Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Watada, Olson, press

Repeating, Ehren Watada is interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! Marc Cooper has an article at The Nation entitled "The Press and the Watada Trial" which is a lot of press and not much Watada. We're not linking to it. We're not giving a shout out. John Nichols we did link to and he covered this on Sunday.

Watada's quickly dismissed from his own story. Considering The Nation's inablity to cover Watada (two 'online exclusives' and the same authors will note, in another 'online exclusive' in mid-December, that they participated in the November tele-conference Watada held that could have been his last interview with the press, mention it and Watada in passing), the fact that Cooper (who did feel that Watada being called cowardly was the way to go when selecting quotes for the only article he's written on the subject -- hold on for more on that) writes "Dozens of reporters, myself included, have interviewed the free-speaking Watada . . ." must be intended as a joke for the day.

If the 'interview' produced the sidebar (the only thing to appear in print in The Nation, and appearing one page after Cooper thinks it's cute to include a quote -- that had no reason to be included other than a chance to slam Watada -- I've been told it wasn't reflective of the opinions of those behind Appeal For Redress and it wasn't reflective of most signing that petition) well brag on Pooper, brag on.

The article's not worth linking to and we won't. It's exactly the sort of 'press' that's not needed because it doesn't help Watada and it doesn't have anything worth saying about Sarah Olson. Olson was interviewed on KPFA's Flashpoints yesterday -- the plan is to note the interview in the snapshot today -- and it was the best interview she's given to date. If you missed it, make a point to listen.

Appearing with her was Norman Solomon and you can read his article "The Pentagon vs. Press Freedom" at CounterPunch. Solomon's a media critic, this is his beat. What's The Nation's beat? Subscribers recently got a single sentence (with two words, "Be honest") in front of it that apparently passes for Iraq coverage even though, those two words need to be tossed back at the magazine.

Pooper thinks he's on to something but he's not. He tries to say that many reporters have interviewed Watada and then really doesn't have many examples to offer. For the record, many have. Many have written about it.

Why Olson? Why is she targeted? That's partly because she was the first. That's also because (as I noted two weeks ago in a column in Polly's Brew) she doesn't have a paper or network behind her. They can go after her and know she's an independent journalist without the resources others would have. But, it's also true that they are going after Gregg Kakesako of The Honolulu Star-Bulletin (whom Pooper does mention, credit him for that).

Why might those be the only ones? Those reports were utilized (as was the transcript of Watada's speech at the Veterans for Peace conference in Seattle that Dahr Jamail did).

Let's be really honest here -- which media fails to do. Those are the ones being targeted for reasons including Watada hasn't gotten much coverage and the ones they're focusing on are the same ones whose reports they used as evidence in the August Article 32 hearing.

Why is that? Well Olson and Jamail got attention. That was mainly due to the fact that they were among the few covering it. It's also true Olson's interview was reprinted in LeftTurn magazine. Where was everyone else?

Not interested. Independent media was bored with Iraq. This was the summer when Jimmy Breslin and Molly Ivins (among others) would both write in wonder as to how Iraq could just fall off the map.

But it did.

Ehren Watada is being prosecuted for remarks made in a speech that could have been carried by everyone but check your archives and you'll see that most didn't carry it. (TruthOut, CounterPunch and Flashpoints were among the few to carry the speech.)

Cooper cites the Washington Post and I'm on the phone with a friend at the paper asking, "How did I miss that?" I'm told I didn't miss it. The best we can figure out of Cooper's claim that the 'widely reported' speech was covered by the Post is an article on Carolyn Ho (which we highlighted in real time this month).

After all media, big and small, were able to focus somewhat on Iraq . . . you finally did see more coverage. Not much, but you saw more.

But in terms of what was getting attention while everyone was dropping Iraq, it was Olson, Jamail and Kakesako (who wrote repeatedly on the topic). In the lead up to the August hearing, that was pretty much it in terms of where the attention was.

Yesterday, on WBAI's Law and Disorder, a speech was broadcast by Carolyn Ho. In it she mentions John Kifner (see Rebecca's entry from yesterday). Kifner and Timothy Egan did contribute "Officer Faces Court-Martial for Refusing to Deply to Iraq" for the New York Times. It wasn't on the front page. And media, big and small, wasn't interested in it when it ran.

"The more east you go, the less people know about the case," Ehren Watada just said. This does go to what we're talking about here. (Said on Democracy Now!)

Now the article was pretty solid for the New York Times. We noted it in real time (July 23, 2006) but that article didn't get massive linkage online. You need to understand what's going on, this case was worked on not by news junkies, but by people trying to build a case against Watada. They don't follow coverage, they follow coverage of coverage. Which is why they attempted to go after a KPFA program (which refused to cooperate) (that was noted on KPFA, on air, and we noted it in real time). If they'd listened, they'd have no reason to. If they knew what they were doing, they'd know the program could be purchased or downloaded. They didn't know that. All they knew was that they'd seen something online telling them KPFA had broadcast something and they wanted a copy of it.

The case against Watada was built by a small staff (believe it or not, it's true) and it was built by people doing little more than Google searches. Trained researchers weren't working on this case. They couldn't find their asses in an archive. They weren't trained that way (they weren't trained for it period, but they were computer savy). They 'surfed' Watada. Anyone who does that will find Dahr Jamail, Sarah Olson and Gregg Kakesako, especially if they did so in the lead up to the August hearing.

Pooper's not much better than those 'researchers.' But to help out, we'll note they could have gone after CNN. Though little noted, CNN interviewed Watada on air. They did so after the hearing. Why did that matter?

Because after the hearing, the military attempted to add charges on for the court-martial. You can't do that without another Article 32 hearing. You need to present charges before a court-martial. The Article 32 hearing was the equivalent of a grand jury, that's where they determined whether the charges could go forward or whether they needed to be dimissed.

So there's no point in going after CNN because that happened after the August hearing. The charges they tried to tack on were dismissed because they weren't heard in the Article 32. For the same reason, they're not going to make a case on comments made after (but you better believe they will raise them as a "and he continues to make these comments . . ."). Point, the Washington Post? Really? That's what Pooper's tossing out? A January article?

Amy Goodman did interview Ehren Watada. She's doing it today but she also interviewed him on June 8, 2006. Two things on that. One it got less attention than the speech itself (the speech would come after the interview). Two, Goodman's an independent journalist but the military's scared to death of her. They know she can get a story out and they know she can't be censored -- in fact, going after her would have raised the issue of Watada even higher. Goodman's all over the country, speaking here and there, and they don't want her doing that and mentioning, "They're trying to force me to testify." They know what happens when you try to censor Goodman and they didn't need to call Sally Jesse to find that out. (It should also be noted that Goodman brings international attention in a way that most reporters in this country wouldn't. Go after Goodman and it's not a domestic story, it hits all the international press.)

But this wasn't a case, prior to the Article 32 (or really since) of independent media demonstrating their power and making Watada a topic. 'Online exclusives' (which is how Pooper's piece is billed) don't steer coverage or grab attention in most cases. Sarah Olson's report was carried at several websites and it was printed in LeftTurn (and made available at their website). The speech? Online, the speech was very popular -- beyond YouTube.

Gregg Kakeso interviewed Watada repeatedly and you better believe the military was smart enough to follow the coverage in Watada's hometown areas. They were concerned about that. Was Watada going to become a national story? That was up in the air but they knew they needed to follow the local coverage. (That's basic.) And Hawaii's history made it all the more necessary.

That's among the reasons the three are being targeted when others aren't.

Kakesako may be the most important of the three because if this is about intimidation (of reporters) he matters the most. As we've seen war resisters are getting little to no support from the independent press. The national media's shown some interest. So if you want to worry where the coverage will come as others come forward, you quickly conclude your real problem is local press. If they want to send a message of intimidation, you go after Kakesako so that when a war resister in Boulder decides to step foward, the Boulder press wonders, "If I do this interview, am I going to be dragged before a military court?"

None of the above can get covered by Pooper.

But here's the real thing, this is the B-story, this is the subplot. Ehren Watada is the lead story. In a film, Ehren Watada would be played by a name actor and you'd see character actors (or a star going for a best supporting nomination) as the reporters.

But it appears that the only way some in independent media intend to cover the story is to write about the media (and write about it badly -- I've avoided reading Solomon's piece so I'm not referring to his -- hopefully it's well written -- as most of his commentary is).

On Flashpoints yesterday. Olson presented the best case thus far. She's a reporter, she's used to covering the news, not being made it. So this is probably the result of finding her way as a subject as opposed to finding the subject. But she was very effective in that interview. She started out by talking about the issues in Watada's case, she even tied in other war resisters, she built upon that to explain the importance of coverage.

Now most of the commenatry wants to skip that step. You can't skip it and make the case. You can't argue that this is intimidation or worse (I think it's worse) if you haven't done the set up of what's at stake. (And the press needs to grasp real quick that, though infatuated with themselves, they don't rank high in the public's eye.)

So by ignoring Watada, by quickly dismissing him, they're not just giving readers a 'bad movie,' they're also not making any case other than: "I am outraged by this! Aren't you outraged!"

No, The Nation may not have any other approach, they're not interested in war resisters. As Ehren Watada, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Mark Wilkerson, Agustin Aguayo, Ivan Brobeck and Ricky Clousing came foward, The Nation wasn't interested. None of them were mentioned in the magazine.

It would take the magazine until January 2007 (issue date) to finally get around to mentioning Ehren Watada in print. And that was to repeat a slam that he's a coward. (Followed by a sidebar! Oh, we're are so ___ing impressed with you. A whole ___ing sidebar. What leaders at The Nation.) (A "sidebar" isn't an article -- unless you're an emerging writer, it's not.)

In terms of the coverage online at the magazine's website, until John Nichols stepped up Sunday, no heavy hitters. Katrina vanden Heuvel writes several times a week, there's been nothing in Editor's Cut. There were at least two things by her on Appeal For Redress. But she didn't write about Watada at her blog, she didn't write about any of them. Since she runs the magazine, it matters and it's noticed. The other biggies?

Forget Alexander Cockburn because he's identified with CounterPunch. (To be clear for any visitors, that's not a slam of Cockburn -- we note him and CounterPunch repeatedly.)

Well this is now being presented as a 'media issue' (it's easier for The Nation to cover media issues than war resisters). So you might wonder about AlterPunk/Cindy Brady of the faux left? Not one word. Whine about the Times and their policies regarding online quotes (with no historical context), whine about unsigned editorials in that paper, but this issue? Not a damn word.

Katha Pollitt? She couldn't even cover the rape and murder of fourteen-year-old Abeer so forget about her covering Watada. On Abeer, how does that happen? How does a feminist ignore that US soldiers gang raped a fourteen-year-old girl (two have confessed) and murdered her -- that the gang rape began as her five-year-old sister and her parents were being killed? How does that happen? Let me add two more words to that "Be honest," how does that happen?

Here's the e-mail Martha sent to The Nation back in December:

Reading Katha Pollitt's "Ho-Ho-Holiday Donations -- 2006" two questions arose
1) Ms. Pollitt refers to In These Times as The Nation's "sister publication." In light of concerns regarding media consolidation, that phrase needs to be explained.
2) Looking through the ten recommended organizations and publications, I see Hurricane Katrina, I see Vietnam, et al. I don't see Iraq. Is Ms. Pollitt aware that a war is going on? MADRE, an organization recently recommended on RadioNation with Laura Flanders, seems much more fitting than a periodical (two make Ms. Pollitt's list). In addition, there are numerous organizations working for peace and supporting C.O.s.
If Ms. Pollitt is unaware that a war is going on in Iraq, that might explain why she has never written one word about the rape and murder of fourteen-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi -- a topic that strikes me as much more important than Hillary Clinton being 'bird-dogged."

(The e-mail first appeared in the gina & krista round-robin in December and Elaine 'introduced it into the record' in The Third Estate Sunday Review's "Roundtable ." Martha's referring to the December 9th broadcast of RadioNation with Laura Flanders -- and remember that Flanders goes to DC this weekend to cover the demonstration.)

David Corn's off in DC. That's his beat and he sticks to his beat. No one expected him to write about things outside the capital and no one's going to slam him for doing his job.

But all these 'names' at the magazine who can go here, there and everywhere, leaping from topic to topic from one minute to the next, it is noted that they couldn't cover war resisters.

Dahr and Olson should see it as a badge of honor that they've become targets of the military because that only happened because they did their job. If you wonder why the list of reporters the military's going after is so small, one reason is because the pool to go after is so small.

Is what's happening to Olson important? If people believe it is, before they write another word, they should check out the way she made her case on yesterday's Flashpoints. You can't shortcut it (even if you go squeamish when the topic of war resisters arises). You have to do what she did, explain why it matters.

It needs to be noted that two peace activist are also being compelled to testify, Phan Nguyen (Olympian Movement for Justice and Peace) and Gerri Haynes (Veterans for Peace). Both for the record and because they tend to get ignored in what passes for coverage these days.

As noted Sunday, an e-mail pointed out that Olson was not the one stating she supported Watada, and had always done so. Thanks for the correction. What Olson has said with regards to that is what she wrote -- a journalist covers the news. On Flashpoints yesterday, she got that across and then some. Those wanting to help her aren't helping her if they can't make the sort of case she did.

When Suzanne Swift's case became public, someone got the idea to promote her as a war resister. It wasn't very smart if the hope was to get media attention because media doesn't care (with few exceptions). It also wasn't accurate since Swift wouldn't say she was opposed to the war. (But some still, to this day, call her a war resister.)

What Swift went through wasn't war resistance. It was abuse and harassment. It was illegal. With Swift, I tried to assume someone knew what they were doing. They didn't and that's demonstrated by the fact that she has not been discharged, her case has no Congressional outcry, and, after serving brig time, she's forced back into the same situation where she suffered the abuse. A number of people (I hope) thought they were helping Swift by attempting to turn her story into war resistance. It wasn't. It was the case of a woman being subjected to sexual harassment and abuse. (As noted before, I believe Swift 100%. I believe all the incidents happened not just the token few the military was willing to confirm in their laughable 'investigation.')

If people were serious about helping Swift, they screwed the hell up. Of course she went AWOL and many woman would have done the same damn thing in that situation. You're being harassed, your superior (male) officers think that your military contract includes sexually servicing them, your attempts to go through the system are met with a laughable 'response.' Most women would have self-checked out.

She's still suffering now. That was traumatic and she has the scars from what she was put through (and the military's given no indication that they've deal with it). The argument there was that the mildest abuse she suffered (the mildest) was against military policy and would have resulted in a lawsuit in the civilian world. The military failed to protect her, they haven't done a good job protecting most women. (Read Traci Hukill's "A Peculiar Version of Friendly Fire: Female Troops Face Double Danger" at The Progressive, it's now available online.)

How does a woman get sent back into the same environment she was abused in? It helps when no one wants to address the realities of her case. It helps when you try to portray her as a war resister when what she did was not war resistance. Her story didn't need that "angle" for traction and adding that "angle" to it may have prevented her story from being greeted with the outcry it would normally get.

But Swift got railroaded. If people aren't just trying to fill space, if they're really concerned about what Olson's facing, they need to present it the way she did yesterday. You can't short cut it. You have to talk about why it matters beyond the pie-in-the-sky. That means addressing (as she did) why the story of Watada matters, why the military's nervous, and what the fall out would be. (Note, If she decised to testify, that's her right. Testifying would give the defense a chance -- whether they take it or not -- to attempt to enter Watada's reasons into the record. As noted in the column two weeks ago, she has no one behind her in terms of big moneyed employer. She's on her own. It's not just sit out a sentence for contempt, it's have bills pile up while you do when you're already trying to make ends meet. It would be risking going completely under finanically on this. Olson needs to do what she can live with. No one else is going to have to. None of the commentators are going to have to. If she doesn't testify, I wouldn't, that's great. But she needs to do what's best for her. That's also true of war resisters and why we wouldn't slam anyone for cutting a deal if they could live with it.)

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