Monday, November 17, 2008

Reporting and 'reporting' on the treaty

Three years is not a lifetime away. It will be here before you know it. So why some reporters are begging to be laughed at in three years is beyond me. Last night we noted Anne Penketh's "All US troops out of Iraq 'in three years'" (Independent of London) fact-free diagnosis of something she's not qualified to diagnose. (Do they no longer teach that at journalism school?) Out of apparent solidarity, a number of her peers want to stand in stupidity today.

We'll get to them. Instead, let's turn our attention to the only outlet that appears to be functioning today, the Washington Post. This is the opening of Mary Beth Sheridan's "Iraqi Cabinet Backs U.S. Security Deal: Parliament, Top Council Must Approve:"

After months of tense negotiations and public protests, the Iraqi cabinet on Sunday approved a bilateral agreement allowing U.S. troops to remain in this country for three more years.
The accord still needs approval from Iraq's parliament, but the cabinet vote indicated that most major Iraqi parties supported it. The Iraqi government spokesman portrayed the pact as closing the book on the occupation that began with the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
"The total withdrawal will be completed by December 31, 2011. This is not governed by circumstances on the ground," the spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, told Iraqi reporters, pointedly rejecting the more conditional language that the U.S. government had sought in the accord.
American officials have pointed out that there is nothing stopping the next Iraqi government from asking some U.S. troops to stay. The Iraqi military is years away from being able to defend the country from external attack, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

That's what a journalist does. Three years from now a number of outlets and journalists will be feeling mighty foolish because they didn't know or grasp their job. For example, they are not of the US State Dept and they are not treaty negotiators or drafters. In other words, it is beyond their level of expertise and they are supposed to seek out someone knowledgeable to interpret for them or else stick with the US says . . . and the Iraqis say . . . They did not do that.

Let's turn to the embarrassment in the New York Times. The paper that sold the illegal war on lies now wants to insist (with nothing to back it up) that the treaty ends the illegal war. Campbell Robertson and Stephen Farrell's "Pact, Approved In Iraq, Sets Time For U.S. Pullout:"

Iraq's cabinet on Sunday overwhelmingly approved a proposed security agreement that calls for a full withdrawal of American forces from the country by the end of 2011. The cabinet's decision brings a final date for the departure of American troops a significant step closer after more than five and a half years of war.

Oh, is that what it calls for? Suddenly Robertson and Farrell are equipped and trained to traverse a complicated legal document all by themselves? Really?

The proposed agreement, which took nearly a year to negotiate with the United States, not only sets a date for American troop withdrawal, but puts new restrictions on American combat operations in Iraq starting Jan. 1 and requires an American military pullback from urban areas by June 30. Those hard dates reflect a significant concession by the departing Bush administration, which had been publicly averse to timetables.

Oh it does? An iron-clad date for withdrawal? Because if it's not iron-clad it's not a date for withdrawal as anyone familiar with contract law would be damn aware so certainly Robertson and Farrell are familiar with that, right? They are experts and trained in navigating a legal document between two nations?

No, they aren't. As the incoming president might put it, they're 'reporting' above their pay grade.

That this sort of 'reporting' (and it's not just the Times) passed an editor (or in the case of the Independent of London, was written by an editor) is a puzzle for someone else to solve. Certainly, it tells/flatters the establishment. Whether this is sucking up or a coordinated effort to misinform the public, we'll leave for someone else to decide; however, it is not journalism.

Here's Tina Susman from "Iraq Cabinet agrees to U.S. troop exit by end of 2011" (Los Angeles Times):

Iraq's Cabinet on Sunday overwhelmingly accepted a plan to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq by the end of 2011 and sent it on to parliament for approval, where it faces a fight from lawmakers who consider it a sellout to the Americans.

How can Susman back that up? It's her opening sentence in a report, not a column, and she can't back it up. She could have said "accepted a plan that some say would end the . . ." She didn't have that qualifier. She presented something as fact when she's not qualified to make that judgment even if she had been given a copy of the treaty to pour over. (The treaty's full text has not been published yet.)

Only one outlet informs you today. The rest tell a pleasing narrative that they can't back up and one that, in three years, they may be hoping everyone's forgotten.

The treaty (wrongly called a Status Of Forces Agreement) -- if passed -- will only extend the occupation of Iraq for three more years. The point Sheridan makes in her opening sentence. Susman offers the following:

After the Cabinet vote Sunday, government spokesman Ali Dabbagh sought to deflect Iraqi concerns that the pact left open the door for U.S. troops to extend their stay here. He called the withdrawal deadlines of June 2009 and Dec. 31, 2011, "final and decided."
When the talks began, the United States had pressed for wording that would have omitted deadlines for troop withdrawals in favor of a vague "time horizon" for withdrawal dependent on conditions in Iraq.
Even with the deadlines, Dabbagh said Iraq would have the right to cancel the agreement if it decided its forces were ready to assume full control of the country's security.

Oh, wow! Did he say that? Did a government spokesperson, an ally of al-Maliki, say that? Then it must be . . . suspect. The treaty is unpopular in Iraq and the spokesperson is going to spin it. Equally true, is that even if he wanted to offer an honest opinion, it's beyond the knowledge base of a spokesperson. Where do press flacks for the government usually head via the revolving door? Yes, and there's a reason for that.

Both transmit information. Neither originate it nor are qualified to make judgments well beyond the scope of their training.

AP quotes Mohsen Bilal, Syrian Information Minister, stating the treaty is an "award to the occupiers."

Text and audio reporting on the treaty can be found at Australia's ABC where AM offers "Iraq Cabinet approves draft US troop withdrawal agreement:"

PETER CAVE: Iraq's Cabinet has approved a draft security agreement with the United States that requires all US troops to leave the country by the end of 2011.
The US Government says it's all possible because of improving security conditions.
Within hours of the Cabinet decision, a car bomb exploded at a police checkpoint.
Brendan Trembath reports.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The remote-controlled bomb exploded at a police check point in Diyala Province, north of Baghdad. At least 15 people were killed. It was the latest in a series of almost daily attacks in Iraq targeting security forces.
Overall though, the United States says the security situation in Iraq is improving and combat forces continue to return home. The US has welcomed the approval by Iraq's Cabinet of a military agreement with the United States.
The pact requires all US troops to pull out of cities by the middle of next year, and from the rest of the country by the end of 2011.
Iraq's Parliament is scheduled to vote on the pact in a week.
Iraqi Government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh.

ALI AL-DABBAGH: I am optimistic that this agreement going to pass through the Council of Representatives as it is an issue, an important issue.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The agreement has to be approved by the Parliament by the end of the year.
A United Nations mandate covering the presence of US and other troops will expire then.
The Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh says this is the best agreement possible because it will manage the end of the military presence and guarantee the complete withdrawal of the troops.
He says the withdrawal dates of 2009 and 2011 are "fixed" and are "not subject to the circumstances on the ground." He says the agreement reached is not ideal for either the Iraqis or the Americans but he still seems pleased.

While Cave gets it wrong, note that Trembath repeatedly frames it with "say". And it a so-sad-for-US-outlets moment, China Xinhau reports better on the treaty:

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and the US envoy to Iraq Ryan Crocker signed Monday the long-awaited security pact which would allow US forces to remain in the country for three more years, state-run TV reported.
"This is an historic day for the Iraqi and US relations," Zebari said during the signing ceremony.
He said the agreement has to be approved by parliament before it goes into force, adding that "there is a positive atmosphere among the political leaders."
The Iraqi cabinet Sunday approved the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and another agreement of bilateral cooperation in various fields between the two countries.

Three more years of US forces approved. That's all that the treaty's offering. But keep spinning that it says in three years US forces come out and it says that in binding language. Keep spinning.

Loretta notes Steve Conn's "Bob Bird (Who?) and the Crazy Fringe Party, Palin Trashers Just Love(d) to Hate, End Ted Stevens' Reign in Alaska" (Dissident Voice):

Hey, Partisan Democrats like Hendrick Hertzberg of the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town." Hey, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. Meet Bob Bird, Alaska Senatorial Candidate for the Alaska Independence Party. He just did rabid Democrats and President-elect Obama a very big favor. He ran for Alaska's Senate seat as a member of the AIP, that "demonic fringe party of domestic terrorists," you warned your readers and listeners about, back when it was smear-Sarah-Palin-time in the big race. You used the old Red baiting tactic of guilt-by association on Palin and her husband, the tactic that is bad only when used against your favored candidate. Now guess what happened?
Social studies teacher Bob Bird of Nikiski High School did you, Chuck Schumar, Harry Reid and President-elect Obama a big favor. Bird ran on an anti-war, pro-life, anti-federal government platform in Alaska and took more than four percent of the votes in the Senate race, more than 12,144, some of which just might have been earned by Ted Stevens. Stevens had beaten then-Republican Bird by more than 50,000 votes in the1990 party primary. This time, as an AIP candidate, Bird was endorsed by anti-war Libertarian, Ron Paul. Now Bird is getting his sweet revenge on Ted Stevens. Democrat Mark Begich is beating Senator Stevens by only 1,022 votes with 25,000 votes left to count next week, mostly from Begich strongholds in Southeastern Alaska’s Pan Handle and Anchorage. So Sarah Palin won't get a chance to run in a special election after Senator-elect Stevens resigns or is expelled. With barely a mention in the press and with less money than a single charter flight would have cost to ship all those famous campaign clothes back to Anchorage from the Real America, this Kenai Peninsula unknown has taken the air out of Ted Stevens' balloon as a Federal jury conviction did not . If Ted Stevens had wanted Bird’s votes, he should have earned them. (That's what Ralph Nader would say).

Bonnie notes Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Ghosts of Network Bombs Past and Present" went up yesterday. The e-mail address for this site is

 the washington post
 mary beth sheridan
the new york times

the los angeles times
tina susman