Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pravda and Izvestia, aka, the *Washington Post* and the *New York Times*

Up until 10 years ago or so, maybe even later, a title like that would almost certainly be announcing some rightwing rant about the Jew Commie Liberal Press! Liberal Press! Liberal Press!

No more. After Whitewater, the Iraq War,
Judith Miller, the Scooter Libby case and various and sundry other illustrations of the dysfunction of our "press corps", that's no longer true. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post still do have responsibile reporters, of course. Even some of their columnists are worth reading most of the time. David Broder the Dean Of All The Pundits from the Post is not one of them.

But it really has reached the point where the news consumer needs to pay close attention to which reporter's byline is on the article to tell whether you're more likely to be looking at real reporting or simple dictation. Sometimes that gets tricky. At the Post, for instance, you have to remember that it's Dana Priest who does solid reporting on foreign affairs but Dana Milbank who vigorously pimps lazy press corps scripts about politicians.

Gene Lyons, who was one of the first to perceive how badly the mainstream print press was going off the tracks over the Whitewater pseudo-scandal, who compares the Times and the Post to the old Soviet-era paper Pravda (News) and Izvestian (Truth):
'Act of madness' gains allies in complacent media Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 06/20/07. He quotes the cynical old Soviet joke, "There is no Pravda in Izvestia, and no Izvestia in Pravda".

The "act of madness" to which he refers is a military attack on Iran. He focuses in particular on a Washington Post story,
Iran Curtails Freedom In Throwback to 1979 by Robin Wright 06/16/07, that passes on Chenyist/neocon propaganda about Iran as though it were something other than war propaganda. Pointing out something in the story that doesn't make sense in context, he observes, "Editors are least apt to notice contradictionslike that when they’re taking dictation."

Today's New York Times offers another example, this one related to our ever-expanding victory in Iraq,
U.S. Seeks to Block Exits for Iraq Insurgents by Michael Gordon 06/20/07.

Now, pretty much all you need to know about Michael Gordon is that he shared Judith Miller's byline on some of her phony stories about the non-existent Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction", phony articles which played an important role in starting the Cheney-Bush administration's unnecessary invasion of Iraq. So you can pretty much count on his articles being straight dictation from some official or other. Which can be interesting to see what the administration prefers to have us think is the true story.

This piece reads pretty much like a Pentagon press release. For example:
In the first hours of the American military assault, after midnight early Monday, helicopters flew two teams of American troops and a platoon of Iraqi scouts so they could block the southern escape routes from the city. Stryker armored vehicles moved along the western outskirts of Baquba and then down a main north-south route that cuts through the center of the city.

By the time dawn broke on Tuesday, the insurgent sanctuary in western Baquba had been cordoned off. Then, the American forces established footholds on the periphery of the section and slowly pressed in. "Rather than let the problem export to some other place and then have to fight them again, my goal is to isolate this thing and cordon it off," said Col. Steve Townsend, the commander of the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Second Infantry Division.
That last paragraph is the article's first reference to a source. But not only those two paragraphs but the whole article read like something straight from a military PR page.

Gordon's dictation tells us that the foe is "Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia". Of course. All the Terrorists in Iraq seem to be "Al Qaida" these days.

Another piece of evidence that Gordon took dictation straight from some Pentagon PR hack:
Officers are hoping that local residents and even former insurgents who have splitwith Al Qaeda may quietly help the American troops pick out insurgents. American troops have already begun to work with more than 100 Iraqis on the eastern side of the city — a group American soldiers have nicknamed the "Kit Carson scouts." (my emphasis)
Kit Carson scouts? What can you say about that? The PR guy thinks they're huntin' Injuns out there? Good grief!

Far down near the end of the article, there is a noteworthy fact, if you happen to get that far and are still paying attention, about how Gen. Petraus' forces is fighting an urban counterinsurgency war in the city of Baquba:
This American counterinsurgency operation has some of the firepower associated with conventional war. American forces have already fired more than 20 satellite-guided rockets into western Baquba. Apache helicopters have attacked enemy fighters.

Warplanes have also dropped satellite-guided bombs on suspected roadside bombs and a weapons cache, which produced spectacular secondary explosions after it was struck. M1 tanks have maneuvered through the narrow city lanes. The Americans have responded to insurgent attacks with mortar fire. (my emphasis)
But if there happen to be any civilians killed - you think that will happen with firing rockets and dropping bombs into a populated urban area? - it's their own fault:
American helicopters dropped leaflets last night urging the residents to stay in their homes. The hope was to keep civilians off the streets while American forces began to close in on the insurgents. The appeal appeared to have little effect, though, as large groups of civilians mingled on the streets Tuesday and some students even sought to go to the local university.

The presence of so many civilians on an urban battlefield affords the operatives from Al Qaeda another possible means to elude their American pursuers. If the insurgents do not manage to sneak out, some may hide their weapons and try to blend with the city’s residents. (my emphasis)
Hopefully the leaflets were in Arabic, at least. But they got fair warning. And if some of them get killed, it's their own dang fault. Because whatever bomb or rocket kills them was precision-aimed at "Al Qaida". You know, "Al Qaida" withoutweapons. Blending in to look just like regular noncombatants. But our bombs and rockets can tell the difference.

But there is a mushroom cloud involved. These two paragraphs end Gordon's transcription:
On Tuesday afternoon, a Stryker company tried to blaze a path through the road believed to be full of buried bombs by firing a line-charge, a cable festooned with explosions. The hope was that the explosion would cut the wires that the Qaeda fighters use to set off the blasts.

After a delay in getting the line-charge to detonate, the weapon went off. There was a resounding thud and the skies over Baquba were smeared by a spiraling mushroom cloud.
Now let me understand this. This means laying a string of explosive along an urban street for, what, a block? five blocks? ten blocks? And then you set off the explosives all along the street.

Well, I guess since it's only "Al Qaida" we're fighting, we don't have to worry about any of that "hearts and minds" nonsense, do we?

But I wonder if the people who live along the street will flock to the Americans and the Iraqi government forces to inform on "Al Qaida" afterwards.

Gordon's dictation transcript doesn't both to mention that Baquba is mostly a Sunni city and that the Iraqi government forces with the Americans are probably all or mostly Shi'a. I guess taking all that dictation from the Pentagon PR guy and typing it up - or did he just have to cut-and-paste from an e-mail - poor Michael Gordon was too tired out to call, say, Juan Cole, who might have told him something like this (
Everyday Apocolypse in Iraq Informed Comment blog post 06/20/07):
The US offensive in Baquba, the capital of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, is intended to root out Salafi Jihadi forces among the Sunnis that have come to dominate entire neighborhoods and entire towns in the province, which lies between Baghdad and Iran. But most of the forces involved seem to be American and Shiite (the 2,000 'paramilitary police' mentioned are surely from the Badr Corps paramilitary of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council [SIIC], the leading Shiite party with links to Iran). Diyala has a Sunni majority, and a lot of the problems in thatprovince began politically in the first place because SIIC has dominated it politically. In the short term, this operation may 'pacify' Baquba. But likely it will inflict tremendous damage on the city, will cause a lot of the 300,000 or so inhabitants to flee and become refugees, and will likely not change the political situation, which is Shiite dominance of Sunnis along with some Kurdish separatist plans for parts of the province. Falluja had 2/3s of its buildings destroyed and tens of thousands of its former inhabitants are living in tent cities in the desert with bad water, and Falluja is still not secure--kidnappings, shootings, mortar attacks, even car bombings are all still taking place there and in its environs. (my emphasis)
That's our "press corps", well into the fifth year of this war.

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1 comment:

ng2000news said...

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