Americans are increasingly convinced that the war in Iraq is a failure and that the Iraqis are desperados, desperate to see the US leave. Their understanding is unsurprisingly, given that the MSM keeps pressing this view, despite the fact that there is more and more evidence that the media, unable to speak Arabic and unversed in Arabic culture, is being played for a collective fool by insurgents and opportunists. Curt, at Flopping Aces, has ably chronicled the elusive Jamil Hussein, the source for dozens of AP stories all aimed at showing Iraq’s descent into a Dante-esque Hell. And just today, Amir Taheri wrote an article about ill-informed journalists falling prey to false interpreters, men acting either for achieve a strategic goal in a war increasingly played out in the American and European press, or men who see credulous journalists as the opportunity to make a quick buck:
JUST outside Um al-Qasar, a port in south east Iraq, a crowd had gathered around a British armored car with a crew of four. An argument seemed to be heating up through an interpreter.
The interpreter told the Brits that the crowd was angry and wanted U.K. forces out of Iraq. But then a Kuwaiti representative of Amnesty International, accompanied by a journalist friend, approached – and found the crowd to be concerned about something quite different.
The real dispute? The day before, a British armored vehicle had an accident with a local taxi; now the cab’s owner, backed by a few friends, was asking the Brits to speed up compensating him. Did these Iraqis want the Brits to leave, as the interpreter pretended? No, they shouted, a thousand times no!
So why did the interpreter inject that idea into the dialogue? Shaken, he tried a number of evasions: Well, had the Brits not been in Iraq, there wouldn’t have been an accident in the first place. And, in any case, he knows that most Iraqis don’t want foreign troops . . .
Since 2003, Iraq has experienced countless similar scenes, with interpreters, guides and “fixers” projecting their views and prejudices into the dialogue between Iraqis and the outside world.
Covering Iraq has never been easy. The country had been closed to global media since the 1950s. Few Western journalists had traveled there, and those few mostly did so under official supervision. The only American journalist one can think of who had systematically remained interested in and knowledgeable about Iraq, for 40 years, was The Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland. Not knowing Iraq, having no contacts there and not speaking the local Arabic would be handicaps in the best of times. It was more so in the context of a controversial war.
From the start, the war was also waged in Western circles, with their pro- and anti-war camps. A newspaper that had opposed the war would not tolerate “positive reporting” from Baghdad. One young British reporter who didn’t understand that was surprised to see himself shifted to Paris to become a European correspondent. He had made the mistake of reporting that Iraq looked almost like a success, given where it had come from.
With the bulk of the media having opposed Saddam’s ouster, negative reporting from Iraq became the norm. (Afghanistan gets a better press; Western elites are at worst ambivalent about the Taliban’s fall.)
Another problem is that Iraq has become the focus of anti-American passions. Millions want Iraq to fail so that the United States will be humiliated. And Iraqis watch satellite TV – including channels from Iran, Egypt and Qatar that make a point of presenting post-liberation Iraq as a tragic quagmire. When CNN and the BBC send a similar message, Iraqis can be persuaded that their country is lost.
It’s a great article about media manipulation — and, by extension, the manipulation of the American body politic — and I strongly suggest you read the whole thing.