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Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Incomplete Story

It is on a small hill about four miles outside Weimar, and it was one of the largest concentration camps in Germany. And it was built to last. [STATIC] I asked to see one of the barracks. I was told that this building had once stabled 80 horses. There were 1,200 men in it, 5 to a bunk. As I walked down to the end of the barracks, there was applause from the men too weak to get out of bed. It sounded like the hand-clapping of babies. As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others, they must have been over 60, were crawling towards the latrine. I saw it but will not describe it.
--Edward R. Murrow, 1945, broadcasting from Buchenwald Death Camp, Germany

The idea of the "objective" reporter is a recent development, historically speaking. Edward R. Murrow wasn't the objective observer. Whether reporting from the rooftops on the London blitz or from the newly liberated Buchenwald, Murrow's reporting was emotionally charged -- and opinionated. It was Murrow who said, "We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home," and stood up to Sen. McCarthy.

Today, the objective repeater of facts has replaced the crusading journalist. Except when the facts are problematic. Today's news media are so afraid of perceived bias that they report things that aren't factual and give them the same weight as fact. Global warming deniers and creationists are given time in the news, in order to tell "both sides of the story." But there's only one side to these stories and this supposed "other side" is pure horsecrap. The only reason that we don't often hear from Holocaust deniers and people who think the world is flat is because those particular groups of nuts haven't dropped the bucks on high-powered PR firms. Pay someone a million and you'll be a talking head on CNN, arguing that the sun orbits the Earth or that the greatest threat the US faces today is a middle eastern third world nation and its WMD.

This is what FARK founder Drew Curtis refers to as "equal time for nutjobs." some cases there flat-out isn't another side. Take moon landings for example. Any time moon landings are mentioned in the media, they always have to go get a paragraph of comment from the nutjobs who think the moon landing was faked. This is not up for debate; the moon landings happened. Equal Time for Nutjobs is the kind of article that gives equal time to a group that doesn't quite deserve to have its voice heard.

I started thinking about this after the Blackwater incident in Iraq. It's actually representative of reporting on Iraq at large. There are two sides to this argument, but the other side doesn't have a damned thing to do with the subject. In this case, we're told that Blackwater has a perfect record of protecting diplomats, to which the proper response is, "So freakin' what?" Is Blackwater accused of being bad at protecting diplomats? No, they're accused of shooting the living hell out of a bunch of innocent bystanders. Their "perfect record" has as much to do with anything as the fact that they wear nifty black uniforms. It's not the damned point.

In order to get the point, we have to turn to McClatchy's Leila Fadel, blogging at Baghdad Observer.

Ghania is gone, killed at the back of a bus by what witnesses said were bullets from Blackwater security guards on Sept. 16 in Nisour square. While they protected Americans Iraqis died, witnesses said.

No one has come to this tiny home in Hurriyah to ask this family what happened. No investigators from the Ministry of Interior or the U.S. Embassy or the joint U.S. and Iraqi commission. No one has asked them about compensation or what this has done to their family.

Ghania died while she held her 27-year-old daughter in her arms in the back of a bus, protecting her from the bullets.

This is the damned story and this is the damned point. And this is the story behind the story that isn't being reported. To people in the US, everything that happens in Iraq has no context at all. All Iraqis are the same and no distinction is made between the violent asses with guns and the people hoping that today's not the day one of the many factions of crazies will kill them. And it's certainly never made clear that some of those factions are American.

Fadel does what Murrow used to and almost no one else does anymore. She puts a human face on the suffering. In today's completely amoral newsrooms, this is bias -- you can't point out that Iraqis are human, because that suggests war might be bad. As a result, there are people who think that Iraqis aren't human, because as far as we can see, they never act like humans. "And I don't have any respect by and large for the Iraqi people at all. I have no respect for them. I think that they're a prehistoric group..." FOX blowhard Bill O'Reilly says. "...this teaches us a big lesson, that we cannot intervene in the Muslim world ever again. What we can do is bomb the living daylights out of them, just like we did in the Balkans... They're just people who are primitive."

When the media fails to portray Iraqis as actual people, morons like Bill will rush in to fill the void with racist BS and excuses. The Iraq war hasn't failed because of anything we did, it failed because Iraqis are a bunch of monkeys incapable of self-government, let alone rational thought. Kill 'em all and let God sort them out. If a few Iraqis have to die to keep someone from the State Dept. safe, then so what? There's no such thing as an innocent Iraqi. Shoot first and don't ask questions later. They're all Muslim and Muslims are all the same -- terrorists.

So Iraqis are insignificant insects, not worthy worrying about. The news media could point out that this wasn't what we were told before -- that Iraqis were a suffering people in need of liberation. But pointing that out wouldn't be objective, it'd be biased, because it would suggest that maybe the excuses for this war have been logically inconsistent all along. That, apparently, would violate some unwritten canon of journalistic integrity. In war, people are not people, unless they're on our side. And the people who aren't on our side are those we abuse and kill. Those people aren't people, they're numbers. Iraq is a country populated by heroes and monsters. And all the heroes come to Iraq from someplace else; from the UK and the US, from Blackwater USA and Triple Canopy. Everyone else, whether man, woman, or child, is a terrorist or an insurgent.

That's what we're left with. This is where this incomplete reporting leaves us. By keeping away from inconvenient facts and by rejecting humanity for some useless objectivity, we're left with a story full of holes. And those holes are filled by demagogues and propagandists, ideologues and racists, liars and murderers -- with the hole-filling being duly reported by a media concerned with "telling both sides of the story." That this "other side" is total fiction is irrelevant.

The incomplete story is no story at all, but a skeletal framework for political opportunists to hang BS on. And it's BS the media will be happy to repeat.


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