Media Crimes Lead to War Crimes


As events in Iraq continue to slip from bad to worse, the good news brigade is scrambling for new stories -- ("anything, give me anything") to shore up what's left of public support for a bloody war without end.

As some feared and many predicted, the war hovers over our politics and the president who "brought it on." He is, as the journalist Sid Blumenthal puts it, stuck in a "paradigm" of his own making. The operative word is the title and refrain of an early Springsteen song: "TRAPPED."

Another tipping point seems to have tipped.

Fear and exhaustion is evident in our TV newsrooms along with a continuing failure to recognize what is going on. The lack of insight is stunning; the quality of most of the news, pathetic. Even CBS's brave Kimberly Dozier -- may she fully recover -- was not only embedded in practice with the U.S. military when she was wounded, and her crew killed, but she seemed embedded mentally, seeking out a "feel good" story to cheer the home front that the Bush administration wants so badly to stay the course of his "long war." In an email sent to CBS, and only discovered after her misfortune, she described the story she was going to be doing before another IED did its awful damage.

Reported the Los Angeles Times:

When producers of the CBS Evening News arrived in the newsroom Monday morning, there was an email waiting from correspondent Kimberly Dozier.
In a note written Sunday night, she detailed a Memorial Day story she planned to do about a U.S. soldier wounded in Iraq who insisted on going back to the battlefield, a piece about "fighting on in memory of those who have fallen."
What a tragic loss -- TV journalists dying not in search of deeper truths but to send back another picture-rich but patriotically correct story along the same good news lines as one filed for 60 Minutes by CBS's now chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan. She glamorized the tactics of a brainy American colonel heroically stopping terrorists in the town of Tel Afar.

A Washington Post journalist, filing a report from the same town, debunked CBS's storyline. He found no terrorists killed in what was a sectarian and internal political fight.

Early Thursday morning, the CNN website carried a story by Arwa Damon, one of its Iraq reporters, who said she realized after the fact that she knew about the Marines at Haditha but did not report on them at the time:
It actually took me a while to put all the pieces together -- that I know these guys, the U.S. Marines at the heart of the alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians in Haditha.
When I went back to quote her more extensively a half-hour later, the story was off the website and its URL did not work, though I was able to find it through CNN's website archive.

It's a rare piece of media introspection.
I don't know why it didn't register with me until now. It was only after scrolling through the tapes that we shot in Haditha last fall, and I found footage of some of the officers that had been relieved of their command, that it hit me. I know the Marines that were operating in western al Anbar, from Husayba all the way to Haditha. I went on countless operations in 2005 up and down the Euphrates River Valley. I was pinned on rooftops with them in Ubeydi for hours taking incoming fire, and I've seen them not fire a shot back because they did not have positive identification on a target. (Watch a Marine's anguish over deaths -- 2:12) (Note: the anguish of the U.S. military still tends to get more airtime than the anguish of Iraqi civilians.)
Damon continues:
I saw their horror when they thought that they finally had identified their target, fired a tank round that went through a wall and into a house filled with civilians. They then rushed to help the wounded -- remarkably no one was killed …
And so began the emails and phone calls between myself and my two other CNN crew members, Jennifer Eccleston and Gabe Ramirez: Do you remember when we were talking with the battalion commander and his intel guy right outside the school and then half an hour later they found an IED in that spot? Do you remember when we were sitting chatting with them at the school? And all the other "do you remember whens." There was also -- can you believe it? -- the allegations of the Haditha probe.
Can you believe it? Yes, I can believe it. Haditha is coming to light because conscientious Marines spoke out and then ex-Marine Rep. John Murtha spoke out, and then Time picked it up.

Our fearless TV journalists did not break the story.

CNN had it, but, according to Damon, didn't realize it.

Journalists like Dahr Jamail have been calling attention to many massacres that have gone mostly unreported -- even when U.S. journalists were there, like at Fallujah, which was played up for its drama and gun battles, but never fully contextualized or focused on the vast civilian casualties.

When atrocities occur, they are invariably described as "mistakes," rarely crimes. What this means is that many media organizations are acting as accessories. War crimes often lead to media crimes and vice versa.

England's Media Lens discusses this same phenomenon in the United Kingdom:
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told U.S. news channels that the allegations are being investigated thoroughly and would be handled "in the normal order of things."
The Times (London) notes:
"The damage limitation has already begun."
The paper explains:
Lawyers who have talked to the Marines emphasize the extreme pressure that they were facing that day. The insurgents had mounted a wave of attacks, and the town was one of the most dangerous in Iraq for U.S. troops." (Ali Hamdani, Ned Parker, Nick Meo and Tom Baldwin, "The Marines and a 'massacre' in Iraq," The Times, May 27, 2006)
Damage limitation includes shifting blame back onto the Iraqis: "Marine officers have long been worried that Iraq's deadly insurgency could prompt such a reaction by combat teams." (Perry and Barnes, op. cit.)
Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition, said:
It's clear that what happened in Haditha is a war crime. It would be idle to think this is the first war crime that has been committed in the last three years. It must be assumed that more of this is going on. (Raymond Whitaker, "The massacre and the Marines," Independent on Sunday, May 28, 2006)
So there you have the kind of discussion ignored in most of the U.S. press, which stands by its colleagues -- as we should -- but rarely call them and their news organizations to account for what they do -- and don't do.

The administration fears that the reaction to the gore of the Haditha massacre will mark a turning point, not just a tipping point, in support for the war. Let's hope they are right.

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