Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ugh: embedded reporters pre-screened and censored by military

Front paged at ePluribus Media. Recommended at My Left Wing

Maybe it should be called "in bed" as opposed to "embed" when it comes to reporting the news out of Iraq. Despite all of the whining that we are constantly barraged with about there "not being enough good news reported from Iraq" we have yet another example of the destruction freedom that we are spreading around the world so we can oppress it here.

According to Rod Nordland, a former Baghdad bureau chief for Newsweek the US military has been censoring the reports coming from the "embedded journalist" program and is screening the journalists, as well as their material, in order to make sure that the news is reported in a slant acceptable to the US military.

I know. You're shocked that this would happen. But we have a detailed interview from someone who was in Baghdad for two years as bureau chief for a major publication going on record to shine another light on the fascist state that we have become. And the details are ugly.

According to the web-exclusive interview from, we find out just how bad things are for Iraqis, how much the reporting has been suppressed or massaged, how dangerous it is, even in the Green Zone, among other challenges for journalists over in Iraq.

The interview with Nordland is titled, Seven Questions: Covering Iraq and is very telling. For starters, it gets right into whether the US is getting an accurate picture of what is going on in Iraq, as well as how the Bush administration is basically lying about how things are going over there. Consider the following responses to basic questions:

FP:Are Americans getting an accurate picture of what's going on in Iraq?

Rod Nordland: It's a lot worse over here [in Iraq] than is reported. The administration does a great job of managing the news. Just an example: There was a press conference here about [Abu Musab al] Zarqawi's death, and somebody asked what role [U.S.] Special Forces played in finding Zarqawi. [The official] either denied any role or didn't answer the question. Somebody pointed out that the president, half an hour earlier, had already acknowledged and thanked the Special Forces for their involvement. They are just not giving very much information here.

FP:The Bush administration often complains that the reporting out of Iraq is too negative, yet you say they are managing the news. What's the real story?

Nordland: You can only manage the news to a certain degree. It is certainly hard to hide the fact that in the third year of this war, Iraqis are only getting electricity for about 5 to 10 percent of the day. Living conditions have gotten so much worse, violence is at an even higher tempo, and the country is on the verge of civil war. The administration has been successful to the extent that most Americans are not aware of just how dire it is and how little progress has been made. They keep talking about how the Iraqi army is doing much better and taking over responsibilities, but for the most part that's not true.

Well, that is comforting. Is it that the administration is lying over here in the US by puffing up the Special Forces' involvement in finding Zarqawi? Or are they suppressing the news over in Iraq? Are the Iraqi officials being lied to by the US? And what else is being suppressed as far as news goes? Not that we already didn't have numerous examples of lies, puff pieces or flat out suppression of news involving torture, illegal chemical weapons or whatever else we don't know about, of course.

We know about the head in the sand approach to reporting on the civil war that is pretty much raging over there. We have heard (but not through any mainstream news outlets) about the electricity situation. We keep hearing about "standing down when they stand up" but no real truth is breaking through.

We are now finding out more reasons why this is the case. Even the "journalists" (if you can even call most of them that anymore) who are in Iraq are being told what to say, how to say it and when to say it. That is, if they haven't been kidnapped, wounded or killed.

As far as security goes - for the journalists within the Green Zone as well as with respect to being able to report the truth, we have the following disgusting truth:

FP:How often do you travel outside of the Green Zone?

Nordland: The restrictions on [journalists'] movements are very severe. It is extremely dangerous to move around anywhere in Iraq, but we do. We all have Iraqi staff who get around, and we go on trips arranged by the U.S. State Department as frequently as we can.

But the military has started censoring many [embedded reporting] arrangements. Before a journalist is allowed to go on an embed now, [the military] check[s] the work you have done previously. They want to know your slant on a story--they use the word slant--what you intend to write, and what you have written from embed trips before. If they don't like what you have done before, they refuse to take you. There are cases where individual reporters have been blacklisted because the military wasn't happy with the work they had done on embed. But we get out among the Iraqi public a whole lot more than almost any American official, certainly more than military officials do.

FP: What other challenges do journalists in Iraq face besides security?

Nordland: Iraqi officials, now that they have their own government, have become extremely bureaucratic and difficult about giving interviews. They want you to do the interview request in a very formal way. In many cases, they ask for your questions in advance. It takes a very long time for them to agree to see people. Add to that the problems of movement and curfews, and it makes getting things done that much more difficult.

Well, isn't that just special. Reporters can't actually report on the news in Iraq, even if they didn't work for a "fair and balanced" agency. Being blacklisted because you don't lie and salute Dear Leader and the rest of the neocon war criminals. I guess if you do a real good job and say, give away troop positions like Geraldo Rivera did, then you get to come back for more. But if you start to report on what is really going on there, then forget it - you lose your clearance, and are probably on a whole slew of lists.

What is more telling is that, even despite the muzzles, the journalists STILL get out to find out what is really going on way more than the military. It would make sense, as the military is presumably a hostile target for most Iraqis now but finding out what is going on every day for Iraqi citizens is probably an important thing if we want to figure out just what has gone wrong, what has gone right, what needs to be done and how to deal with civilians. If the military doesn't do it, then they probably should know what is going on, at least for tactical and operational reasons.

But that would make sense.

Two other questions that I want to highlight (I know, there are 7 total and I have 6 here...) but they reflect just how bad things have become in general over in Iraq:

FP: The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad recently sent a cable to Washington detailing the dangerous situation under which its Iraqi employees work. Is the situation in the Green Zone as bad as the cable made it out to be?

Nordland: Yes, it is that bad. [The cable] didn't come as a surprise to me, except that somebody in the embassy was courageous enough to outline the hardships in very frank detail, and the ambassador was honest enough to put his name to it. It is exactly what our own Iraqi staff has gone through for years now. As early as 2003, the Iraqis who work for us were not telling their family or friends that they worked for Americans. At the time, we thought it was a ridiculous precaution--a throwback to the Saddam era--but as time went on, they proved that they knew their society a lot better than we did.

FP: Where do you get information about the insurgency?

Nordland: There was a stage in the war when we could talk to insurgents and people representing insurgents. Now, it's just too dangerous. There is no way to safely contact them. We talk to Sunni leaders who are in touch with at least the Iraqi insurgents, the distinction being that al Qaeda insurgents are mainly foreign terrorists. [Iraqi] groups have a political constituency among Sunni politicians and they are in touch. So we can and do talk to them frequently. In fact, so does the U.S. Embassy.

There really isn't much to say here, other than to shake my head in disgust and hang it in shame. Even at the start of the "war", Iraqis in the embassy were ashamed, embarrassed, or nervous to say who they were working for or with. And that was before Abu Ghraib, Haditha, white phosphorus and raping a 15 year old Iraqi, not to mention all of the other total fuck ups by Bush, Rumsfeld and the crew.

It truly is as pathetic as it is maddening. I heard on the news today that in North Korea, all of the houses have speakers which pump in propaganda about how great things are and how great of a leader Il is. Please tell me how different that is from what we have here in the US - government controlled corporate media, "embedded journalists" in Iraq that are telling us exactly what the government and military want them to tell and in a manner that they want it told.

It is another sad day in a long sad chapter of this country.

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