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by danps

March 20: Journalistic Day of Atonement

5:21 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

UPDATE: See also Vast Left.

But what was the mission?

Eleven years ago today the United States used false pretenses to launch its war against Iraq. Happily, it has not yet become controversial to write those two things: That it was the US, and not some ridiculous coalition of the willing, that launched the war; and that the architects themselves were (at best) dubious about the given reasons for the invasion. Considering our ability to let the losing side end up with control of our war narratives, that’s no small achievement.

It would be nice if those architects had been summarily drummed out of public life and shunned by decent people. Demonstrating grotesque immorality ought ideally to have consequences, but unfortunately we live in an age of impunity for the powerful. If you are a member of that happy class and are willing to brazen it out, you will remain in good standing.

This explains how Douglas Feith, aka the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth, gets to weigh in on current events in Russia. It also explains how Bill Kristol, to Charles Pierce’s ongoing amazement, remains in good standing among the DC media. (Pierce is one of the few higher profile writers who has arrived at the proper estimation of Kristol. He’s also christened him with the title that ought to follow him to the end of his days: “Butcher’s Bill Kristol, the world’s dumbest political sociopath.”)

When it comes to Iraq there is a willful amnesia in Washington DC. No one in the elite media or political establishment wishes to think about it because it reflects so poorly on them. This explains how Dick Cheney could be invited on a Sunday show recently and not have the word “Iraq” appear once, not once. Months later, this continues to astonish me. It’s like interviewing Orville Redenbacher and not asking about popcorn.

Anniversaries are good occasions to revisit topics. The New York Times understands that, since it marked the third anniversary of the Syrian uprising earlier this week. The Washington Post has done even better, not just marking the occasion but looking at the human cost and taking every opportunity to embed its video of the situation as well.

The US did not engage its armed forces in any substantial way in Syria, though. Therefore there are no real stakes for the foreign policy establishment. Newspapers here are free to lavish attention on it without having to worry about damaging their access to Pentagon sources. On the other hand, Libya is in the process of turning into a basket case, and the US position has gone from “drop bombs to prevent genocide” to “sort it out amongst yourselves.” Don’t look for much coverage on that topic.

Clearly, though, the Times and the Post know how to mark an anniversary. If they did not have so much professional pride on the line with Iraq they could ask about the promises of a flowering democracy there, check that against the overall chaos as well as specific recent developments, and maybe inquire as to what exactly the fuck we are doing still sending arms there. Doing any of that would invite pointed questions about their role though, so better to just let the anniversary pass quietly.

If they really were the steely eyed truth tellers they seem to like fancying themselves as, the magnitude of their failure in Iraq would be a good occasion for some soul searching. Rather than leaving that kind of accounting to outsiders, they could turn that scrutiny on themselves and use it to an even larger purpose: An honest and unflinching examination of their systemic failures. Not just the technical glitches, but the really big picture stuff. A journalistic equivalent of Yom Kippur.

Some mistakes are easily addressed by the typical correction process. (“Ms Smith received a BS degree and not a BA degree as reported. We regret the error.”) Some are not. (“We credulously laundered Bush administration propaganda above the fold of our front page for months before the war, and were instrumental in legitimizing the fraudulent case for it. We regret the error.”)

Journalists have plenty of occasions to pat themselves on the back and give each other awards, but nothing (that I know of) that attempts to prick their collective conscience or remind them of just how wrong they can get it. Perhaps the anniversary of the largest such failure in the last generation would be good for that purpose. Not for self-flagellation or some other indulgence, but to confront uncomfortable truths that are otherwise too tempting to ignore.

Because ignoring those truths can prompt a newspaper to do ridiculous things. Like, for instance, marking the anniversary of protests against a conflict but not the start of the conflict itself.

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by danps

State-Run Iranian Media Beats the NY Times on WikiLeaks Reporting

7:00 am in Uncategorized by danps

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

The latest document dump from WikiLeaks would seem to be one of those massive, stop the presses, drop everything and throw all available resources at it stories that dominates news cycles for weeks on end. One of the first revelations was of Frago 242 (a Guardian story describes a frago as “a ‘fragmentary order’ which summarises a complex requirement”), which directed soldiers not to investigate war crimes that did not directly involve members of the coalition. There are reports that US soldiers may have engaged in war crimes themselves. There are hundreds of thousands of documents and they will take a long time to digest.

The New York Times featured it Saturday. On Sunday it did so again; this time with an accompanying character assassination of Julian Assange, which Glenn Greenwald promptly took apart. While Greenwald focuses on the author of the smear – London Bureau Chief John Burns – in a sense it is a somewhat narrow critique.

It seems similar to how some activists focused their ire on Rahm Emanuel when initiatives appeared to get frustrated by the White House. After all, the hard charging, abrasive chief of staff who draws fire (conveniently) away from the president is a stock character in Washington. Emanuel was hardly novel. More importantly, he was not calling the shots. Anyone put off by him should focus at least as much on his employer.

The same goes for Burns. Whatever journalistic sins and malfeasance can be hung on him (and Greenwald catalogs them brilliantly) the fact is, his employers give him the platform. We should spare some scrutiny for them. For instance, look at the front pages of the Times on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. There is nothing about the new documents at all.

One of the reasons Watergate became huge was because there was a drip, drip, drip of revelations splashed on the front page over an extended period of time. It kept the issue before the public, allowed it to get knowledgeable and engaged, and gave the story enough momentum to survive the hostile reaction of the political establishment.

Obviously there are differences with WikiLeaks, the most salient of which may be professional jealousy. Media outlets love to get the scoop and hate being scooped. The Washington Post had its own reporters digging away at Watergate, so it reflected well on the paper to have their work played up. Times editors may not be as fired up about trumpeting someone else’s revelations.

Still, it takes some kid of extraordinary lapse in editorial judgment to allow such a phenomenally important story to be given such short shrift. Iran’s state media outlet, PressTV, has shown how to cover a story like this without letting institutional vanity get in the way.

It has simply assigned people (identified only by initials – apparently no one gets the star treatment there) to go through the documents and write up what they find. And what they are finding is jaw dropping: assassination, torture, a variety of abuse (some of it stunning), rape, the list goes on. It is news – relevant, compelling news because it paints a far grimmer picture of what is happening there than the government has been willing to acknowledge. The Times fancies itself the newspaper of record; if its editors believe that, why can’t they swallow their pride, have a couple reporters roll up their sleeves and dig in?

Even if it is considered common drudgery (though it is also the sort of thing newsrooms used to romanticize as shoe leather reporting) why not try to connect some dots? See what implications there for what we already know, or how it might change what had previously been reported. That kind of deep analytic work is ideally suited for a company with deep resources and archives. The Times could advance the story and put their imprint on it.

For whatever reason, they have decided not to pursue it. The front page scans above give a reasonably good picture of what they currently consider most newsworthy, and there is a gigantic hole right in the middle. Since they also help set the tone for American news coverage, a horrible deficiency like this does not exist in a vacuum.

Happily, we live in an era when news sources from around the world are available. It is now possible to consult faraway outlets, even those that are derided as government propaganda organs. As in cases like this, sometimes they will be superior to American media. Engaged citizens can usefully mix in a few minutes with a Press TV or an al Jazeera on a regular basis. Perhaps they can improve their understanding of the world by catching up on the news that US outlets have concluded is not fit to print.

by danps

Why not a Nobel for Western Dissidents?

3:56 am in Uncategorized by danps

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

In recent years the Nobel committee has been willing to wade into controversies. A couple of years ago it awarded its economic prize to Paul Krugman, in what appeared to be a swipe at a sitting president and the still (inexplicably) dominant Chicago school of economics. Their selection reverberated politically as well; witness the various freakouts among conservative observers and commentators.

This year Nobel awarded the economics prize to Peter Diamond, thus making Richard Shelby look like a dumb hillbilly. By highlighting reflexive Republican opposition (one might say America has been Gop-blocked) the selection puts conservatives on the defensive. Considering the damage their royalist economic policies have wrought, this is a very good thing.

Their science awards have been political too. The 2007 award was another direct challenge to the American right, which even now continues to pretend the issue does not even exist. Considering the resolute ignorance of modern conservatives, awarding a science prize at all may be provocative.

That is what makes its Peace Prize awards somewhat curious. I remember reading years ago (I don’t remember the source) that it might be awarded to political leaders or activists just about anywhere, but only non-Western dissidents could win. Looking at the list from the past thirty years or so that certainly seems to hold up. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama and Oscar Arias Sánchez all have won for raising their voices against local governments, but no one in the West has.   . . . Read the rest of this entry →