How Americans Are Propagandized About Afghanistan
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In this mid-March piece, Starkey explained how he had discovered that NATO's claims about the Paktia incident were false (he recounted that evidence in gruesome detail in the Times on March 13, three days before the NYT finally returned to the story to correct its original reporting), and more importantly, highlighted why the U.S. media so frequently disseminates false NATO claims with no questioning:
The only way I found out NATO had lied -- deliberately or otherwise -- was because I went to the scene of the raid, in Paktia province, and spent three days interviewing the survivors. In Afghanistan that is quite unusual.
NATO is rarely called to account. Their version of events, usually originating from the soldiers involved, is rarely seriously challenged. . . .
It’s not the first time I’ve found NATO lying, but this is perhaps the most harrowing instance, and every time I go through the same gamut of emotions. I am shocked and appalled that brave men in uniform misrepresent events. Then I feel naïve.
There are a handful of truly fearless reporters in Afghanistan constantly trying to break the military’s monopoly on access to the front. But far too many of our colleagues accept the spin-laden press releases churned out of the Kabul headquarters. Suicide bombers are “cowards,” NATO attacks on civilians are “tragic accidents,” intelligence is foolproof and only militants get arrested.
Starkey describes some of the understandable reasons so many reporters do nothing more than regurgitate officials claims: resource constraints, organizations limits, dangers of traveling around, and the "embed culture." But he also recounts how NATO tries to intimidate, censor and punish any reporters like him who report adversely on official claims. Illustratively, in response to Starkey's March 13 article detailing what really happened at Paktia and the cover-up that ensued, NATO issued a formal statement singling him out and accusing him of publishing an article that was " categorically false." As recently as that mid-March statement, NATO was still claiming -- falsely -- that the women in Paktia were killed prior to the arrival of American troops, and they were impugning the integrity of the reporter (Starkey) who was proving otherwise (see the Update below for my interview with Starkey today).
There are some very courageous and intrepid reporters in Afghanistan, including some who work for American media outlets. It was, for instance, a superb and brave investigative report by the NYT's Carlotta Gall in Afghanistan that uncovered what really happened in that air attack on Azizabad and who documented the Pentagon's false claims. But far more often, Americans are completely misled about events in Afghanistan by the combination of false official claims and mindless stenographic American "journalism." And no matter how many times this process is exposed -- from Jessica Lynch's heroic firefight to Pat Tillman's death by Al Qeada -- this relentless propaganda machine never seems to diminish.
Glenn Greenwald is a Constitutional law attorney and chief blogger at Unclaimed Territory . His forthcoming book, How Would a Patriot Act: Defending American Values from a President Run Amok will be released by Working Assets Publishing next month.