What the media sees fit to report about news out of Iraq

Yesterday, I heard on NPR that at least one of the soldiers charged with murdering an Iraqi man will not be subject to the death penalty. It was an interesting story in that it talked about the evidence, or lack thereof. At the heart of the case is a body so badly decomposed nothing can be discovered from it.  It yields no clues. On one side of the body are Marines who confessed to a murder, but now claim that their confessions resulted from coercion. On the other side are claims from some Iraqis that these Marines seized this Iraqi man, killed him brutally, and tried to cover it up. The Iraqis refuse to give their statements in court. From a legal point of view, with no physical evidence, no witnesses, and confessions that may be the result of coercion, it’s not much of a case. As always, what’s more interesting is how the media handles it.

First off, I suspect without actually knowing that, during WWII (the last of the wars people believed in), the Press wouldn’t have reported this stuff at all. Wherever you have vast numbers of young men with guns and high stress levels, you’re going to have some crime, and some of those crimes are going to be awful ones. The Press would have understood the normalcy of this fact, and would either have ignored the stories altogether, or would have made the considered decision that reporting these inevitable outbursts of ugliness would be bad for morale. News focused on (a) battles and (b) bravery.

The paradigm is so different nowadays. Reporters are obsessed with death: how many of our soldiers have been killed and how many “innocents” our soldiers have killed. When our troops successfully route bad guys, it gets covered and forgotten. When a minute fraction of our troops are accused of having killed civilians the news keeps being regurgitated like a bad meal.  (And keep it mind that it’s not always easy to tell whether the dead are, in fact, civilians.  Witness the Hezbollah fighters who, upon death, were magically transformed into Lebanese civilians for body count purposes.

In any event, you don’t need to listen to the NPR story I listened to; you just need to read this little NPR summary:

U.S. military prosecutors in California have begun to lay out their case against seven Marines and a Navy corpsman. The servicemen are accused of committing murder while serving in Iraq.

The incident in town of Hamdaniya was one of several that has called attention to the conduct of American troops in Iraq. (Bolded emphasis mine.)

Don’t you love that insouciant language? It’s an “incident” that “called attention” to ” conduct.” That’s all. But cast your mind back to the press’s savage coverage of Abu Ghraib and Haditha. It’s as if, to the American Press, every member of our military would have cheerfully participated in the My Lai massacre. That’s it, guys and gals: you’re all mass civilian murderers, every one of you. There are no bad guys (aside from the American military, of course), there are only innocent civilians.

I’ll concede, though, that the story out of Hamdaniya is news, even though I’ll also argue that American newspapers would not be impairing their ethics if they chose not to cover it. But what about the good news out of Iraq, the stories of bravery and loyalty and decency? Those are reserved for the bloggers and the military’s own publications. A case in point is the CENTCOM story I just got today about Marine Medics who have come together to save an Iraqi girl:

For a 12-year-old Iraqi girl in need of a kidney and liver transplant, time is the enemy. Her friends are a team of U.S. Marines and Sailors who have applied their medical skills to help the keep the girl alive.

Hadael Hamade is in desperate need of surgery, say U.S. Navy physicians who have treated her in recent months.

The girl first befriended Marines from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, months ago when the Marines were on patrol in Karabilah – a city of about 30,000 near the Iraq-Syria border.

You can read the rest of this story about simple human decency here.  It’s a lovely story and, in a just world, it wouldn’t just be languishing in my email inbox, but would be in every paper’s “human interest” section.  But it’s not.  The papers don’t want this kind of human interest story because it interferes with the My Lai paradigm I mentioned above — all soldiers are brutes.

So next time you read in the newspaper about some atrocity a minority of our troops are alleged to have committed, ask yourself where the stories are about the myriad acts of decency our troops routinely engage in every day, all while functioning in a hostile environment.

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  • Mark J. Loegering

    Dear Bookworm,

    Regarding your question of the difference of reportage during WWII and today I was reminded of a section of a biography of Gen. George S. Patton. During the invasion of Sicily a number of units of American and French forces engaged in killing prisoners and civilians. Several Americans were tried for the crimes and convicted. However, a correspondent from the London Daily Mail, Alexander Clifford, later reported that he promised Patton he would never reveal that he witnessed killings of prisoners of war because Patton “put it right instantly.” (General Patton, A Soldier’s Life, Stanley P. Hirshson, p.373)

    The situation today is so much more difficult for our troops because the enemy looks like a civilian and it is inevitable that innocent bystanders are going to be killed. This is no excuse for deliberate atrocities, but the glee with which the press pounces on every whisper as fact is an atrocity in itself.

    I am also reminded of the tactics used by the Viet Cong whereby women and children on bicycles would toss hand grenades in passing American vehicles.

    War is ugly and depressing and the best way out is to engage in it with the utmost fury against the enemy and root him out wherever he hides. In the long run fewer lives sre lost, including innocent civilians.

    Mark Loegering

    P.S. My wife and I finally left Sonoma County in 2003 and moved to Florida where I spent a large part of my early years as an Air Force brat at McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando. But I still have fond memories of my years in San Rafael after I got out of the service in the early seventies. Keep on bloggin’. There are some of us out here who know what you are going through. Perhaps someday the Golden State will become golden again.

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  • http://arosebyname.wordpress.com/ Anna

    There are a lot of positive new items coming out of Iraq, but as you stated, they are not printed or reported by any of the major news media. They have taken the “if it bleeds, it leads” so far beyond the pale, that it is no wonder they report rumor as fact and proceed to repeat it so often the public comes to believe it.

  • http://ymarsakar.blogspot.com/ Ymarsakar

    The media is old news, part of an old cycle in a new age.