note that the public editor at the time ran a salute to the piece instead of dealing with concerns of readers.

And when is he going to do that post-review on the campaign coverage in the paper? Remember, on one of his many vacations, he got all the news he needed from the paper of record. (Paper of record, Okrent, I said it again. And you still haven't found when the paper used that phrase, have you?) But he promised that after the election, he'd address the coverage.
He wasn't going to do it while it was going on because you don't review a play in rehearsals.
(Strange logic for the man who called the Tonys a racket in print.)

But instead of the campaign coverage being addressed, we got a lecture on "tone" from Okrent while he outed "George" over a private e-mail to Adam Nagourney. That may have pleased Boy Nags who possibly was humming "Ain't it good to know you've got a friend" (Kat's review has Tapestry on my mind this morning), but I don't think it served readers. (And it certainly didn't serve the public interest to out "George.")

As certain people rush to shower Okrent with praises, we'll stay in the reality based world and remember that vacation reports, attacks on Tony coverage the paper had yet to print, slams at readers and turning to the space over to two professional writers didn't make for a public editor readers could embrace. The "George" episode (which Randy Cohen, The Ethicist for the Times, believes got Okrent censured) was shameful and the low point of Okrent's Erma Bombeck on crack pieces, but there's really nothing to take pride in from his tenure.

And we'll wait to see which watchdogs bother to comment on that. (Bob Somerby has commented on Okrent's failings in real time at The Daily Howler. He, Sam Seder of The Majority Report and a few others are the exceptions.)

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