Mis­in­for­ma­tion in the news

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Mark Twain said, “If you don’t read the news­pa­pers you are un­in­formed — if you do read the news­pa­pers you are mis­in­formed.” To­day, those who rely on the elite me­dia for news of Iraq suf­fer from both dis­abil­i­ties.

Start with lack of in­for­ma­tion: The av­er­age news con­sumer prob­a­bly has no clue that Army Gen. David Pe­traeus’ new strat­egy has crip­pled al Qaeda in Iraq, that Amer­i­cans and Iraqis now fight side by side against both Sunni and Shia ex­trem­ists and that elim­i­nat­ing ter­ror­ist safe havens and weapons caches has im­proved se­cu­rity for av­er­age Iraqis in re­gions that a few months ago were snake pits.

As for mis­in­for­ma­tion, how many peo­ple still be­lieve that guards in Guan­tanamo flushed Ko­rans down the toi­let, that U.S. Marines com­mit­ted a mas­sacre at Ha­ditha and that Amer­i­can sol­diers ridicule women dis­fig­ured by bombs, run over pup­pies for sport and des­e­crate graves for a laugh? All this was re­ported in such main­stream publi­ca­tions as Newsweek and the New Repub­lic. None of it is true.

Mean­while, the bar­barous vi­o­lence com­mit­ted by al Qaeda and the Ira­nian-backed mili­tias in Iraq is scarcely noted. For ex­am­ple, here’s a story you prob­a­bly have nei­ther read nor heard: On Oct. 28, in a vil­lage 10 miles south­west of Baqubah, U.S. in­fantry­men came upon a prison run by al Qaeda. In it, ac­cord­ing to mil­i­tary spokes­men, they found a hostage, bruised, bat­tered, de­hy­drated and tied to the ceil­ing, his arms in­jured be­cause of how they were twisted be­hind his back.

He had been kid­napped three days ear­lier, he said, be­cause “of my brother who is in the Iraqi army. They wanted in­for­ma­tion and for my brother and me to work for al Qaeda. [. . .] They beat me with ca­bles while hold­ing a gun to my head, but I would not work for them be­cause I would not be­tray my brother.”

Had he not been res­cued, he would have been ex­e­cuted for the “crime” of re­fus­ing al Qaeda. Even so, he said, “I would never sup­port them.”

Where can one go to learn what is re­ally hap­pen­ing in Iraq? Michael Yon is a for­mer Green Beret. He has been re­port­ing from Iraq’s bat­tle­fields, mostly for his own blog (www.michael-yonon­line.com). No jour­nal­ist has re­vealed more about al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), in­clud­ing its “rep­u­ta­tion for hid­ing bombs in­tended to kill par­ents in the corpses of dead chil­dren they’d gut­ted.”

He has pho­tographed Iraqi and Amer­i­can sol­diers as they “dis­in­terred the re­mains of adults and chil­dren” from killing fields. “In one grave,” he noted, “sol­diers re­cov­ered the heads of de­cap­i­tated chil­dren, some with still par­tially rec­og­niz­able rem­nants of flesh and hair.”

His read­ers have learned what most would not know from NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS and NPR — why AQI has not won Iraqi hearts and minds: “Be­tween shoot­ing peo­ple for us­ing the In­ter­net, watch­ing television or other ‘moral trans­gres­sions’ such as smok­ing in pub­lic, AQI’s claim of fun­da­men­tal­ist piety proved to be a thin ve­neer, quickly eroded by bla­tant drug, al­co­hol and pros­ti­tute use.”

In per­haps his most haunt­ing dis­patch, Mr. Yon re­ports on meet­ing an Iraqi of­fi­cial who told him it was al Qaeda’s prac­tice to in­vite “to lunch fam­i­lies they wanted to con­vert to their way of think­ing. In each in­stance, the fam­ily had a boy” and at some point dur­ing the meal “their boy was brought in with his mouth stuffed. The boy had been baked. Al Qaeda served the boy to his fam­ily.”

Why have the elite me­dia not cov­ered such atroc­i­ties — while spilling bar­rels of ink over the abuses at Abu Ghraib? In part, per­haps, be­cause the con­ven­tional story line is that Iraq is Viet­nam re­dux: Amer­i­cans are the “oc­cu­piers” and any­one who fights them must be “the Re­sis- tance.” Re­porters who dis­pute that are apt to dine alone.

As to why lower mil­i­tary ca­su­alty rates and fewer in­sur­gent at­tacks are not seen as news­wor­thy, CNN’s Bar­bara Starr told me­dia critic Howard Kurtz that it was not yet clear such de­vel­op­ments rep­re­sent “a trend.” But the lines on the graph have been head­ing south since at least June. Is there any doubt that if U.S. forces had been los­ing ground for five months it would be a huge story?

The bat­tle of Iraq is not yet over. It is pos­si­ble al Qaeda and the Ira­nian-backed death squads could re­gain the ini­tia­tive. Iraqi’s fledg­ling politi­cians may fail to uti­lize the op­por­tu­nity to res­ur­rect their shat­tered coun­try. But jour­nal­ists should not as­sume such out­comes; much less should they wish for them.

Clifford D. May is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist and pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for the De­fense of Democ­ra­cies.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.