Sunday, July 01, 2007
Our rotted press corps, a division of "Camp Victory"
On June 22, the BBC -- under the headline: "'Al-Qaeda gunmen' killed in Iraq" -- reported, along with virtually every major American media outlet, the following claim, without any challenge or questioning:
US helicopters have killed 17 gunmen with suspected al-Qaeda links in Iraq's Diyala province north of Baghdad, the US military says.
But unlike the American media outlets which mindlessly reported these "Al Qaeda kills," the BBC at least followed up on this story and found that there are substantial grounds, to put it mildly, for believing those claims were false. In a follow-up article -- prompted by protests from residents of the village where the "Al Qaeda kills" occurred -- the BBC reported:
A group of villagers in Iraq is bitterly disputing the US account of a deadly air attack on 22 June, in the latest example of the confusion surrounding the reporting of combat incidents there. . .
On 22 June the US military announced that its attack helicopters, armed with missiles, engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen who had been trying to infiltrate the village of al-Khalis, north of Baquba, where operation "Arrowhead Ripper" had been under way for the previous three days.
The item was duly carried by international news agencies and received widespread coverage, including on the BBC News website.
But villagers in largely-Shia al-Khalis say that those who died had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. They say they were local village guards trying to protect the township from exactly the kind of attack by insurgents the US military says it foiled.
Minutes before the attack, they had been co-operating with an Iraqi police unit raiding a suspected insurgent hideout, the villagers said.
They added that the guards, lightly armed with the AK47 assault rifles that are a feature of practically every home in Iraq, were essentially a local neighbourhood watch paid by the village to monitor the dangerous insurgent-ridden area to the immediate south-west at Arab Shawkeh and Hibhib, where the al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed a year ago.
According to local witnesses, then -- none of whom were interviewed by the media outlets obediently reciting the U.S. military's dramatic narrative about "17 Al Qaeda fighters killed" -- those who were killed by the U.S. strikes had absolutely nothing to do with "Al Qaeda," but instead were guarding their own villages against the very Sunni insurgents whom we now call "Al Qaeda."
Indeed, the only time our media outlets question what the military says is when there are angry witnesses disputing the military's version, as demonstrated by this NYT article this morning, detailing how the U.S. military's killing of what it claimed was four "Taliban fighters" actually resulted in the death only of "Haji Muhammada Jan, who was about 80 years old . . . and two of his sons and a grandson," none of whom had anything to do with the Taliban.
None of this is complicated, and other than a deliberate desire to disseminate Bush administration propaganda about the war, it really is virtually impossible to understand why our media's "reports" about the war blindly assume, time and again, that whatever the U.S. government or military says can simply be converted without investigation or skepticism into what they report as "news." Over and over, such statements prove to be completely false, and yet the media never even minimally raises the level of skepticism to which it subjects these claims.