April 08, 2004

Misreporting the Uprising in Iraq: How Media Misses the Story

It's the Media, Stupid.

Danny Shecter, www.mediachannel.com: For the most
part, the US media, even while reporting on the
deterioration of the situation in Iraq, continues to
mimic the government's desired media message. That
view puts all the blame for the violence largely onto
the actions of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has
been described as an unrepresentative, mentally
unbalanced mullah bent on violence. He is depicted as
a hot head, an outlaw and a terrorist. This
demonization rarely has been backed up with
documentation or detailed analysis.

Break the Bush Cabal's Stranglehold on the "US
Mainstream News Media," Show Up for Democracy in 2004:
Defeat Bush (again!)


http://www.mediachannel.org/views/dissector/affalert171.shtml

Misreporting the Uprising in Iraq: How Media Misses the Story

By Danny Schechter
MediaChannel.org

NEW YORK, April 7, 2004 -- It's the oldest story in
the world: what goes up, comes down. All the bluster,
PR, "positive" press, bullying, distortion, deception,
and military tough-guyism cannot keep a flawed policy
afloat. The invasion of Iraq, sold as the "liberation
of the Iraqi people," was always a movie with a bad
script, flawed characters, and no third act.

Despite all the Bremer ballast served up about how
only a handful of Saddam-worshipping, al-Sadr-loving,
Al-Qaeda-following fanatics stand in the way of a
US-imposed democratic paradise, the reality on the
ground suggests otherwise. A Sunni-Shia opposition
movement is emerging, and gathering steam.

The body count climbs with every passing hour. As of
April 7, more than 30 US soldiers have been killed and
24 wounded. At least 160 Iraqis are dead reportedly.

For the most part, the US media, even while reporting
on the deterioration of the situation in Iraq,
continues to mimic the government's desired media
message. That view puts all the blame for the violence
largely onto the actions of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada
al-Sadr, who has been described as an
unrepresentative, mentally unbalanced mullah bent on
violence. He is depicted as a hot head, an outlaw and
a terrorist. This demonization rarely has been backed
up with documentation or detailed analysis.

Behind the details of the various fire fights and
clashes, behind the coverage of a US missile that
struck a mosque or even the barbaric images of
American military contractors or mercenaries killed
and hung on a bridge is a context that most of our
media has missed.

Most US media has not had access to the battlefield.
There was only one embedded reporter, Tony Perry from
The Los Angeles Times present in Falluja?. Some
network reporters have acknowledged that "it is not
safe" to leave their offices. Reports on Iraq are now
coming out of Pentagon press offices.

Rahul Mahajan, author of several books on Iraq, says:
"We're being told a convenient and self-serving [story
about] a few barbaric 'isolated extremists' from the
'Saddamist stronghold' of Falluja who killed four
contractors."

"The truth is rather different," Mahajan told me.
"Falluja, although heavily Sunni Arab, was hardly in
Saddam's pocket. Its imams got into trouble for
refusing to obey his orders to praise him personally
during prayers." According to the author, Falluja
became a hotbed of resistance on April 28, 2003, when
U.S. troops opened fire on a group of 100 to 200
peaceful protesters. Fifteen protesters were killed.

"They claimed they were returning gunfire, but Human
Rights Watch investigated and found that the bullet
holes in the area were inconsistent with that story --
and, furthermore, every Iraqi witness maintained that
the crowd was unarmed. Two days later, another three
protesters were killed," reported Mahajan.

So, looked at from a middle-eastern perspective, this
uprising was seen in defensive terms, not offensive.
It was triggered by US military actions, which were
perceived by Iraqis as acts of war against them.

Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force Colonel and teacher
at the National War College, shared this view on
events in Falluja with me:

"We have to remember that this was not spontaneous. We
started it. It began when the CPA decided to exert a
degree of greater control. Moves were made against
Moqtada al-Sadr, then into Falluja. With al-Sadr, the
sequence was first his newspaper, then the arrest of a
deputy."

The significant conclusion, however, has to be that we
did not have control of the country, Gardiner said.
This type of perspective is all too often missing in
media coverage.

"We are seeing fighting of a new character. In Ramadi,
it was an attack of around 100 against a Marine
position. That's new. In Falluja, we've seen the bad
guys fight to hold defensive positions. That's new."

Colonel Gardiner is not optimistic about the odds for
coalition forces to cope with this new style of
combat:

"We have to keep in mind that the military and
political leadership in the United States have been
terrible at assessing the situation in Iraq, going
back to when the plan for the invasion was put
together. I've not heard any good assessment of what's
going on now."

If the reporting on the US military campaign is
fundamentally flawed, its meaning is often obscured,
wrote Robert Fisk of The Independent in London:

"The grim truth, however, is that the occupying powers
are now facing insurrection of various strengths in
almost every big city in Iraq. Yet they are still not
confronting that truth," writes Fisk.

For the past nine nights, Fisk reports, the main US
base close to Baghdad airport -- and the area around
the terminals -- has come under mortar fire. "But the
occupying powers have kept this secret."

They would prefer to tell us that the US occupation is
working, that democracy is right around the corner.

Dahr Jamail, who writes for the website Electronic
Iraq, blames US media coverage for reinforcing a
government propaganda view that distorts what is going
on. "[T]here is a horrendous disparity between what is
really occurring on the ground and what the Western
corporate media chooses to report," he wrote last
week.

Jamail recently spent nine weeks in Iraq working as a
freelance independent journalist. In many of his
dispatches he tells of Western media either
mis-reporting or not reporting stories as they arose.

"The signs were glaring -- from the parking lot full
of parked white SUV's in the middle of the day,
supposedly used by the CNN and Fox news crews, to the
absence of ABC, NBC, or CBS media crews at any of the
sites of the news stories I was covering. Even stories
that were on the front pages stateside are regularly
being covered from the press room and not the field"

But now, reality is fast intruding on the military and
the media. The 'we-are-winning-the-war-for democracy'
news frame is no longer credible.

As the Tet Offensive negatively affected perceptions
of a US victory in Vietnam, this uprising in Iraq is
having the same effect around the world.

Confidence in the US mission is being shattered with
every firefight and civilian and GI casualty.

The American people have been watching all of this in
horror from afar, but not being told what's really
going on. As the casualties continue to climb, the
truth may be harder to miss.

-- New Dissector Danny Schechter writes a daily blog
on Mediachannel.org. His latest book, "Embedded:
Weapons of Mass Deception" (Prometheus Books),
examines media coverage of the war on Iraq.

MediaChannel.org, 2004. All rights reserved.

Posted by richard at April 8, 2004 08:50 PM