Sunday, February 08, 2009

NYT goes tabloid

If you're doubting how bad the economic crisis is, note that last week saw The New York Times merge with another outlet to become The New York Enquirer Times which featured their own Steven Lee Myer's "Women Held by Iraq Is Accused of Recruiting Suicide Bombers."


That was big 'news' for the tabloid of record and Myers was bound and determined to leave qualifiers to the headline writer as he furiously pounded away:

She went by the code name "the mother of believers," Samira Ahmed Jassim al-Azzawi confessed. Ms. Jassim recruited women to join extremists in Diyala Province, escorting them to a farm for training and ultimately to their targets.

Speaking stiffly in a crude police video, Ms. Jassim recounted the fate of a woman she called only Um Huda, whom she had led to a neighborhood bank that served as her rendezvous point. "When I was talking to her, she was not answering or looking at me," Ms. Jassim said. "She was mumbling verses of the Koran."

She did all of this! Not she's accused of doing, she did. She did! She did!!!!!

Samira Ahmed Jassim al-Azzawi was arrested Janury 21st. Until February 3rd, the Iraqi government said nothing about her, didn't even note her arrest. February 3rd, 13 days after she's arrested, they trot her out for a for-show, video confession and no one's supposed to be skeptical? Not even an allegedly trained and professional press?

To be fair, not everyone turned in tabloid stories. Deborah Haynes (Times of London) and Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) are two who managed to remember that someone charged is a suspect. For example, here's how Susman reported the video confession, "There was no way to independently verify the video's authenticity, but the use of female suicide bombers has soared in the last year."

But Myers was too busy getting all hot and bothered. The story had bombs! It had women! It had rape! Breathing harder than the most devoted Marty Scorsese fan trying to make the case for Boxcar Bertha's 'artistic' merits, Steven Lee was sniffing Pulitzer! Or at least his own fingers! Type, type, he must type!

The tawdry, made-for-tabloid story always should have raised eyebrows but that only became more clear as the lurid details continued to pile on.

It quickly went from the woman recruiting bombers, to her recruiting rape victims to be bombers, to her arranging for the women to be raped so that they would become bombers. Where do you go after that? Really, where do you go?

"The Mother Of All Believers" was actually a bordello? Samira used a strap-on and raped the women herself?

What's left when your story is already over the top?

And when it's that over the top, skepticism is especially important. While the US has learned Oprah has no skepticism and will be taken in repeatedly by any grinning huckster, journalists are supposed to be skeptical. It's hard wired into the profession if not into individual DNA.

Iraqi 'justice' is known for abusing prisoners. Iraqi 'justice' is known for abusing female prisoners. The very fact that Samira was arrested January 21st and it wasn't an issue until Feb. 3rd goes to how did it become an issue?

If they thought they'd captured 'The Mother Of All Bombers,' why the sudden reticence? Captured 'terrorists' -- alleged or real -- or generally announced within hours of the arrest or death. But Samira -- big terrorist she allegedly is -- wasn't considered news until long after she was arrested.

Thursday would see a bomber take out 16 lives as well as . . . her own. Her. That's what some reports stated. Hmm. "The Mother Of All Believers" (aka 'The Mother Of All Bombers') is in Iraqi custody and yet it appears a female bomber took her own life and that of 16 other people.

Wasn't Samira supposed to be the 'ringleader'? Oh, well, maybe there is "An Aunt Of All Believers"? Or "A Big Sister Of All Believers"?

There's got to be something, right? Samira had been in custody for fifteen days when the bombing took place.

Out of all the 'suicide bombers' in 2008, 30 are thought to have been women. Thirty. No, it's not even half for 2008. But it's treated as an epidemic. It's the new 'trend' story and, like most 'trend' stories, no one can back it up. Remember 2007's big 'trend' story? Newsweek offered it. Young women in northern Iraq, in the Kurdish region, were setting themselves on fire -- sometimes dying, other times being left horribly scarred -- because it was the new 'in thing' to do. They did it to prove how much they loved!

No, it didn't make sense. It didn't make sense even as you read it.

And what would emerge was that some young women were setting themselves on fire and some young women were being set on fire but not for 'fun' or because it was a new 'fad'. It was happening due to 'honor'. The young women had allegedly 'dishonored' their families. In other words, these women were victimized but the corporate media didn't want to tell that story. It was so much more 'fun' to make it appear setting yourself on fire was the Kurdish equivalent of getting a body piercing.

It was insulting to those young women and, thing is, the coverage is usually insulting to women. When it's a woman, some 'special explanation' is needed. A group of young boys start showing up dead from flames, people aren't going to try to reconstruct 'inner lives' for boys they never met; they're going to try to figure out how they got around flames. The society, the surrounding exterior landscape, is going to be explored. With women, the reporters always want to go 'deductive' based on, apparently, some very self-destructive women they think they knew.

Which is how gender gets pathologized time and again.

That 30 women might have been suicide bombers in Iraq in 2008 isn't surprising. It's surprising that only 30 would be. But the response is natural when your country is occupied and everyone around you is dying or getting rounded up. And the response is seen as natural by the press . . . when it's a man. When it's a man, there's no hand wringing, no cries of Why! Oh! Why!

And that's apparently so irresistible that no one ever needs to be a skeptic, no one needs to question or qualify. So someone says, "This woman is the leader of the suicide bombers!" and you run with it. Trials? No one gets a fair trial in Baghdad so why should you fret over that? You've got a tabloid report to file.

And being a tabby doesn't leave a lot of time for actual news.

For example, the Minister of Women's Affairs, Nawal Al Samarrai, turned in her resignation last week due to the fact that she's not been provided with the necessary resources. She explained to Waleed Ibrahim, Michael Christie and Katie Nguyen (Reuters), "This ministry with its current title cannot cope with the needs of Iraqi women." The Times of India adds, "Samarrai, who took office in July 2008 and had recently chaired two committees on improving the conditions of women and another on the breast cancer, said she would seek a position where she could actually help women."

Nawal al Samurrai

Nawal Al Samarrai was actually news but she didn't leave reporters panting kiss-kiss-bang-bang so there was no time made for her.
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