Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Coverage and non-coverage of the Baghdad bombings

Ann Curry: We turn now to Iraq, still reeling from massive explosions that wrecked three buildings in Baghdad on Sunday. The dead now number more than 150. Hundreds more are injured. And the attacks raise the question: can the Iraqi government keep the lid on? The latest tonight from NBC's Tom Aspell.

Tom Aspell: Grief and shock today at some of the funerals for bombings in Baghdad. Iraqi police and hospitals now say that up to thirty children from a day care center at the Justice Ministry are among the dead. The second blast was captured on a cell phone. The blast destroyed two government buildings outside the Green Zone in central Baghdad. Iraqi officials said at least 150 people were killed, at least 500 people were wounded. A security spokesman said two buses were used to carry the explosives -- 2,000 pounds in one and 1500 pounds in the other. It was the worst attack in Baghdad for two years. This morning Iraqis were blaming the government for lax security issues. There are checkpoints every one-hundred yards How did these vehicles come here" asked this man. Iraqi troops were patrolling Baghdad streets this morning. The government is warning there could be more attacks before elections in three months time. Tom Aspell, NBC News, London.

The above is from last night's NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, click here for the video of that segment. Also covering the bombings was PBS' NewsHour (link has text, audio and video options):

JANE ARRAF [Christian Science Monitor]: It has. The death toll looks like it's going past about 150, Ray, and hundreds more wounded. And more than that, a lot of questions being raised as to how this actually could have happened just two months after the horrific bombing of the Finance and Foreign Ministries. Now, yesterday, at the site, there were absolute scenes of devastation, people sobbing, carrying away wounded relatives, trying to find their relatives, and pretty much chaos for the first little while. The streets were flooded. Rescue workers were trying to wade through bystanders. It really was one of the most horrific scenes that many of us have seen in quite a long time. We had kind of thought this was over with. And now it seems to have started again. And that is definitely the feeling that you feel on the streets, that things could very much get worse again.

RAY SUAREZ: You mentioned that August attack. At the time, weren't measures put in place to make this kind of operation less likely in Baghdad?

JANE ARRAF: Absolutely. That August attack, which killed at least 100 people with an eerily similar attack, a truck packed with explosives in two different places, and a suicide attack, at that, was actually a wakeup call. And it was said to have been a systemic failure -- failure of security. Now, the Iraqi government responded by firing some senior Iraqi security officials. It said it put new measures in place. I spoke with a senior American official today who said, indeed, they had put measures in place. But it has not prevented these two bombings, which, again, were eerily similar. These were trucks traveling streets where no trucks are supposed to be in daytime. They apparently went through checkpoints, where they should have been checked, but weren't. And they managed to explode in one of the busiest times of the day, in one of the most packed places in Baghdad, killing government workers, as well as passersby, including children.

So four evening newscasts -- three on commercial networks and one on public broadcasting. Did everyone cover it? Yes. How'd they do? Let's continue the look and see -- and note The NewsHour is an excerpt, they offer more than what's noted above. ABC World News Tonight with Charlie Gibson covered the bombings.

Charlie Gibson: In Iraq meanwhile the funerals began today in the wake of the stunning twin bombings that tore through the heart of Baghdad yesterday. The death toll is now 155 with the grim discovery that 24 children at a day care center were among those killed. The attacks raised questions about Iraq's security. Miguel Marquez was at the scene of the blasts.

Miguel Marquez: The devastation is almost unimaginable, buildings shredded as far as the eye can see, glass, blood splattered clothing and burned rubber. When the bombs went off they shattered the relative calm here. Six months ago this street was off limits to traffic but with security improving the barriers were lifted. An investigation is now underway into how two vehicles carrying 1500 pounds of explosives each including military grade C4, got through multiple military checkpoints before reaching their targets. Despite all the security agencies the government here is helpless he says, they only cause traffic jams. Today Iraqis begin the wrenching task of burying their loved ones. Comfort was in short supply. They blame their government for failing to stop the violence. This is the hole created by the explosion. It goes down about twenty-five feet. The blast was so powerful they burst a water main, flooding this section of Baghdad. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who faces re-election in January has campaigned on his ability to make Iraq safer. His opponents say this bombings proves the military is infiltrated

Iraqi National Security Advisor Mouwaffak Rubaie: What we need to concentrate on is enabling our intelligence agencies. This is an intelligence led war now.

Miguel Marquez: The bombings are especially shocking because security here has improved by leaps and bounds in the last two years. Construction is everywhere and night life has made a roaring comeback. [An Iraqi woman speaks.] "We have one quiet week and then the next week things get worse," she says. "The security situation is still the same." The US military says it is assisting in the investigation but there are no plans to increase US patrols here nor slow the rate of pulling US forces out of Iraq. Miguel Marquez, ABC News, Baghdad.

And finally, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric also covered the bombings.

Harry Smith: In Baghdad, this was a day of mourning as victims of the deadliest attacks there in two years were laid to rest. At least 155 people were killed and 500 wounded by two suicide truck bombs yesterday that targeted government ministries. Cell phone video captured the second explosion. Among the dead were 24 children who were on a bus leaving the day care center next to one of the targets. No one has claimed responsibility but Sunni insurgents with links to al Qaeda are suspected.

So, as you can see, some devoted time for reports and/or discussions and some just offered a headline. Strange that CBS News would just offer a headline when Elizabeth Palmer had a report prepared and ready to be aired but then fluff apparently must have its time as well -- as evidenced by the final portion of that newscast. Sahar Issa and Hannah Allam's "Large trucks used in Iraq bombings that killed 155" (McClatchy Newspapers) explain:

TV commentators, Iraqi newspapers and street-level talk of the bombings blamed the political wrangling ahead of January elections for the violence. Iraqi legislators are deadlocked over election law revisions, and the clock is ticking on whether the elections will take place on time, as called for in the Iraqi Constitution.
Sunday's violence was the latest omen that the polls might not go as smoothly as the Obama administration had hoped; a calm election season could help to hasten the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
"Who can pass a truck full of explosives through this part of Baghdad?" Ali Abdulatheem, 67, a third-generation basket weaver near the bombing site, said Monday.

Meanwhile, Senator Carl Levin's office released the following statement yesterday:

WASHINGTON -- Calling the plight of religious minorities in Iraq "a tragic consequence" of the war there, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., today introduced a Senate resolution calling on the U.S. government, Iraqi government and United Nations Mission in Iraq to take steps to alleviate the dangers facing these minority groups. Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., joined Levin in sponsoring the sense of the Senate resolution.
"While violence has declined in Iraq overall, religious minorities continue to be the targets of violence and intimidation," Levin said. "Members of many minority groups who have fled other parts of the country have settled in the north, only to find themselves living in some of the most unstable and violent regions of Iraq. We strongly urge the Iraqi government, the United Nations and the U.S. government to address this crisis without delay."
Of approximately 1.4 million Christians of various denominations living in Iraq in 2003, only 500,000 to 700,000 remain. Another minority group, the Sabean Mandeans, has seen its population decline by more than 90 percent. Iraq's Jewish community, once one of the largest in the Arab world, has almost ceased to exist.
According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, members of religious minorities "have experienced targeted intimidation and violence, including killings, beatings, abductions, and rapes, forced conversions, forced marriages, forced displacement from their homes and businesses, and violent attacks on their houses of worship and religious leaders." The U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees reported that in 2008, there were an estimated 2.8 million internally displaced persons living in Iraq. Of that 2.8 million, nearly two out of three reported fleeing their home because of a direct threat to their lives, and, of that number, almost nine out of ten said they were targeted because of their ethnic or religious identity.
The resolution introduced by the senators addresses the tragedy in several ways. It states the sense of the Senate that the fate of Iraqi religious minorities is a matter of grave concern and calls on the U.S. government and the United Nations to urge Iraq's government to increase security at places of worship, particularly where members of religious minorities are known to face risks. The resolution calls for the integration of regional and religious minorities into the Iraqi security forces, and for those minority members to be stationed within their own communities. The resolution calls on the Iraqi government to ensure that minority citizens can participate in upcoming elections, and to enforce its constitution, which guarantees "the administrative, political, cultural, and educational rights" of minorities. Finally, it urges a series of steps to ensure that development aid and other forms of support flow to minority communities in Iraq.

Zach notes Chris Hedges' "War Is a Hate Crime" (Information Clearing House):

Violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is wrong. So is violence against people in Afghanistan and Iraq. But in the bizarre culture of identity politics, there are no alliances among the oppressed. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the first major federal civil rights law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, passed last week, was attached to a $680-billion measure outlining the Pentagon’s budget, which includes $130 billion for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Democratic majority in Congress, under the cover of protecting some innocents, authorized massive acts of violence against other innocents.
It was a clever piece of marketing. It blunted debate about new funding for war. And behind the closed doors of the caucus rooms, the Democratic leadership told Blue Dog Democrats, who are squeamish about defending gays or lesbians from hate crimes, that they could justify the vote as support for the war. They told liberal Democrats, who are squeamish about unlimited funding for war, that they could defend the vote as a step forward in the battle for civil rights. Gender equality groups, by selfishly narrowing their concern to themselves, participated in the dirty game.
"Every thinking person wants to take a stand against hate crimes, but isn’t war the most offensive of hate crimes?" asked Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who did not vote for the bill, when I spoke to him by phone. "To have people have to make a choice, or contemplate the hierarchy of hate crimes, is cynical. I don’t vote to fund wars. If you are opposed to war, you don’t vote to authorize or appropriate money. Congress, historically and constitutionally, has the power to fund or defund a war. The more Congress participates in authorizing spending for war, the more likely it is that we will be there for a long, long time. This reflects an even larger question. All the attention is paid to what President Obama is going to do right now with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan. The truth is the Democratic Congress could have ended the war when it took control just after 2006. We were given control of the Congress by the American people in November 2006 specifically to end the war. It did not happen. The funding continues. And while the attention is on the president, Congress clearly has the authority at any time to stop the funding. And yet it doesn’t. Worse yet, it finds other ways to garner votes for bills that authorize funding for war. The spending juggernaut moves forward, a companion to the inconscient force of war itself."

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