Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Networks offer chatter, not reporting


So Barry went to Baghdad . . . well to the US military base Camp Victory. He couldn't go to Baghdad. But we couldn't count on the news media exploring that on the evening news. Largely they offered propaganda. And for the commercial networks, it was probably shocking to their audiences who must have assumed Iraq had been swallowed by a sink hole since the country has disappeared from coverage by the Big Three.

Jim has asked that any comments on the reporting be held until Sunday when Ava and I can write about it at Third (where Ava and I cover TV). As much as possible, we'll try to follow that. Ava and I have watched and discussed all three reports so any comments or observations I make below can be seen as Ava's as well. I've added things in brackets where a lie was just too much not to have some immediate correction. Otherwise, I will try to follow Jim's request but I'm not promising anything on the snapshot today.

Well start with CBS Evening News with Katie Couric (here for video of the episode):

Katie Couric: Good evening. President Obama took just about everyone by surprise today when he took a detour on the way home from his first overseas trip and landed in Iraq -- his first visit there as commander-in-chief. He drew cheers from US troops when he told them it's time to phase out America's combat role and let the Iraqis take responsibility for their own country. The president intends to withdraw all American troops by 2011, ending a war he opposed [with a weak ass speech while he voted in favor of it after entering the Senate] from the very beginning. Here's our senior White House correspondent, Bill Plante.

Bill Plante: Leaving Istanbul, Air Force One took the commander-in-chief not homeward but east on a surprise visit to Iraq. The president touched down in Baghdad a few hours later where he was met by the [US] commanding officer General Raymond Odierno. My CBS colleague Chip Reid wAs traveling with Mr. Obama.

Chip Reid: He is at at al-Faw Palace at Camp Victory just outside Baghdad He just met with about 500 to 700 raucus troops and gave them a bit of a pep talk, said his primary purpose for being here is to thank them, he said. 'We have not forgotten what you've done,'

Barry: As long as I am in the White House, you are going to get the support that you need and the things that you deserve from a grateful nation.

Chip Reid: He said you have given the Iraqi people the opportunity to stand on their own and that is something that the Iraqis can thank the American people for. And the president asked General Odierno if he had everything he needed and whether the troops had everything they need?

Barack: We are strongly committed to an Iraq that is stable and self-reliant.

Bill Planet: The president met with Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki and Iraqi president Talabani -- both men agree with Mr. Obama's call for a US troop drawdown but not necessarily with his timing. President Obama may have opposed the war but today he wanted to make sure the troops know that as commander-in-chief he appreciates their service. Bill Plante, CBS News, Istanbul.

If you thought they would then mention Munthadar al-Zaidi, you were mistaken. It was back to Italy because . . . well because no one knows how to do news -- and if you doubt that grasp that CBS Evening News is offering crap all week long -- crap posed cute -- as they find 'success' stories in the economy. Last night a man who lost his car lot now is a short order grill cook and CBS News wants to call it success! You have to be pretty stupid to buy into that garbage or to mistake their use of stock footage (Italy) for CBS News actually doing any of its own damn reporting.

ABC World News Tonight with Charlie Gibson:

Charlie Gibson: President Obama boarded his plane in Istanbul, Turkey this morning. The manifest said he would return to Washington after his week in Europe. Instead Air Force One headed southeast, not west. To Baghdad, not Washington. The president went to Iraq to remind Americans there is still work to be done there. Even as the US [media] shifts its focus to Afghanistan. His visit was brief, less than five hours on the ground, but time enough to rally the troops and bolster Iraq's leadership. Here's Jake Tapper.

Jake Tapper: Air Force One touched down at Baghdad International Airport at 4:42 p.m. Iraq time. Top US military commander General Ray Odierno met Obama on his first presidential trip to Iraq. More extensive travel plans were scrapped because a dust storm made helicopter travel impossible. They motorcaded to Camp Victory where at a former palace of Saddam Hussein's the troops welcomed the president enthusiastically. And the president had one simple message for the troops.

Barack Obama: Number one, thank you.

Female voice: You're welcome.

Barack Obama: You have performed brilliantly in every mission that has been given to you. You have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. As long as I am in the White House, you are going to get the support that you need and the thanks that you deserve from a grateful nation.

Jake Tapper: And a message for Iraqi leaders.

Barack: It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. They -- they need to take responsibility for their country and for their soveriegnty.

Jake Tapper: The president met with Iraqi President Talabani and Prime Minister al-Maliki who recommitted to the president's timetable for the complete withdrawal of US troops by 2011. At the top of the list? The bitter struggle between religious factions in Iraq. The president pushed them for continued reconciliation between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

Barack: It's absolutely critical that all Iraqis are fully integrated into the government and the security forces.

Jake Tapper: The visit was kept secret for security reasons. The White House had announced Mr. Obama was flying directly to the US from Turkey. The president spoke a few times about Iraq here [in Turkey] including at a townhall meeting of roughly one-hundred Turkish youth.

Barack: I opposed the war in Iraq. I thought it was a bad idea. Just because I was opposed to the outset, it doesn't mean that I don't have responsibilities now to make sure that we do things in a responsible fashion.

Jake Tapper: Iraq was a big topic here in Turkey which did not allow US troops to enter into Iraq through their country at the start of the war. President Obama is now seeking Turkey's permission to allow the troops through on their way out.

Jake Tapper has a write up of the visit here (write up by Tapper, Sulen Miller and Karen Travers) and there's a video option (I'm not sure that the video is what was broadcast on yesterday's evening news).

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams (here for video page):

Brian Williams: Good evening. As far as anyone knew he was flying home from an overseas trip until word arrived this morning that the president had added a stop on the way home in Iraq. Air Force One landed in the beginnings of an afternoon sandstorm and so the president was confined to the airbase. A final stop, a flight from Istanbul, Turkey to Baghdad, intended to send a message to the Americans serving long combat tours a long way from home in what is a changing conflict. Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel was there when the president landed and covered the visit. He's with us live from Baghdad tonight. Richard, good evening.

Richard Engel: Good evening, Brian. This was President Obama's third visit to Iraq but his first as commander-in-chief, making a surprise stop at Baghdad's Camp Victory. At times the room looked frenzied, excited, like a rock concert. Hundred of US troops clamored to take photographs of their commander-in-chief in the rotunda of what had been Saddam Hussein's favorite palace.

Loud female voice: We love you!

Barack: I love you back.

Richard Engel: But the biggest cheers came when President Obama said, six years after the US invasion, Iraqis must now take over.

Barack: It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. They -- they need to take responsibility for their country and for their soveriegnty.

Richard Engel: He awarded ten Medals of Valor and promised to stick to a plan to pull out combat forces by August 2011.

Barack: We have not forgotten what you've already done. We are grateful for what you will do. And as long as I am in the White House, you are going to get the support that you need.

Richard Engel: But the surprise visit wasn't without complications. Because of a sandstorm, President Obama wasn't able to fly to central Baghdad to see Iraq's prime minister. So Mr. Nouri al-Maliki visited the president on a US military base. Obama's message: The Iraqi government must reconcile between Sunnis and Shi'ites. Across Baghdad, at barber shops and bakeries, President Obama was warmly welcomed.

Iraqi speaks.

Richard Engel: He's the first American president who supports Islam, he said. Reaching out to Muslims was one of President Obama's main themes. He arrived in Iraq from Istanbul, Turkey -- once capitol of the Muslim world. In a townhall with Turkish students, the president said he is personally committed to engagement with the Muslim world.

Barack: We can't afford to talk past one another, to focus only on our differences.

Richard Engel: Asked how he was different from President Bush, Mr. Obama said steering the US is like piloting a big tanker.

Barack: We're not like speed boats, you can't just whip them around and go in a new direction. Instead you've got to slowly move it and eventually you'll end up in a very different place.

Richard Engel: NBC's chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd has been traveling with the president.

Chuck Todd: Aids say that the real accomplishment for President Obama this week is that he enhanced his presidential stature not just in America, but in Europe and here in Turkey.

Richard: In Baghdad, President Obama stayed just four hours but he left a lasting impression. Tonight Air Force One took off with its lights turned off apparently out of security concerns as President Obama began the twelve hour trip back to Washington. Brian?

Brian Williams: Richard, you've lived there for so many years. Yet when you come back from time away what's the evidence of the change, the evidence of the transition that's going on there?

Richard Engel: Today for example I was able to walk around for hours [with bodyguards] going to bakeries, barber shops, lingering on the streets. That was something I was not able to do even one year ago. But there is a concern that we're -- that this stability is very fragile. Just in the last 48 hours, more than 45 people have been killed in attacks across Baghdad. Brian?

Brian Williams: Richard Engel, for a long time based in Baghdad. Our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Richard, thanks for your reporting tonight.

That was the three commercial networks. PBS' The NewsHour covered it, not a surprise, they may be the only evening newscast that has not disappeared Iraq. They have the option of transcript, audio or video. Accessible to all, as PBS programs should be -- should all be. In addition to that report, Judy Woodruff interviewed US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates regarding the military, Iraq and Afghanistan. Excerpt of them discussing Iraq:

JUDY WOODRUFF: You've obviously been in Iraq many a time. What would you hope the president would take away from this visit?

ROBERT GATES: Well, I hope that he will be successful in encouraging the Iraqi leadership to continue working together. And I hope that he will - in fact, I am confident that he will come home impressed by the caliber of our men and women in uniform out there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The violence has been escalating recently. In fact, there was a car bomb today, I guess, in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. The U.S.'s pledge to get most of the troops out - 19 months, most of them will be out by next year. But if this violence were to step up considerably, is there a contingency plan?

ROBERT GATES: I think the president always has the authority to, as commander-in-chief, to change his plans. But I think the view of our commanders is that, while there are some of these spectacular attacks, overall, the level of violence continues to be quite low compared with, particularly, 2007 and the first part of 2008, in fact, at levels not seen since 2003.

I think what we're seeing is al Qaeda trying sort of as a last gasp to try and reverse the progress that's been made through these attacks. But these car-bomb attacks generally are the signature kind of thing that al Qaeda in Iraq does.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are they reversing the progress?

ROBERT GATES: I don't think so, no. And, in fact, I think it's been quite impressive how people, how resilient people have been in Baghdad, in Iraq in general.

Setting PBS aside, if you combine all three evening news reports on Barack's trip, you almost have 30 seconds of useable information that might pass for reporting. And someone tell Bill Plante that Ray Odierno long ago announced he would go by "Ray." Not Raymond. It was a smart decision on his part, it humanized him and added some interest at a time when his promotion could have made him further removed. As bad as so much of the network chatting was, nothing can match the horror of Steven Lee Myers and Helene Cooper's garbage in the New York Times this morning. We'll pin the blame on Cooper who rallied in 2007 but now is back in the cesspool of a non-reporting (as evidenced by the three pages she got in Saturday's New York Times on Michelle's wardrobe -- hint to Helene, real reporters don't cover fashion, you got punked and they farmed it out to you because you were a woman, no one's fault but your own).

If you can't grasp how bad the reporting in the Times or by network TV was, read just this excerpt of Ernesto Londono's "Obama Cautions Iraqis on Future" (Washington Post):

Obama, who spent less than five hours in Baghdad and did not leave the sprawling U.S. military base adjacent to the airport, arrived in the capital amid fresh signs that violence in Iraq could be on the upswing.
A spate of car bombings in Baghdad on Monday killed more than 30 people, and two explosions in the capital and in the western city of Fallujah killed 12 people Tuesday.
The attacks prompted Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to call for "quick, effective" measures to "prevent the security situation from collapsing."
Talabani said in a statement that Iraqi leaders are concerned about intelligence reports that suggest al-Qaeda in Iraq plans to assassinate top Sunni politicians.
Air Force One arrived at Baghdad International Airport shortly after 4:40 p.m. A light sandstorm created a bleak backdrop as Obama stepped off the plane to greet Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
Obama reiterated his commitment to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of 2011 and, in an apparent reference to the widely held view that the United States invaded Iraq looking for oil, said his country "pursues no claims on Iraqis' territory and resources."

Right, Talabani spoke of assassinationa. Didn't make the New York Times, did not make the networks. In fact, the networks seemed unaware that Iraq's president had a first name: Jalal. It was known in more than enough time to make yesterday's evening news. (Yesterday's snapshot
highlighted Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) report on this topic.) Another strong report is Leila Fadel and Steven Thomma's "In Baghdad, Obama tells U.S. troops that Iraqis must take over" (McClatchy Newspapers).

On Iraq today, the most important article runs in the New York Times, on the front pgae, Timothy Williams and Tareq Maher's "Iraq’s Newly Open Gays Face Scorn and Murder" and we would normally open with that in one of the two morning entries. We can't. Too much going on. We'll talk about the article in the next entry (which will be dictated, I'm way behind this morning and we're about to head out) and we'll throw in a link here as well to be sure to emphasize it.

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