Friday, December 10, 2010

Little honesty in war coverage -- and little coverage period

The sheer magnitude of Iraqi suffering in the onslaught had little place in the news. Standing outside 10 Downing St, on the night of the invasion, Andrew Marr, then the BBC's political editor, declared, "[Tony Blair] said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating, and on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right . . ." I asked Marr for an interview, but received no reply. In studies of the television coverage by the University of Wales, Cardiff, and Media Tenor, the BBC's coverage was found to reflect overwhelmingly the government line and that reports of civilian suffering were relegated. Media Tenor places the BBC and America's CBS at the bottom of a league of western broadcasters in the time they allotted to opposition to the invasion. "I am perfectly open to the accusation that we were hoodwinked," said Jeremy Paxman, talking about Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction to a group of students last year. "Clearly we were." As a highly paid professional broadcaster, he omitted to say why he was hoodwinked.
Dan Rather, who was the CBS news anchor for 24 years, was less reticent. "There was a fear in every newsroom in America," he told me, "a fear of losing your job . . . the fear of being stuck with some label, unpatriotic or otherwise." Rather says war has made "stenographers out of us" and that had journalists questioned the deceptions that led to the Iraq war, instead of amplifying them, the invasion would not have happened. This is a view now shared by a number of senior journalists I interviewed in the US.

The above is from John Pilger's "Why are wars not being reported honestly?" (Guardian -- link has text and video). And Pilger's long trumpeted the need for honest reporting. Of course, there's another issue not dealt with in Pilger's article -- possibly due to the fact that Iraq continues to be reported on in England, why are wars not being reported on period?

In the US media, the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War no longer exist. That's reality. Try to find them on your evening network news. Try to find them in your paper. Those few US outlets still in Iraq? They're reducing staff further. And so very few maintain even a staff of one anymore.

Reuters reports that a Baghdad roadside bombing has left 2 Iraqi police officers injured, a second Baghdad roadside bombing has claimed 1 life and left five other people injured and a Tikrit police checkpoint was attacked resulting in the deaths of 2 police officers with another two left injured.

Wednesday, at least seven Iranian pilgrims were injured in a Baghdad roadside bombing. Press TV notes that Hassan Qashqavi, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister, is calling for tighter security and condemning a wave of attacks. The segment most targeted in the last two months are Iraqi Christians. This latest wave of attacks began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. Prashant Rao (AFP) reports that mass was held today at the church: "Teary-eyed parishioners, diplomats, and politicians gathered in the Sayidat al-Nejat (Our Lady of Salvation) Syriac Catholic church, seated on plastic garden chairs as priests read aloud the names of the 46 people who died, recited prayers and sang hymns. Outside the church, dozens of armed soldiers, policemen and private security contractors stood guard as nearby streets were closed off to vehicle traffic, and men and women alike were frisked on entry." Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) adds, "Rafah Butros sat alone, sobbing in a corner as priests prayed for peace and forgiveness. She had not been to church in three years until October 31, when her cousin threatened to stop visiting her if she did not go.
That day, militants stormed Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Church, killing 51 congregants and two priests in a brutal attack that authorities said was the worst in a recent surge of violence targeting Iraq's Christians. Butros survived. Her cousin, a 27-year-old priest, did not."

Yesterday's snapshot included:

Turning to the US where Anthony Welsch (WBIR -- link has text and video) reports the war contractor EOD Techonolgy had their Lenoir City and Roane County offices raided by federal agents last night: "Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the FBI, and agents from the office the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction combed through offices at EOD's Roane County facility, loading up large boxes and hauling them to a back room." Josh Flory (Knoxville News Sentinel) adds, "As many as a dozen agents, most wearing blue, Federal Agent windbreakers, were on site during the day, going in and out of the buildings. Agents were seen unloading equipment from unmarked vehicles and carrying paperwork between the various buildings on the EOD Technology campus. The agents also were seen escorting several occupants of the buildings to their vehicles."

Today Karen DeYoung (Washington Post) reports:

One federal official said the alleged offenses fell under a law known as International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which governs the export and import of certain defense-related items. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation, would not specify the items in question but said the case involved exports to Iraq.
Reached by telephone Thursday, an EODT receptionist said that senior officials were all in a meeting and were unavailable for comment. On Wednesday, a company statement said that "this event came as a complete surprise to us. We are a responsibly run company, and adhere to the highest ethical standards. We are unaware of anything that could have triggered this event."

TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, Charles Babington (AP), Jackie Calmes (NYT) and Lori Montgomery (Washington Post) join Gwen around the table and NPR's Tom Gjelten will offer a report on WikiLeaks. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is "Deconstructing the President." This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Danielle Belton, Cari Dominguez, Tara Setmayer and Patricia Sosa to discuss the week's news on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary. And this week's To The Contrary online extra is a discussion on the state of romance. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

The Next Speaker
Rep. John Boehner will become the speaker of the House next month, but few know this Ohio Republican beyond his life in Washington. Lesley Stahl profiles the man whose new role will place him at the top of the Republican Party and third in line for the presidency.

As the U.S. and most of the world's countries limp along after the crippling recession, Brazil is off and running with jobs, industry, and resources. The economic juggernaut is poised to become the fifth largest economy in the world. Steve Kroft reports.

Jerry Jones
A disappointed Cowboys owner, GM Jerry Jones says even his friend, the late George Steinbrenner, would fire him for the poor performance of his Dallas football team that many predicted would go to the Super Bowl. Scott Pelley reports.

60 Minutes, Sunday, Dec. 12, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Radio note. The Diane Rehm Show begins airing on most NPR stations this morning at 10:00 am EST (and streaming online). The first hour, domestic news, Diane's joined by panelists John Harwood (NYT), Susan Page (USA Today) and David Welna (NPR). The second hour, international news, Diane's joined by Elisa Labott (CNN), Mark Landler (NYT) and Moises Naim (El Pais).

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