Even if Sana al-Nabhani had cared about the summit meeting in Jordan on Thursday between Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and President Bush, she would not have been able to watch the news. As usual, Iraqis went without electricity from the national grid for most of the day and she could not find any gasoline to run her personal generator.
Told by a reporter later in the day about the meeting's outcome, Ms. Nabhani, a 34-year-old homemaker, scoffed: "Is that all? Was that even worth the fuel consumed by their airplanes?"
Her dismay was common among Iraqis who managed to follow the news on Thursday. So was a range of other emotions that probably would not hearten Mr. Maliki or Mr. Bush, including disappointment, indifference and despair.
For many, the talks promised little and delivered less and reaffirmed a widespread loss of faith in the elected government's ability to turn things around.
The above is from Kirk Semple's "Having Pinned Little Hope on Talks, Many Iraqis Appear to Be Beyond Disappointment" in this morning's New York Times. Oh yes, Iraqis. As the press showed how little removed they were from the paparazzi yesterday ("Over here, Jimmy Baker! Can you give us a smile, Bully Boy?"), Iraqis were forgotten. They were pretty much all filing for E! yesterday. Is this the best J-schools can produce? Rona Barretts and Lolly Parsons have infiltrated the supposed serious press? (Actually Barrett would have done a better job.)
Did no one teach them that, for instance, opening with something along the lines of "As at least 80 corpses were discovered in Baghdad alone, the Bully Boy and Nouri al-Maliki met in Amman, Jordan . . ." would not just provide context but also make for what used to be known as "journalism"?
Apparently, they learned gushing only.
And were happy to display it repeatedly yesterday. Even Reuters couldn't stop filing that crap over and over all day yesterday.
Where were the editors? Were they on an extended lunch? They weren't doing their job. They weren't reminding the 'reporters' that this wasn't the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and that entrances and exits weren't, in and of themselves, 'events.'
Even if they assumed the photo ops mattered, did they not think to instruct the reporters to explain why they mattered in the 'reports' they were filing?
Apparently not. We saw the usual bias and the usual fawning which, at this late date, is no surprise. What was surprising is how divorced from actual news the majority of the 'reporting' was. Reporters, real reporters, used to sneer at features and 'soft' journalism. Yesterday demonstrated (again) that feature writing offers more context today than what now passes for 'hard reporting.'
And what may be the worst thing is reporters and 'reporters' saw what was weighted, what was given play and many may adapt to this new model. Semple's piece (and another one we'll do an excerpt from in a moment) could have been heavily pushed on the Times website yesterday. Instead, they went with the Davids (one of whom offers a news analysis today -- apparently it's a make up assignment but does that make up for the incomplete being shared repeatedly with readers yesterday?).
How does this matter? Why does this matter? The 'reports' yesterday that just repeated claims without even examing them never bothered to consider those issues. Press releases abounded, real journalism took a holiday.
While Semple gives voice to Iraqis (the people who will be directly effected by yesterday's press releases) and notes some of the chaos and violence, Hassan M. Fattah takes a look at how the 'announcements' greeted with so much breathless panting in the news media domestically were received in the Araba world with "As the Talks on Iraq Conclude, Arabs Wonder, Is That All?"
But as the summit meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Kamal Nuri al-Maliki of Iraq concluded Thursday morning, the Arab world was left dumbfounded that nothing had come of it.
"I am baffled by what I saw," said Abdel Moneim Said, director of the Ahram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo. "This was an expression of the Americans in deep trouble, but Bush's approach to dealing with the Iraqi problem also bore the signs of someone out of touch with what is going on."
Mr. Bush said American troops would remain in Iraq unless Mr. Maliki's government asked them to leave, and he pledged to accelerate the transfer of authority to Iraqi security forces, but without offering any details. He dismissed calls for a timed withdrawal and emphasized that he and Mr. Maliki would oppose any plan to partition the country. And he seemed to dismiss the possibility of opening relations with Iran while insisting he is realistic about the difficulties in Iraq.
"I did not see a coherent strategy that really deals with the situation," Mr. Said said. "I did not see Bush realizing how bad it is."
Today, the US military announced: "A Multi-National Division - Baghdad Soldier was killed during combatoperations here Nov. 30." And, in what may shock many news consumers after yesterday's failure to report on Iraq, Alastair Macdonald and Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) report:
Machinegun fire rained from U.S. helicopters in central Baghdad on Friday as U.S. and Iraqi troops clashed with gunmen during a raid to seize militants, police and witnesses said.
The fighting erupted when the troops moved into the Fadhil area, a stronghold of Sunni insurgents, and were fired upon by militants hiding in houses, an Interior Ministry source told Reuters.
The fighting came a day after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said his forces could take over from the Americans in June. His comments followed talks with President Bush, who strongly backed him as the "right guy" for Iraq.
Some news consumers may think, "I thought the violence stopped." It didn't, just the reporting of it yesterday.
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hassan m. fattah