Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ruth's Report

Ruth (of Ruth's Report): This week, CounterSpin offered a look back at the year 2007. The first thing I noticed was that Janine Jackson's voice sounded as hoarse as it did last week, so I hope the broadcast was pre-recorded immediately after the week prior's broadcast and that she does not have a cold so nasty that it has lasted for two weeks now. In her introduction to the best-of special, Ms. Jackson attempted to put both the year itself and what CounterSpin offered into perspective.

Janine Jackson: As usual CounterSpin tried to bring you guests -- activists, researchers, and journalists -- that had an angle on events that we thought worth hearing and, more often than not, one you weren't hearing many other places.

The reality is that no activists were brought on. They have never done a show on war resisters, they have never interviewed Cindy Sheehan, Tina Richards, or any other similar activists. Some journalists may also be involved in "media reform" or other actions which might allow them to be billed as "journalist and activist" and, of course, they had "actor and activist" Mike Farrell on to plug his new book. But no activists were brought on the show.

Considering the huge failure in 2007 to tell the stories of war resisters, it especially bears noting that an actor I really have not seen since the seventies sitcom M*A*S*H went off the air could be brought on but a war resister, someone who actually needed coverage due to the issue, could not and would not be umbrella-ed under the categories of "guests, activists, researchers, and journalists." It is not a minor point.

The format for the best-of show was that Ms. Jackson or Peter Hart would appear before selected clips from past segments providing new introductions.

Peter Hart: After the mid-term elections of 2006, the conventional wisdom told us that the public had voted to say something about the Iraq War. Namely, they wanted it to end. But at the start of 2007 the press was pushing a very different message -- an escalation of the war.

That is to introduce the first clip, an interview with Alexander Cockburn. But there is a more serious issue raised by Hart's comments. If, as he believes, Big Media was attempting to re-sell the illegal war "at the start of 2007," then CounterSpin, and other outlets, should have spent a large portion of 2007 calling it out. But that did not happen. So maybe Ms. Jackson should allow some of the blame she passes around, "thanks in no small part to the efforts by some in the media," to fall out at CounterSpin's doorstep?

Ms. Jackson sets up the second segment and it was a laugh riot. She tells us that "independent reporters covering the war have done a remarkable job filling in the gaps." Were we about to hear from Patrick Cockburn or the correspondents of Alive In Baghdad? No, it was
the reporter who was supposed to return to Iraq in the summer of 2006 but, like the rest of independent media, got diverted by Lebanon which is where what-should-have-been-called Lebanon Dispatches were filed from that summer. Introducing the guest for an October 2007 interview, Ms. Jackson said "He talked to us about one such story he pursued." The story? A January 2004 story. In October of 2007. The guest was on to plug a book. He was not on to discuss, in October 2007, what he had seen in Iraq in 2007 because he had not been in Iraq. So I did not see "a remarkable job filling in the gaps," I heard a left-over story about January 2004 when the mainstream would not address the issue the reporter wanted covered. A left-over? I heard about that in 2004. I heard about that in 2005. I heard about it in 2006. Apparently CounterSpin thought they were offering something of value because the by-now-dated reports, several years old, had been gathered in book form.

The illegal war, as Mr. Hart and Ms. Jackson seemed aware, was being resold in 2007. Was the way for independent media to combat that by dropping back to 2004?

I have no idea what The Washington Post's Dana Priest or Ann Scott Tyson ever did to Ms. Jackson. But Ms. Jackson has such a beef with them that I often picture that one night, in a grocery store, there was only one loaf of bread left and Ms. Priest and Ms. Scott Tyson grabbed it before Ms. Jackson who has since decided she will never forgive them for that.

Janine Jackson: In February and March, a series of reports in The Washington Post about treatment of wounded Iraq War vets caused a serious political controversy. Suddenly, the issue was front and center in the political debate over the war. There was no shortage of praise for The Post's work with some suggesting that lead reporter Dana Priest was all but assured a Pulitzer Prize. But the story was, in many respects, an old one reported for years at U.P.I. and by journalist Mark Benjamin. He joined CounterSpin in March to talk about why this story was kept out of the press for so long. The military put pressure on media outlets that were trying to report on healthcare for the vets and many reporters simply fell for the p.r. tours of military hospitals.

Were Ms. Priest to win a deserved Pulitzer Prize for the series, Ms. Scott Tyson would likely win as well since they were a team on the series. The two women deserve much praise as does the paper for running the series -- one that they have continued to provide updates on. Ms. Jackson is aware that U.P.I. fell in respect with the purchase of the wire service by the Moonies, correct? As late as 2005, Mr. Benjamin was still with U.P.I. As questionable as the outlet is, it bears noting that it is a wire service and still among the biggest. If Mr. Benjamin could not raise enough attention on the issue while at a mainstream wire service there are a number of factors involved including that, as late as 2005, Mr. Benjamin's stories "on the wounded" revolved around their being flown in the dark of night to be kept out of the press which is a far cry from the points raised in The Post series about what was happening at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital. Mr. Benjamin, when he amplified his reporting in other outlets, focused primarily on the fact that the wounded were hidden and that PTSD was being under noted. The Post series dealt with the run-down facilities and the long waits for bad care. Is the difference clear to Ms. Jackson or will she continue 2008 in what appears to be a repeated attempt to settle some long held grudge against Ms. Priest and Ms. Scott Tyson?

At less than seven minutes into the best-of, they were done with Iraq which pretty much reflects CounterSpin's 'coverage' of the illegal war for 2007.

So, picking their bests, what CounterSpin summed up 2007 with was Mr. Cockburn's comments that the illegal war was being resold, a journalist who left Iraq long ago, and Mr. Benjamin was-there-first! It should probably be noted that "first" does not include when CounterSpin provided him as a guest "for years," specifically in June 17, 2005. He was on that broadcast to discuss the inflation of fatalities by the U.S. military of Iraqi 'insurgents' the U.S. military claimed they had killed. Equally true is that CounterSpin's 'parent,' FAIR, elected to highlight Mr. Benjamin's Salon reports at their website prior to 2007. One was on the waivers granted to allow people to enlist that did not qualify otherwise (February 2006), while the other was about the Abu Ghraib photos (March 2006). Possibly, if Mr. Benjamin did not receive his credit for his work on covering the wounded, part of that reason goes to CounterSpin and FAIR's inability to amplify it?

The inability to amplify would include the Iraq War which could always be passed over. In a June 21st "Iraq snapshot," C.I. wrote about:

"Independent Report on Iraq" co-authored by James Paul and Celine Nahory with Paul noting of the report: "While most people focus on the sectarian bloodshed, our report highlights the enormous violence of the occupation forces. There is an increasing air war that results in heavy casualties as well as the daily killing of civilians at checkpoints, during house searches, by snipers, and by ground bombardment. Nearly a million Iraqis have died due to the effects of the occupation and 4 million have fled their homes. . . . Under the control or influence of U.S. authorities, public funds in Iraq have been drained by massive corruption and stolen oil, leaving the country unable to provide basic services and incapable of rebuilding. The U.S. government has repeatedly violated many international laws, but top officials reject any accountability."The [PDF format warning] 117 paged "Independent Report on Iraq" can be accessed in full or by section:
Executive Summary [
Read] [French]
Map of Major Coalition Attacks, Bases and Prisons [
See map]
Political Map of Iraq [
See map]
1. Introduction [
2. Destruction of Cultural Heritage [
3. Indiscriminate and Especially Injurious Weapons [
4. Unlawful Detention [
5. Abuse and Torture of Prisoners [
6. Attacks on Cities [
7. Killing Civilians, Murder and Atrocities [
8. Displacement and Mortality [
9. Corruption, Fraud and Gross Malfeasance [
10. Long-Term Bases and the New Embassy Compound [
11. Other Issues [
- Iraqi Public Opinion and the Occupation- Cost of the War and Occupation
12. Conclusion and Recommendations [
Focusing on Chapter 6 ("Attack on Cities") because Norman Solomon has been sounding the alarm about the air war for some time now (Solomon is a member of IPA), we learn of the collective punishments on cities which are judged or just guessed to be 'insurgent strongholds.' (Being against the occupation is often enough to get you judged 'insurgent.') Once that judgement/guess has been made the process usually begins with razor wire, sanbags, and various barricades being utilized to 'wall off' the city in question while US troops gather around it and "seize control of all movement into and out . . . including goods and supplies, water, food, medicines and emergency assistance of all kinds. This 'sealing off' strategy seeks to isolate insurgents and show ordinary civilians the heavy cost of not cooperating." Citizens are then encouraged to leave (and we've seen that with the reporting of the current actions in the Diyala province). Those who can (and that generally does not include all males of the city) do and as they become refugees, their city becomes a free-fire zone. As the US military cuts off water, power and anything else, they also cut off access to journalists not in bed (to steal Amy Goodman's term) with the military. And then comes the bombings:
Coalition forces have inflicted prolonged and intense air and ground bombardment on these cities, destroying thousands of homes, shops, mosques, clinics and schools, and inevitably -- killing and injuring many civilians. The strategy of indiscriminate and massive bombardment, in advance of ground offensives, has reduced the number of Coalition casualties, at a heavy cost in life and injury to the remaining Iraqi city residents. The Washington Post reported that in Falluja, an "official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described 12 hours of overnight strikes by American helicopters, fighter-bombers, field artillery and tanks as 'shaping operations.' Military commanders use the term as shorthand for battlefield preparation, combat operations specifically intended to remove enemy strong points in advance of an assault. In the second assault on Falluja, the air strikes began on October 15, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and continued for three weeks prior to the assault of November 7. In Najaf, US Marines bombarded the cemetary near the famous Imam Ali Shrine as well as much of the city center, in a massive attack backed by aircraft and tanks. In Ramadi, US forces carried out intensive bombardment, targeting the city's power stations, water treatment facilities, and water pipes, leaving many destroyed houses and no civilian services functioning.US military bombardment has destroyed large areas of the cities. Reports have confirmed that whole neighborhoods have been leveled and elsewhere just hulks of buildings stand. "Those who have witnessed US aircraft firing missiles into packed tenements in Sadr City, and have seen the resulting carnage, treat claims of 'precision strikes' . . . with deep skepticism" commented the London-based Independent newspaper.
Air strikes and artillery bombardment are typically indiscriminate. According to an Iraq Body Count study on different types of weapons, aircraft attacks have been responsible for the largest proportion of children killed. In addition to massive bombardment with high explosives, there is clear evidence of the use of indiscriminate and especially injurious weapons, particularly incendiaries, in these ferociously violent campaigns.

That is a lengthy excerpt from a snapshot. But it is necessary because that important report was noted on CounterSpin's June 22nd broadcast in an interview with co-author Celine Nahory for a little less than eight minutes, it was the final segment.

That did not rate a best-of moment?

It was important to include Mr. Benjamin, obviously, because there are grudges still unresolved, and for some reason it was important to include a White male talking about what happened three years prior, in 2004. But a report that broke ground in 2007, about realities in 2007, and a guest who was both a woman and had an accent did not make the cut of best-of.

Listening to the half-hour special, it was obvious that the program needed to highlight as many female guests and non-White ones as possible but that thought did not occur to those compiling the broadcast. They did not find Ms. Nahory or her report a "best of" moment, but I do and, via the June 22nd "Iraq snapshot," I will offer an excerpt they left on the cutting room floor this week:

Janine Jackson: Well, I want to draw you out on another issue in the report -- there are many of them, of course -- but you talked about attacks on cities and I think many people, of course, as we've mentioned may believe that the 'coalition' is in the position of mainly defending or protecting but I think they still could tell you that the US-led 'coalition' did fiercely attack the city of Falluja. I think most people remember that but that would be a very incomplete picture, wouldn't it?

Celine Nahory: Well, at the very moment the US is actually imposing another siege on Falluja. There were two in 2004 and there is one going on right now -- for about a month now. But Falluja is absolutely not the only city on which there have been assaults. Part of the "anti-insurgency operation" that the US is pursuing in Iraq. A dozen other cities have suffered: Najaf, Tal Afar, Samarra, al Qaim, Haditha, Ramadi, Baquba, many others. And this is not something that happened here and there. It's really ongoing operations. And usually those operations follow the same pattern where the city is sealed off, a very harsh curfew is imposed, residents are encouraged to leave resulting in massive displacement of people. After awhile they assume that those who stay inside are only 'insurgents' and they cut water, food, electricity, medical supplies and carry massive bombardments on urban households and this destructs a very large part of the city. Reports say that more than 75% of the city of Falluja lies in ruins today. And many of those occasions, the US military has taken over medical facitilies such as hospitals. In those cities, very often hospitals are the tallest building in those cities. So the US takes them over and puts snipers on top and you have once again control over the city or neighborhoods.

After the excerpt, C.I. will note that Ms. Jackson maintained she saw no coverage of the report outside of A.F.P. which, I would argue, is all the more reason it should have been included in the best-of.