Just back from a Southern California jaunt and a fine trip it was. No souvenirs except the Santa Monica beach 3rd degree sunburns over 80% of my body. Thank goodness my Speedo was at the cleaner's and I wore regular trunks, or it would have been over 95% of my body. I'll leave the body mass index calculation implications of that to you.
Anywho .... picking up on a blog post I abandoned before my trip ...
A couple of weeks ago, while documenting the self righteous outrage among the press regarding Mark Yost's criticism of their efforts and accuracy in reporting on the war in Iraq, we highlighted the remarks of Knight Ridder Baghdad bureau chief Hannah Allam. Specifically, it was her denigrating of the efforts of US troops, characterizing them as pampered and ignorant of the truth. This excerpt was taken from the bulletin board style "Forum" section of Poynter Online:
Mr. Yost could have come with me today as I visited one of my own military buddies, who like most officers doesn't leave the protected Green Zone compound except by helicopter or massive convoy. The Army official picked me up in his air-conditioned Explorer, took me to Burger King for lunch and showed me photos of the family he misses so terribly. The official is a great guy, and like so many other soldiers, it's not politics that blind him from seeing the real Iraq. The compound's maze of tall blast wall and miles of concertina wire obscure the view, too.
The history of propaganda teaches that if you don't publicly challenge false assertions, no matter how absurd they are, they will be widely disseminated by outlets that have few standards for ethics or accuracy. And before you know it, it becomes the conventional wisdom.
Unfortunately, that process appears to be well underway. In an unsigned editorial last week, the Star Tribune begins the process of wide dissemination of the notion that US soldiers in Iraq do not have adequate basis to testify about the success of our efforts there, because they are sheltered from the truth:
Bloodshed and chaos dominate reporting from the country because that is the reality which journalists risk their lives daily to chronicle. The optimists tend to be soldiers and civilian officials corralled inside the heavily fortified "green zone" in the center of Baghdad.
One Knight-Ridder reporter recently described the problem. When she went to lunch with a friend in the military, he "picked me up in his air-conditioned Explorer, took me to Burger King for lunch and showed me photos of the family he misses so terribly." It's "not politics that blind him from seeing the real Iraq," she said. "The [Green Zone's] maze of tall blast walls and miles of concertina wire obscure the view, too."
That paper's use of this recycled quote is made even more despicable by the fact they don't even bother to provide a citation for who the reporter was or the context the remarks were made in, so the reader can properly judge their validity.
But there it is. Now festering in more minds, adding to the theory that US soldiers in Iraq are not people we should be trusting to provide information about what is exactly happening in Iraq. Instead, they insist you trust the heroic members of the press corps. And what kind of info are you getting from them? A brief survey of the opening paragraphs from Hannah Allam's reporting of late:
July 14: The Iraqi Defense Ministry has squandered more than $300 million buying faulty and outdated military equipment in what appears to be a massive web of corruption that flourished under American-appointed supervisors for a year or longer, U.S. and Iraqi military officials said this week.
July 10: Suicide bombers struck throughout Iraq on Sunday, killing at least 38 people and wounding dozens in a series of attacks aimed mainly at the country's overwhelmed and vulnerable security forces.
July 7: The group al-Qaida in Iraq announced Thursday that it had killed Egypt's top envoy to Baghdad. The statement accompanied a chilling video of the diplomat blindfolded and under insurgent interrogation.
June 11: Ten Sunni Muslim tribesmen died after American-trained Iraqi police commandos kept them in an airtight container for more than six hours in 115-degree heat, outraged Sunni clerics and politicians charged Monday.
May 14: Two weeks of intense insurgent violence have made it crystal clear that Iraq's parliamentary elections, hailed in late January as a triumph for democracy, haven't helped to heal the country's deep divisions. They may have made them worse.
You starting to pick up a bit of a plot line here? The implacable and daring insurgents, the overwhelmed and vulnerable and frightened security forces, all fighting under the cover of corrupt and incompetent American supervision. A tidy little tale, one that, if accepted, might lead to the eroding of public support for the war, a withdrawal of American troops, and ultimately dire political consequences for the Bush administration. With stakes this high, one can see why so many reporters are true believers of the story. And why they are so desperate to shout down those voices (Yost, the US troops) trying to tell the other side of the story.
BTW, I hope you enjoyed Hannah Allam's war reporting while you could. She's had enough and is packing up shop and moving to Cairo. She claims reporting in Iraq is too dangerous and "not fun" any more. I didn't know those were prerequisites for news reporting, but it's good to finally have Ms. Allam's priorities exposed to the light of day. Here's another glimpse into the priorities of Knight Ridder's bureau chief, from NPR's On the Media:
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You had described this, this remarkable incident at the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention last week. What was that story?
HANNAH ALLAM: There was a salon in Baghdad where I used to go after stressful days to get a manicure or just to relax, and it was run by two really funny Iraqi women. And we've become friends in the past two years. And I was in there three weeks to a month ago, and my cell phone rang, and instinctively I just picked it up and said hello - in English. And there was just this silence that fell over the room. People stared at me, and I realized what I had done. And then my friend, the Iraqi owner of the salon, came over and said - you know, it breaks my heart, I'm sorry to tell you this, but you put yourself in danger. You've put us in danger. Now they know that you're a foreigner - the other customers, and it's not safe for you to come here any more. That was the, the last refuge for me, and now it's gone as well.
As Sherman once said, war is hell ... on your finger nails. Lord knows how hard it can be to find a good manicurist in a war zone. We wish her better luck in finding a salon that meets her standards in Cairo.