web counter Media Lies: May 2004

Sunday, May 30, 2004

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The media lied about the Iraqi troops

Remember the story of Fallujah? Remember the media saying that the Iraq troops cut and ran and refused to fight? Well, according to a Marine who was there, that isn't exactly what happened. You can read the entire email here. I include the relevant parts below:

I could tell you stories of individual heroics of Iraqi soldiers.  One specific example is of an Iraqi SgtMaj who came into our lines during the first days of fighting in Falluja.  He made his way through the mujahadeen and risked being killed by us to tell us that he was concerned about the ICDC (Iraqi Civil Defense Corps) armory in town.  He knew it was only a matter of time until the muj went for the armory to take the weapons.  Honestly, I would have thought that they had already done it as the police stations and every other good piece of ground seemed to be occupied by the muj by that time.  In short, he wanted to let us know that he was going back into the town to get the weapons.  The Marines asked him if he wanted us to help.  No.  He only wanted us to take the weapons from him when he came back through.  This guy took a couple young Iraqi soldiers with a truck and drove back through our lines into the hornets nest of Falluja.  He went to the armory, emptied the weapons and ammo stored there and brought it back out through the fighting to us.  We expected him to want to stay with us or to move on to Baghdad or some other safe area.  He refused and stated that he was going back into the city as that was where his duty was.  Not a coward by even the most cynical standard.

We had a group that showed up shortly thereafter.  You have probably heard about them as they came out of Baghdad and on the way were ambushed a couple of times.  By the time they made it here only 200 of 700 were in their ranks.  I know that the public story is that they folded after a couple of days of fighting and disintegrated.  They actually made it through three days of fighting.  Not just taking a few rounds, they held through accurate machine gun fire, mortars and multiple assaults.  They also moved forward and occupied positions on the Marines' flanks.  After three days, we pulled them out.  The Marines will tell you that they did a hell of a job. 


Saturday, May 29, 2004

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What the press doesn't report

One thing the press will seldom do is break away from the herd. If the predominent story runs in one direction, the press lacks the courage (or something else?) to investigate the "other" side of a story. Since the runup to the war, the predominent story in the press has been there there was no link between al Qaeda and Iraq and therefore no justification for the war (since WMD have supposedly not been found even though sarin gas has been) and no link to the war on terror. Even when possible links have been reported, it's been in a condescending manner, as if they're props provided by the administration rather than real evidence. But this story in the Weekly Standard reveals that, prior to the change of administrations, the links between al Qaeda and Iraq were "understood" by the press and never questioned. Furthermore, the investigations of the Iraq Survey Group have strengthened the case for the ties between these two groups and the justification for deposing Sadaam now. In other words, the President's claim that Sadaam represented "a grave and growing danger" (not the falsely reported "immiment danger") has been buttressed by the evidence uncovered since the liberation of Baghdad.

Why isn't the press reporting this? What changed?


An AP "Exclusive"

This is what passes for news these days. I'll simply highlight all the allegations that are not presently known facts and comment on each of them. In America, you are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Not so when it comes the press, however. The press prints allegations as if they are fact, posts headlines that are patently false, knowing that they will often be the only thing in the story directly quoted.

The URL for this story is AP: Intelligence Agents Encouraged Abuse.

AP: Intelligence Agents Encouraged Abuse
This is false. These are allegations, not fact, so the headline is a lie. It wouldn't take much to correct it. Simply adding "Alleged: Intelligence...." would correct the lie.

AP Exclusive: U.S. Guards Accuse Military Intelligence Operatives of Encouraging Abuse in 4 Iraq Prisons

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON May 29, 2004 — Several U.S. guards allege they witnessed military intelligence operatives encouraging the abuse of Iraqi prison inmates at four prisons other than Abu Ghraib, investigative documents show.

Court transcripts and Army investigator interviews provide the broadest view of evidence that abuses, from forcing inmates to stand in hoods in 120-degree heat to punching them, occurred at a Marine detention camp and three Army prison sites in Iraq besides Abu Ghraib.

"May have" occurred would be accurate. "Occurred" is false.

That is the prison outside Baghdad that was the site of widely published and televised photographs of abuse of Iraqi detainees by Army troops.

Testimony about tactics used at a Marine prisoner of war camp near Nasiriyah also raises the question whether coercive techniques were standard procedure for military intelligence units in different service branches and throughout Iraq.

At the Marines' Camp Whitehorse, the guards were told to keep enemy prisoners of war EPWs, in military jargon standing for 50 minutes each hour for up to 10 hours. They would then be interrogated by "human exploitation teams," or HETs, comprising intelligence specialists.

"The 50/10 technique was used to break down the EPWs and make it easier for the HET member to get information from them," Marine Cpl. Otis Antoine, a guard at Camp Whitehorse, testified at a military court hearing in February.

U.S. military officials say American troops in Iraq are required to follow the Geneva Conventions on POWs for all detainees in Iraq. Those conventions prohibit "physical or moral coercion" or cruel treatment.

The Army's intelligence chief told a Senate panel this month that intelligence soldiers are trained to follow Geneva Convention rules strictly.

"Our training manuals specifically prohibit the abuse of detainees, and we ensure all of our soldiers trained as interrogators receive this training," Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Marine Corps judge hearing the Camp Whitehorse case wrote that forcing hooded, handcuffed prisoners to stand for 50 minutes every hour in the 120-degree desert could be a Geneva Convention violation. Col. William V. Gallo wrote that such actions "could easily form the basis of a law of war violation if committed by an enemy combatant."

Two Marines face charges in the June 2003 death of Nagem Sadoon Hatab at Camp Whitehorse, although no one is charged with killing him. Military records say Hatab was asphyxiated when a Marine guard grabbed his throat in an attempt to move him, accidentally breaking a bone that cut off his air supply. Another Marine is charged with kicking Hatab in the chest in the hours before his death.

Army Maj. Gen. George Fay is finishing an investigation into military intelligence management and practices at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq. Alexander and other top military intelligence officials say they never gave orders that would have encouraged abuses.

Doesn't this put the lie to the main point of this story? If, as is alleged, and trumpeted in the headline, intelligence operatives encouraged abuse, then it was not because of orders from above, not due to any organized, planned methodology, according to the Major General.

"If we have a problem, if it is an intel oversight problem, if it is an MP (military police) problem, or if it's a leadership problem, we have to get to the bottom of this," Alexander told the Senate panel.

Most of the seven enlisted soldiers charged in the Abu Ghraib abuses say they were encouraged to "soften up" prisoners for interrogators through humiliation and beatings. Several witnesses also report seeing military intelligence operatives hit Abu Ghraib prisoners, strip them naked and order them to be kept awake for long periods.

And the second allegation, that prisoners were stripped naked and kept away, has little to do with the known abuse, which involved sex orgies between miliary personnel and sexual abuse of prisoners.

Other accusations against military intelligence troops include:

We see this same sort of "reporting" in the Kobe Bryant case. Allegations are thrown around as fact, sensationalism is the norm, and real facts are difficult to come by

Stuffing an Iraqi general into a sleeping bag, sitting on his chest and covering his mouth during an interrogation at a prison camp at Qaim, near the border with Syria. The general died during that interrogation, although he also had been questioned by CIA operatives in the days before his death.

Choking, beating and pulling the hair of detainees at an Army prison camp near Samarra, north of Baghdad.

Hitting prisoners and putting them in painful positions for hours at Camp Cropper, a prison at Baghdad International Airport for prominent former Iraqi officials.

Military officials say they're investigating all of those incidents.

They don't just "say" it. They are doing it. We know this because they have said so. Yet the AP chooses to imply that perhaps they aren't really. Subtle, but effective. A factual statement would be "Military officials said....." or "Military officials stated....." or "Military officials are investigating....."

One focus of the incident at Qaim is Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshover, an interrogator with the Army's 66th Military Intelligence Group. Welshover told The Associated Press on Friday: "I am not at liberty to discuss any of the details."

Welshover was part of a two-person interrogation team that questioned former Iraqi Air Force Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, 57. Military autopsy records say Mowhoush was asphyxiated by chest compression and smothering.

Army officials say members of a California Army National Guard military intelligence unit are accused of abusing prisoners at a camp near Samarra, north of Baghdad. The New York Times has reported those accusations include pulling prisoners' hair, beating them and choking them to force them to give information.

The Red Cross complained to the military in July that Camp Cropper inmates had been kept in painful "stress positions" for up to four hours and had been struck by military intelligence soldiers.

One of the military intelligence soldiers interviewed in the Abu Ghraib probe claimed some prisoners were beaten before they arrived at Camp Cropper.

Cpl. Robert Bruttomesso of the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion told Army investigators he reported that abuse to his chain of command. The report of his interview, obtained by The Associated Press, does not include details on what action, if any, Bruttomesso's commanders took.

So what is the "exclusive" that AP is publishing? That there are allegations of abuse. We already knew this. It's been reported for the past four weeks. All this story represents is another attempt to keep the story alive, rather than wait for the results of the investigations and report the results.


Friday, May 28, 2004

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How bias and opinion creep into "reporting"

There's an interesting article on Fox News today that addresses a number of issues regarding Iraq, including the recent negotiated ceasefire in Najaf and Kuf. The article discusses the mechanics of the negotiations that took place between Shia leaders and Muqtada al Sadr and the result of those negotiations. It also quotes the American military leadership's reaction to the negotiations and what role they will play in maintaining security in southern Iraq.

Then there's this paragraph of opinion thrown in:

"The agreement provides the Americans a way out of a standoff that threatened to alienate Iraq's Shiites — the largest religious community. But U.S. demands for al-Sadr's arrest and disbanding his militia were unmet — and the deal opens the door for a political role for a figure that President Bush had branded a 'thug.' "

This is quite typical of the type of "reporting" that has been going on with regard to the Iraqi war. However, it's nothing more than the "reporter's" opinion, which makes this, at least in part, an editorial, not a news story. Who said that the American's were looking for "a way out of a standoff that threatened to alienate Iraq's Shiites"? The press did. The military has never stated that. The administration has never stated that. "Looking for a way out" implies that one has gotten oneself into a situation, perhaps ignorantly, that one now realizes one needs to extricate oneself from with the least amount of damage.

Is that what the US is doing in Iraq? Looking for a way out? Clearly not. President Bush has repeatedly stated publicly that we will not be swayed, we will not abandon our mission, we will stay the course. The military leaders have clearly stated their goals repeatedly - to disband al Sadr's militia, bring al Sadr to justice in Iraqi courts and return southern Iraq to the stable security posture it had before al Sadr's misadventure. Not once has anyone said, "Man, we really screwed this thing up, and now we're just looking for a way to get out of it without pissing off the Shias."

The liberals have been looking for a way out for some time. They call it "an exit strategy", which is code for "how do we lose gracefully?" In fact, liberals have refined this philosophy to the point that they want a plan in place to lose gracefully before they get in to a conflict. (Of course they have ignored the fact that we are still in Kosovo 10 years after Clinton said we would leave, but that's a story for another day.)

Winners don't need exit strategies. Losers do. The liberal world, and by association, much of the press, devoutly wishes for an exit strategy. So, news stories get written about current events, and slyly inserted into the middle of the story is the exit strategy philosophy. If you didn't pay attention, you'd never even notice it. Yet it influences the way people see the conflict in Iraq, and it sets a tone that implies that the US cannot "win" (as if winning was what this is all about anyway. When the American flag was briefly draped over the statue of Sadaam and then replaced with the Iraqi flag, the symbolism should not have been lost on anyone.)

Ever since the flareup in Fallujah and al Sadr's self-indulgent attempts to take advantage of that situation, the press has warned repeatedly of the dire consequences of getting the Shia's upset, of uniting Sunni and Shia against the US, of the looming danger of civil war and resultant middle east conflagration. Yet the Iraqi bloggers haven't worried about it at all. More than anything they've complained about al Sadr's militia being thugs and thieves and screwing up their daily lives. They have expressed concern about the holy shrines being damaged, but that's a separate issue from dealing with al Sadr. The American military hasn't seemed to worry about it either. Despite the complaints of al Sistani and others, they pressed forward with their plan to rid Fallujah of the bad guys and to pry al Sadr loose from his stolen throne, and they've persisted (quite successfully) in killing bad guys until the bad guys finally gave up in both instances.

There is a story here, but you won't read it in the mainstream press. The imams are extremely worried about the al Sadr situation. Traditionally they have not had to respond to civil and criminal courts in their country. They are very concerned that putting al Sadr on trial for murder will set a, for them, dangerous precedent. The idea that they might not be above the law in a new Iraq terrifies them. It will be interesting to see how the Iraqis handle al Sadr's case, once they have assumed sovereignty.


Thursday, May 27, 2004

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What's wrong with the media?

The Belmont Club has a series of articles about the "wedding party" in western Iraq that has been the subject of so much attention lately. The articles attempt to show how the media adjusts the story as they learn more facts but some of the falsehoods initially published continue to be repeated in subsequent stories. They argue that the cause of this is the lack of an analytical component within the media that can evaluate the data as they come in and adjust the story to fit the facts.

While I agree with this analysis, I think it addresses only the mechanical aspects of the problem without addressing the root cause. I believe there are two driving forces that cause the media to report events inaccurately; the desire to get "exclusive" information - to be "first" with the story, and the failure to crosscheck the "facts" with reliable sources. The former is perhaps understandable in a connected world were information exchange is almost instanteous and hundreds of competitors are searching for new stories or new "angles" on old stories. It may even be forgiveable. The latter is not. It is a fundamental failure of the journalism schools. When "reporting" wanders into fiction, the value of the information is degraded. The public may forgive this from time to time, but repeated failures will drive the public to find other, more reliable sources of information.

If you read the details of the three wedding story essays (on the Belmont Club), it becomes evident that the reporters are "adjusting the facts" as they learn more about the story. This is not reporting. It's gossip. This sort of adjusting of the story should take place in the editing room, not on the front page or as the lead article on a website. Reporting requires careful collection of evidence and verification of the various elements of a story before publishing. That process must be done by mutliple people to ensure that the story is "right". Most major news organizations have the pieces in place to do this, yet the fail time and time again.

Several factors compound the problem. First, the old bromide "if it bleeds, it leads" prejudices news organizations toward negativity. Nowhere is this more evident than in the reporting on the war in Iraq. It began very early, when the US troops were reported as "bogged down" when all they were doing was waiting out a sand storm before advancing farther. It resumed, after a brief euphoria when Bahgdad "fell" (or when the regime was deposed depending upon one's point of view), with reporting of the deaths of soldiers due to terrorist activity. Soon the press adopted the tag line "x number of soldiers have died since Bush declared the war was over" which is obviously designed to mock the President's "mission accomplished" visit to the Abraham Lincoln (and misrepresents the facts). It continues today, with the drumbeat of negative stories about "insurgents" and "uprisings", both words intended to convey the message that the Iraqis don't want the American forces in their land and that they hate us.

Furthermore, the news media calls positive stories "human interest" stories. It's understood that human interest stories are "feel good" stories and should not be overdone. It's better to stick to "hard news". (One wonders why stories that would interest humans wouldn't dominate the news.) This attitude prejudices the media against telling the story of what is really going on in Iraq. If Iraqis have more and cleaner water than they used to, so what? That's a feel good story, not hard news. If the Iraqi economy is more stable than it's been in years and if Iraqis are making more money than they have in decades, that's a feel good story, not hard news. The result of this attitude is to slant the news toward negativity even further.

Finally, the media depends upon other organizations, whose work they do not vet at all, to relay information when they don't have their own personnel on the scene. So, an AP story that is inaccurate or completely fictional can be repeated worldwide and even if a correction is forthcoming, it won't get the same attention that the original story did. This phenomenon is evident in the stories about the wedding party, as pointed out by Iraq Now in the story I mentioned in my first post.

It is evident that these problems are not only endemic but that the media will not correct them through self-policing (the New York Times' feeble attempts notwithstanding.) It is up to "the people" to correct the problem by pointing out, consistently and persistently, when problems in stories become evident. That is what I intend to do here, as others are already doing. The more voices of the people, the more likely it is that the problem will either get corrected or the media will be replaced. (The success of Fox News and the failures of CBS and NBC are evidence of this.) I have more faith in the latter than I do the former.


Wednesday, May 26, 2004

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Well written opinion piece

I couldn't agree more. Up against fanaticism


Antimedia speaks

Why another blog in an already crowded universe? Let's be frank. Blogs are ego strokers. Bloggers think their opinions matter, that someone cares what they say and wants to hear more. That's true in my case. I've pondered this step for a while and even created one the other day and then deleted it. Yet here I am, creating it again. So I'm egotistical enough to think that someone else will want to hear what I have to say. More than that, however, I think I have something worthwhile to say. My focus will be what the media says and what they don't say. Both are important. Finally, this blog will allow me to voice my frustration with the media without filtering or parsing of words, without interruption or argument, without hoping that the editor will accept my letter intact so that I can be heard. That, perhaps, will allow me to sleep better at night, knowing that at least I've said it, even if no one is listening.

Veteran bloggers and blog readers will probably wonder where I stand. I'm fiscally conservative and socially conflicted. I'm proud to be an American and tired of the polemics and hatred of the "left". Most of all, I'm tired of shoddy, so-called journalism, that uncritically regurgitates the "work" of others and sometimes even fraudulently alters it to fit the point they're trying to make. I intend to point out the inconsistencies and the outright falsehoods of the press and to call people to use their reasoning faculties to critically view everything they read or hear. I'm convinced that the Internet is the greatest invention ever, because anyone can post anything they like. Eventually (the eternal optimist in me thinks) this will force people to think for themselves. After all, how can you tell truth from fiction unless you've done the research? The greatest enemy of falsehood is light. Regardless of what side of whatever fence you happen to be on, someone on the other side will have an opinion different from yours. By putting the pieces together, it is possible to sift the facts from the fiction and determine, to one's own satisfaction, what "the truth" is.

I'm a "religious" reader of The Belmont Club, a voice of reason in a mass of confusion. I also enjoy reading what Andrew Sullivan has to say. I don't always agree with him, but I can't fault his reasoning. Most of the time my disagreements are nitpicking anyway. I started reading blogs where many did, by reading about the war on Salaam Pax's blog, eager to hear what he had to say. Sadly he has gone quiet since the al Sadr thugs began threatening Iraqis, but I hope he will return to blogging, perhaps after his movie is in the can. I also visit a number of Iraqi blogs regularly (where else can you find out anything about what's going on over there?), and I read news avidly, although I'm getting really tired of having to sift through the bs to get to the real story.

The first thing I'd like to say about the media's lies is - read All Right You Bastards! I'm Calling You Out!. If that doesn't piss you off, then don't bother coming back here. You won't find anything here that will raise your blood pressure. I don't mind media being biased. I can smell that (and so can you) from a mile away. What I do mind is media lying to promote their bias. Just give me the facts. I can sort through the opinion. But, if you distort the facts, or worse yet, outright lie about them, then you don't deserve my attention. Unfortunately, it's getting harder to find any media that deserves my attention. (Whether that's a conspiracy or not, I'll leave to others. I don't subscribe to conspiracy theories much. Man is far too stupid and greedy to maintain a conspiracy for very long.)

More later.......