[Note: This is an editorial.]
What the hell goes on in the Green Zone? Forget the rumors that led to a guild becoming involved (rumors of wild behavior on the part of Times reporters, rumors that someone was fired for telling truths to wives back in the United States, rumors, rumors, rumors), exactly what do they do?
Not a whole hell of a lot.
The big Iraq news of the week was Tal Afar. The Times front paged Kirk Semple's " Baseball in Iraq: As Pastimes Go, It's Anything But." Apparently the jock fumes reach the Green Zone as well. (Though I'll refrain from pinning this one on Todd S. Purdum.)
This is a front page story. Why? Not because it's a big story in Iraq. It's not. It's a piece of disgraceful fluff. It's Operation Happy Talk. And while it goes on, while we're bored with a non-story passing for front page news, the Times can't even report on Tal Afar.
What do they do in the Green Zone?
Yes, Friday, finally, a story ran in the Times on Tel Afar: "U.S.-Iraqi Sweep Arrests 200 in Rebel Staging Area" but the Times receives no credit for that article, it's an Associated Press article. Whatever it's positives or minuses, all the Times did was run a report by another news organization.
So what do they do in the Green Zone?
And what the hell is Robert F. Worth? Is he a reporter? Is he an op-ed writer? Read
"Basra Bombs Kill 16 Iraqis and 4 U.S. Contractors" and try to answer that question.
I'm unable to grasp how, in a story on bombings, this opening qualifies for a news report:
There was also a piece of good news: American military officials said [. . .]
What did "American military officials" say? It doesn't matter for this discussion. (A contractor was released.) What is that judgement call ("good news") doing in the paper? Is Worth channeling Matt Lauer? Tip to Worth: "In other news . . ." You're supposed to be reporting. You're not there to editorialize.
The sentence, the part noted above, reveals all that is wrong with the Times reporting on Iraq.
"American military officials said . . ." That's the basis for every damn thing. (Yes, I'm tossing around "damn." Call me Bumiller. But "damn" is much more mild than the word I'm saying outloud as I dictate this.)
Reporters are supposed to serve as the eyes and ears of the public. That's why they're called the "watch dogs." That's not happening when every "report" is a press release. "American military officials said . . ." And what did you see Robert F. Worth? What did you hear? Not what were you told. What did you observe all by yourself?
Or does that require leaving the Green Zone? From all accounts, it's Delta House there so who would want to leave -- other than someone with a modicum of taste?
Look they can Boys Gone Wild it or not all they want in the Green Zone, I don't care. I do care what makes into print but I wonder if anyone reporting from the Green Zone does?
I did a conference call with three friends (reporters) on this asking them to play devil's advocate so I could anticipate the responses. (The Times would call the phone call "reporting.")
So here's the big argument. "It's not safe. I could lose my life."
You know what, cover cook-offs. If that's your excuse, cover cook-offs. No one's forcing you to be there. The paper certainly isn't forcing anyone. Reporters are choosing to be there. If you're a reporter and you're there, you need to be reporting.
It's not safe, doesn't cut it. It wasn't safe for Daniel Pearl. He went after the story. Others have before him and will after. The attitude of "Oh it's tough here so you have to cut me slack" doesn't wash. You get off your asses or the Times needs to appoint J-school graduates who are ready to dig in and find stories. (Which the Times, being the Times, will water down. But a diluted news report is still more powerful than any of the diluted press releases that regularly get filed.)
There is nothing, I repeat nothing, that reporters can point to with pride coming out of Iraq for the paper. You're not making a name for yourself. The t-shirt you should be furnished with when you depart can only proclaim: "I SURVIVED THE GREEN ZONE." That's all that's being done. Reporting isn't being done. (And the Times is becoming a joke to other print organizations over their "reporting" from Iraq.)
Want a blast from the past? Try this ("More Iraqi Army Dead Found in Mosul; 2 Clerics Slain," November 23, 2004):
Basic services are still unavailable in Falluja, and the valves in the city's main water-treatment plant are still not working. But troops will provide bottled water until the plant and the city's heavily damaged water and sewer pipes can be fixed, the general said.
The general said it, did he? Well Richard A. Oppel. Jr. and James Glanz, did you follow up on that? Or did you just print what you were told? (Rhetorical question.)
Does anyone working for the Times in Iraq do anything more than play telephone chain? Does anyone not buckle immediately?
From Molly Bingham's "Home From Iraq" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution):
The intimidation to not work on this story was evident. Dexter Filkins, who writes for The New York Times, related a conversation he had in Iraq with an American military commander... Towards the end of one of their conversations, Dexter declined an invitation for the next day by explaining that he'd lined up a meeting with a "resistance guy." The commander's face went stony cold and he said, "We have a position on that." For Dexter the message was clear. He cancelled the appointment.
If you're going to discuss Iraq, you have to discuss Filkins at some point. I'm aware it's more pleasing to discuss Judith Miller. But if she had a part in getting us over into Iraq, it's the "reporters" like Filkins who keep us there. For the record, Filkins has denied Bingham's version of the events. People will have to make up their own minds as to whom to take the word of.
While you're attempting to sort that out, let's again note this:
Christian Parenti mentioned Filkins last night on The Laura Flanders Show: "Dexter Filkins politics are very different from the Dexter Filkins politics we know in the New York Times. [In person, he's saying] 'Oh it's awful, the situation is totally out of control.'" That's a paraphrase (I've left out a "Dude" among other things).
Oh, it's awful, the situation is totally out of control?
Didn't seem that way when Filkins reported "In Faulluja, Young Marines Saw the Savagery of an Urban War" -- his rah-rah-rah piece of "award winning" journalism. Six days after the battle (Nov. 15), Filkins' story makes it into print. Exactly how slowly does he type? Exactly whom edited that copy?
From Dahr Jamail's "Iraqi Hospitals Ailing Under Occupation" (pdf format, you can find the quote below at this site here):
Burhan Fasa'a, a cameramn with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), witnessed the first eight days of the fighting. "I entered Falljuah near the Julan Quarter, which is near the General Hospital," he said during an interview in Baghdad. "There were American snipers on top of the hospital," who, he testified, "were shooting everyone in sight." The Iraqi Red Crescent would have to wait a full week before being permitted to dispatch three ambulances into the city.
Not quite the way Filkins reported it. For that matter, not quite the way Richard A. Oppel, Jr. and James Glanz report it. (They report that the Iraqi Red Crescent found no one when they entered Falluja. They just fail to seriously address why that is.) It goes beyond Filkins but Filkins has the prize and he contributed the go-go boy gone wild story that portrays a massacre as a video game.
Reality: Preceding the blood bath, males of "fighting age" were prevented from leaving that city. The destruction was severe and has not been "fixed." (Does the United States military still provide bottled water? Did they ever? Not what they told you, but what you could verify, please.)
Press releases continue to pass for reporting ("Hussein Confessed to Massacre Order, Iraqi President Says") and they should all be worried. They're the upcoming Judy Millers. They're the laughingstock of many of their peers. (Filkins epecially whose appearance on Terry Gross's Fresh Air is legendary -- and the tales repeated of it are far more interesting than what he actually said on air.)
Let's note this:
On this 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Amy Goodman, host of the national radio and TV show "Democracy Now!" is submitting a formal request to the board of the Pulitzer Prize, calling for The New York Times and its reporter William Laurence to be stripped of the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the atomic bomb. Laurence was also on the payroll of the US War Department. Goodman recently wrote an Op-Ed in The Baltimore Sun (written with journalist David Goodman, her brother) called "The Hiroshima Coverup" (see http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0805-20.htm ).
Goodman said, "William Laurence and the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the atomic bomb, and his faithful parroting of the government line was crucial in launching a half-century of silence about the deadly lingering effects of the bomb. It is time for the Pulitzer board to strip the atomic bomb apologist and his newspaper of this undeserved prize."
This is Filkins future. I used to assume that it would take place long after he was gone. (And long after I was gone.) But he's the one reporters bring up to me. They're friends and they know I consider his reporting proganda. (Had the election gone differently, would his story have been more realistic?) So maybe they're just saying what they say to please me? I don't think so. (I could, as always, be wrong.)
But away from them, when you walk someone through Filkins reporting, someone who has no idea who he is, they grasp that its people like Filkins that keep us in Iraq.
By failing to report accurately what Operation Enduring Falsehood did (and what they do) they allow a number of otherwise well meaning people to think "fine tuning" is an answer. (Filkins is also a laughing stock for a TV appearance I missed. He supposedly minimized a trial for the abuses of Abu Ghraib -- with regard to instructions from above.) Fine tuning isn't an answer. As Filkins allegedy told Parenti, "It's totally out of control." Until that truth makes it into the reports, I'm saddened by those who argue fine tuning and aren't war hawks but I don't blame them for the failures of the press to report reality. They're being short changed. (Hawks aren't. They don't need excuses to continue war. They thrive on it the way some in the Green Zone thrive on the chaos.)
But here's the reason Filkins may feel the bite while he's still alive. Some domestic reporters in the United States aren't speaking fondly of the embeds. They're pointing fingers right now as the clampdowns that reporters have gone along with in Iraq come home to the United States.
The Boys Gone Wild are also a joke to people who've served in the area. And those first hand accounts will continue to come out. A Worth or Glanz will be embarrassed for being so quick to print press releases, but Filkins was in Falluja. He saw with his own eyes and he didn't report.
The bodies, the limbs piled up in the streets, Filkins somehow missed. And he was there. A friend at one of the top ten (circulation) dailies has gone from lukewarm support of Filkins' infamous "reporting" to outright disgust with it. The opinion is there is no "comeback" from it. That Filkins could do a mea culpa and return his prize and he'd still be damaged goods.
That kind of talk may not make it into the Green Zone but Filkins should worry. And so should the paper.
In an early November piece on Falluja (this one co-written with James Glanz), a military officer told Filkins that "it ought to go down in history." Filkins accepted the gung-hu attitude, too bad he didn't consider the words themselves. This will go down in history.
This will haunt the Times and it will haunt Filkins.
Amy and David Goodman may not get the Times stripped of a Pulitizer (though I hope they do) but just addressing the issue accomplishes something. And when the issue of Dexter Filkins is seriously addressed it will further tarnish the paper's name.
With Judith Miller, the paper waited far too late to address the situation. (Both her reporting itself and the legal argument they attempt to make -- they not Millers' attornies.) If they hem and haw with regards to what passes for "reporting" from Iraq currently, they'll further hurt their already badly damaged reputation.
In the meantime, by not revisiting the press releases they published, they do real reporting, democracy and the people of the United States a huge disservice because they're not reporting. It took Cindy Sheehan to act as the spark to wake up a nation. The Times could have done that long ago with some strong reporting. It shouldn't be the job of the editorials to try to later straighten out the reporting.
And as the press in the United States feels they're under attack, they're making some rather rude comments about those in the Green Zone that they feel have condoned this sort of behavior.
Democracy Now! noted the following Friday:
The journalists who have been covering Hurricane Katrina have literally been risking their lives for the last week. Reporters have been stationed in and around New Orleans since the Hurricane hit and have tirelessly reported on the devastation to the city. Some journalists have expressed enormous outrage at government officials for their slow response. A few television reporters openly broke down on air as they report the horrific conditions and the desperation of victims. Reporters have witnessed the militarization of the city and are starting to feel the effects of the government crack-down on information gathering.
FEMA is now rejecting requests by journalists to accompany rescue boats searching for storm victims. In addition, journalists are being asked not to photograph any dead bodies in the region. NBC News Anchor Brian Williams reported on his blog, that police officers had been seen aiming their weapons at members of the media. And a blogger named Bob Brigham wrote a widely read dispatch that the National Guard in Jefferson County are under orders to turn all journalists away. Brigham writes: "Bush is now censoring all reporting from New Orleans, Louisiana. The First Amendment sank with the city."
Earlier this week, Reporters Without Borders issued a warning about police violence against journalists working in New Orleans. They highlighted two cases – in one case police detained a Times-Picayune photographer and smashed his equipment to the ground after he was seen covering a shoot-out with police. In the second case, a photographer from the Toronto Star was detained by police and his photos taken from him when police realized that he had snapped photos of a clash between them and citizens who the police claimed were looters.
Those in the Green Zone may have kidded themselves, if they were non-Arabic, that they weren't being controlled. It was just the Arabic reporters suffering, right?
A Dexter Filkins could cancel the meeting with the resistance and kid himself that he made the choice. (Like Madonna' s ludicrous claim in the nineties that the difference was she chained herself.) The "choices" that have been made are now impacting reporters outside the Green Zone and they aren't amused.
That's why the Times should be concerned. The rumblings and grumblings are coming from their competitors. Not from independent media, which the Times would easily dismiss (as it so often does). I don't know that other dailies are doing a better job than the Times (the daily I read is the New York Times). Reporters at other papers seem to think to think they are. Three reporters in particular (two at one organization, one at another) are mentioned repeatedly (by press not affiliated with the two organizations).
The Times is aware that Judith Miller has become the fall guy for every reporter that gave breathless (and non questioning) coverage to WMD claims. So they're familiar with the concept of a fall guy. (They've also created a few over the years.) They should be really concerned right now because although Filkins isn't the "name" that Miller is (even people who didn't read her reporting in real time can now list the problems with it), he'll quickly become that. One reporter trying to cover New Orleans has already used Filkins as an adjective to express dismay over conditions that authorities attempted to impose. ("They thought I'd do a Filkins!")
Whereas the derision of Miller began with the independent press, Filkins' is starting at the top. Again, he wrote a first person account of what happened in Falluja. That's hard to come back from as details continue to emerge about what didn't get reported in that piece of melodrama.
The paper should be very worried. It took years for the criticism of Miller to go beyond independent media. If Filkins gets burned by the mainstream press, it will be a much harder hit than any criticism the Times faces over Miller.
The fact that they've continued to offer press releases won't help them either. They should have dealt with this long ago. They need a new chief in Baghdad and they need it right away.
What Americans need is some honest reporting.
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[Note: Post corrected for typos per Shirley. Typos or not, thanks to ___ for taking dictation. There wouldn't have been any posts on Saturday without ____ and had I been able to do them myself, there would have been more typos judging on my fondness for inverting letters. 9-12-05.]