Monday, July 09, 2007

War coverage: 5-time reservist, and al Qaeda and the press

Now here's a story in a major newspaper that focuses on what the war means to those who are in it: The talented Amy Driscoll writes a must-read in the Miami Herald: Reservist fighting his fifth war call-up. That's five, 5! times this 26-year old has been called to serve the 'War on Terror', once in Afghanistan and three times in Iraq so far.
Nearly seven years into his eight-year commitment to the reserves, the personal costs are higher for Botta. He could lose his home. His job at Sikorsky, working on the Black Hawk military helicopter, could be on the line. He's halfway to his electrical engineering degree, planning a career in defense work, but his professors say he'll suffer a significant setback if he is deployed. He doesn't mention the danger another deployment would bring, but his wife and parents do.

On a broader level, the New York Times' new Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, writes a column that is cited as an example of what's wrong with journalistic coverage of this war.
Hoyt's column, from yesterday, is Seeing Al Qaeda Around Every Corner, and discusses how the administration is trying to keep focus on al Qaeda as the reason for our continuing presence in Iraq: using the language of the administration, the newspaper has also failed at times to distinguish between Al Qaeda, the group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, an Iraqi group that didn’t even exist until after the American invasion.
...While a president running out of time and policy options may want to talk about a single enemy that Americans hate and fear in the hope of uniting the country behind him, journalists have the obligation to ask tough questions about the accuracy of his statements.

Glenn Greenwald, however, in The ongoing journalistic scandal at the New York Times finds a whole lot more wrong with The Times' coverage of the war, and in Hoyt's apology:
At exactly the time when journalistic skepticism was needed most, as our country debated whether to invade another country which had not attacked us, the Times allowed itself to be completely manipulated by the government and/or eagerly participated in its propaganda campaign, obediently reciting the government's false claims on its front pages and selling this war to its then-trusting readers.
...Hoyt's column yesterday demonstrates that exactly the opposite is true. The Times is still doing exactly what it did before the invasion of Iraq -- the activities that supposedly brought it such "shame" -- and in many cases, it is exactly the same people who are doing it.
...most significantly of all, Hoyt's criticisms are grounded not in a technical violation of some petty rule or failure to adhere to some debatable journalistic custom, but rather, involve the worst journalistic sin of all: namely, a failure to treat government claims with skepticism and a willingness mindlessly to recite such claims without scrutiny.

And, relevant to the previous posting here, he carries this argument back to Vietnam:
In 1994 -- on the 30-year anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin incident that spawned the escalation of the Vietnam war -- journalists Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon documented the role of the shoddy reporting by the American media, tragically led by the NYT, which enabled the government to perpetuate false claims about that incident
...see if there is a single material difference between what happened then, what happened in 2002-2003, and what is happening now. There is none.

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