Monday, January 17, 2005

Remember The Dead Journalists

(My blog and my play grew out of this essay that I wrote in April of 2003. Since I'm not ready to post two separate stories that I've been working on for the last week, I figured I'd provide something new to read, at least. Even if it's old. It's been on my mind since I watched the documentary "Control Room" the other day.)

On Thursday April 10, less than two days after America’s military fired upon reporters in three different incidents in Baghdad, The New York Times ran an editorial entitled ‘Covering the War’ in which it hailed the Pentagon’s decision to embed about 600 journalists “in the main a win-win story.” Even if it happened to be a ‘lose-lose’ story for relatives of the three journalists that were killed.

Perhaps forgetting that the editorial was to appear in the New York Times (and not one of the more blatant ‘rah-rah’ properties in the Fox Empire), the unbylined drafters were elated that the Pentagon’s experiment worked. “The military learned, to its pleasure, that reporters ‘embedded’ with the troops better understood the perspective of the men and women on the front.”

Presumably, the Times meant only ‘the men and women’ that composed the Coalition and, most probably, the front they alluded to excluded the millions of innocent Iraqi citizens cowering in their homes while their cities were bombed and besieged.

“The war planners, as it turned out, did not need to be afraid to let the American public see the reality of the conflict,” mainly because there was never a chance in hell that the corporate controlled media would ever even air it. The Times, along with most of the major American news bureaus, refused to show the public pictures or video of the reality of terror and death in war. This, despite television shows like CSI, The Shield and The Sopranos that have become bloodier and bloodier in recent seasons to mostly high ratings, enthusiastic reviews and countless industry awards. The networks have often aired violent scenes on their news broadcasts (not to mention the more horrific 9-11 images, such as severed hands and plummeting bodies that were nearly omnipresent), but, suddenly in 2003, they collectively refused to show the same scenes that the foreign press did not shy from. Not just Arabic media like Al Jazeera and Iraq TV but many British and Australian newspapers and hundreds of public and private web sites. This ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ agenda had to be more of an effort to protect the Bush administration than it was to protect the public. To remain a “win-win story” this has to be portrayed as a clean war, so the American press took it upon itself to sanitize it.

Three fellow journalists were killed and the worst the Times Editorial Board can summon up about the Pentagon is that “it was unfortunate.” Then they extinguish the Al Jazeera assertion that “the building that had been deliberately targeted to stifle coverage of the events in the Iraqi capital” as “groundless.” The Times even had the audacity to write that “the Bush administration has gone out of its way to accommodate the Arab media” even though within the space of a few hours Coalition forces fired upon the only two Arabic stations that retained offices in Baghdad. A representative for the State Department in Doha, Nabil Khouri, even paid visit to the Al Jazeera office the day before on Monday and assured the staff that the bureau wouldn’t be struck. Earlier, the Pentagon had also been provided with maps containing the latitude, longitude and altitude for the station. Of course, according to the Pentagon, our battle plan consists only of precision bombing which would imply that there is little chance that the offices hadn’t been targeted. Plus, an Al Jazeera’s station had already been bombed in Afghanistan a day before the fall of Kabul (interesting timing) yet that time the employees were given a few hours warning so nobody died.

The Times concedes that “the military should have admitted that both attacks had been mistakes that it heartily regretted.” To it’s credit, the editorial does counter the military’s claim of self-defense in the Palestine Hotel tank shelling by mentioning that other journalists in the building disputed it. The Times ignores the fact that there was a French television crew shooting the entire time and there were no sounds of any fire captured on it before the Abrams tank shot its load. There is also no demand for an investigation to determine if there was any truth to General Buford Bount’s claims or if he was just covering up a war crime (Article 79 of the Geneva Convention declares it a crime to fire upon journalists).

Happy about being imbedded, the Times exonerates the military of any culpability in the deaths of a dozen and counting journalists by pointing out that “all of them accepted the risk that comes with moving about in a war zone.” That the embedded reporters also signed releases that protected the Pentagon from any law suits just in case they became casualties even in cases of friendly fire must be further proof of that acceptance, though the Times neglects to bring that up.

We are left with the frightening thought that “some of the reporters will return home and try to make a larger sense out of what they seem” which will become “the first draft of history.” Hopefully, some of the reporters will come home, free of the yokes of the ever-watchful military and citizens again once more, and write the truth about what really happened.


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