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Oct 10 2008

Unbalanced coverage-2: More examples

(I wrote the first post in this two-part series some time ago. I got distracted by the bailout and political coverage.)

There are a few journalists in the US who push the boundaries of the propaganda envelope to the extent that they can to try to get at the facts. What they report is not pretty, which is why the government tries very hard to suppress such efforts.

Seymour Hersh in a speech in 2006 describes how civilian deaths in Iraq get mysteriously transformed into enemy combatants.

[Hersh] described one video in which American soldiers massacre a group of people playing soccer. 


“Three U.S. armed vehicles, eight soldiers in each, are driving through a village, passing candy out to kids,” he began. “Suddenly the first vehicle explodes, and there are soldiers screaming. Sixteen soldiers come out of the other vehicles, and they do what they’re told to do, which is look for running people.” 



“Never mind that the bomb was detonated by remote control,” Hersh continued. “[The soldiers] open up fire; [the] cameras show it was a soccer game.” 



“About ten minutes later, [the soldiers] begin dragging bodies together, and they drop weapons there. It was reported as 20 or 30 insurgents killed that day,” he said. 



If Americans knew the full extent of U.S. criminal conduct, they would receive returning Iraqi veterans as they did Vietnam veterans, Hersh said. 



“In Vietnam, our soldiers came back and they were reviled as baby killers, in shame and humiliation,” he said. “It isn’t happening now, but I will tell you – there has never been an [American] army as violent and murderous as our army has been in Iraq.”

As far as I can tell, this horrific incident did not get much coverage in the major media.

Meanwhile in the other conflict, Russia has recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a move condemned by the US and western Europe. This has caused predictable outrage from the administration and the media about Russia seeking to forcibly change national boundaries, but don’t hold your breath expecting any reporter to ask Bush (or Obama or McCain) how this differs from US recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, which took place in February of this year, following the earlier breakup of Yugoslavia and the forcible separation of Kosovo from Serbia by NATO.

One can multiply such examples over and over. NPR on August 26, 2008 reported that the people of South Ossetia, who want to secede from Georgia and join up with Russia, justified their case by reporting all kinds of atrocities by Georgian troops, such as ripping open the bellies of pregnant Ossetian women, that justified the Russian response. The reporter rightly said that there had been no evidence produced that such things had actually occurred.

But that reporter’s skepticism in this case made me recall the similar lurid allegations made about Iraqi troops after they invaded Kuwait in 1990, saying that they were taking incubators away from hospitals and taking them back to Iraq, leaving babies to die.

A young woman named Nayirah appeared in front of a congressional committee. She told the committee, “I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where 15 babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the babies on the cold floor to die.

These reports were uncritically accepted as true by reporters and used to inflame public opinion against Iraq. Human rights groups like Amnesty International reported that 312 babies had died as a result of this atrocity.

Reporters did not seek independent confirmation of this sensational report. They did not even seek to find out who this mysterious young woman was who gave such dramatic testimony. It was only much later that it was revealed that this entire incubator story had been concocted by the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton which was working for the Kuwaiti government and was friendly with then president George H. W. Bush, and that the “eyewitness” Nayirah was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US and had not seen any of the things she claimed she had.

Similar unsubstantiated stories appeared at the UN a few weeks later, where a team of “witnesses,” coached by Hill & Knowlton, gave “testimony” (although no oath was ever taken) about atrocities in Iraq. It was later learned that the seven witnesses used false names and even identities in one case. In an unprecedented move, the US was allowed to present a video created by Hill & Knowlton to the entire security council.

(For some other examples of the media uncritically passing on government lies, see here.)

This is why I always suspend judgment and never believe the lurid stories that come out during times of crisis, especially if they reflect badly on ‘them’. The media simply cannot be trusted to provide balanced coverage and until I hear of real evidence my presumption is that they are uncritically passing on government propaganda.

POST SCRIPT: Mr. Puddles, where are you?

The Daily Show manages to make the boring debate absolutely hilarious.

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