Saturday, January 07, 2006

NYT: Dexy & John will never forget that summer when . . .

Dictated entry. Yesterday morning's entry -- "NYT: "Republican Senator Defends Briefings on Domestic Spying" (Jane Harman)" -- is something we'll address right away. First "(Jane Harman)"? I have no idea why she's in parenthesis. Normally the writer of the piece (credited writer) is in parenthesis. The entry's about Harman so that's fine but the article is credited to Scott Shane. (I wrote the entry yesterday, no dictation. Normally, I'd put Shane's name in the parenthesis. No clue as to why I didn't. It may be an error, I may have been trying to note that it was an entry focusing on Harman.) The Republican in the article (no, not Harman -- she's supposed to be a Democrat) is a representative in the House. Shane's article (and the excerpt reflects provided in the entry reflects this) was not a Senator. The New York Times offers a correction on the headline this morning.

While we're on yesterday morning's entries. Someone (I think it was Lloyd) e-mailed about "Other Items" asking what was wrong with McKinley calling Marcos "Subcommander." When
you are on the third or fourth time explaining how to pronouce "Padilla" (Jose Padilla), and you're dealing with the correspondent (McKinley) covering Mexico, you might want to use "Subcommandante" (the former preface to Marcos) and not offer an English version of it. You could also argue, and others have, that since it was a chosen name, and not a title bestowed officially, it's the same as changing "Francisco" to "Frank."

Now let's dive into this morning's Times. (Dumpster dive?)

Dexter Filkins pens another, this time with Sabrina Tevernise, article (and grabs first billing), this morning "Americans Said To Meet Rebels, Exploiting Rift." The article details the alleged efforts by the American government to exploit and enhance any potential divisions in the resitance in Iraq between those who may be acting out of a desire to expell American occupiers so that Iraqis can self-determine and those who may be acting as part of a movement (al Qaeda) against Americans for reasons that go beyond Iraq. Talks with the resistance have been noted before.

Tom Hayden had a column on reports of the talks awhile back; however, the column that comes to mind this morning is "Why the US Is Supporting Civil War" (Common Dreams) because that's what the paper's describing, whether they grasp it or not. (I think the paper sugar coats it, Dexter must have a sweet tooth.) It's always been about creating chaos (see Naomi Klein's "Baghdad Year Zero" from Harper's). "Few details of the talks were available" the Times' article maintains and for readers the name of what appears to be a single source article is unavailable as well -- "Western diplomat" is hardly helpful. We don't even know the single source's country of origin.

Now let's note the New York Observer's "Media Mensches of the Year," which is creative writing, to say the least, and focuses on Dexter Filkins and John Burns.

"John and I will be friends forever," Mr. Filkins [. . .]

Oh, how sweet. Doesn't it have a "I'll never forget the summer when . . ." ring to it? Let's note that section in full, in fact:

"John and I will be friends forever," Mr. Filkins said. "We've been through quite a bit together. I pretty much go where my curiosity takes me, and John encourages me to do that."
"Dexter is the most energized and questing reporter I know," Mr. Burns said. "He's the complete foreign correspondent--he is absolutely undaunted by risk and is tireless."

And where his curiousity usually takes him is straight to a military official who will provide one version which Filkins then prints without question and certainly without anything that might conflict with the military version. "John encourages me to do that," says Filkins. Burns calls him a "questing reporting" -- well he couldn't very well call him a "questioning" one, now could he?

He is alleged to be "undaunted by risk and is tireless" -- are we speaking of the go-go boy gone wild rumors that led to the Guild getting involved in what might have been a retaliation firing by the paper if the rumors are true. The go-go boys were "Living It Up" (Rickie Lee Jones) in the Green Zone. The article doesn't mention that. But a white wash couldn't, now could it?

And there are those at the New York Observer who object to the story in strong terms. Not just for what's left out but for what the article attempts to imply which is Dexy jogging (solo) through "the streets of Baghdad." In fact, for all the spin about Burns and Filkins being Butch & Sundance, it reads more like Karl and Michael transplanted from the Streets of San Francisco into Baghdad. But, unlike two friends at the Observer, I actually like the Butch & Sundance analogy because, unstated in the article, that tale ends with the freeze frame jump (younger readers should think of the freeze frame ending of Thelma & Louise). Certainly Burns, who was once highly regarded, and Filkins who never encountered an official military tale he couldn't stroke and wax on, jumped over the credibility cliff long ago. They've both been good foot soliders for the Times, pretending that they moved freely throughout Iraq when in fact they hid away in the Green Zone (which the rumors say they treated as just endless days in "Margaritaville") venturing out with their armed body guards or military escorts (or both).

While Burns tries to prop up Dexy's credibility, Dexy hops on the self-important soapbox Muffy Tupperman (Jamie Gertz on Square Pegs) once rode to comic effect. The difference is, Gertz and the writers were attempting to make you laugh at Tupperman.

Burns disgraces himself throughout. In his final days as a reporter, he seems determined to trash his own reputation. Which may be why he feels the need to state that it's important to filter the news through an American filter since the intended readership is "Americans who pay taxes." (And the Times, after strong arming the Washington Post out of the International Herald Tribune, wonders why the paper had to keep its name and not be dubbed the international version of the New York Times?) Burns disgraces himself further by never noting Iraqis in the article -- you know the people who inhabit the country he's allegedly reporting on?

Or maybe he feels referencing "a journey into shades of darkness" covers the "other" (which is how the Times has too often rendered Iraqis)?

It's a puff piece on two puff piece masters. Burns' fall has been little remarked upon by any of the watchdogs. (Official ones. Arianna Huffington may have remarked upon it.) But it's been an embarrassing slide for him. It's been an embarrassment for the paper which still thinks it may have pulled it off. The paper still hopes that readers aren't aware of the confined quarters their reporters occupied, that their reporters couldn't move freely, go down the list.

Dexter Filkins is another Judith Miller because, if you buy into the argument that Miller got us into Iraq, or helped to get us into Iraq, it's Dexter Filkins and his ilk that keep us there. He wants to reflect on his time in Iraq but not in any meaningful way. For instance, he doesn't want to talk about the limited realities he does see (from the Green Zone) or, for that matter, that his movements are limited. The ulitmate embed has promoted the myth that Iraq was a place where he could move freely in article after article. (And the Times has mainly relied on stringers, Iraqis, to explore the areas outside the Green Zone.)

Truth in advertising (because we won't call it "reporting") would have meant a lot more Americans would have grasper earlier what the reality was.

The puff piece tells you that they are "a real-life duo." Well it's nice to know that there were play dates in the Green Zone. I'd hate to think they just sat around drinking their juice boxes in solitude. The article gets one thing right, Filkins "came to define war correspondence in Iraq as it showed up on the American newsstand." The article fails to grasp that the defining isn't a good thing. (Fails to grasp intentionally.)

While correspondents such as Naomi Klein and Dahr Jamail have been telling truths about Iraq, Burns and Filkins haven't. That's what's made Filkins, in particular, the joke of the mainstream press. (Burns' name doesn't promote chuckles, only eye rolls and heavy sighs.) So the New York Observer comes along to puff up their battered egos. You see no mention of the (public and private) rumors that Filkins allowed the military to determine his coverage. You read no mention of the rumors (which again, led to the Guild becoming involved) that wives were contacted regarding go-go boy gone wild behaviors in the Green Zone.

What this is supposed to be is some sort of Brokeback Mountain tale of two cowboys who did it their way. But their actual "way" is never held up to scrutiny. At a time when the mention of Filkins name promotes titters and chuckles in even mainstream press circles, this bad attempt at p.r. only provides more. Filkins would be advised to make himself available only for puff pieces because there are those who are waiting to interview him and they're method won't be summed up in "All I Did Was Ask." Some will actually prepare for the interview.

Burns is such a sad case that he'll probably be treated more gingerly. But Filkins would be advised to prepare for the tough interviews because they're expected to be forthcoming. Some questions he might want to use that Green Zone time preparing for would include:

1) Why, when Iraq was in chaos outside the Green Zone early into the occupation, did your reports not reflect that?

2) Do you really think that readers didn't have a right to know that you were provided with body guards and your movement severly restricted?

3) A reporter stated publicly that you killed an intended interview with the resistance when the American military was displeased. How often did that happen?

4) Your "reporting" on the November slaughter of Falluja ran many days after the end of fighting. Why was that? Is it true that you allowed the military to read over and make suggestions on your copy?

5) If readers had known how severely restricted your movement was from the start and, later on, even in the Green Zone itself, do you think that would have mattered? Why or why not?

6) Since the government has now been forced to admit that white phosphorus was used in Falluja, can you explain why you didn't note that in your articles? (Including your "award winning" one?)

7) What was the deal you agreed to when the military offered to take you into Falluja with them? How did that impact your coverage?

8) As you traveled with bodyguards (wearing black T-shirts with "New York Times" on the front), do you think that effected the way anyone interacted with you?

9) Did you were your own black T-shirt? (Tell the truth on that Dexy, there are some photos floating around.)

10) Using data gathered by stringers was a hallmark of the paper's reporting. In terms of your own reporting, do you feel any regret that stringers weren't credited from the early days? What of those who were the victims of violence or lost a life? Looking back, do you feel that an "end credit" in the later days was really sufficient or, if you had it to do over again, would you insist that they receive a byline?

11) As you packed heat, even while protected by bodyguards, a lot of reporters felt you were "play acting" at war correspondent. How would you reply to your critics?

12) There are those who compare you to a little boy, high on a war, intent to prove your manhood. You say what?

13) You are on record saying that no one can predict what will happen in Iraq. Do you think that their hunches might be stronger if you'd accurately portrayed the conditions under which you were "reporting"?

14) Despite winning an award, does it bother you that Seymour Hersh broke the Abu Ghraib story? That others (including Amy Goodman) broke the white phosphorus story?

15) Exactly what story do you feel that you broke? As someone who spent so much time in the Green Zone, what story do you feel proud about and why?

Explore those questions because, believe it or not, those represent the "easy ones" that some of your supposed peers want to ask you. ("Supposed" because I personally don't believe that Filkins is on their level.) You'll have to offer a little more than "Everything changed that summer."

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