Sunday, December 13, 2009

NPR keeps selling the wars (Ava and C.I.)

As it continues to depend on listener donations and tax payer monies, you might think NPR would stop selling war. You might think that . . . if you didn't listen.

Last week was one horror show after another where NPR journalists crossed lines, where listeners were misinformed (try: lied to) about guests and where it was non-stop propaganda. Now those listening to NPR in the early months of 2003 were aware of this garbage but it was supposed to 'tone down' and, NPR-ers swore, as the wars continued, they would make time for guests who might offer something other than White House spin. Apparently, all this time later, that day has still not arrived.


Who is Tom Bowen? He's billed as NPR's Pentagon correspondent. His December 11th performance on Morning Edition begs to differ. Even with host Renee Montagne prompting him with "they," he still felt the need to 'inform,' "And then we saw one of these guys throw this jug into a haystack."

Did we?

Bowen and other journalists saw this?

No, Bowen claims he saw this and the rest of the 'we' is some members of the US military. "We." Tom Bowen, serving proudly as a military propagandists if red-faced as a journalist.

The Afghanistan report would have you believe that "we" (Bowen and the military) had a perfect view of what was happening. In fact, everything was 'perfect,' a little bit too perfect. Which had us making phone calls (what so many call 'reporting') where we learned from a Major stationed in Afghanistan that despite Bowman's 'perfect storm' report, there was no perfection.

Bowman makes a plea (he's not only doing propaganda passed off as reporting, he's doing advocacy journalism) for the 'chains to come off' and the boots on the ground to be allowed to fight. He slants the entire 'report' to these poor, poor boots on the ground (the ones he's with) who wanted to kill some Afghans that they just 'knew' were terrorists but higher ups wouldn't let them.

The Major told us that the story was not as airtight as Bowman asserts. An intercepted radio call (which Bowman did not hear, despite presenting on air as if he had) had no revelations of bomb planting. Nothing that even held up as 'suspicious.' That's really important because Bowman puts forward that it did and, as even the Major wondered, what is his agenda?

From the story he filed (which was pure fairy tale and may as well have ended with "and they all lived happily ever after . . ."), his agenda appears to be pushing for the rules of engagement to be lowered. Bowman apparently self-styles as the new Geraldo.

We would further suggest that eight years after the Afghanistan War started, there's no excuse for a statement like this being passed off as context or perspective: "They [US military] want to kill insurgents who are trying to kill them, but their job is to make sure they only fire when they're very sure of their targets." Left unstated was why the so-called 'insurgents' (or native people) might want to kil the US military. But maybe providing those basics would have cut into the time Bowman made to whine and complain and present a 'report' which disagrees with US Gen Stanley McChrystal that the standards don't need to be lowered anymore.

Then again, maybe we should just be grateful NPR's decided to disagree with McChrystal? They generally treat him as a god jogging down from Mount Olympus.

Take December 10th when Morning Edition aired Steve Inskeep's 'interview' which allowed McChrystal to sing the praises of counter-insurgency with no questioning on Inskeep's part.

Steve Inskeep: Is this, in some very real sense, a political campaign?

Gen Stanley McChrystal: It's absolutely a political campaign. All insurgencies and counterinsurgencies are a struggle for the support of the people. To say it's winning the hearts and minds is overly simplistic. It's really winning credibility and legitimacy with the people. It's - for the government, it's convincing the people that they can provide for their basic needs, and that the people recognized that government as legitimate. The insurgent tries to undercut that and then they try to offer an alternative concept. The Taliban's weakness is they have a track record. They did govern Afghanistan, and they didn't do it very well.

Steve Inskeep: Is your side's weakness also that the Afghan government has a track record and is not seen as very credible in a lot of parts of the country?

Gen Stanley McChrystal: It's the biggest challenge. In fact, the government of Afghanistan has got to understand, and I think it does. But it needs to address the fact that it must be credible and legitimate. To the degree to which it struggles for that, it will remain difficult.

Steve Inskeep: How would you evaluate the quality of the Afghan security forces at this moment?

We include Inskeep's question to demonstrate that he changes the subject instead of pursuing it.

Counter-insurgency is war on a native population. (And "counter-insurgency" is how it's been spelled throughout history despite the Pentagon's decision to begin spelling it "counterinsurgency" this decade.) As Justin Raimondo (Antiwar) observed last week:

This effort to create a kinder, gentler form of colonialism, to make a military occupation a true labor of love, is part and parcel of the loony faux-Maoist "COIN" strategy championed by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), whose policy wonks have captured the civilian leadership of the Pentagon. Their efforts to construct a "smart" version of George W. Bush's "war on terrorism" on the Af-Pak front are imbued with just the sort of pseudo-scientific claptrap that allows liberals to think they can similarly "experiment" -- as Gen. Petraeus puts it -- on the American people as well.

Justin Rainmondo won't be booked by NPR. No one who talks about counter-insurgency apparently will be. From Inskeep's interview:

Gen Stanley McChrystal: I'm smiling because that is the insurgent strategy. They try to do several things. They try to separate the government from the people and undermine the credibility of the government. They try to separate security forces from the people by increasing pressure on them, and they try to keep development away. So if they can keep NGOs away and they can keep other development expertise, then they can go to the people and say, look, you are not benefiting from the government. It doesn't protect you. It doesn't provide development. It can't provide rule of law. So our requirement on the other side is the Afghan government and all the coalition partners and the NGOs are to push that back, try to establish enough security so that we can then bring those things in. The partnership we have between military forces and the civilian elements of all kind is incredibly important.

You can spin about counter-insurgency and be on NPR, last week demonstrated that you can't tell the truth about it and be on NPR.

Doubt us?

December 9th, Robert Siegel (All Things Considered) was interviewing 'expert' Doug Ollivant about Iraq and we were disturbed by that long before Siegel offered "he now has a private security consulting business." We were disturbed because Ollivant was a counter-insurgency guru. We were disturbed because, December 3rd, the American Anthropological Association's Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities issued their [PDF format] "Final Report on The Army's Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program" -- a report which called out counter-insurgency. But NPR never filed a story on it.

We were disturbed because while NPR was silent, others were reporting including Patricia Cohen (New York Times), Dan Vergano (USA Today), Yudhijit Bhattacharjee (Science Magazine) and Steve Kolowich (Inside HigherEd). We were disturbed because, Friday, Tom A. Peter (Christian Science Monitor) became the latest to report on this issue noting, "Today the program enjoys a core of supporters, but it's done little to address the concerns of anthropologists and, now, rising military complaints that the program has slowed the growth of the military's ability to train culturally sensitive warriors." The latest until this morning when Chistopher Shay reported for Time magazine:

But if the military's program is to continue its expansion in Afghanistan with the nation's top scholars, it may be facing an uphill battle. The AAA says the program violates its code of ethics — a sort of Hippocratic Oath in which anthropologists vow to do no harm. Two years ago, the AAA condemned the HTS program, but this month's 72-page report goes into much greater detail about the potential for the military to misuse information that social scientists gather; some anthropologists involved in the report say it's already happening. David Price, a professor of anthropology at St. Martins University in Washington and one of the co-authors of the AAA report, says the army appears to be using the anthropological information to better target the enemy, which, if true, would be a gross violation of the anthropological code. One Human Terrain anthropologist told the Dallas Morning News that she wasn't worried if the information she provided was used to kill or capture an insurgent. "The reality is there are people out there who are looking for bad guys to kill," she said. "I'd rather they did not operate in a vacuum." Price and other critics see this as proof that the anthropologists don't have full control over the information they gather and that commanders can use it to kill. "The real fault with Human Terrain is that it doesn't even try to protect the people being studied," says Price. "I don't think it's accidental that [the Pentagon] didn't come up with ethical guidelines."

Bit by bit, the AAA's report is getting covered. Just not by NPR. Who would ever have forseen the day when NPR -- whose roots are in educational radio -- would censor a report by the American Anthropological Association?

But that is what they've done and what they've repeatedly done.

You can come on and talk up counter-insurgency, you just can't note the ethical problems with it.

You can now be a 'security consultant' and NPR will promote you (allowing you to note "as heard on NPR . . .") as they did Ollivant, you can be the co-author of "Producing Victory: Rethinking Conventional Forces in Counterinsurgency Operations" and you'll be invited on to pontificate in your wordy albiet fact-free manner. They won't question you, they won't put you on the spot and they certainly won't bring up the American Anthropological Association's report -- despite the fact that all the NPR hosts and reporters strive to appear learned.

We have to drop back to 2007 to find someone invited on who called out counter-insurgency -- David Price was part of a panel (with pro-counter-insurgency advocates Monty McFate, Col John Agoglia and Lt. Col. Edward Villacres -- a three-to-one imbalance) on The Diane Rehm Show (see the October 11, 2007 snapshot for a transcript of some of the exchanges).

NPR wants to pretend that it informs listeners but the reality is it promotes wars and broadcast a ton of spin and a ton of lies. Sometimes from their own reporters, sometimes from the mouths of guests.

Doug Ollivant is not an expert on anything but self-promotion. Last week, speaking with Siegel, he declared, "Likewise, the Sunni insurgency has been caught up in the Sons of Iraq movement. It's beginning to be integrated into the Iraqi army, Iraqi security forces, other government jobs. They're no longer on the battlefield." Sahwa (aka "Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq") has not been "integrated." It takes a lot of stupid to assert that they have been and it takes a lot of cowardice on Robert Siegel's part not to correct the record.

Last month, The Telegraph of London reported, "The Sunni fighters have also been angered that the Shia-led Baghdad administration has integrated only 20 per cent of its estimated 100,000 members into the security forces." Last week, conservative political commentator Pat Buchanan (The Jacksonville Observer) wrote, "The Sons of Iraq now say the Shia government reneged on its pledge to pay their wages and bring them into the army." Commenting on last Tuesday's Baghdad bombings which resulted in at least 127 people dead and nearly 500 wounded, Ranj Alaaldin (The Guardian) explained, "Observers may also suggest the bombings can be attributed to Maliki's failure to incorporate Sons of Iraq fighters -- who were essential in the fight against al-Qaida -- into public sector jobs. Granted, by isolating these Sunnis you add yet another element of uncertainty into the pre-election environment. But the state is unable to handle the huge demand for public sector jobs, especially since it has such a weak private sector." We could go on and on but the previous establishes that the Sahwa have not been integrated. Not only that but an Arab media report last week by Dar Al Hayat stated that the there's a plan to cut off payments to Sahwa at the end of this month.

But Doug Ollivant is an 'expert' and his statements aren't questioned. NPR would go a long way towards informing their listeners if their hosts would learn to question and correct these 'informed guests.' For example, on the topic of Afghanistan, the following exchange aired on December 8th's To The Point (heard on many NPR stations):

Julian E. Barnes: The debate over the money will happen every year and uh that is -- that is probably the most important way that Congress will-will voice support but there's uh-uh no indication that there's enough doubt about this uh to withold that funding or to -- or to try to change the president's policy.

Warren Olney: Is the funding the same structurally as it was for Iraq during the Bush administration?

Julian E. Barnes: Well uh, no, President Obama has-was critical of how the Bush funded his uh the war through supplementals and they ended that uh-uh practice. It remains to be seen whether they will uh be forced to ask for a supplemental for this surge like Bush did or whether they'll be able to use the budget sumbission in February to uh to pay for this but it's more likely than not that there will be another-another vote that Congress will have to take on war funding.

Obama "ended that uh-uh practice"? That's a statement. You make it, you better be able to back it up. But instead of backing up his statement factually, The Los Angeles Times' Julian E. Barnes attempts to back track stating that, "more likely than not," Barack Obama will be using supplemental funding to pay for the Afghanistan surge. More likely than not? That would mean he hasn't ended the practice.

Someday, people will begin to grasp how their actions -- intentionally or not -- enabled Barack to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Barnes' statements should be included on that list and someone might wonder at what point one of NPR's hosts steps in and asks, "Well which is it?" Until they can do that, the myth of the peace continues while the death tolls from the wars keep mounting.
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