Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A functioning democracy?

Yesterday, a deadly bombing shook Baghdad -- or another deadly bombing yet again shook Baghdad. With at least 54 dead and many more injured, how did TV news play the story?

ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer reduced it to a headline late in the show.

Diane Sawyer: Violence in Iraq today where a female suicide bomber wearing a vest hidden under her head scarf and shawl -- which is called an abaya -- detonated explosives while she was walking in a group of Shi'ite pilgrims on the northern edge of Baghdad. 54 people were killed, more than 100 were wounded. The pilgrims were on their way to Karbala to visit the holiest shrine in Shi'ite Islam.

CBS Evening News with Katie Couric also went with a headline late in the show.

Katie Couric: There was an especially brutal attack today in Baghdad a female suicide bomber targeted Shi'ite pilgrims who were about to leave for a religious gathering in Karbala, at least 54 people were killed, more than 100 others wounded. No group has claimed responsibility.

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams couldn't make time for it and was apparently more eager to have Brian gush like Hedda Hopper about Sunday night's Grammys -- if you ever needed to hear Brian dub Elton John and Lady Gaga "over the top," your wish was granted. If you were looking for something resembling actual news, you were left wanting. The NewsHour (PBS) went with a headline in their news wrap:

Hari Sreenivasan: A suicide bomber in Baghdad killed at least 54 Iraqis today during a religious procession. At least 117 others were wounded. Many of the victims were Shiite pilgrims on their way to Karbala. Authorities said the bomber was a woman who set off explosives hidden under her cloak. It was the first major strike this year against pilgrims ahead of a major Shiite holy day. The U.S. government is now investigating whether Blackwater Worldwide tried to bribe Iraqi officials with $1 million. Guards with the security firm were involved in a Baghdad shooting in 2007 that killed 17 Iraqis. The New York Times reported today, the Justice Department has focused on whether Blackwater authorized bribes to continue operating in Iraq. The company had no immediate response today.

Not a great deal of attention from any of them, especially when you consider that, as Ernesto Londono reports in this morning's Washington Post: "The bombing was the deadliest in months carried out by a suicide bomber on foot, and it suggested that Sunni Muslim insurgents are broadening their targets in an effort to wreak havoc in the run-up to the March 7 parliamentary elections. Most suicide bombings in Iraq have been attributed to the group al-Qaeda in Iraq." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) report, "The target was believed to be the pilgrimage tent in the Boub al-Sham neighborhood. The tent was also near the headquarters of a National Police unit known as The Wolf Brigade, which was identified with Shiite death squads during Iraq's sectarian war but since reformed."

At the Financial Times of London, Andrew England recaps how the violence fits in with the elections planned for March 7th:

The list of banned candidates was drawn up by the Accountability and Justice Commission, which was set up in 2008 to replace an earlier de-Ba’athification body. Yet the criteria used to disqualify candidates are opaque and its legal status questionable because parliament has yet to approve its commissioners. Further muddying of the waters comes from the fact that the man in charge of the process is Ali Faisal al-Lami, a candidate himself, who is close to Ahmed Chalabi, a controversial figure also contesting the elections.
The result is that whichever way the government paints the exclusions, the commission is being seen as a political tool to hammer competitors. According to Human Rights Watch, 72 of those banned are from Mr Mutlaq’s Iraqiya list and 67 are members of Iraq Unity, another important secular coalition to which Mr Abu Risha belongs. The candidates have the right to appeal but there is little clarity about that process.

Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News, audio link) observes tensions are rising between the Shi'ite and Sunni camps, "Now the political tensions are around 500 candidates who have been barred from standing for office due to their alleged links to Saddam Hussein's now outlawed Ba'ath Party. Although there are candidates from both sides on this list, it's the Sunni political groups who feel that they've been disproportionately targeted by this ban. Now, as you say, an overtly sectarian attack on Shi'ite pilgrims during a holy week will certainly do nothing to ease those tensions although it is far too early to say if there is any kind of connection between these two events."
Steve Clemmons (Palestine Note) observes, "Iraq expert and military affairs specialist Tom Ricks recently commented on Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room on CNN that he believed that there was a 50-50 chance Iraq would erupt in civil war, and a 10-15% chance that the growing tensions in and around Iraq could become a regional war involving several of the other major states around Iraq."

Yesterday Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi met with US President Barack Obama and US Vice President Joe Biden at the White House. al-Hashimi belongs to the National Dialogue Front whose Salih al-Mutlaq is the most high profile candidate known to be banned. Why the White House issued no statement might be puzzling; however, when the press didn't ask yesterday and Robert Gibbs blathered on and didn't mention it . . . Don't worry, while everyone pretended to be in a functioning democracy there was a lot of crap about the Superbowl passed off as 'world issues' in the White House press briefing. We got 'big boned' Robert Gibbs pretending he;s ever broken a sweat over anything other than an empty box of Ding Dongs and we've got Brian Williams gossiping on air about the Grammys -- we're a nation bursting with all the information we need to know!

TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):

Has the Democratic Party abandoned support of reproductive rights? Next on NOW.
To gain their historic control of Congress, Democrats fielded moderate candidates who didn't always follow the party line, especially when it came to abortion. Now that the Democratic Party has the legislative upper hand, are they willing to negotiate away reproductive rights for other political gains? On Friday, February 5 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW goes to Allentown, Pennsylvania to ask: Are abortion rights now in jeopardy at the very hands of the party that has historically protected them? Among those interviewed are pro-life Democratic U.S. Representative Bart Stupak and former DNC Chairman Howard Dean.
"If there was a bill on the floor to reverse Roe vs Wade, and says 'life begins at conception,' I would vote for it." Congressman Stupak tells NOW.
Jen Boulanger, director of the often-protested Allentown Women's Center, says, "I would expect more from the Democratic Party, to stick to their ideals, not just throw us to the curb."
Has the Democratic Party traded principles for power? Next on NOW.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.

now on pbs

thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends