Why Can't the Corporate Media Just Tell the Truth About Iraq & Afghanistan?

When it comes to the media and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – as in many things – John Lennon put it best: I’m sick and tired of hearing things/From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics/All I want is the truth/Just gimme some truth.”

To my surprise, I finally got some truth about the war in Iraq from the New York Times this week.

Given the abysmal cheerleading that has largely marked mainstream media coverage of that misbegotten adventure since its inception – and the Paper of Record has certainly been no exception -- it was even more surprising that the truth came from Alissa J. Rubin, a leading member of what NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel recently dubbed “the Baghdad class of 2003.”

The occasion should be duly noted and even lauded.

Writing in this Sunday’s Week in Review section, Rubin began by noting, “I came to Iraq three days after Saddam Hussein fled Baghdad. It was April 12, 2003. At the time, Iraqis bristled when asked if they were Sunni, Shiite or Kurd. It made no difference, they said, they were brothers. And, in the heady aftermath of the war, for a short while it almost seemed true.”

It almost seemed true -- but it wasn’t quite, not really…

It almost seemed true -- but only to those seemingly true believers, who saw only what they wanted to see… Count among them, of course, George Bush, Dick Cheney and their many minions – but count also the Times, its editors and correspondents like Rubin, along with most of the rest of the mainstream media – those who should have known better and acted differently, but who instead quickly fell into line, gullibly accepting the government’s lies and parroting its compulsory, embedded phony patriotism, to their ever-lasting shame and America’s and Iraq’s ever-lasting sorrow and pain.

Now here’s some truth: “I should have been the canary in the coal mine,” Alissa Rubin wrote this week in the New York Times. “But like so many others around me, I did not want to believe what I saw.”

Now that the Baghdad class of 2003 has suddenly and alarmingly morphed into “the Kabul class of 2009” – yes, Rubin’s covering the new/old war in Afghanistan now – here’s hoping, as I put it in my last post, “We don’t get schooled again.”

Perhaps there is a scintilla of hope. After all, Rubin is finally at least asking the right questions: “What are the lessons of Iraq that I carry with me?” And she is warning us in advance this time, “For outsiders, there is a familiar struggle to see the place as it truly is, not as we might wish it would be.”

And what do we outsiders wish to believe in Iraq and Afghanistan? To Rubin, that much at least is clear:

"Americans wanted to believe that their version of democracy was just waiting to spring to life in Iraq — a peaceful multiethnic, multireligious society adhering to the rule of law. That longing to find in another country a mirror of ourselves trumped cold analysis and led to years of denial that came to an end only when the mutilated bodies at the Baghdad morgue mounted each day…

In my five years in Iraq, all that I wanted to believe in was gunned down. Sunnis and Shiites each committed horrific crimes, and the Kurds, whose modern-looking cities and Western ways seemed at first so familiar, turned out to be capable of their own brutality. The Americans, too, did their share of violence, and among the worst they did was wishful thinking, the misreading of the winds and allowing what Yeats called “the blood-dimmed tide” to swell. Could they have stopped it? Probably not. Could it have been stemmed so that it did less damage, saved some of the fathers and brothers, mothers and sons? Yes, almost certainly, yes.

So the lesson I take away is never to underestimate hatred or history or the complexity of alien places. I came to love Iraq’s scrub desert, its date palm groves and marshlands, but most of all its courageous people who despite great personal losses did not lose faith in their country’s possibilities: the imams who prayed despite threats; my Shiite friend Salama Khafaji, who lost her eldest son in a Sunni ambush in the Triangle of Death yet continues to work for integration. Terrible things happened in Iraq over the last six years, and I go to Afghanistan feeling that we owe it to everyone who has died in Iraq — Iraqi and American — not to forget, not to gloss over, not to think in terms of success and failure, or victory and defeat, but to see as best we can, through a glass darkly."

So kudos, at long last, to Alissa Rubin for having the courage to say she was wrong. Here’s hoping she and others in the Kabul class of 2009 will do better in the future in Afghanistan. After all, we’ve had enough of reading things by neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians – and no short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me with just a pocketful of hope.

And that’s the truth!

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