Thursday, September 21, 2006

NYT: 5,106 dead in Baghdad during July & August (Richard A. Oppel)

The New York Times this morning? Where to begin?

Let's start with the Bobble Head Pundit herself. If you had a been a guest on a television program who couldn't hold your head still, who couldn't stop slinging your arms, who'd caused another guest to flinch when you gestured so wildly that you almost struck her -- and that was so normal for you that you didn't even notice -- are you really the one to comment on the way others deliver a speech? If you're supposed to be a hard news reporter for the Times and you were three-tier earrings to what is supposed to be a serious setting may you've told everything there is to tell about what's inside your empty head? (Other than a bit of Condi talk, of course.)

So Bobble Head Pundit gets her mock on today with "Iran Who? Venequela Takes the Lead in a Battle of Anti-U.S. Sound Bites."

(Note, we didn't even mention the fact that there once was a time when Times reporters who went on television without combing their hair would've gotten a nasty dressing down.)

Helene Cooper is the new joke at the paper and anyone who tries to take her laughable writing seriously should think back to the "White House Letter" before attempting to fact check because, for Bobble Head Pundit, it's all a joke. And today's scribbles continue in the tradition of last week's gushing on Condi (see The Third Estate Sunday Review's "Janet Charlton Arrives at The New York Times"). (Those wanting to know about Hugo Chavez' news conference after the speech should click here.)

In the hard news section, turning to a serious subject that a reporter (as opposed to a 'reporter') actually attempts to live up to some journalistic standards, A18, finds Richard A. Oppel Jr.'s "U.N. Finds Baghdad Toll Far Higher Than Cited." You might wonder why something of news value has to wait for A18 but apparently we're all supposed to be so grateful that Helen Cooper's latest gossip column ran on A14 and not the front page that we overlook everything.

Oppel's lead paragraph uses the figure 5,106 and there are some e-mails about that. From yesterday's snapshot: "AFP reports that the United Nations, noting the increase in reported deaths since the start of July, has estimated that '[a]t least 6,599 civilians were killed across war-torn Iraq in the months of July and August'." Oppel's using 5,106 and stating that's the count for Baghdad alone, not for all of Iraq. Not noted in the article, and maybe no one's following it, is the ever climbing US military fatality rate. 2692 is only eight away from 2700 and, for those with longer memories, the Associated Press noted when the 2600 mark was reached on August 12th. (Then again, maybe the Giddy Gabor of the Green Zone's talking point yesterday, which was repeated everywhere if not explored, is supposed to address that?)

But to the 5,106 figure, that's Baghdad for July and August. That's after the 'crackdown' began and includes periods of jucied up, crackier versions of the 'crackdown' that's had no effect at all (no positive effect) and led Iraqis in parlaiment yesterday to question the puppet (Nouri al-Maliki) about exactly what plan, if any, there was for the safety of the people.

Martha notes Sudarsan Raghavan's "Since Threat, Attacks on U.S. Troops Have Risen" (Washington Post):

Across the country, suicide bombings killed several dozen people and wounded scores over a 24-hour period, and a U.N. report released Wednesday found that the Iraqi death toll from violence in July and August rose by several hundred over the count for the previous two months.
Citing figures from morgues and the Iraqi Health Ministry, the report said the July total of 3,590 violent deaths was "unprecedented," while the August figure of 3,009 was still among the highest monthly totals ever. In comparison, there were 2,669 violent deaths in May and 3,149 in June, the report said.
"Terrorist attacks, the growth of militias, the emergence of organized crime reflects a lack of centralized and authorized control over the use of force in the country, which results in indiscriminate killings of civilians," the United Nations said in a statement. "In this context, hundreds of bodies have continued to appear throughout the country bearing signs of severe torture and execution-style killing."
The report said corpses of people detained by factional militias or by Iraqi security forces in prisons run by the Interior and Defense ministries showed signs of beatings with electrical cables, broken bones and cigarette burns. Bodies at the morgue often "bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones, missing eyes, missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails," it said.
The U.S. military reported recently that murders halved in August from July but has not provided an explanation for this conclusion, stating only that the figures do not include deaths caused by bombings or other large-scale attacks.

Turning back to the Times, we'll note Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder's "Only 25% In Poll Voice Approval Of The Congress" which contains two subheadings including the last half of the second one: "Standing of Bush Also Lags." An individual poll isn't news and the Times loves to front page their findings. I'm not going over this poll. But we will note the following (as several do in e-mails and Mike and Rebecca are doing right now in person):

Mr. Bush's job approval rating was 37 percent in the poll, virtually unchanged from the last Times/CBS News poll, in August.

We're noting it why? If you're asking, you're a community member who's out of the loop. Elaine's "Should The Notion be finger-pointing?" from Wednesday addressed Liza Featherstone getting the notion to rock the boat and she damn near tipped the boat over. Featherstone wrote: "W's approval ratings are back up. Running against him isn't good enough anymore." Featherstone can pick through the report (or the data, I'm sure there's a report on the data available online at the Times) but "approval rating" is a concrete term and, no, his approval ratings are not up. They have remained low, they will continue to do so.

"Running against him isn't good enough anymore." When was it? When Kerry tried to be the smarter Bully Boy in 2004? No, wasn't smarter then either.

There's no need for a half-baked notion -- which has a slam at the peace movement -- well, at least the peace movement got acknowledged -- outside of recent columns by John Nichols, the last time the peace movement got a mention may have been Christian Parenti's article last spring. Last year around this time, Norman Solomon was writing about a Times poll (actually Times/CBS polls and today's poll is another one of those) and noting that 44% of Americans disapprove of the Iraq war. Last year around this time? I don't have time to hunt around online and am dictating this section of the entry. A print version of the commentary appeared in the November/December (bimonthly) issue of The Humanist. I believe it was entitled "Dodging the Costs of the Warfare State" and I think it ran on page 43. In that column, along with noting the growing oppossion to the war (which is so much higher now), Solomon spoke of the need to connect the war's economic costs with the money taken away from the public good. He noted Dwight Eisenhower's statements ("Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. . . .") I can't speak of "notions" because I'm a print reader and only see online stuff that members highlight in their e-mails but I can say, print version, there's been no effort in a year by The Nation to make those connections. There's been no issue of the magazine devoted to Iraq.

The danger, in taking a summer off from the topic -- as independent media has (The Nation did so far less than other outlets), is that when you return to it you grab conventional wisdom and present it as fact. That's what Featherstone did. She took a much pushed talking point that Bully Boy's approval rating was up (something that was dissected by others all summer long -- how it wasn't true) and ran with it. His approval ratings aren't up. But repeating the nonsense that they are will allow for a glomming effect to peel off some types.

If Featherstone, or The Nation, has issues with the peace movement, they need to address them. A few paragraphs where you take issue with a large organization's methods doesn't cut it.
The peace movement knows to expect the mainstream media to ignore it, the shocker was how independent media elected to ignore it all summer long. Mainstream said Bully Boy was up and a notion ran with it. That shouldn't have happened.

Both because the "up" was within the margin of error and because you don't proclaim a trend based on one poll. Polls only demonstrate anything in terms of patterns. For any number of reasons (including the size of the sample, who got included in the sample and the way the questions were structured), you get blips from poll to poll. If you're writing on polls, you need to be aware of that and you need to report what's consistent in the polls. Nagourney and Elder make the point (valid) that the findings on Bully Boy's approval track with polling from last month. It also tracks (as Laura Flanders has pointed out many times on her show, with findings post-Hurricane Katrina). Featherstone's a strong journalist and "The Notion" is not intended to be a deep exploration. (It's a blog done by writers of The Nation.)

However, as the e-mails continue to come in from members complaining, it does merit noting that Featherstone's 'notion' was wrong on the Bully Boy, wrong on the peace movement.

On Bully Boy, it was wrong in terms of facts (as anyone who's taken even a semester of statistics, forget research & methods, should have known). On the peace movement, it was wrong because the magazine hasn't made an effort to cover the peace movement. United for Peace & Justice is a huge organization with a lot of members. It's national and it, like every other peace organization, has worked its butt off.

If Featherstone feels more inspiration is needed in the movement, I won't disagree with that. We were all in agreement with that back in March and made comments to that effect in a roundtable at The Third Estate Sunday Review. We are also aware that a lot is shoved off on the peace movement. It has to turn out people for demonstrations, it has to get the word out on its activities -- with little help from independent media. Anyone who doubts those last six words should ask themselves where anyone in independent media was when CODEPINK started and continued (until yesterday) the Troops Home Fast? Or the trip to Jordan? Or any number of activities that happened this summer, including Camp Casey III?

There were very few exceptions, most took the whole summer off. So whether Featherstone's right or wrong about the peace movement factually (she's wrong factually about the Bully Boy), the right or wrong of the conclusions are beside the point when there's been no effort to cover, let alone explore, the actions of the movement. asks for e-activism whenever they rediscover Iraq and that always gets attention from independent media. It gets cited in commentaries and editorials. The peace movements don't get the same coverage nor do we, all this time later, have one radio program that exists to cover Iraq or one column in a print magazine that exists to cover the peace movement.

A candidate rally is not the equivalent of a demonstration (and anyone who can't grasp that has some serious political issues because it's always easier to zoom in on one person than on a group of people or an issue -- and of course a regional campaign is nothing like a movement to raise national and international awareness). That Featherstone felt the two lent themselves to comparisons indicates how badly independent media continues to fail on their coverage of the peace movement and, when they fail the peace movement, they prolong the war. It's past time to get serious and considering how many allowed themselves lengthy vacations on the topic of Iraq all summer long, they should be rested enough that they can now get serious.

The e-mail address for this site is (And around the time I noted Norman Solomon, I stopped doing links because I saved to draft and dictated the rest of this post to a friend -- thank you, ___, for taking dication and thank you to another friend who did so for the snapshot and hunted down links -- that's not a slam at the person taking the dictation for this entry -- she's doesn't know how to do links and I've told her not to worry about them). We will have at least two other entries up today.

Corrected -- "Post Hurricane Katrina" not "Post 9/11."