Sunday, November 21, 2004

It's just another day, another episode

It's just another day, another episode
I'm hiding under the world
It's just another ray of merciful hope
I don't expect many more
-- "Dust" words & music Van Hunt

IRAQ BACK!: Returns to the Front Page with a story that's about six days old

Iraq's back on the front page of the New York Times. Dexter Filkins' "In Faulluja, Young Marines Saw the Savagery of an Urban War"
is the online link to it.

Iraq is front page news, with a 'powerful' opening recreation of a battle scene:

As the marines inched upward, a burst of gunfire rang down, fired by an insurgent hiding in the top of the tower. The bullets hit the first marine in the face, his blood spattering the marine behind him. The marine in the rear tumbled backward down the stairwell, while Lance Cpl. William Miller, age 22, lay in silence halfway up, mortally wounded.
"Miller!" the marines called from below. "Miller!"
With that, the marines' near mystical commandment against leaving a comrade behind seized the group. One after another, the young marines dashed into the minaret, into darkness and into gunfire, and wound their way up the stairs.
After four attempts, Corporal Miller's lifeless body emerged from the tower, his comrades choking and covered with dust. With more insurgents closing in, the marines ran through volleys of machine-gun fire back to their base.
"I was trying to be careful, but I was trying to get him out, you know what I'm saying?" Lance Cpl. Michael Gogin, 19, said afterward.

The rah-rah piece carries the dateline "Nov. 18" in this story published in the November 21st edition. Allowing for the time needed to put together a Sunday edition, I'm still questioning that. The story was filed on the 18th (Thursday) and pops up on the 21st (Sunday). And there's the added detail, not provided in Dexter Filkins story, that Lance Cpl. William Miller died November 15th (
Perhaps we're all supposed to count the "eight days after the Americans entered the city on foot?"

If so The Guardian places that as November 8th (,2763,1346721,00.html) and eight days later would be the sixteenth -- well Times reporters aren't necessarily noted for their math.

The point here is that the story on today's front page (November 21, 2004) begins with a battle from November 15th without ever alerting the reader to this fact. An occurence six days prior is their front page Iraq story. (Which makes one think of Chris Hedges' comments on the nature of war correspondence.)

Was the story "cleared" -- is that the reason for the long delay in the Times reporting on events from the 15th?

Is anyone else bothered by the rah-rah nature of this report that reads like the plot to a video game? After reading the article is anyone else feeling like Filkins is a lot like Bob Dylan's "Mr. Jones" -- "Something is happening, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Filkins?"

On page 16, Edward Wong's "Rebels Keep Up Attacks in Sunni-Dominated Cities of Central and North Iraq" (with a dateline of Nov. 20). This seems a stronger choice for the front page (in fact, much stronger than the front page story on the brawl that went down when the Pacers & Pistons played -- perhaps the Times forgot they give sports its own full section on Sundays?).
Wong's piece ( contains a few points worth noting:

* "The unrelenting wave of assaults in Sunni-dominated areas indicate that the attack on Falluja could have inflamed Sunni resentment against the American presence."

* "The Sunni Arabs, who make up a fifth of the population here, ruled the region known as modern Iraq for centuries, until the American invasion toppled Saddam Hussein."

* "Now with a power and security vacuum throughout Iraq, those tensions are reviving and threatening to unravel the very social fabric of the country."

* "Sunni-dominated cities exploded during and immediately after the Falluja offensive. In April, when the Marines tried to take control of Falluja, thousands of unruly Shiites rose up also, led by the firebrand cleric Moktada al-Sadr."

Wong's writing about the tensions and events of the weekend and is buried inside the paper, Filkins is writing a feature story on events from six days ago (last Monday) and his story is on the front page. I'm not arguing Filkins story doesn't belong in the paper, I am questioning it's placement. And is anyone else wondering where John F. Burns' byline is lately?


Also on the front page is "Bush Says Iran Speeds Output of A-Bomb Fuel" by David E. Sanger. The lengthy story continues inside on page 13. I was under the impression that the Times, having done their mea culpa on coverage during the lead up of the Iraq war, was going to aspire to higher journalistic standards?

Mr. Bush's public statements are quoted and Powell is brought in with a quote, but the rest relies on "a senior American official," "one senior adviser," "one senior Asian official," and "an American official." And only in the sidebar is anything strongly illuminating re: Iran dealt with. Buried on page 13, the sidebar (also by Sanger) "A 'Good-Cop, Bad-Cop' Approach on Iran"
( attempts to provide perspective and cites Richard L. Armitage's interview on Al Jazeera where he stated: "My view would be that the incentives of the Europeans only work against the backdrop of the United States being strong and firm on this issue. In the venacular, it's kind of a good-cop bad-cop arrangment. If it works, we'll all have been successful."
(Armitage currently serves as Powell's deputy.)
So let's put this in perspective. While some nations are trying to work towards a solution re: Iran, Bush makes alarmist remarks. The Times runs with the alarmist remarks on the front page, but if you dig inside the paper to the sidebar, you learn what the Times already knew -- that this is apparently a tactic, a strategy. This may be a slight improvement on the Times' lead up to war coverage on Iraq (the sidebar) but it still emphasizes alarmist language that the deputy secretary of state suggests is a negoiating ploy.
One wonders, whether we'll soon get the same head-scratching-Why-do-the-American-people-think-there-were-WMD-in-Iraq attitude? It's called emphasis and the Times has chosen to emphasize remarks on the front page while inside the paper they (via Armitage) undercut the remarks.


Page 18's "Spending Bill in Hand, Congress Departs" by Carl Hulse & Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports on the passage of the spending bill ( Some things worth noting in this article:

* "Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, said he discovered a provision that would allow leaders of the House and Senate spending panels to designate people who would be given access to tax returns."
* "'Are we really going to pass legislation here that says an Appropriations Committee staffer can look at the individual tax returns of any American?' Mr. Conrad asked."
* "House Democrats raised objections to language that would expand the rights of health care providers to refuse to perform abortions and abortion-related services. The Democratic minority leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, called it an 'extraordinary sneak attack on women's rights and a disgraceful display of ideology over health.'"
* Despite protests in the Senate, and Senator Barbara Boxer's threat to "slow Senate business to a crawl if the provision was not altered. . . . [P]rocedural objections [were dropped] in exchange for a guarantee from the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, that he would schedule a separate vote on the abortion langauge in the Senate next spring."


Greg Winter & Diana Jean Schemo's "Bill Clears Way for Government to Cut Back College Loans" appears on page 25. (Guess Times readers are neither college students or parents of college students?) Highlights:

* "The government moved to change its formula for college aid last year, but it was blocked by Congress. Now, however, no such language appears in the appropriations bill lawmakers are considering, clearing the way for the government to scale back college grants for hundreds of thousands of low-income students."

* "Nearly 100,000 more students may lose their federal grants entirely, as Congress considers legislation that could place more of the financial burden for college on students and their families."

* "The cutback stems from a revision to the formula governing virtually all of the nation's financial aid. Last year the Department of Education changed the formula on its own, angering members of Congress who contend that it was a backdoor way of cutting education spending without facing the public. . . . In response, Congress passed legislation in the fall of 2003 to suspend the new formula for at least a year. The Senate put forward the same measure this year, and many members of the House said they also expected the new formula would wait at least until Congress updates the Higher Education Act, which will probably take the better part of the incoming year. "

* "[. . .][T]he bill approved yesterday, brokered by Congressional leaders in a conference committee, eliminates a provision that would have barred the Education Department from changing the eligibility formula."

* "A Senate staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that the White House insisted the provision be dropped, citing the shortfall, and House Republicans were adamant in their agreement to do so."

* "'They are throwing students out of the opportunity to seek a college education,' Said Senator Jon S. Corzine, the New Jersey Democrat who wrote the amendment to stop the changes last year, and introduced a similar provision this year that did not survive the conference committee. 'It is now clear to me that this was a back-door attempt to cut funding from the Pell grant program.'"