Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Media's Choice

[posted by Callimachus]

This opens a series of posts that will run here over the next few days. It expands the account written by my friend Kat, who worked in Iraq for a contractor in infrastructure reconstruction. That story was told in outline here.

A large part of her message is her frustration with the lack of media coverage of work such as she did for almost two years.

[O]ut of the more than 200 project completions and section completions we and government sources reported to the press, only two that I know of ever reached outside the country in the MSM, and those two were buried in a report about an increase in oil production. That's it. That’s the whole show. That's all of the reporting anyone ever got from four major irrigation systems, twelve major water supply systems, and twelve major oil and natural gas systems.

... Unless reporting can be described as burying oneself in a few relatively safe places with others of one's own kind, [the Western press] have missed far more than they have covered. It is difficult for myself and many others to have respect for western journalists in Iraq because they so very rarely committed themselves to actually going out and covering what was going on.

... Instead, we have been rewarded with many opportunities to watch the MSM congratulate itself on its outstanding job performance. It has been particularly interesting to watch as press members critiqued their own performances, with all of them sincerely questioning if they’ve indeed covered the war in a balanced and fair way. Their verdicts have been predictable, of course, and always raised a good hollow laugh from the rest of us who long ago realized that we’d never have the power to say otherwise.

The piece was well-received and got a lot of link love, and it might even have changed a few minds just a little bit.

A week or so ago I sent her a link to an interview with New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins. As the interview was written up, it justified the MSM in its lack of complete coverage of Iraq by presenting Iraq as a place too dangerous for them to go out and do their jobs. I knew this would get under her skin, and I hoped it would provoke her to writing a rebuttal to that attitude.

She did, privately, and later she agreed to let me publish it, here.

This drew a response from a commenter who calls himself "Bob." He said:

I guess your point is that the New York Times and their reporters, being part of the famous “liberal media” that we hear so much about, are just a bunch of wimps. Of course, there’s always a tie-in with a larger GOP talking point, which is that reports of chaos and violence in Iraq are just figments of the NYT’s imagination.

I read some of Filkin’s posts from Fallujah, and I remember one where he was steps behind a Marine whose face was blown off as he climbed a stairway in a minaret going after a sniper. He recounted numerous such incidents where he was in the immediate proximity of lethal violence and death. Did your friend Kat have any such experiences? I read recently that 77 journalists have been killed covering Iraq from 2002 through part of 2006. It is the most dangerous place for journalists ever, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. I assume that the death toll for foreign contractors is even higher.

This is not to diminish the courage of your friend Kat in any way. But I wonder what kind of work she did there, and whether her appearance might have allowed her to blend in easier (she looks like she could easily pass for a local, especially if she were dressed in local-style clothing with a veil—somehow I doubt that she was baring her pierced belly button on the job in Iraq). I’m sure that the level of danger depends a lot on what kind of work one is doing, and where their job takes them. Journalists are essentially out looking for trouble, which makes them relatively vulnerable. So, just for background, it might have helped to contrast the kind of work Kat does with someone who follows soldiers around in volatile hot-spots with a target on his head.

We all get the sneering put-down of the supposedly effete liberals who work for organizations like the NYT. But anyone who tries to claim that Iraq is not a dangerous place for foreigners seems to be arguing against the facts. Since you mock Filkins courage in your piece, I wonder, how many soldiers have you seen killed in action? How many mortars have blown up in your immediate vicinity? Please share . . .

And later:

I have to say again, I suspect that the subtext of your piece is to paint journalists as effete and cowardly, and imply that anyone who works for the NYT is inherently ridiculous. Let’s see: mocking those in the press who provide factual rebuttal to the overly-rosy fantasies of the Bush administration . . . what could the motive for that possibly be?

Kat would like me to be nicer to him. But I couldn't resist alerting him to the fact that the "partial listing" of non-Iraqi contractors killed in Iraq was 352, almost five times the official and carefully tallied number of dead journalists.

Add to that the fact that she, like me, voted for Gore in 2000, and you've got the bare-bones background of what follows. Originally she wrote this as a comment response to Bob, but it got too long for that. I think the girl's got a lot to say.

First post.

Second post.

Third post.