Friday, May 20, 2005

De facto censorship in Iraq?

A disturbing account from an American reporter who has spent ten months trying to figure out what the rebels in Iraq actually want to accomplish, not by listening to American talking heads, but by actually talking to the rebels themselves. Apparently, the American authorities are none too sympathetic with the project:

I could go into a long litany of the ways in which the American military has treated journalists in Iraq. Recent actions indicate that the U.S. military will detain and/or kill any journalist who happens to be caught covering the Iraqi side of the militant resistance, and indeed a number of journalists have been killed by U.S. troops while working in Iraq. This behavior at the moment seems to be limited to journalists who also happen to be Arabs, or Arab-looking, but that is only a tangential story to what I'm telling you about here.

The intimidation to not work on this story was evident. Dexter Filkins, who writes for The New York Times, related a conversation he had in Iraq with an American military commander just before we left. Dexter and the commander had gotten quite friendly, meeting up sporadically for a beer and a chat. Towards the end of one of their conversations, Dexter declined an invitation for the next day by explaining that he'd lined up a meeting with a "resistance guy." The commander's face went stony cold and he said, "We have a position on that." For Dexter the message was clear. He cancelled the appointment. And, again, this is not meant as any criticism of the military; they have a war to win, and dominating the "message," or the news is an integral part of that war. The military has a name for it, "information operations," and the aim is to achieve information superiority in the same way they would seek to achieve air superiority. If you look closely, you will notice there is very little, maybe even no direct reporting on the resistance in Iraq. We do, however, as journalists report what the Americans say about the resistance. Is this really anything more than stenography?

Many things about the situation in Iraq have made it all but impossible to know what is really going on there. The U.S. military's effort to quash reporting is only one dimension. The Iraqi resistance itself of course also targets journalists (Occidental ones, anyway), including journalists who are sympathetic to their cause -- recall why Sgrena was kidnapped in the first place.

All of this is a main reason why I have a skeptical view of the think-pieces or general assessments that journalists pen about Iraq. The one thing that seems fairly reliable are the statistics about the number of car bombings and casualties. And those things certainly do not seem to be trending in a positive direction.

1 comment:

Jack Mercer said...

But then again, with so many lies on both sides, who can you believe?

Answer: No one.