The Forgotten War In Iraq

Brian Stelter of the New York Times has noticed a disturbing trend in news reporting from Iraq:

Quietly, as the United States presidential election and its aftermath have dominated the news, America’s three broadcast network news divisions have stopped sending full-time correspondents to Iraq.

The story documents the shift in priorities from Iraq to Afghanistan, as well as a general sense of fatigue amongst the national news networks. Reporters quoted in the article cite the disinclination by the networks to cover a war that they believe the audience has lost patience with:

Jane Arraf (CNN): The war has gone on longer than a lot of news organizations’ ability or appetite to cover it.

Mike Boettcher (NBC): Americans like their wars movie length and with a happy ending.

Those characterizations display an arrogant disrespect for the American people and for their tolerance of bad news, even as it impacts their own friends and families. But even if it were true, it is not the job of journalists to report the news that is most popular. Journalists have an obligation to make editorial decisions as to the relevance and significance of current events. They certainly should not be permitted to decide that the audience doesn’t care about war or home foreclosures or natural disasters, and instead reassign their staff to celebrity drunk drivers.

If news organizations ever hope to restore their lost credibility, they might start by showing their customers more respect and by delivering a product that serves their needs.

SPINCOM: General Barry McCaffrey Sells Out The Troops

Last April the New York Times published a story about how retired generals were using their status to enrich themselves and promote the Bush administration’s wartime agenda. They disseminated Pentagon produced propaganda they knew was false in order to protect either their access to the media or their profits.

This weekend the New York Times followed up on the story with a focus on one of the former generals involved in the program: Barry McCaffrey. But the scope of the program was much bigger than any one man.

“Through seven years of war an exclusive club has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce. Its members, mostly retired generals, have had a foot in both camps as influential network military analysts and defense industry rainmakers. It is a deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials, where war commentary can fit hand in glove with undisclosed commercial interests and network executives are sometimes oblivious to possible conflicts of interest.”

The Times observed that “Few illustrate the submerged complexities of this world better than Barry McCaffrey” as they delved into details about how he deliberately misrepresented his honest appraisal of the affairs in Iraq in order to retain the favor of his Pentagon handlers and his business clients.

The whole article is well worth reading to gain real insight into the incestuous relationship between government agencies, greedy consultants, and a media that fails to disclose the web of conflicted interests that entangle their so-called independent analysts.

There are presently investigations being conducted by Congress, the Pentagon, and the FCC, but it remains to be seen if they will adequately address, and punish, the participants in this program. But Americans should be concerned because this is perhaps the most flagrant propaganda assault our government has ever directed at its own citizens. Not to mention that it is a betrayal of the military men and women whose very lives hang in the balance of these lying war profiteers.

And how does the media cover this issue? [chirp...chirp] If they were to cover it, it would sound something like this:

Another Media Mea Culpa For The War In Iraq

In a book review for Bob Woodward’s latest installment of his Bush chronicles, the New York Times’ Jill Abramson decides it’s time to salve her guilty conscience. Woodward’s “The War Within” serves as the impetus for her confessional.

Abramson reveals her misgivings regarding the Times’ coverage of the build up to war with Iraq after citing a passage from Woodward’s book wherein he admits that he had not done enough at the Washington Post to expose the weakness of the administration’s arguments for the existence of WMDs and for going to war. Abramson followed up that citation by saying…

“I was Washington bureau chief for The Times while this was happening, and I failed to push hard enough for an almost identical, skeptical article, written by James Risen. This was a period when there were too many credulous accounts of the administration’s claims about Iraq’s W.M.D.”

Thanks a lot. Another too late revelation of dereliction of duty that resulted in the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Iraqi civilians. How exactly does this expression of regret compensate the victims of a disastrous and deadly war? How does it repair the damage done to both Iraq and America, who is now on the brink of bankruptcy partially due to having wasted a trillion dollars fighting an imaginary enemy.

This is not the first time that prominent figures in the press have sought absolution for their failures:

Woodward previously expressed these thoughts in an online chat:
“I think the press and I in particular should have been more aggressive in looking at the run-up to the Iraq war, and specifically the alleged intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction stockpiles.”

The New York Times issued this mea culpa:
“Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper [...] while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.”

New York Times editor, Bill Keller personally apologized:
“I’ve had a few occasions to write mea culpas for my paper after we let down our readers in more important ways, including for some reporting before the war in Iraq that should have dug deeper and been more sceptical about Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction.”

CNN reporter Jessica Yellin weighed in with this bit of uncharacteristic honesty:
“The press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings. And my own experience at the White House was that the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives.”

Even Bill O’Reilly announced that he was wrong (but it’s OK because, he says, everyone was wrong):
“Now I supported the action against Saddam because the Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton, William Cohen, the CIA, British intelligence, and a variety of other intelligence agencies all told me Saddam was making dangerous weapons in violation of the first Gulf War cease-fire [...] I was wrong in my assessment, as was everybody else.”

I am willing to concede that a lot of people, reporters and politicians alike, were wrong, but not everyone. There were many who opposed the war, who saw through the administration’s lies, who spoke out about the fraud that was being forced upon the nation. The sane objections were mostly confined to alternative sources that were ignored or ridiculed. But even the mainstreamers quoted above seemed to have known at the time that they were being less than responsible with regard to their reportorial obligations.

Now Abramson joins those who have seen the error of their ways. Or have they? Abramson is the Times’s managing editor for news, but this revelation appears in a book review rather than in the news pages. And there has been little evidence that the press has altered its behavior. Keller, the Times’ editor noted last year that…

“The administration has subsidised propaganda at home and abroad, refined the art of spin, discouraged dissent, and sought to limit traditional congressional oversight and court review.”

But even with knowledge of that, the administration’s press releases are often reprinted or broadcast virtually verbatim as news. Some of that can be seen in the current Wall Street affair that is characterized as a crisis that demands the immediate implementation of the White House’s untested and hysterical solutions.

It isn’t enough for these people to confess their sins and be on their way. I don’t want to sift through another collection of apologies for the next disaster that they feel so sorry for having misreported or ignored. They need to initiate real reform that addresses the root causes of these journalistic failures. And they need to fire those who have let down their papers, their readers, and their country. When steps like these are taken, I will start to take seriously their assertions of regret. Until then, they are still just covering up for themselves and the Washington insiders on whom they are pretending to report.

The Cost Of (Covering) The War

The war in Iraq has been disastrously expensive on so many levels. It distracted the nation, and the world, from the real terrorist threats still operating in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. It demolished the international sympathy, unity, and goodwill that existed post 9/11. It prompted a legislative assault on cherished civil liberties and domestic and international law. It’s made our allies weaker and our enemies stronger, even as we become more reliant on regimes that do not have our interests at heart. And, of course, the irredeemable cost of 3,700 American troops and tens (hundreds?) of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

Now the cost of war is intruding on the cost of covering the war:

After more than four years into the war in Iraq, television news organizations have awakened to their own grim reality: They’re spending millions of dollars a year to operate in a country where security costs them thousands of dollars a day. Even with extreme security measures, photographers and correspondents are in constant danger of getting maimed and killed-even in their own bureaus.

So far the war in Iraq has claimed the lives of 112 journalists, with many more wounded and maimed. For some perspective, there were 66 journalists killed in Vietnam; 68 in World War II.

Many stateside war advocates regurgitate the Bush administration’s complaints that the media focuses too much on “trivialities” like car bombings and mass executions, while neglecting the “uplifting” tales of newly painted schoolhouses. The sad truth is that the opposite is more reflective of reality. Because of the ever-present risk, reporters are often unable to venture out of the heavily fortified safe areas where they might witness even more of the atrocities that the homefront punditry accuse them of exaggerating. But the cocktail circuit columnists are hardly knowledgeable sources when it comes to war correspondence. Can you imagine Bob Novak or Bill O’Reilly or Laura Ingraham having to articulate this workplace lament:

Lara Logan, CBS News: “When your office gets blown up it’s a reminder that you’re not immune.”

Yet, in the face of that courage, international news bureaus are having an increasingly difficult time justifying the expense of maintaining a credible presence in Iraq. It isn’t because Iraq is not regarded as the top story in the world, but because so much of the budget is earmarked for security instead of reporters, photographers, and other press support staff. Additionally, Iraq, with its special financial burdens, is depleting funds and coverage from other foreign bureaus and news events.

Despite these financial pressures, there are reporters for whom the story is paramount. They continue to fight for the resources and editorial support to produce the sort of thorough and accurate reports that our citizens, our troops, and the long-suffering people of Iraq depend upon and deserve. It’s often an uphill battle when the competition amongst the news networks is increasing while viewership and ratings are declining. But the fight must be waged and Lara Logan explains simply and eloquently why it’s still important:

“You don’t abandon the American soldiers who are on the streets of this country because people are tired of hearing about it. You don’t abandon the Iraqi people. [...] Our job is to find a way through that.”

This is the kind of commitment that ought to be respected and rewarded. It does not come easily for journalists in a war zone whose lives are perpetually in danger. It makes you wonder how being dismissive of the press corps at war in Baghdad comes so easily for their colleagues at happy-hour in DC.

CBS: Let Lara Logan Do Her Job

CBS News is fortunate to have one of the most dedicated and responsible reporters in broadcast journalism. But they apparently don’t appreciate it.

Lara Logan has been posting honest and courageous reports from Baghdad since before the fall of Saddam. Her latest, though, has been shuffled off to CBS’ web site without being broadcast on the network. If you see the piece, you might understand why it was treated this way. In addition to contradicting much of the administration’s delusional assertions of success, the story is accompanied by images of the brutal reality of life on the streets of Baghdad. Now she needs our help to get this on the air.

CBS has taken it upon themselves to decide that America “can’t handle the truth.” But as Ms. Logan herself says in a letter to MediaChannel:

“…this is not too gruesome to air, but rather too important to ignore.”

The letter also called for supporters to let CBS know that they are interested in these stories and that they want them to air. Here’s the email for the CBS Evening News.

For a little more background on Lara Logan, click more.

Contine reading