|MicahsCall reporter MT shares: The Nation magazine says that its well documented stories about abuse in the Iraq occupation have been ignored.|
The Nation: Media Advisory (8/6/07)
investigation into the U.S. occupation's impact on Iraqi civilians (7/30/07)
and a series of columns by a U.S. soldier published in the New Republic (2/5/07, 6/4/07, 7/23/07) have given media access to compelling new
documentation of egregious behavior by U.S. troops in Iraq. The New York Times and Washington
Post have responded by paying much less attention to the scrupulously
documented evidence of these abuses in the Nation and focusing on right-wing bloggers'
unsubstantiated criticisms of the New Republic
The Nation's article was based
on interviews with 50 combat veterans of the Iraq War, whose accounts were
recorded in thousands of pages of transcripts. According to the report's
authors, Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, their "investigation marks the first
time so many on-the-record, named eyewitnesses from within the U.S. military
have been assembled in one place to openly corroborate these assertions."
Meanwhile, the New Republic series was based on
eyewitness accounts by a single soldier, Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, who
wrote under the pseudonym Thomas Scott for fear of reprisals by his superiors.
Beauchamp later explained (New Republic, 7/26/07) that his columns were intended merely to offer "one
soldier's view of events in Iraq."
Despite the New Republic columns' more modest scope, the series
has garnered much more extensive media coverage over the past three weeks than
the Nation's report. It has been mentioned in
six Washington Post articles and has been the
topic of two New York Times news articles, while
the Nation article has been covered only in one
column by Bob Herbert (New York Times, 7/10/07) since it was published online on July 9.
Weekly Standard (7/19/07) responded to the New
Republic series by openly challenging the authenticity of the columnist's
accounts, and was soon joined in this effort by the U.S. military public affairs
department. A U.S. military public affairs officer confirmed to blogger Matt
Sanchez (American Spectator blog, 7/21/07) the military's "intent to engage the CENTCOM blog
team." (According to the Department of Defense's publication DefenseLink--3/2/06--the U.S. Armed Forces' Central Command "blog team" was
formed to "work with more than 250 bloggers to try to disseminate news about the
good work being done by U.S. forces in the global war on terror," and to correct
online information about the U.S. military that is, in the view of U.S. military
public affairs personnel, "inaccurate" and "incomplete.")
In the midst of
these efforts, hundreds of bloggers weighed in with their evaluations of the
New Republic series. Their efforts were given
standing in the mainstream media by the Washington
Post's Howard Kurtz, who wrote an account of the criticism on July 21.
wrote, the columnist "recounts soldiers getting their kicks by running over dogs
with Bradley Fighting Vehicles and playing with Iraqi children's skulls taken
from a mass grave." The Weekly Standard called
these stories doubtful, and Kurtz offered one reason for giving the doubts such
a prominent hearing: "The issue of veracity is especially sensitive for the
New Republic, which fired associate editor
Stephen Glass in 1998 for fabrications that editors concluded had appeared in
two-thirds of his 41 articles."
While this is true, Kurtz should have
also taken into account the Weekly Standard's
own track record: The magazine relentlessly advocated for the Iraq invasion, and
were among the most prominent outlets that alleged serious links between Iraq
and Al-Qaeda (see Extra!, 1–2/04)
piece came the Times' first story on the topic,
published under the headline "Doubts Raised on Magazine's 'Baghdad Diarist'" (7/24/07).
However, the actual "doubts" hardly warranted the attention granted them through
the article's headline. The only example the Times furnished of the New
Republic columnist's dubiousness was a quote from an editor at the Weekly Standard, who noted that in response to a call
by the Standard for knowledgeable people to help
discredit the New Republic series, "There's not
a single person that has come forward and said, 'It sounds plausible.'"
On August 2, the New Republic posted an
online response to the criticism, declaring that the magazine
had found one minor discrepancy: An incident Beauchamp reported happening at a
base in Iraq seems to have happened at a base in neighboring Kuwait. The Washington Post and New York
Times (8/3/07) printed short updates based on the New Republic's investigation.
On one of the
disputed counts—the bloggers claimed that Bradley vehicles could not possibly be
used to kill dogs—the Post noted, "A spokesman
for the vehicle's manufacturer confirmed to the New
Republic that it can be maneuvered in the way Beauchamp depicted." Why
the Post failed to investigate this matter
themselves before airing the unfounded criticism is hard to fathom.
disparity in media treatment is striking—when right-wing bloggers make unfounded
criticisms of reporting that portrays U.S. soldiers in Iraq in a bad light, the
"controversy" makes it into papers like the Post
and the New York Times, and becomes fodder for
cable news. But the Nation's thorough and
meticulous investigation of the U.S. military's mistreatment of Iraqi civilians
is all but ignored. Apparently critical war reporting is more useful to the
mainstream media when specious right-wing doubts can be cast on it.