My vacation has been remarkably eye-opening. Now, when travelers say things like that, they usually are talking about being introduced to new cultures, different foods, singular settings… but in my case, I’m talking about war. Specifically, how shockingly different the coverage of the war in Iraq is here in Europe compared to what we get back home.
It’s like a pair of blinders has been removed and I’m suddenly seeing for myself what I’ve long known to be the case: just how sanitized a version of the war the American mainstream media are delivering, and how little of even this cleaned-up coverage we get.
Take Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s lovefest visit to Tehran on Sunday, where he laid a wreath on the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini and hailed what he called “a new chapter in brotherly ties” between Iran and Iraq. Now, by all rights, this should have been a major story in the U.S. Here you have the leader of the new government we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars creating in Iraq making very nice with the terror-funding and nuke-building mullahs in Iran. So this is what our soldiers are putting their lives on the line for -- 1,770 killed so far -- a budding alliance between fundamentalist theocracies? (And yesterday’s news about the Iraqi constitution being based on fundamentalist Islamic principles, including curtailing women’s rights only confirms these fears) Surely that’s front page news, right? Not in America.
In fact, the historic visit was barely covered in the mainstream American press. The only major U.S. newspaper to report it was the Washington Post -- and its story was on page A-21. A-21?! The consequences of this lack of coverage are enormous. As the blogger Billmon at Whiskey Bar nailed it:
“How would the folks back home feel if they knew their sons and daughters were getting limbs blown off so that Iraqi politicians could jaunt off to Tehran and say warm and fuzzy things about the crazy old man who gave us the Iranian hostage crisis? And what kind of surrealist cover story would the GOP propaganda machine come up with to convince the Fox News audience that fighting and dying to keep Khomeini lovers in power is really a good thing?”
Another example of this lack of proper coverage -- and of the media’s bizarre priorities -- came when the Iraq Body Count dossier on civilian casualties in Iraq that HuffPost’s Jane Wells blogged about was released. Despite the vitally important information it contained, the Washington Post story on it ran on page A-18, the LA Times’ on page A-12, and the New York Times’ on A-8 . Thirty-seven percent of all non-combatant deaths were caused by US led coalition forces -- compared to 9% caused by insurgents -- and in the nation’s capital it runs on A-18.
Earlier this year, the LA Times did a study of how often American newspapers and magazines showed images of dead or wounded soldiers. The answer, not surprisingly, was hardly ever.
European papers run such images far more frequently. Editor and Publisher points to the contrast in how the memorable photos taken at a Tal Afar checkpoint, where U.S. soldiers fired on an approaching car carrying a family, were received. Few U.S. papers carried them while the pictures, in the words of the embedded photographer who took them, “seemingly dominated the discourse in Europe, where they were run in full over multiple pages by many important papers.” Perhaps they would have dominated the discourse here too… if only we’d seen them.
But even this sanitized version of the war isn't good enough for some. As HuffPost’s Michelle Pilecki has been posting, a group of conservative talk radio hosts went to Iraq recently for a "truth tour," because, they say, they're tired of all the bad news coming out of Iraq. Said one "truth teller," Melanie Morgan, "This is not Vietnam...War is war, and it's dangerous, and the killing is taking place all of the time. At the same time, where there is danger, there is success and there is a mainstream media that is determined to shut out that success."
Boy, she must be subscribing to some better newspapers than the ones I get.
Thankfully the blogosphere is stepping in to fill the Iraq coverage void. Among the sites leading the way in reporting what’s really going on in Iraq are: Operation Truth, headed by Iraq vet and HuffPoster Paul Rieckhoff, Informed Comment by Middle East Expert Juan Cole, Baghdad Bulletin by 24-year-old journalist David Enders, and Back to Iraq 3.0, by former AP reporter Chris Allbritton.
There are also a number of blogs by Iraqis themselves, including the family blogs, A Family in Baghdad and A Family from Mosul; Baghdad Burning by Riverbend (one of the first bloggers in Iraq -- she's just come out with a book); and, at Shlonkom Bakazay, thoughts on the war, 7/7, U.S. politics and related topics.
And keep sending us more sites to link to as well as reports, pictures, and video that will help this story where it belongs -- front and center.