Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Iraq War Crimes coverage (or lack of)

This is C.I.'s commentary on the coverage of the War Crimes since they first surfaced in spring/summer 2006. This is from Friday's "Iraq snapshot" and Saturday's "Anger over Green's sentence."

Steven D. Green

Let's look back to what should be the most known War Crimes of the Iraq War, the gang-rape of 14-year-old Iraqi Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, her murder, the murder of her five-year-old sister and the murders of both of her parents. The fact that they aren't goes to a media failure. There are some who have earned praise. Many more have not. From July 2, 2006 snapshot: "[Sandra] Lupien also noted the arrest of Steven D. Green. Green, is 21 and was with the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army. Friday, in Asheville, North Carolina, he was arrested and charged with both the four deaths as well as the rape. According to the US government press release, if convicted on the charge of murder, 'the maximum statutory penalty . . . is death' while, if convicted on the charge of rape, 'the maxmium statutory penalty for the rape is life in prison'." Green's trial finally began April 27th. The first day, Andrew Wolfson (Courier-Journal) reported, "In an opening statement in a trial that is expected to last three to five weeks, Justice Department lawyer Brian Skaret said the government will present at least five witnesses who say Green bragged about the crimes, including one who says Green told his fellow soldiers that it was 'awesome'." Wolfson bid closest without going over: Four weeks.

The trial lasted four weeks. In all that time, there was only one known editorial. The Washington Observer-Reporter made the trial the topic of an editorial and they concluded, "But there are no hardships, military or otherwise, that could excuse an atrocity like this and you can't blame it on a 'lack of leadership'."

The New York Times? During the four weeks, they filed three reports on the story. Three. Campbell Robertson and Atheer Kakan filed "Ex-G.I. Guilty of Rape and Killings in Iraq" from Iraq and this is the first report the paper ever carried which mentioned Abeer by name. It was not their first story on the topic, or the second or third or . . . But it was the first time that Abeer's name was ever mentioned. The paper had repeatedly rendered her invisible for nearly three years. James Dao filed "Civilian Jury Considers Death Penalty for Ex-G.I." which moved Abeer's name back to paragraph 14 (paragraph thirteen was where Robertson and Kakan were able to get it in) and was a pretty sorry report with no saving graces. Today Dao filed "Ex-Soldier Gets Life Sentence for Iraq Murders" which is such a huge improvement, it's hard to believe that both articles were written by the same reporter. Praise for Dao.

That was the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times loves, loves to cover 'military justice.' They're always dispatching Tony Perry to . . . Well, as a friend at the San Diego Union-Tribune likes to put it, "Where ever Rick goes, they [LAT] send him." And if anyone ever doubted that Tony was anything other than a camp follower they had their proof over the last four weeks. Rick Rogers wasn't dispatched to Kentucky so . . . Tony didn't go. Some people call it "competition," some people call it "stalking."

The Washington Post? Though Ellen Knickmeyer wrote the definitive newspaper account of the crimes in 2006, "Details Emerge in Alleged Army Rape, Killings" (July 3, 2006), the paper made do with Reuters and AP when 'covering' the Green trial.

Wall St. Journal? Didn't Old Man Rupaul Murdoch promise no lay offs and that resources would be pooled so there would be even more coverage? Apparently the only thing that pooled was the blood from his lifeless head because the Wall St. Journal, which should have been covering it, wasn't covering it. Now everyone knows -- check any Marriott -- that the Wall St. Journal isn't really the paper with the largest circulation in the US (the bulk of the Wall St. Journals at Marriotts are never picked up -- many front desks 'store' them in the closet nearest to the front desk) but it claims to be and, as such, it certainly should have been able to manage one reporter covering the case.

September 13, 2006, USA Today ran Gregg Zoroya's "Soldier describes anguish in revealing murder allegations" on the front page which not only offered a look at Justin Watt who heroically came foward, it also named the victims (Abeer, sister Hadeel, parents Fikhriya Taha and Qassim Hamza) and featured photos of her two brothers Ahmed (then nine) and Mohammed (then eleven). Justin Watt did a courageous thing in coming forward and Zoroya explained that he took the issue to a mental health counselor "because he wanted to bypass what he thought would be a skeptical command structure and get an audience with Army investigators". You might have thought they'd want to live up to their high water mark because, let's be honest, USA Today is not the paper most people read -- it's a glance-at. It's the paper which causes serious readers to groan at the airports when they realize it's the only one left. And yet despite having one of those few moments in their history that they could be proud of, they elected not to build it and appeared to think they'd show the world they were a real news outlet -- honest they were -- by blogging about what the AP wrote. Yesterday they teamed their Andrea Stone up with the Courier-Journal's Andrew Wolfson for "Ex-soldier gets life for Iraqi murders." It was a move they should have considered weeks ago but they still come out ahead of many, many other outlets.

McClatchy Newspapers? They've ignored the story. Always. They just don't give a damn. They never really did. This "McClatchy [Knight-Ridder back then] could have saved us!" is just b.s. McClatchy didn't bother to cover it. They haven't covered Iraqi reaction to the trial and they haven't covered the trial. Now, for those who don't know, McClatchy is a chain. And the federal trial was held in Kentucky and McClatchy's owns the Lexington Herald-Leader. Had the Lexington Herald-Leader covered the trial daily, McClatchy could have carried it at its website and in the various papers it owns. In California, that would have included the Sacremento Bee. For Florida, that would have meant papers including the Miami Herald. In Texas it would have been limited to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In the state of Washington, it would have included The Olympian. In Kansas, it would have been the Wichita Eagle. In North Carolina, it would have included the Charlotte Observer. In South Carolina, it would have included The State. They have papers in Idaho, in Illinois, in Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi and Pennsylvania. They could have covered it. They have chosen not to.

McClatchy as the savior of us all is, and always has been, nonsense. The Lexington Herald-Leader, a Kentucky paper owned by McClatchy, 'covered' the case by . . . running AP stories. Click here for Brett Barrouquere and here for Kristen M. Hall (both AP journalists). Obviously the paper doesn't 'lead' nor 'herald' much. It's an embarrassment that McClatchy has a paper that close to Paducah (you can make it from Lexington to Paducah in a roughly four hour drive) and they produce nothing. But they've got US and Iraqi reporters based in Iraq and they can't file on the reaction to the verdict. It's obvious that they don't give a damn. There's nothing to suss out there. Their actions have made it very clear. Repeatedly so. Not just with Green's trial. The myth of McClatchy is only repeated by the vastly uninformed. But it's repeated less and less because with any event, with any topic, it's back down to earth for McClatchy if you even half-way pay attention.

And what about radio? A lot of McBurgers were sold to make NPR what it is so where's the beef? Never on air. Diane Rehm famously BANNED the topic from her show when the jury released their verdict of guilty (on all counts). After they were exposed (here) the show sent out a laughable e-mail to those who had e-mailed on the topic and those who had called Rehm out for banning the topic. We've got seven forwarded copies of that and I've confirmed it with a friend with the show so on a slow day this summer we may include it in the snapshot. (Click here for some of the e-mails sent into the show on the day Diane was banning the topic.) All those hours to fill every day and not a word about Abeer on the NPR programs. This afternoon Frank James blogs and includes some comments by NPR's JJ Sutherland. But actually getting it on air was too damn much work for NPR.

Pacifica Radio? They didn't send anyone. They're begging for money right now and they're doing awful. KPFA, for example, is supposed to be ending their fund drive and they are $100,000 short of their target goal. KPFA has the best fundraising (because it has the richest base) of any Pacifica radio station. WBAI is teetering due to already being in debt. No one thought to send anyone to Kentucky and despite the fact that all the Pacifica stations have listeners in Kentucky, no one thought to ask one of them to file some sort of report or, for that matter, to interview Evan Bright. We'll come back to Evan. Lila Garrett talks a good game about caring about Iraqis, she talks a good game. But when it came to an Iraqi teenager who was gang-raped and murdered by US soldiers? Where were you, Lila? We know where Margret Prescond was -- on the corner whoring for Barack. Remember that when Maggie The Cat wants to tell you yet again how wonderful she is and how she interviewed Hugo Chavez and how she . . . Didn't do s**t.

I'm not overly fond of Amy Goodman. I'd love to right now be able to point to someone else but Amy's the only one who consistently was aware of Abeer. It was never more than headlines but when Goodman's getting ready to go to bed, she can tell herself, "I did cover it." And she did. Credit where it's due. Not as much but also deserving credit, Andrea Lewis on KPFA. Andrea covered it twice. Andrea does know what actual news is. Which puts her far ahead of her morning replacement, to be honest. When Andrea co-hosted The Morning Show and when Sandra Lupien did the news breaks? They broke the story. No other radio station in the country had run with the arrest of Steven D. Green. Sandra worked her ass off and she didn't -- as Aileen does -- just grab AP and read it out loud (which some call plagiarism when you don't say "AP reports . . ."). She found the government's announcement of the arrest and found it about ten minutes after it was released and worked furiously to include it in the news break she was about to do. KPFA was the first broadcast outlet to note Steven D. Green's death.

They're short now. And why is that? Why should we give money to KPFA? They didn't send anyone to cover Abeer's case. We had Aimee Allison making a fool herself every damn morning, being the equivalent of Phyllis George, and we're supposed to pay for that? We're supposed to pay to listen to them read Associated Press stories to us that they pass off as news? We're supposed to pay for all that Barack Whoring? It's not news. It's not free speech. It is propaganda and, no surprise, they're learning people aren't going to pay for it. (See Panhandle Media for how KPFA in particular ABUSED the airwaves and the audience to WHORE for Barack.) Andrea Lewis is a functioning adult. She may be one of the few left at KPFA. But despite all the calls and e-mails and all the blog comments they've had (you can leave comments at their archives) asking why they weren't covering the Green trial, the only KPFA employee who seemed to think "Maybe in a fundraising cycle it's really not good to piss off our audience?" was Andrea. When the layoffs come, they need to start way at the top. When the layoffs come they need to start with the execs who allowed this to go on and who have turned The Morning Show into two hours that no one can listen to because it's a daily sermonette (preached strongest by Brother Mitch Jeserich in that hideous "Washington Letter") on the Glory and Goodness of St. Barack. Instead of sending Mitch to DC to reach his hands down St. Barack's pants, maybe the money could have been spent reporting on the War Crimes trial coz, pay attention, in ten years when Pacifica really needs to beg for money, their happy time chatter about Barack won't be worth s**t but if they could say "We covered the War Crimes trial" they might have have impressed someone. That's especially true of Free Speech Radio News which appears to be utilizing all of their energies currently to demonstrate that they are not "free speech" nor are they news. Message received. May you share warm reminisces . . . on the unemployment line.

[KPFA friends in offices -- not on air -- wanted it noted that KPFA ended up $50,000 short, not $100,000. It was a little befor 4:00 p.m. PST when the snapshot went up Friday and C.I. had been on the phone with KPFA thirty minutes before dictating the snapshot, at which time the station was stating it was $100,000 short. They also wanted it noted that its "Letters from Washington" -- the name of Mitch Jeserich's series. Yes, and C.I.'s referring to it daily and calling it "Washington Letter."]

Turning to televison. I have friends with The NewsHour and I know they are re-tooling the show. That's no excuse for their silence on this story. That's no excuse for not covering it. For those wondering, PBS does have a member station in Paducah, Kentucky (where the trial was held), WKPD. There's no reason they couldn't have partnered with that station to cover it. There's no reason -- other than it wouldn't let her be the airhead she loves to be -- that Washington Week couldn't have covered the trial in their gas bag way. (For those not aware of it, even under Gwen, Washington Week has brought reporters on to do a report and not gas bag, they're usually reporting by remote from outside the studio.) PBS is broadcast television. The network news? Damn disgusting. And it's really sad that when we finally do have a woman anchor that the gang-rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager by US soldiers isn't seen as news. It's really sad.

MSNBC? They don't do news, kids. They think they do comedy and that actually is funny. CNN? CNN covered this story starting in 2006. They have always covered the story. While MSNBC and Fox 'News' served up pompous wind bags, CNN offered news. They deserve a lot of credit for the reports they did -- including the reports done by Dave Alsup and Deborah Feyerick on the Green trial. Yet again, CNN proved they are in the news business. They may be the only ones, but they are in it.

The weeklies?

Newsweek couldn't be bothered. When can they be? TIME magazine offered a report by Jim Frederick who has long covered the story and who is writing a book on Green's unit. US News & World Reports? Stop, you're making us laugh. The Nation? Oh that is funny. You think any of those useless writers at The Nation gives a damn about Abeer. Ugly Girl Katha Pollitt who poses as a feminist? What has that useless woman ever done? Not real damn much. She's trashed the NAACP, true. That made her feel good, I guess. What a proud moment for White Katha, lecturing the NAACP on what she thinks they should focus on. How they were wasting their time complaining about the unfair portrayals on TV and the lack of them. But what does Katha do but kvetch and moan every two weeks about something in the media. Real problems? Katha doesn't have time for them. And she never had time for Abeer. It was almost one year after the War Crimes were known that, under tremendous pressure, Katha was forced to mention Abeer. Which she did . . . for a half-sentence. The self-styled den mother of the push-up bra set of 'feminists,' the 21st century's Charlotte Rae, Katha Pollitt, take your bow. Ruth Conniff? She makes Katha look like a deep thinker. The Progressive's a monthly but, no, it didn't cover Abeer. There was time for Matthew Rothschild to come out of the closet this week but no time for Abeer. Never time for Abeer. Well, hey, Matthew Rothschild, what he's really like, him telling us that, does qualify as news, right? News you can use? No, it's more naval gazing from the man who is far too intimate with his own pot belly and who, honestly, should have grasped long ago that, as a news topic, he's just not interesting.

Reuters, UPI, AFP and AP filed stories. AP was fortunate to have Brett Barrouquere who has covered the story for nearly three years and may know it better -- all the ins and outs -- than any other reporter who has followed the story. AP's not really fond of bylines. They're not really fond of reporters names. They prefer their 'product' be known and not individuals -- their 'product' is not the news reports, they mean "Associated Press." Well tough, because Brett Barrouquere deserves praise for the work he's long done on this story and, his own natural talents aside, he's also the strongest argument for keeping reporters on stories. Other outlets should learn something from that. In a reporter's universe, 'heaven' may be tenacity paying off. If so, Brett's earned his joy.

And then there's Evan Bright. The 18-year-old high school senior, one who's not even necessarily planning to be a reporter, one who wasn't even aware the case over six months ago. But he reported -- REPORTED -- on the case. He was in the court room every day. During the last four weeks we've been treated to a load of sanctimonous claims about the power of the newspapers and how important they are and how much they matter to democracy and how we need to give them a bail out and blah, blah, blah. No national newspaper put a reporter in a court room every day. Evan Bright put himself in that court room. When the US media system failed (excepting only Brett's work for AP), Evan Bright was there. Instead of bailing out newspapers, maybe Congress can fund Evan's college career? Evan's offered closing thoughts on the trial here.
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