Thursday, June 08, 2006

NYT: Angels in the outfield? No, idiots in the Green Zone

The roughly 100 male detainees, ordered to be set free in a good-will gesture on Tuesday by the new Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, walked to an awning to take shelter from the fierce sun. They each collected a $200 gift from a local Sunni political party, listened to a speech by one of its members and then wandered into the city where they had been taken prisoner by American soldiers months ago.

The above is from this morning's New York Times and it's entitled "Hundreds of Iraqi Detainees Get First Taste of Freedom." The author?

Oh mama, come here quick,
that ol' Dexy Filkins 'bout to make me sick.
Dexy Filkins
Polluting all our brains

(Sing it to the tune of Jackson Browne's "Cocaine," off the Running on Empty album.)

Even when he tries to go 'humanitarian,' Dexy's lost.

The 2,500 detainees whom Mr. Maliki said he intended to release represent about 10 percent of the prisoners in Iraq, [. . .]

First off can anyone in the press do math? 28,700 is the amount of prisoners in Iraqi and American run facilities according to the United Nations (as of April 30th of this year). 2,500 is not ten percent. And any waiter or waitress expecting a ten percent tip (a stingy percent, granted) at a table that spent $28,700 would look at $2,500 and think "cheap skate." (Or worse.) They would rightly feel they'd been shorted over 300 dollars. So can the press not do percents? Or is "about ten percent" just a more pleasing number?

Granted that might seem a minor detail (though it's irritated me since "about ten percent" first started getting tossed around). It's not a minor detail to Dexy who is bound and determined to establish that 500 prisoners were released today:

In addition to the 100 released at the Baghdad bus station, about 200 were let go Wednesday in Anbar Province, west of Baghdad, and another 200 in Mosul, in northern Iraq, said Col. Wes Martin, an American officer at the scene in Baghdad.

Why it adds up to 500! The reality, never strongly present in any article that carries Dexy's byline, is that 594 prisoners were released on Wednesday. So yes, the math starts to matter.
It's not "about ten percent" of the prisoners from the last UN estimate but once that becomes the accepted shorthand, along come the Dexy's determined to make sure their own figures add up to 500. What flies out the window is reality.

Now let's deal with the $200 dollars the prisoners were each given. Does Dexy know which Sunni party? Apparently not. That's another detail, like the 94 prisoners he can't account for, that he can't be bothered with. It's the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party and most international accounts yesterday (early accounts) managed to note that. It's the political party of Iraq's vice-president Tareq al-Hashemi.

We could continue about our embed in the Green Zone but Jonah e-mails about another embed, John F. Burns. Jonah notes the article is on the website with something about "just published 14 minutes ago." Which is why it's not on the front page (though there's a nice photo of Joan Jett -- who didn't lie anyone into war -- in the lower left hand corner of the front page).

Burns' latest nonsnese "Leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq Has Been Killed" is a press briefing and, no surprise, the wire services beat him -- but they didn't feel the need to go on and on and on. If this makes the print edition tomorrow, it'll need to be severely edited.

Burns, being a reporter with a blanket of impunity, feels no need to use terms like "alleged." He just knows that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is all the things that have ever been said about him (well, everything but "dead" which has been said about him for months and months). Why? Probably a little bird, in military dress, whispered it into his ear in the Green Zone.

Using terms like "a major watershed in the war," "a rare upturn," and likening it to the capture of Saddam Hussein (another tale the New York Times never got right, by the way), Burnsie's all a titter, frothing at the mouth and spitting out every word he (and American generals) can think to squeeze into the article. "Think"? That might be giving this nonsense too much credit. There's no thought process going on other than "free association." (Truly, the piece needs an editior.)

Why has the Times done such a crappy job covering the war in Iraq? Well, it is true that they sold it. Not just Judith Miller -- Michael Gordon, Dexter Filkins and John F. Burns are among those who did as much as Miller if not more. But forget motive for a moment, Burns reveals it's also due to stupidity.

Only someone so stupid would think one person matters. Only someone so ignorant of political realities and the very concepts of rebellions and revolutions would believe that one death (if true) mattered in the least. It's not "a watershed." It's not "a rare upturn" and prefacing those phrases with "apparent" doesn't change the fact that Burnsie, the psuedo-great war reporter has just demonstrated he's completely ignorant of war reporting. In Vietnam, his fellow correspondents would have laughed him out of the bar. Such are the times that today he can pass for a "great."

He's not the only idiot. For instance the AP's Patrick Quinn pens this statement (in his opening paragraph!): "It was a major victory in the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the broader war on terror." But Quinn doesn't have the marquee value that "John F. Burns" has (or, hopefully, had -- he's truly Sylvester Stallone at the box office these days, though the Times tries hard not to notice).

The alleged mastermind supposedly died Wednesday evening. "Watershed"? The AP also reports this morning:

Bombs struck a busy outdoor market and a police patrol in a mostly Shiite area of Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 19 people and wounding more than 40, police said

I guess we'll all assume the alleged mastermind planned those attacks before his death? That those carrying out the bombings did so in memory? "Come on, we can't go wobbly! We gotta' get the kills for al-Zarqawi! What will we do without him! Like Scarlet O'Hara, we'll worry about that tomorrow! Fiddle-dee-dee, we've got bombings to do! As Allah is our witness!"

Look for Bully Boy, when he finally wakes and is given the 'news' (and then it's explained to him slowly), to boast and bluster as though something's changed. Nothing's changed. Even if al-Zarqaiw is dead, nothing's changed. Only idiots who don't understand a war zone could think anything's changed. Burns demonstrates he's one of the biggest idiots today. It goes beyond wanting to please 'the American tax payers.' He truly doesn't have a clue. (Dexy? He's just hoping no one gives him a math quiz.)

Robin wonders if we've noted something already? I can't remember. But we need something to clear (clean?) the air after the nonsense of the embeds. So we'll (gladly) note Christian Parenti's "Letter From Bolivia: Morales Moves" (The Nation):

Maybe it's the altitude or the Xanax hangover from the long night flight in, but political culture in Bolivia seems to have changed radically in the past year. Awakening in a shabby La Paz hotel, I turn on the TV. Onscreen sits the usual Barbie doll-style hostess, but she is interviewing Raul Prada, a short, thickset Marxist intellectual with permanently bent eyeglasses. The last time I saw Prada he was in the streets dodging tear gas with the masses. Now an adviser to Evo Morales and his party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Prada is explaining why the government just nationalized a big part of Bolivia's natural gas industry.
"Nationalization of hydrocarbons has been a demand and a state policy since the defeat of the traditional elites during the Chaco War of 1932-35," says Prada, referring to a cataclysmic bloodletting with Paraguay that was to Bolivia what World War I was to Europe. In 1937 the Bolivian government confiscated Standard Oil's operations in the country--all of them, without compensation.
"By those standards, the current policy isn't even really nationalization," says Prada with a tone of resigned disappointment. The Barbie doll TV hostess nods and follows up with interesting and informed questions: How, exactly, will Bolivia "industrialize" its natural gas reserves? How much will the planned infrastructure cost?

And Martha notes (and notes that the report gets it right -- one of the few -- about the three posts) Omar Fekeiki's "Key Iraqi Security Ministers Sworn In" (Washington Post):

The Iraqi parliament, in a political breakthrough, approved the long-delayed appointments of officials to lead the country's three top security ministries Thursday.
The action ended weeks of talks and sectarian divisions over the leadership of the ministries of interior, defense and national security.

Remember to listen, watch or read Democracy Now! today. The e-mail address for this site is

[Ava note: Post corrected. "but" changed to "about."]