Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Times pushes Operation Happy Talk

Let's note Abby Goodnough's "Optimism After Iraq Election, but Views on War Remain" for a number of reasons.

It's always good when the paper can find actual citizens via something other than a poll that reduces then to a percentage. Who knows when we'll see our fellow Americans in print again?
A week? A month? Today they're (we're) in the paper.

And in what's practically groundbreaking news for the Times, we actually hear from someone with this position: "But I still think we are fighting the wrong war, and Bush set this election up to make the U.S. government look like the good boys."

The paper finally found some citizens against the war. Times readers who get their news only from the paper may be shocked.

The effects are Operation Happy Talk are also documented in the article:

Several people who said they were against the decision to invade Iraq admitted to being somewhat more supportive of the effort after hearing of exhilaration and hopefulness at the Iraqi polls. Derreset Brown, a homebuilder from Conley, Ga., said that he remained opposed to the war but that the elections had helped him understand the other side.

Stage managed news does have that effect. A number of you e-mailed about the various broadcasts you watched yesterday evening and noted that you heard repeatedly about the fall of Saddam Hussein's statue but that you heard about it in the same manner you did originally on American television -- as a spontaneous event led by Iraqis who'd lived under Hussein's rule.

All this time later and the truth still can't be told on broadcast "news" here?

In case there's anyone coming to this site who isn't aware of how a pre-planned photo op was turned into a "news event" (hint, it requires tossing out any basic desire to actually report), In These Times ran a strong article on this by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber ("How To Sell a War The Rendon Group deploys ‘perception management’ in the war on Iraq").

From that article:

Americans channel-flipping over breakfast between Fox, CNN and CBS all saw the same images, broadcast live from Baghdad's Firdos Square. For those who missed it in the morning, the images were continually replayed on cable news throughout the day, and newspapers carried front-page color photos.
. . .
NBC’s Tom Brokaw compared the event to “all the statues of Lenin [that] came down all across the Soviet Union.”
“Iraqis Celebrate in Baghdad,” reported the Washington Post.
“Jubilant Iraqis Swarm the Streets of Capital,” said the headline in the New York Times.
“It was liberation day in Baghdad,” proclaimed the Boston Globe.
“If you don't have goose bumps now,” gushed Fox News anchor David Asman, “you will never have them in your life.”
The problem is that the images of toppling statues and exulting Iraqis, to which American audiences were repeatedly exposed, obscured a larger reality. A Reuters long-shot photo of Firdos Square showed that it was nearly empty, ringed by U.S. tanks and marines who had moved in to seal off the square before admitting the Iraqis. A BBC photo sequence of the statue’s toppling also showed a sparse crowd of approximately 200 people -- much smaller than the demonstrations only nine days later, when thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad calling for U.S.-led forces to leave the city. Los Angeles Times reporter John Daniszewski, who was on the scene to witness the statue's fall, caught an aspect of the day's events that the other reporters missed. Most Iraqis were indeed glad to see Saddam go, he wrote, but he spoke near the scene with Iraqi businessman Jarrir Abdel-Kerim, who warned that Americans should not be deceived by the images they were seeing.

Read the full story and realize how so many either lied or didn't know what they were "reporting" on. (Maybe they were tucked away in the Green Zone and fed the story?)

Also check out Information Clearing House. I'll do a link later today to the photos of the actual non-event (I'm sure most of you have seen them) but I can't find them there right now.

ADDED THIS EVENING: The photos at Information Clearing House are worth viewing. I have done another post with just that link. But for anyone who might come back to this post looking for the link I'm adding it here as stated originally.

Dexter Filkins files a piece (from the Green Zone?) on the election today "Vote Over, Iraq Faces Task of Forming a Government " which makes the front page of the paper.

Let's note what Christian Parenti told Amy Goodman on yesterday's Democracy Now! (since Parenti's reporting hasn't been dependent upon some sad version of the game "telephone" played with troops to get a story):

Well, it means -- I mean, at one level it means nothing. They still have this problem of a guerilla war that is out of control in central Iraq. But it could mean that there is a now newly legitimatised Shia political force that will take institutional power and could undermine the occupation in all sorts of interesting ways. I mean, George Bush said he would leave if they asked us to leave, so the key thing of course, is to get them to not ask us to leave, and how they do that will involve bribery and intimidation and similar things, but it is by no means guaranteed that it is clean sailing for the Bush administration after this.

(On depending upon troops for scraps of information that can be turned into "news," Rachel Maddow & Lizz Winstead made a point yesterday on Air America Radio's Unfiltered -- reporters engaging in that practice should be disclosing that in their reporting.)

And let's remember what Robert Fiske told Amy Goodman yesterday on Democracy Now! as well:

Now it is all very well for the American media that they came to vote for democracy. They probably did. But they also came because they think and believe and are convinced of the fact that by voting that they'll have a free country without an occupation force. If they are denied this, if they feel they are betrayed that their vote is worth nothing, of course a different question arises. What will they think of democracy and will they join the insurgency? The Kurds, of course, voted for their own autonomy and they are the most pro-American of all Iraqis and in a sense, you see, although they voted in the Iraqi election, they were in a sense trying to continue to vote themselves out of Iraq. The more autonomy they had, and the flags you saw in the streets were Kurdistan not Iraqi, the nearer they are to the independents which Kurdish people have been demanding for so many decades. Indeed at least 200 years.

When you read Goodnough's article and want to squirm as you see someone speaking who
hasn't grasped the basic facts, remember that Operation Happy Talk is in full force and blame a lazy, timid media that's refused to report reality. (One of you e-mailed about a local news program where an anchor proclaimed: "For the first time in history, Iraqis have voted!" Whether that was his ignorance speaking or his desire to jump on the Operation Happy Talk bandwagon, his statement was incorrect but people watching him may not have been provided with the facts necessary to know that.)

From Goodnough's article:

"Before, I thought it was time for us to get out," Mr. Brown, 40, said. "Now I can see it as a reason to stay. I'm a little more understanding."

Operation Happy Talk claims another victim.

But not everyone's falling for the pretty footage divorced from reality:

"The mainstream media is portraying the elections as all nice, fluffy, puffy peace stories," said Aldo Arquimbau, 44, an account executive in Plantation, Fla. "Meanwhile, people are dying on their way to the polls."

It's a crossection in Goodnough's article (the following assisted on that article: Maureen Balleza from Houston, Linda Brockman from Broward County, Fla., Chris Dixon from Laguna Beach, Calif., Ariel Hart from Atlanta, Rachel Metz from New York, Gretchen Ruethling from Chicago and Mindy Sink from Denver) which is buried on page A10. On the front page we get a voting photo and Filkins and David E. Sanger & Steven R. Weisman.

Amy Waldman's has an important story ("Nepal's King Dismisses Government and Assumes Power"), one that gets lost in the haze of Operation Happy Talk, but one that's worth reading even if it didn't make the front page. Also worth reading, and not on the front page, is Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmitt's "Law Gives Spending Power to Special Operations Forces."

Avoid Operation Happy Talk and Rob says, "Avoid Tom Zeller's junk mail story on the front page. Junk mail story written by the junk news king."

[Note: This post has been altered to include the Information Clearing House link to the photos.]
[Note: This post has been altered for corrections. Thanks to Shirley and Sam for catching the errors.]