Friday, March 30, 2007

NYT says "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."

The two men showed up on Tuesday afternoon to evict Suaada Saadoun’s family. One was carrying a shiny black pistol.
Ms. Saadoun was a Sunni Arab living in a Shiite enclave of western Baghdad. A widowed mother of seven, she and her family had been chased out once before. This time, she called American and Kurdish soldiers at a base less than a mile to the east.
The men tried to drive away, but the soldiers had blocked the street. They pulled the men out of the car.
"If anything happens to us, they're the ones responsible," said Ms. Saadoun, 49, a burly, boisterous woman in a black robe and lavender-blue head scarf.
The Americans shoved the men into a Humvee. Neighbors clapped and cheered as if their soccer team had just won a title.
The next morning, Ms. Saadoun was shot dead while walking by a bakery in the local market.
After the police took the body away, all that remained in the alleyway was a pool of blood, a bullet casing and the upper half of Ms. Saadoun's set of false teeth.
This reporter met Ms. Saadoun when the Kurdish soldiers he was accompanying helped arrest the two Shiite men on Tuesday.

The above is from Edward Wong's "Iraqi Widow Saves Her Home, but Victory Is Brief" in this morning's New York Times and if you think he's going to stop, wipe his eyes and say, "I knew Jack Godell . . ." or stop people on the street and ask, "Do you think Jack Godell was crazy?" -- it's not that kind of report. Which is too bad because there's a story to tell here -- both micro and macro. The paper ignores the micro and blows the macro.

Let's follow the Times and go to the macro. Suaada Saadoun is the latest death in the sectarian conflict. Shia and Sunni violence.

You know the drill. You've heard it all before. You've heard less about the Shias running Jews and Christians out of Baghdad, about the murders of the Jews in Baghdad, so maybe it's not all the surprising that the paper chooses to portray Suaada Saadoun as a Sunni and targeted solely for that reason.

Really? She's a widow. After the illegal war began, she bought her home for $10,000. How did she get the money? Did she work before her family fled to Syria as their neighborhood was overtaken by thugs? She wore a blue headdress. After returning to her home, after the thugs began returning, she challenged them.

You really think this has nothing to do with the constricted way the Shia militias see women? You really think Suaada Saadoun's murder wasn't part of the continued war on Iraqi women?

US service member, Captain Benjamin Morales (28, from the Bronx) is quoted quoting his sergeant saying to him: "What can you do? It's their problem. This is their country, and they need to work it out among themselves. There's nothing we can do about it."

On the micro level, Ashley Gilbertson's photos (Times staff) do more to tell Suuada Saadoun's story than does the text. There's a photo of, as the text tells you, the upper half of Suuada's false teeth. In the text, it's something to be rushed past: "and the upper half of Ms. Saadoun's set of false teeth."

In six photos, Gilbertson's captured a great deal about Suaada's life. Wong tells you she smiled when the thugs were led away, etc. The photos tell you (see first one the front page where she's speaking with US service members) that she was confident. See the second and third one on the front page and you're getting a look at her grandchildren and a look at her through them. Notice what they're wearing. They, her four daughters and one son-in-law lived with her. The girls are dressed as Iraqi children would have been prior to the illegal war, there's no effort to appease the thugs. The young girls haven't covered their heads, they're wearing the clothes children would wear. Two of the granddaughters appear in both pictures -- one taken before Suaada was killed, the other after. Did Suaada speak English? She appears to in the photo where she's engaging with the US soldiers. One of her granddaughters appears to have "Magical" on the front of shirt.

You see one of the thugs pictured, Abbas Radhi. Wong's text tells you that he and Zuhair Naama, showed up with papers claiming they stated the government was taking over Suaada's home and she and her family had to leave. The papers, from the Ministry of Finance, were -- and the two thugs knew this -- for a home in another area. They'd been harassing Suaada for some time prior to this visit. It's why she called the US troops and, more importantly to her and to her initial safety, the Kurdish troops. The thugs got calls on their cell phones, warning them that the Kurdish and American soldiers were en route. They attempted to flee in their car "but were stopped at a checkpoint run by Kurdish soldiers at the mouth of the street."

Wong's article in another paper? The Times has ignored Iraqi women. That was very true of the paper's first wave of Green Zone reporters. So appearing in this paper, with this paper's history of Iraq coverage? It's hard not to notice.

We never get to know the victim in the text, we don't hear, after her death, from her daughters or any women in the neighborhood. Do you think they weren't effected by her death? Check the photos on A8. Wong can (and does) quote an Iraqi soldier (Sunni) who lived in the home. The man has moved and in hiding with his family ("I'll probably move in with another relative next week. This life is like that of cats, moving home to home," is among his quotes to Wong). But the reporter can find him, can get a quote from him.

Suaada sold rooms to the soldier and his family, rooms in her home. ("Sold" is the word the article uses.) Her daughters? They obviously knew her.

With all the Iraqis who die and are never noted, the paper had a chance to illustrate a life. With all the Iraqi women who are rendered invisible in the paper's coverage, telling Suaada's story would have been a good corrective. But though her daughters cry in public and have their photo taken by Ashley Gilbertson, Wong's idea is to locate the Sunni soldier?

What did her daughters think? It's not in the text. Gilbertson has taken some strong pictures. The story the paper refuses to tell (not just today) day after day comes closer to being told in her photos.

In the end, Wong's skips out on giving The China Syndrome. He does give Chinatown:

"What can you do?" his first sergeant said to him. "It's their problem. This is their country, and they need to work it out among themselves. There's nothing we can do about it."

In other words, "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." Cue music, roll credits.

Yes, that refuses to explore how the current realities came about but Robert Towne hadn't intended Chinatown as a stand alone.

Turning to war resistance, Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale has gotten another review. We'll pull something from it for the snapshot, but we'll note this for now, from Karen Alego Krizman's "War's foggy truth" (Rocky Mountain News)

The Deserter's Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away From the War in Iraq
• By Joshua Key, as told to Lawrence Hill. Atlantic Monthly Press, 240 pages, $23.
• Grade: B-
The Long Road Home
• By Martha Kaddatz. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 320 pages, $24.95.
• Grade: A

Martha Kaddatz? Well, thank goodness it's not the ABC reporter who's book was rumored to have been pieced together. In fact, the word is that not since Valley of the Dolls has a manuscript required so much work. (In fairness to Raddatz -- yes, it is ABC's Martha Raddatz -- thoughts of "Cinema!" danced through the heads above her.)

Last night, we noted a press release in full (Charlie's highlight) that's in PDF format. Kendrick asked if we could note it one more time? This is "Military Families Speak Out Responds to Senate Vote To Continue Funding For Iraq War:"

Contact: Riptide Communications, 212-260-5000
Nancy Lessin, Military Families Speak Out, 617-320-5301

Washington, D.C., March 29, 2007: Today, Military Families Speak out, the largest organization of military families speaking out against a war in the history of the United States, issued the following statement in response to the vote in the U.S. Senate to provide continued funding for the Iraq war:

"The Senate has now joined the U.S. House of Representatives in abandoning our troops by passing legislation that will provide funding for a continued U.S. military occupation of Iraq. While leaders in both the House and Senate point to the deadlines or time limits in both versions of the supplemental appropriations bill, the reality remains that the Senate version of the bill contains only non-enforceable 'guidelines' for troop withdrawal, and the House version has exceptions to their August, 2008 'deadline' that would allow tens of thousands of troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely. With three U.S. troops and countless Iraqi children, women and men dying each day, with thousands more being wounded both physically and psychologically, end dates -- even if they were enforceable -- that extend into spring and summer of 2008 are simply unacceptable.

"People across this nation voted in November for an end to the war, not for Congress to provide President Bush with the funds to continue it. Our loved ones were first betrayed when they were sent off to fight a war based on lies. Congress is now continuing that betrayal by failing [to] cut off funding for this unjustifiable war.

"Miliary Familes Speak Out renews our calls for Congress to use their 'power of the purse' to support our troops and de-fund the war. We call on Congres to fund our troops by funding a safe and orderly withdrawal from Iraq and by funding care for our troops when they return home. This is the 'funding for troops' that is desperately needed.

"Leadership and courage, two character traits that our loved ones rely on every day as they put their lives on the line, seem to be in short supply on Capitol Hill. We hope that as the Supplemental Appropriations bill goes through the House-Senate Conference Committee and then back to the floors of the House and Senate, we will see our elected officials stand up for our troops and for our nation by ending the funds that allow this unjustifiable war to continue and providing the funds for a safe and orderly withdrawal and the care they need when they get home."

Military and Gold Star Families, members of Military Families Speak Out and its national chapter Gold Star Families Speak Out are available for interview.

For more information about Military Families Speak Out see

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