Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Press flirts with assisted-suicide

"The American military confirmed on Monday that it shot down an Iranian drone over Iraqi territory last month, in what is believed to be the first time that has happened," opens Rob Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin's "U.S. Military Says It Shot Down an Iranian Drone Over Iraq" (New York Times) and the first thing you may notice is that the headline writer is more on journalistic toes than the slouching to official-dom Nordland and Rubin. There far from alone in that supine posture. Anthony Shadid's "U.S. Downed Iranian Drone Over Iraq" (Washington Post) was apparently written before the US military issued a (written) statement yesterday since it makes no mention of the press release. Instead, Shadid relies on Ann Scott Tyson back in DC:

U.S. military officials in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said they could not recall the United States ever before publicly acknowledging the downing of an unmanned Iranian aircraft.

No one does it as poorly as the New York Times. Their article includes this:

The American military has long accused Iran of meddling in Iraqi affairs, arming militants and contributing to sectarian strife. In recent months, however, the Iranians have refrained from overtly supplying weapons to Iraqi factions, partly as a show of cooperation with a largely friendly Iraqi government.

"In recent months"? How can the Times source that statement? The paper knows -- KNOWS -- Iran supplied weapons? They reported claims of the US military about Iran supplying weapons. They never verified those claims, the paper's own reporting never backed up those claims. So that statement should never have made it into print as it reads. That's exactly why the news industry is in so much trouble and exactly why the public is so unsympathetic to the idea of a bailout for papers or the government funding them in a non-profit manner.

This is our free press and they are responsible for trashing their own images. Stars & Stripes is considered less free. (Stars & Stripes would differ with that characterization. They can keep it in their pants for a minute, they're getting praise.) But it's that paper that raised issues. On Fridy, Stars & Stripes reported:

But, U.S. officials from the Pentagon to Baghdad had no comment.
"We have nothing for you on that," was the response issued by both Multi-National Force–Iraq and the Pentagon.
Officials at the U.S. Air Force Central Command headquarters referred all questions to MNFI.
The refusal to comment is at odds with repeated previous accusations of Iranian meddling in Iraq.
The accusations, ranging from the smuggling of weapons and fighters to the training of Shiite militias, have been tempered as the Obama administration reaches out to Iran on international issues.

Yes, it is odd. But you'd have a hard time finding that out from the New York Times or the Washington Post's articles. There's not even any mention of Friday's denials. Or of first allowing Iraq's Major-General Abdul Aziz Mohammed Jassim to float the story before the US military said a word. No mention of that at all. No questions raised, no walking the reader through. Maybe they all believe no one's paying attention?

Of the reports in this morning's papers, Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) has the strongest one and it may be for this section alone:

Iraqi officials confirmed the incident but were muted in their reaction. With ties to both Iran and the United States, the government finds itself constantly balancing its interests between the two, which broke off diplomatic relations with each other three decades ago after Iran's Islamic Revolution.

A drone is allegedly said to have been shot down while in Iraqi air space (for over an hour, according to US military) and where is the Iraqi reaction in any of this? If you're going to eliminate it, treat the 'story' like what it is, a press release. That's how Jim Lehrer did on The NewsHour (PBS) last night. But he is trained enough to know not to present claims as his own reporting.

In today's New York Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's decision to suspend print publication and to fire over a hundred employees is front page news. Is it sad news? It's hard to see how any careful reader of today's New York Times would find it to be sad. That's driven home by Charlie Savage's "Obama Undercuts Whistle-Blowers, Senator Says." It's a topic Savage frequently covers (for the NYT-owned Boston Globe) but it's an embarrassment that never should have the paper.

And the blame doesn't fall on Charlie Savage. The blame goes to the editor of the piece, all the way up to the editor of the paper.

Senator Charles E. Grassley is appalled by a signing statement that Barack Obama issued which -- as it reads -- tramples on the rights of government whistleblowers. Grassley's interpreted it correctly. The Government Accountability Project's Tom Devine couches his words but he is bothered by Barry's signing statement as well. Because Grassley has made his objection public, the White House has to decide whether or not to respond?

They decide to respond.

How so?

They allow reporters to speak to a White House official who will explain to them what the statement means and where Barack stands on the issue. The White House is providing reporters with an administration spokesperson.

Okay, you say, fair enough. Who is it?

You can read the article until your eyeballs pop out and never learn the identity. "The White House press office referred questions to an administration official, imposign the condition that he not be identified by name or title. The official, a lawyer, said . . ."

And that's where the paper should have cut it off. After "said." And they should then explained that when the White House wants to speak to the press about something so basic as conveying the White House's message, the press DOES NOT grant anonymity. That is appalling.

Every time crap like this makes it into print, it damages the way the press is seen and it harms the trust the public should have in the paper. There is no excuse for allowing the White House to present its side from some hidden source. They want to argue a point? Let 'em do so publicly.

They're LYING. That's why they're using a hidden source. So no one can take the fall. So it will always be "unnamed White House official."

There is no excuse for it and it never should have made it into print. Those mourning the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's print death should take a moment to grasp how newspapers are destroying themselves.

Lloyd notes Karen DeYoung's "U.S. Moves to Replace Contractors in Iraq" (Washington Post):

The decision not to renew Blackwater Worldwide's security contract in Iraq when it expires in early May has left the State Department scrambling to fill a protection gap for U.S. diplomats and civilian officials there.
Two other U.S. security contractors with a far smaller presence in Iraq -- DynCorp International and Triple Canopy -- have been asked to replace the ousted company, according to State Department and company officials. To meet time, training and security-clearance pressures, officials said, one or both of the firms are likely to undertake the task by rehiring some personnel now working for Blackwater.
The Iraqi government refused to issue Blackwater a license to perform security services after a 2007 incident in which company guards on a diplomatic protection mission shot and killed 17 civilians in Baghdad. U.S. prosecutors have indicted five of the guards on charges of manslaughter. Blackwater (which recently changed its name to Xe) still has State Department contracts for air transport in Iraq and security for U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan.

Iraq's Foreign Ministry announces:

16 March, 2009

Foreign Minister Receives Copy of Korean Ambassador's Credentials

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari met on Monday 16/3/2009 the new Korean Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq, Mr. Hu Te Bin and received a copy of his credentials.

Minister Zebari welcomed the new Ambassador and wished him success in his new post, expressing the readiness of the Iraqi government and the Foreign Ministry to provide all necessary assistance to facilitate his work, and touched on the development of relations between the two countries, especially in the area of reconstruction and investment and to work together to deepen these relations for the benefit of the two countries.

The Korean Ambassador expressed his pleasure to work in Iraq and conveyed greetings from the Korean Foreign Minister to Minister Zebari, thanking him for help in the success of his mission in Iraq and stated that he will work hard to develop relations between the two countries.

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thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends