Sunday, August 20, 2006

Iraq, the war independent media forgot

A candle's burning in my window
And it's burning just for you
I had some big plans for tomorrow
But you had something else to do
-- "I Can't Stop Thinking About You" written by Carole King and Paul Hipp, off King's City Streets

Iraq, the forgotten war? It certainly seems that way to those of us who utilize independent media. With few exceptions, most have taken repeated passes on Iraq. (Though gas bagging on Ned Lamont's campaign remains a popular topic, it's not really addressing Iraq). Rebecca gave independent media a failing grade last week and we have to agree with that. If last week were finals, most of indymedia would be placed on academic probation if not kicked off campus.

C.I. asked back in June, "What if they gave a war and only the cheerleaders showed up?" What if you gave a resistance and only mainstream media showed up? That's a question worth asking considering independent media's silence on Iraq last week. Specifically, with regards to Ehren Watada, the silence was shocking.

For any who missed it (and many may have due to the lack of coverage), Ehren Watada's Article 32 hearing took place Thursday. Some may be familiar with Watada if not the hearing. That's due to the fact that independent media thought Watada was a story when he first went public. Watada is the first known commissioned officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq. He believes the war is an illegal one.

Testifying Thursday, retired Army Col. Ann Wright stated, "I personally believe that the decision of the Bush administration to invade and occupy Iraq without getting the authority of the UN Security Council ... falls into the category of a war of aggression, which is by international law a war crime. So by a person saying 'Yes, I’m going to Iraq,' one could argue that just by doing that, that is participating in a war crime."

Watada went public in June and it was news. It was a story with 'traction.' The interest and support built so much that on July 23rd, The New York Times would offer John Kifner and Timothy Egan's "Officer Faces Court-Martial for Refusing to Deply to Iraq" -- the paper's first mention of him. You might think Watada's hearing, putting the war on trial, would be a story independent media would leap on. You would be wrong.

Though Mike Barber (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) had the scoop two Fridays ago of Ricky Clousing, AWOL for a year, going public, several hours after Barber's report was available, Amy Goodman interviewed him (Clousing) for Democracy Now! and one might have seen that as a prelude to coverage of Watada's hearing the following week. There was no coverage of Watada. There was no coverage of the Wednesday actions to demonstrate support for Watada before the hearing commenced. There was no coverage of the hearing. There was no coverage at all. Watada wasn't even mentioned in headlines.

Iraq wasn't deemed (matter of emphasis?) important enough for a segment. In terms of headlines, the forgotten war didn't fair any better.

Monday offered 23 headlines of which two were about Iraq. Tuesday offered twenty headlines of which three were about Iraq and a fourth was tied to Iraq by the tail end of a sentence preceeding a clip of a Bully Boy remark (he didn't mention Iraq) and the tail end of a sentence following the clip. Wednesday found twenty headlines and three were devoted to Iraq. Thursday also found twenty headlines and three devoted to Iraq. Friday dropped to fourteen headlines and only one was about Iraq. In all, 97 headlines were offered last week and only twelve were directly related to Iraq (13, if you feel generous to the wrap around).

Friday would have been the time to note the hearing, if not in a segment then certainly in a headline. But it didn't happen. In fact that coverage (lack of) is so appalling that it led to many people musing about Sir! No Sir! and whether the future maker of today's film would note how independent media completely abandoned the topic of Iraq? We agreed with everyone who raised that issue: It should be noted.

If you wanted information on Ehren Watada, you had to turn to the mainstream media with few exceptions. You could go to the Hawaiian mainstream media (even, the week before the hearing, one of their business journals), you could go to Washington's media (the state, the hearing took place there) and you could go to the Associated Press. If you were counting on hearing about it from independent media, you were out of luck.

Watada now awaits the decision of whether or not he will face a court-martial and, a tip for independent media, when the word comes down, if you manage to cover it, don't you dare say, "And now on a story we've been covering . . ." because you haven't been covering it. Your performance has been disgraceful with few exceptions.

We thought maybe FAIR would note the disappearance of Iraq from the mainstream media on their program CounterSpin but then we realized that disappearance applied to independent media as well as to the program itself. So even the watchdogs sidestep the issue. This the week following Molly Ivins' observation: "The more surprising development is how completely one story drives out another. At other times, the collapse of Iraq would have been news."

The most laughable articles in recent weeks have been the ones that read like they were dusting off 2003 work and inserting "Lebanon" for "Iraq." (We're referring to the media criticism, or what passed for it, of the mainstream coverage of the Israeli government's insanse and illegal actions.) When they dusted off that 'two wars' commentary, do you think any of them gave a thought to Iraq?

The prosecution's case against Watada rested on two presentations: a witness affirming that Watada did not deploy with his unit and snippets of speeches Watada gave including one at the recent Veterans for Peace conference in Seattle. [To read that speech, click here (CounterPunch) and here (Truthout) -- the latter link also provides video if you'd prefer to watch the speech.]

Mainstream media, if they quoted the speech last week, went with a snippet played in the hearing (usually they summarized the snippet). What did Watada have to say in that speech?
The military obviously felt it was worth noting, they felt it was their strongest argument for a court-martial of Watada. So possibly independent media should have been interested in the speech?

Among the three people testifying for Watada was former UN sectretary Denis Halliday. What did he say? As C.I. noted, "Halliday's testimony was apparently delivered via mime which would explain why there's nothing from his testimony in any of the reports." Ann Wright's testimony was covered as was Francis Boyle's (Boyle is a professor at the University of Illionis and a scholar in international law). When two reporters (mainstream) who covered the trial were asked about the Halliday blackout (and it was a blackout) the excuse offered was that Boyle and Wright were deemed more worthy because Wright was former military and Boyle was an expert. Going to where the silences are would include independent media covering what the mainstream blacked out (Halliday's testimony).

As the silence (from independent media) on Abeer revelead the week prior, Iraq isn't an interest of independent media. (Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi would have turned 15 yesterday had she not been murdered, allegedly by US troops.) Considering how many in independent media hopped on their soapboxes about the mainstream coverage of Iraq, it's amazing that a war the US started and one that is still ongoing can't get the coverage that it should.

Was the whole point of that coverage to 'take out' Judith Miller? If so, did we miss the Mission Accomplished speech because we, wrongly, thought Iraq actually mattered to independent media? As we've seen this month with what passed for coverage of Camp Casey III (as with Watada and Abeer, you had more luck coming across a mainstream story than you did an independent one) and, at the start of the month, with lack of interest in American peace activists meeting with Iraqis in Jordan, Iraq hasn't been on the independent media radar.

Gas bags are geared up and ready with their tales of how Lebanon (and London!) might be pushed out of the news cycle as a result of the Jon-Benet 'story.' Well the news cycle's been shit poor for some time and that's obvious when the Iraq war falls off the radar despite the fact Iraq is falling apart, people are dying and few want to make a point to discuss that.

With "In Case We All Forgot, Americans Are Still Dying in Iraq," Jimmy Breslin took the mainstream media to account for dropping Iraq but we'd argue Iraq was dropped even more so by the independent media. To use The New York Times as an example, though reporters were shipped out of Iraq to cover Israel's armed aggression, some remained in Iraq. Good or bad, you could usually count on a report from Damien Cave, Paul von Zielbauer and Edward Wong most days. Fluff or reality, there was coverage.

Call us silly but we think when the US officially wages a war, it's news. We think it merits coverage. We think when people resist the war and speak out against it, it's news. Reading, listening or watching independent media for the last few weeks, we're wondering how others evaluate news?

But then, silly us, we thought after the much hyped "We don't do body counts" turned out to be false (the US has been keeping a body count of Iraqi civilians for over a year now) was news and only three reporters we're aware of share that judgement: Nancy A. Youssef with"U.S.: Civilian deaths feeding insurgency," Aaron Glantz with "Pentagon: Tell Us How Many Civilians You've Killed" and Juliana Lara Resende with "50,000 Dead, But Who's Counting?".

Wednesday of last week, a number of us spoke to a large group of college students who do try to stay informed on Iraq. We were hitting predominately on the issue of Ehren Watada. So much so that when it came time for Elaine to speak, she wasn't sure she could add anything to that topic so, instead, she noted the Iraqi body count. There were "What?"s shouted out. Elaine knew the story and was able to back up and go over it from the start but she'd assumed, wrongly, that because she was speaking to a group of people who try to stay abreast of the news on Iraq, this story that broke at the end of June would already be well known by most people.

It wasn't. And that's another example of how independent media has ignored Iraq for weeks now.

Independent media has avoided the Jon-Benet story (except to criticize the mainstream media for their coverage of it) but they've had their own 'newsie' topics in recent weeks. Tale end of last week, Iraq got in there just a tiny bit as Mahmoud al-Mashhadani's political fate (The Times reported on it Tuesday) became a mini-gas-bag moment. Gas bag? What else do you call it when days later, people are weighing in on how he may be out (because the mainstream said so) and blah, blah, blah but they aren't able to tell you that the man supposedly out the door the second Iraq's parliament reconvenes (al-Mashhadnia is the Speaker of the House) was in Jordan attempting to negotiate a trade deal? Is he on his way out? He may be. He may not be. The American government doesn't care for him. The US media has pushed the story that he's on his way out. But that's the same mainstream media that noted al-Mashhadani did not return their calls on Tuesday -- without noting that he was in Jordan. If you're going to speculate on his fate, you probably need to know what he's doing which isn't, as the mainstream media portrayed it, using his 'downtime' while parliament is out of session to nurse his wounds at his home. At least those two tried.

We find it laughable that a columnist who dismissed the war in Iraq as unimportant to Americans as the start of this summer chooses to end the summer with a 'wowie' column on what Ned Lamont's primary win (against Joe Lieberman) in Conn. means. Nowhere does the columnist note, "By the way, when I stated that the war didn't have impact, I must have been wrong because now I'm offering you a whole column about how it does." Also absent from the column is anything other than the conventional wisdom of the mainstream media. Apparently the really deep thinking can't be done in the dog days of summer.

Lamont is the Jon-Benet for the left. It's a story that's not dependent upon reality (Ralph Nader's been one of the few to bother to inject reality into the story). You don't need to know anything about who voted or didn't vote, you don't need to know anything about when some voters began growing disenchanted with Lieberman, you just need to decide whether you're in favor of or opposed to 'netroots' and the column writes itself. (And reads like it wrote itself.)

We're opposed to the war. We're not voting for anyone who supports it. (John Edwards recent remarks in the last few weeks put him back on our potential list of candidates.) We'd be thrilled if the reality backed up the non-stop claims that Iraq decided the Conn. primary. The reality is it was one factor. (Community members read Brady's report in the gina & krista round-robin before the primary where he polled six blocks of voters and found only one person who would be voting for Lieberman in the heavily Democratic area. They're aware of why the others were either sitting it out, in favor of the Republican candidate or supporting Lamont. Congratulations to Brady and the round-robin for serious reporting. We'll also note that Fly Boy -- who, like Brady, actually voted in that primary -- offered his thoughts on why Lieberman lost in Polly's Brew.)

Does summer mean not just a vacation for the body but one for the mind as well? And do all the ones incessantly hopping onto the "Let me share my thoughts about the Lamont victory" bandwagon honestly think that they're addressing Iraq?

Next month, demonstrations against the war will take place. We're not too worried about the turn out because they've increased each time in spite of a lack of coverage. But seeing Cindy Sheehan rendered invisible by independent media makes us wonder exactly who in independent media cares about Iraq anymore?

What was it? Did it grow too much? Did it seem the 'same story'? Or maybe pet peeves against the Israeli government needed to be settled (day after day, hour after hour)? It's funny because we thought it was news that the US started an illegal war and is still engaged in that war. We think it was news when Captain Alex Pickands summed up the (military) prosecution's case in Baghdad, against Paul Cortez, James Barker, Jesse Spielman and Bryan Howard: "Murder, not war. Rape, not war. That's what we're here talking about today. Not all that business about cold food, checkpoints, personnel assignments. Cold food didn't kill that family. Personnel assignments didn't rape and murder that 14-year-old little girl." We thought it was news that peace activists went to Jordan, that Camp Casey reopened, that Ehren Watada's Article 32 hearing took place, that the US government is keeping a body count, that the so-called 'crackdown' in Baghdad has not resulted in less violence, that 73 died from last Sunday's attack in Baghdad, that . . .

Well, you get the idea. It's too bad independent media doesn't.

Why did you show me all your colors
When you knew that I was blind
Still I keep on looking for reasons
That'll see me through
I can't stop think about you
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