Thursday, August 02, 2007

NYT still selling the illegal war

On the front page of the New York Times, Mark Mazzetti's "Iraq Snapshots Give 2 Views" can be found. First, I think the the "Iraq snapshot" gives more than two views. I think we have consistently, Monday through Friday, offered a look at war resisters, at the daily violence reported, at activism in the US, at reactions in other countries. I'm not sure which of our "Iraq snapshots" (there are probably over 300 by this point), Mazzetti is referring to but I'm sure we've given more than "2 Views."

No, Mazzetti's not talking about the "Iraq snapshots" that run here which is a bad thing because if he were he might actually have something to write about as opposed to his usual junk.

Mazzetti wants to talk partisans and how they use things to prop up their own arguments. So you can read it as the paper's self-confession.

They are the paper that lied us into illegal war. That was Judith Miller's faulty reporting, yes. But she wasn't alone. Michael Gordon's finally gotten attention for his own part in lying. Of course the non-existent link between Iraq and 9-11 was pushed on the front page in October of 2001 by Chris Hedges and another writer when they were tricked/fooled into believing two "defectors" were telling them the truth about terrorist training camps in Iraq, sanctioned by Saddam Hussein, were teaching people how to hijack planes.

That 'report' also aired on PBS in cooperation with the New York Times. The 'defectors' were liars using phony names. (And the State Dept. backed up the article though they aren't an on the record source.) And the paper, as of last year, still hadn't run a correction on it. I don't remember seeing any correction since, but if Mazzetti knows of one, drop a line. PBS corrected it on their website but the Times appears to still stand by those lies. The 'defectors' gave phony names. They told pleasing tales. And how they were brought to the Times is one of the aspects of the story that no one still wants to talk about. Just like they don't want to talk about the State Dept. involvement in that article. Just like they want to pretend like Mother Jones exposing one of the 'defectors' as a fraud mitigates the fact that everyone dummies up about the fact that the article quoted two 'defectors' and only one has been revealed to the public (and by Mother Jones, again the New York Times is in mute mode).

Now the lies didn't end after US forces hit the ground in Iraq.

Telling the truth was really a problem for the New York Times. John F. Burns wanted Saddam Hussein's head on a pole and was happy to say whatever helped that before the illegal war started and continued all the way through the execution. Saddam Hussein is dead. Hopefully, John F. Burns has finally found peace.

His Go-Go Boy in the Green Zone fellow lied repeatedly. Dexy Filkins, early on in the illegal war, was giddy over his planned interview with a group of fighters opposing US forces. Like many a Go-Go Boy Gone Wild, he couldn't stop shooting his mouth off about it. The proposed story, as a fellow journalist revealed publicly, got cancelled when the US military wasn't pleased with the idea.

That was only the beginning of Dexy self-censoring to please the US military. It would reach its lowest point when he 'reported' on the November 2004 slaughter of Falluja.

He was there, embedded with the troops. He was supposedly providing an eye witness account. But it was funny what he saw and what he didn't see. Using Dexy as the 'expert,' the paper would deny it when Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! addressed the use of white phosphorus one week. On Democracy Now!, the Pentagon would admit that white phosphorus was used and Scott Shane would be sent out with the big mop to clean it up.

Dexy's rah-rah reporting from Fallujah would win an award. The piece was entitled "In Faulluja, Young Marines Saw the Savagery of an Urban War" and ran November 21, 2004.

The same day, Edward Wong's more realistic article was reduced to inside the paper while Dexy's ran on the front page.

November 21st and Dexy had a "Nov. 18" dateline. We called it out and further pointed out that the dateline was wrong because the events Dexy was 'reporting' on took place November 15th. That's six days to make it into print. That's why the rumors about Dexy allowing the military to vet his copy became so popular to journalists in Iraq.

By the time his Iraq 'tenure' was over, Dexy's "Warrior King" would have exploded as a reliable source to anything and Dexy himself would be the Sob-Sister of the Embeds.

Terry Gross and New York Observer magazine would prop up Dexy and treat him like he was a real reporter. He wasn't. And when Thomas E. Ricks (Washington Post) put into print what everyone already knew (the US military saw Dexy as their go-to-guy whenever they had a rumor they needed to get into print) a lot of journalists thought he'd finally be widely called out. Didn't happen. Because back then the lie was that Judith Miller single handedly lead a nation into illegal war. Apparently, she not only 'reported,' she edited her articles, she edited the paper, she delivered it to your house, she told the networks and cable outlets what stories to run with, she ran the news division at every outlets and she was the power behind the Bully Boy.

The all powerful Judith Miller. When she left the paper, you might have thought others at the paper would finally get the attention their behaviors had called for. Didn't happen. In fact, if Michael Gordon hadn't attempted to sell war with Iran with his unsourced pillow whispers, he probably would have gotten away with his own journalistic crimes. But he was selling war with Iran and suddenly the gas bags (of all stripes) remembered, "Woops! Judith had a partner on some of those stories."

Media 'criticism' had been reduced to Bash the Bitch and Judith Miller was the God of All Things Media. And would have stayed that had Gordo not started beating the drum beats for Iran.

So it takes a special sort of uselessness for Mark Mazzeti to show up on the front page today claiming that 'partisans' shade the news for their own means.

The reality is that the news, at all outlets, is always shaded. It's shaded in the choices of what to tell and what not to tell. Some events will stand out to some people and they'll zoom in on that. Other events won't get the coverage they need.

Considering the New York Times' Iraq reporting in whole, they are the last to ever speak of 'partisans' because they've been war boosters all along.

Here we've said since at least January 2005, if Judith Miller got us over there (she helped, she was not alone, nor was the paper the only outlet selling the illegal war), it was the Dexys that kept us there. They lied, they told big lies, they told little lies. They holed up inside the Green Zone even when they could have been out and about reporting without the military because, yes, there was a brief time when that was possible. But they hunkered down with their team of bodyguards in their pricey Green Zone villa, rewrote military press releases, were rude to the stringers (the stringers were among the first to complain to this site about the paper's coverage) and thought because they were so high on the illegal war, they were making journalistic names for themselves.

(And it needs to be noted, when selecting what to emphasize each day, the 'stars' and the stringers were in frequent disagreement.)

They were the joke of the Green Zone with other domestic outlets as they paraded around the Green Zone and spoke loudly over drinks (thinking they were holding court when all they were doing was proving Americans can be drunken bores in any land).

We could get into the laughable idea of 'fidelity' at a time when the paper, domestically, was pushing the 'values voters' myth. We could go into the firing and how the Guild had to get involved and how things got a little uncomfortable.

But that's the personal business that their unprofessional behavior made public news.

Their real crime all that time was never telling readers that they weren't leaving the Green Zone unless as an embed. Never noting the stringers until they started dying. Creating laughable end credits when most of the reporting was done by stringers who were not given bylines. I've disclosed this before but I've done uncredited (and unpaid for) stringer work for friends and family in the press before. With the exception of the Los Angeles Times, no one ever offered payment. Nor did I expect or want any. (I sent back LAT's check. And that was a long, long time ago. Before the days of online.*) I grew up in the press, I know what a stringer does. What the Times' stringers were then doing was actually reporting but they got no credit for that.

That's, at best, bad behavior. But in terms of the readers, it was far worse because the situation would quickly change on the ground to the Times being holed up in the Green Zone because it was so comfy into the Times being holed up there because it wasn't safe to leave. For months and months, for years, the paper refused to tell readers that. When Sabrina Tavernise began getting bylines that would change and she and others would note from time to time that they weren't able to travel about Iraq safely. Had readers known that earlier, they would have realized the illegal war was lost.

So it's a bit late in the game for Mazzetti to be finger pointing at others in an alleged "News Analysis."

He opens his nonsense with "July ended with a monthly death toll for American troops in Iraq that was the lowest this year." What was the toll?

I'm sorry to be the one to explain journalistic basics to Mazzetti (who presumably didn't grow up with them drilled into his head at the dinner table) but apparently someone has to. When you open by mentioning the death toll was the lowest, the next logical thing is to include the number. He never does.

Readers of the paper might flash back to yesterday and feel they know the toll. They might wrongly assume they're informed by reading the paper. Yesterday, Stephen Farrell's "U.S. Death Toll In Iraq in July Expected to Be Lowest in'07" ran on A8 and they may remember that number and feel they are informed. That number the paper ran was "74." The number for announced deaths in July currently?


Mazzetti's lede is "July ended with a monthly death toll for American troops in Iraq that was the lowest this year." 80 was the lowest? What was the next low? 81. That was the number in February and in March. Now July's totals may or may not be complete (Farrell, to his credit, noted that possibility when using the 74 number yesterday.)

The escalation, all the added troops have, if no more deaths are announced, resulted in one less death than in February and one less than in March. That negates (actually destroys) Mazzetti's lede and if the paper had real editors he'd be asked about it.

July 2007 had two ways to go when it came to the coverage. The paper went with "lowest death toll." Mazzetti wants to write (apparently with a straight face, but maybe he's stoned the entire time?) that "The war's staunchest supporters have seized on the reduced death toll in July for American troops as a sign that an influx of troops is dampening sectarian violence in the country."

That may be the closest to a confession (admittedly, an unintended one) the paper makes. Because there was always another detail about the July count. We began making it here last week. July 2007 was the highest US military death toll of any July. There were two ways to go there. One was to push the lie that the escalation had reduced the violence (it hadn't) and base that false claim on the spin that the death toll was down. The other was to note it was the deadliest July for US service members since the illegal war began. Who is shaping for their own gain here, Mazetti?

Mazzetti tells you that the "staunchest supporters" (which, by his definition, includes his paper) "seized" on that. That's a lie. They were fed it. See "Rewriting Ned Parker on the death toll" from last Friday and you'll see that this talking point didn't come out of whole cloth, it was fed by the US military. And, like the Times today, the general had to avoid the actual number of dead the Thursday he promoted the talking point to reporters.

A news analysis that can't note the actual death toll isn't much of a news analysis but Mazzetti's not much of a reporter. Or an analyst. Inside the paper, he does note that Michael O'Hanlon and Kenny Pollack are "occasional critics of the Bush administration's war strategy" but neglects to note that they are supporters of the illegal war. You can't push the illegal war before it begins and be anything but a supporter of the illegal war. They have only been concerned with strategy (and the guilt by association of the lost war). Now not including the detail that they regularly pushed the illegal war before it began was a choice Mazzetti made.

So he's really the last who should be fretting over what gets included and what gets excluded. His 'analysis' goes beyond merely personal choices made to choices made that convey an unrealistic picture of the illegal war.

He gets it wrong when he talks about Iraqi body counts. That's factually wrong. It's an error.
He writes that after the lies of the body counts during Vietnam, the Pentagon stopped keeping them "but over the past four years in Iraq, military commanders have often used their numbers for insurgents killed when detailing the success of a particular operation." The Pentagon still keeps numbers. We noted that here when no one wanted to. In July of 2006, Nancy Youssef wrote about it for Knight-Ridder (it was about to change titles to McClatchy Newspapers-Ridder but when her story was published it was Knight-Ridder). At that point, with on the record military source, she wrote about how the count had been kept for over a year but the US military refused to release the count to the press (and, by proxy, to the American people). That's pretty big news but it got drowned out. (Little media was off on the elections in Mexico, I forget where big media was.) Earlier, Sabrina Tavernise had co-written an article on a similar topic but Youssef's was the one that was concrete.

That an analyst is unaware of that factual reality would suggest that the analyst isn't up to the job. More than likely, Mazzetti is aware of it and just made the 'choice' not to include the detail.

He quotes a war source who states that the illegal war can't be judged.

That's hilarious. The four year mark was passed in March but we're all supposed to pretend the jury's still out on what was sold as a cakewalk, what has claimed approximately one million Iraqi lives, what has torn apart the country (I mean Iraq, but it's certainly divided this country as well -- news to Nancy Pelosi who claims impeachment would divide the country), what has fostered and created civil wars and sectarian divides, what has made Iraq worse in every measurable way whether it's basic services, malnutrition, employment or any factor you want to use.

Oxfam released a report this week. Damien Cave covered it inside the paper. He did a few paragraphs at the top of his article on it before moving on to other topics. By contrast, the paper repeatedly covered the soccer games. One day, they covered the soccer games at length and made a whopping paragraph -- one paragraph -- available to note that 50 people had been killed by bombings (see "Oh look, it's universal . . . for some men"). That was a personal choice, apparently. It certainly wasn't a journalist choice because the paper isn't called Sports Illustrated, it's called the New York Times. And sports isn't hard news. There seems to be some confusion there today. Soft news is the arts, cooking, sports, etc. But the Times ignored the bombings (one paragraph, buried in the soccer feature, is ignoring) and went with soft news. Feel good news. That's how you sell an illegal war, how you keep selling it.

Oxfam? Search in vain for a mention of their report in Mazzetti's alleged 'analysis.' You can find a lot of war hawks quoted. You'll never get peace activists, but you can always find the war hawks.

Mazzetti rewrites history as well pinning the benchmarks on Congress. The benchmark talk began with the report by the James Baker Circle Jerk and was seized on by the administration. Maybe Mazzetti's trying to be kind and give the Democrats in Congress credit for something, anything -- goodness knows, they haven't done much since taking control of both houses. But the reality is the administration pushed 'benchmarks.' He notes the administration doesn't favor them today but forgets the whole point about how they did favor them, about how Bully Boy used 'benchmarks' as a talking point when addressing the escalation that he called a 'surge'.

It's a funny kind of half-informed analysis that Mazzetti offers so considering that and the paper's own history (just during this illegal war, but we could go way back), he truly is the last to note that various people will emphasize what stands out to them.

What the 'analysis' should be remembered for is that on August 2, 2007 he offered a news analysis whose chief talking point was that the jury's still out on the success or failure of the illegal war. When the illegal war is ended (it's already lost) and people look back, they largely won't remember that. You'll have little bits from each year and most likely 2007 will be remembered as the year approximately 70% of Americans were against the illegal war. That, long after the public turned against it in such huge numbers, Mark Mazzetti offered what was billed as "News Analysis" which offered it was too soon to tell how the illegal war was going will be forgotten. It shouldn't be because that's how illegal wars are sold before the start and how they continue to be sold after they started.

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[*For newcomers who need their disclosures of things already noted, I also wrote an overly praised film review when the reviewer and I went out for Chinese and then to see the movie. We were both sick from the food about 15 minutes into the film. There was a deadline and I was the less sick. I wrote a postcard piece -- focusing on scenery because I had no idea what the plot was. I didn't claim that then and don't claim it now. But it demonstrates how stupid the press can be that it actually got singled out when it was nothing but scenery and "How many more words are needed?" I had no interest in being part of the press. Then or now. But then and now, I did and do help friends when they're trying to get someone to talk to and, in a pinch, I'll be a sounding board.]