Friday, September 08, 2006

Reporters talk of MSM suppression of rendition & torture stories

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

And things just keep getting worse for that "evil Lib'rul media". An article in the new Columbia Journalism Review has some choice quotes and anecdotes from NY Times, Washington Post and other investigative journalists who talk of the concerted efforts to suppress, soften or outright bury stories of Afghan prisoner torture, rendition and other similar stories in the months and years after 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.

The WaPo's Dana Priest, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, the NY Times' Carlotta Gall and others lay out their struggles to get their stories printed and out to the public in a damning compilation of stories. They speak of higher-ups not wanting to believe the stories, not wanting to print stories, softening the headlines and burying any stories on "A-18 type" pages.

The story in a long one, with dozens of examples, which include the Gonzalez torture memos, the Abu Ghraib torture in addition to those that I mentioned above. And while you should definitely read the entire story, I'll give you some snippets. For starters, this one outlines how the American networks weren't all that interested in covering the rendition story:

Indeed, by the summer of 2004, soon after the Abu Ghraib photos surfaced, European journalists from outlets like The Financial Times, the London Independent, The Ottawa Citizen, and Calla Fakta (Cold Facts), a Swedish TV program, were driving the coverage of renditions. A British reporter named Stephen Grey began to track CIA flights by their tail numbers. Grey eventually detailed some 300 flights of a single jet to forty-nine different destinations in the British publication, New Statesman. Grey, a freelancer who in the past year had written about renditions for The New York Times, says that before publishing his piece he tried to get U.S. networks interested. One show was particularly interested, but eventually the idea fell through. "They said, `Can't you find somebody who's innocent; we'd much prefer that,'" says Grey, who won't name the show he was referring to. "The nub of the story wasn't innocence; it was that people were sent to places where they were likely tortured."

Or how Carlotta Gall, the Afghanistan correspondent for the NY Times couldn't get anyone to listen to her story (or take it seriously) about the Afghan detainee torture deaths, which finally broke on 60 Minutes at least 2 years after we here at Big Orange knew about it:

It was early December 2002, and Gall, the Afghanistan correspondent for The New York Times, had just seen a press release from the U.S. military announcing the death of a prisoner at its Bagram Air Base. Soon thereafter the military issued a second release about another detainee death at Bagram. "The fact that two had died within weeks of each other raised alarm bells," recalls Gall. "I just wanted to know more. And I came up against a blank wall. The military wouldn't release their names; they wouldn't say where they released the bodies."


But the death certificate, the authenticity of which the military later confirmed to Gall, stated that Dilawar -- who was just twenty-two years old -- died as a result of "blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease."

Gall filed a story, on February 5, 2003, about the deaths of Dilawar and another detainee. It sat for a month, finally appearing two weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "I very rarely have to wait long for a story to run," says Gall. "If it's an investigation, occasionally as long as a week."

Gall's story, it turns out, had been at the center of an editorial fight.


Doug Frantz, then the Times's investigative editor and now the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, says Howell Raines, then the Times's top editor, and his underlings "insisted that it was improbable; it was just hard to get their mind around. They told Roger to send Carlotta out for more reporting, which she did. Then Roger came back and pitched the story repeatedly. It's very unusual for an editor to continue to push a story after the powers that be make it clear they're not interested. Roger, to his credit, pushed." (Howell Raines declined requests for comment.)

"Compare Judy Miller's WMD stories to Carlotta's story," says Frantz. "On a scale of one to ten, Carlotta's story was nailed down to ten. And if it had run on the front page, it would have sent a strong signal not just to the Bush administration but to other news organizations."

Instead, the story ran on page fourteen under the headline "U.S.Military Investigating Death of Afghan in Custody." (It later became clear that the investigation began only as a result of Gall's digging.)

Yet, the NY Times eagerly lapped up Judy's total bullshit stories and ran them all front and center with big ominous headlines. So much for "All the news that's fit to print".

The article goes on to discuss how the Bush Administration's defense, the complicity of the media, the unwillingness of the military to talk, as well as the patriotism of `Murka after 9/11 made the media willfully blind to what was going on around the world in our formerly good name. And in a hauntingly true statement about how things have changed over the past 20-30 years, we have this quote:

There is a final factor that has shaped torture coverage, one that is hard to capture. In most big scandals, such as Watergate, the core question is whether the allegations of illegal behavior are true. Here, the ultimate issue isn't whether the allegations are true, but whether they're significant, whether they should really be considered a scandal.

Forget the truth, because truth doesn't sell. Scandals sell. And that is both a shame and a crime.

Dana Priest also talks about the rendition story, and how it was buried in the WaPo the day after Christmas, only after she practically begged the paper not to run the story on Christmas.

With [Barton] Gellman working on his assessment of the counterterrorism effort, Priest took the lead on the detainee story. The resulting piece was extraordinary. Published on December 26, 2002, with a co-byline, it had revelation after revelation about the U.S. treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda suspects. It detailed a "brass-knuckled quest for information" that included "stress and duress" interrogation techniques -- keeping prisoners in painful positions for hours, for example -- as well as extraordinary renditions, the practice of shipping suspects to countries where they could be tortured. Citing "Americans with direct knowledge and others who have witnessed the treatment," the paper reported that "captives are often `softened up' by MPs and U.S. Army Special Forces troops who beat them up and confine them in tiny rooms."

The article contained both denials from officials that torture was allowed but also quotes from officials all but boasting of abuse. One official "directly involved" in renditions confidently explained, "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them."
Priest and Gellman wrote, "Each of the current national security officials interviewed for the article defended the use of violence against captives as just and necessary. They expressed confidence that the American public would back their view."

I could go on and on, including the horrific treatment of the horrific torture at Abu Ghraib:

What came next was less a media storm than scattered sprinkles. The New York Times covered the story of the photos on page 15, the Los Angeles Times on page 8, and The Washington Post on page 24, though none chose to publish the photos themselves. The photos should have made for compelling TV coverage, but there was no avalanche of coverage there either. Only NBC and, obviously, CBS had segments on the photos the day after.

As I said above, I highly recommend checking out the entire story, as it is an excellent compilation of reporters' actual accounts and frustrations with the major newspapers and networks in dealing with these crimes approved of, though up by and perpetrated by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the neo con war criminals.

And it shows in greater detail than we have known to this point how the major media was more than complicit in burying stories, softening headlines and discouraging reporting of the atrocities going on around the world by this administration. Stories that no doubt, if given the proper coverage, would have resulted in a Kerry presidency, or a serious push for impeachment of these criminals.

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