Sunday, April 02, 2006

Editorial: That's what it sounds like when bullies bluster

This week, Isaiah reminds us of one of the "Bad Moments of Bully Boy Bluster." There have been so many.

But to focus on that one, July 2, 2003, when Bully Boy all but put a bounty on the head of every American in Iraq, hasn't panned out well, has it?

Iraq. The pundits still play the guessing game of is it or isn't it civil war yet? We've passed the three year anniversary mark. We passed the 2,000 American troop fatalities some time ago. American troop fatalities currently stand at 2332 since the illegal invasion with four since the start of April. Yes, we are on the second day of April, when will The New York Times learn to stop participating in Operation Happy Talk?

Not just yet, if today's paper is any indication.

Like the Bully Boy, the paper of record has a real hard time facing reality. And after the paper slimed Jill Carroll repeatedly last week, disgraced "war" correspondent John F. Burns shows up today to try to grab onto some of her luster while still sliming her. Why, when people are kidnapped, don't they realize the work required to free them? (In Carroll's case, she was released by her kidnappers and no military work appears to have aided that result. Possibly her families pleas, as well as those from figures in the Arab world, helped, but she was not "rescued" by the military.)

It's the same argument that was trotted out about the Christian Peacemaker Team three after they were rescued. Reporters have to be where the stories are. Burns' "logic" appears the same as the administration when selling "embeds" over "unilaterals."

Burns also attempts to hitch his wagon to Carroll at one point when he notes the following:

Another group, including this reporter, a freelance photographer, Shawn Baldwin, and six Iraqis were captured by insurgents outside Najaf, the Shiite holy city, as American forces poised to strike into the city. The situation was resolved within hours by the intervention of a senior Shiite cleric, but not before we had been blindfolded, driven 20 miles into the desert, and dumped after dark in a remote cinder block building under the guard of a dozen hostile men with fingers on the triggers of Kalashnikovs.

Maybe Burns has gone to the well so often with that story that he's forgotten who "six Iraqis" were? We'll help him out:

John Burns, The New York Times Unidentified photographerApril 6 Burns, a correspondent for The New York Times, and an unidentified photographer were abducted by militants believed to be affiliated with radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on April 6 in the city of Kufa. They were held for several hours before being released. Several support people working for The New York Times--drivers, security guards, and an interpreter--were also detained and released.

Oh, among the six were "security guards"? So his analogy isn't quite like Carroll's experience, is it? Burns goes on to write that Carroll needs no "garlands" because "We, all of us, choose to be in Iraq, and are well rewarded, in terms of our experiences and professional rewards, for what we do." Well, actually, Johnny B, Carroll was an indendent reporter. The Christian Science Monitor was running her stories but she was freelance. Had she the desire to live it up in the Green Zone, as the go-go boys of the paper of record are alleged to have done with drinking and extramartial affairs, she really didn't have the funds to, now did she?

The man who destroyed his own byline is in a clucking mood:

A reporter braving capture by the Iraqi insurgents, with none of the protections available to others, puts at risk not only his or her life, and the well-being of their families. Western reporters who choose to live at the furthest reaches of risk carry with them the lives of their Iraqi companions, drivers, interpreters and guards, who, as "collaborators" in the eyes of the insurgents, are likely to be shown no mercy if caught up in an ambush. In Ms. Carroll's case, her interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, 32, was executed by her captors at the moment of her abduction.

She put others at risk, did she? And what of yourself in Najaf? In Najaf with security guards, no less. He does finally get some reality on the paper's reporting from Iraq into print:

Larger newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post shifted early in the war to more elaborate protections, including armored cars and guards, and insist on rigorous security assessments before committing to all out-of-compound journeys.

It's a shame that the stories they filed failed to reflect that. The current situation didn't happen overnight. It was a long process. Had readers of the paper been informed in real time, they might have been better able to judge what passed for "reporting" (and was presented as though the reporters were mobile and walking freely). He takes a swipe at "Western" reporters who've criticized him -- he means reporters like Robert Fisk.

For instance, Fisk told Amy Goodman on the October 20th broadcast of Democracy Now! (from an interview done the previous month):

The American correspondents, some of them are guarded by armed Iraqis. The New York Times has a compound with four watch towers and armed Iraqis with "NYT" New York Times on their black t-shirts. NBC lives in a hotel in the Karada District with iron grills. The A.P. lives in the Palestine Hotel with two armored walls. Very rarely do they ever venture out and never do the American staffers go in the streets. As I say, we still go out with Iraqi friends. We actually go out to lunch in restaurants in Iraq. But I think that's probably because as long as we're with Iraqis and we look at our watch and say, 20 minutes, finish the meal, half an hour, got to be out. You're ok but it's a calculated risk.

It's that kind of apt criticism that leads an office napper to rouse him long enough to trash Fisk's most recent book. (Hop back on the couch and go back to sleep, Bronner).

There's been a great deal of bluster and not just from the Bully Boy. Burns and Dexter Filkins have done their best to present themselves as the manliest of the manly men covering Iraq (as they peered over the shoulders of their security detail and through the legs of the military). It must really rankle Burns that not only did he destroy his reputation with this illegal war but his annointed Dexy is really only seen as impressive by Burnsy. Burnsy and Dexy.

Today he turns in a soggy piece from a soggy mind which is why he puffs out his chest and lectures to (a non present) Carroll (someone who, unlike Dexy, will be remembered for her coverage) and then, with barely a deep breath, attempts to make it seem as though his situation wasn't all that different from her own. Not only were there situations different but we'd argue what they absorbed was different as well. We doubt Carroll would speak of Abu Ghraib only in terms of America, the way Burns did:

The torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib by U.S. soldiers was unarguably the biggest single story of the war today, Burns said, calling it "an arrow in the back of every American soldier who goes to Iraq."

As he now offers excuses to Editor & Publisher, his reputation appears beyond repair:

Burns said that he and others underestimated this problem, feeling for a long time that toppling Saddam Hussein would almost inevitably lead to something much better.

A long time? Such as late as December 16, 2005 when he filed nonsense that could be seen as part of the administration's latest Operation Happy Talk wave?

It took a lot of bluster on the part of the Bully Boy to lie us into war and it took help from the press. Burns did his part in the lead up, though he still thinks no one noticed, and he did his part after. As late as December 2005, he was still happy to read press releases live from the Green Zone. Had he reported accurately and noted early on that Baghdad had fallen apart (that some areas in Iraq -- and this is still true today though the paper avoids it -- have never been "controllable" by the U.S., then the long awakening the nation's been on since the summer of protest might have come much sooner.

But to read the paper of record was to think that the reporters moved freely and that they moved alone. That wasn't the case. That wasn't the case almost immediately after the war began. But readers were misled (and are still misled).

The bluster will kill us all. Bully Boy's bluster, Dexy Filkins' bluster, John F. Burns' bluster, go down the list.

The only vaccine for bluster is truth. Since the blusterers and the war pornogrpahers still can't grasp that, we're stuck in the quagmire still.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, you're schilling for the Bully Boy. The bluster starts at the top and seeps down the chain the lowest of the lackeys. They all need to be called on it.

[This editorial was written by: The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and Jim; Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man; C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix; Mike of Mikey Likes It!; Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz; and Wally of The Daily Jot.]

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