Friday, December 30, 2005

NYT: Military says it and Dexy jots it down

American commanders are planning to increase significantly the number of soldiers advising Iraqi police commando units, in part to curtail abuse that the units are suspected of inflicting on Sunni Arabs, a senior commander in Iraq said Thursday.

To curtail abuse? The abuse they knew of as early as June of this year (according to The Christian Science Monitor) and didn't do a thing about? When the topic's Iraq and there's no perspective and no reality, you know we've entered the fantasy land of Dexter Filkins. The excerpt above is from his "G.I.'s to Increase U.S. Supervision of Iraqi Police" in this morning's New York Times.

According to Dexy, the US government currently has about 40 advisers in Iraq but will increase that by "several hundred." Only someone reporting press releases live from the Green Zone could coo so sweetly at the prospect of such a large increase in advisers (others might start thinking of the early days of Vietnam). But give him the spin and the "award winning" Dexter can tease out a "news" item until it has a bad case of blue facts.

Poor Filkins, he must pray so hard that the occupation goes well. If it goes poorly those Falluja press releases he penned might get the serious scrutiny they've longed deserved. What will he do then? Plead "I am just an embed and I only want to spin" to the tune of Phil Ochs' "I'm Going To Say It Now?" (More likely, he'll fire off his little cap pistol in the air while singing, "Don't Cry For Me, Falluja.")

He's not interested in the air raids and he's not interested in what the increase in advisers means (especially in light of statements by Rumsfeld). So let's hear a voice from Iraq, something Dexy can't be bothered with because his hand gets so tired after taking all that dictation from the American military. From Riverbend's "No Voice..." (Baghdad Burning):

As it is, people fear the Americans will be here for the next twenty years-- unless they are bombed and attacked out of the country. Although many Iraqis support armed resistance in theory, I think that the average Iraqi simply wants to see them go back home in one piece- we feel sorry for them and especially sorry for their families at times. There are moments when you forget the personal affronts-- the raids, the checkpoints, the fear of bombing, the detentions, etc. and you can see through it all to the actual person behind the weapons and body armor... On the other hand, you never forget that it's a foreign occupation and will meet with resistance like all foreign occupations.

Filkins can't hear Riverbend from the safety of the Green Zone. Norman Solomon has a tip for the Times, "Journalists Should Expose Secrets, Not Keep Them" (CounterPunch -- noted by Charlie in his e-mail this morning):

Consider how the Washington Post intelligence reporter Dana Priest, for instance, responded to a request for "your opinion on the NY Times holding the domestic spying story for a year," during a Dec. 22 online chat. "Well, first: I don't have a clue why they did so," Priest replied. "But I would give them the benefit of the doubt that it was for a good reason and, as their story said, they do more reporting within that year to satisfy themselves about certain things. Having read the story and the follow-ups, it's unclear why this would damage a valuable capability. Again, if the government doesn't think the bad guys believe their phones are tapped, they underestimate the enemy!"
Also opting to "give them the benefit of the doubt," some usually insightful media critics have gone out of their way to voice support for the Times news management.
Deferring to the judgment of the executive editor of the New York Times may be akin to deferring to the judgment of the chief executive of the United States government. And as it happens, in this case, the avowed foreign policy goals of each do not appear to be in fundamental conflict -- on the meaning of the Iraq war or the wisdom of enshrining a warfare state. Pretenses aside, the operative judgments from the New York Times executive editor go way beyond the purely journalistic.
"So far, the passion to investigate the integrity of American intelligence-gathering belongs mostly to the doves, whose motives are subject to suspicion and who, in any case, do not set the agenda," Bill Keller wrote in an essay that appeared in the Times on June 14, 2003, shortly before he became executive editor. And Keller concluded: "The truth is that the information-gathering machine designed to guide our leaders in matters of war and peace shows signs of being corrupted. To my mind, this is a worrisome problem, but not because it invalidates the war we won. It is a problem because it weakens us for the wars we still face."
(By the way, Keller's phrase "the war we won" referred to the Iraq war.)
The story of the NSA's illicit domestic spying is not over. More holes are appearing in the Bush administration's damage-control claims. Media critics who affirm how important the story is -- but make excuses for the long delay in breaking it -- are part of a rationalizing process that has no end.
"The domestic spying controversy is a story of immense importance," Sydney Schanberg writes in the current Village Voice. The long delay before the Times published this "story of immense importance" does not seem to bother him much. "The paper had held the story for a year at the administration's pleading but decided, after second thoughts and more reporting, that its importance required publication." Such wording should look at least a bit weird to journalistic eyes, but Schanberg doesn't muster any criticism, merely commenting: "From where I stand (I'm a Times alumnus), the paper should get credit for digging it out and publishing it."
Professional loyalties can't explain the extent of such uncritical media criticism from journalists. Many, like Schanberg, want to concentrate on the villainy of the Bush administration -- as if it hasn't been aided and abetted by the New York Times' delay. Leading off his Dec. 24 column with a blast at George W. Bush for "asserting the divine right of presidents," the Los Angeles Times media critic Tim Rutten proceeded with an essay that came close to asserting the divine right of executive editors to hold back vital stories for a very long time. Dismissing substantive criticism as the work of "paranoids," Rutten gave only laurels to the sovereign: "The New York Times deserves thanks and admiration for the service it has done the nation."

Remember that today's topic for Democracy Now! is the year 2005 in review. The e-mail address for this site is