Saturday, May 08, 2004

Tales of Monstrous England. I'm just finding it delicious that the most prominent surname involved in the Abu Graib scandal is 'England'. 'England' is being dragged through the mud by the British press. It's almost as funny as noting last spring that England's cricket captain was called Nasser Hussein- now does that show tolerance or what? (or what?) On the other hand, a childhood friend of mine changed his surname from 'Gay' when he was about ten years old. Still, it's not the name that counts, it's what words are appended to it. My friend objected to 'GayLord'.

That's why I feel sorry for Lynndie England when I find that the BBC's Clive Myrie has described her as 'a monster' in a recent article. For holding a leash and pointing at penises, or have I missed something of Ms England's heinousness? I don't like it at all. Name-calling of the most hurtful and opportunistic sort from the most authoritative of sources can also be called bullying. Especially when looking at pictures of Ms England I am persuaded she's a lot more vulnerable to rape than any of her Iraqi inmates, even in their difficult circumstances.

Don't worry though- her name isn't being taken in vain, since Myrie frames this appendage 'monster' as part of a broader question: 'What was it about the war in Iraq that turned her into a monster? '

Indeed we can see who the bogeyman is now, can't we?

Putting aside the obvious attempt to smear the Iraq campaign with some kind of mysteriously cursed quality, like the mist that seems to surround those cinematic-blockbuster shots of the Vietnam jungle, what about this term 'monster' being used in its rightful place by the BBC- to describe Saddam Hussein? I ran the searches and this is the best I could come up with, from Roger Hardy:

'Ask Kuwaitis, and they will tell you Saddam Hussein was a monster who is now safely behind bars. '

So we have one second-hand condemnation of the tyrant using this term 'monster', yet Lynndie England gets it full in the face as soon as an august BBC commentator becomes aware of her existence. Nice work, fellows.

Friday, May 07, 2004

I'm not alone in thinking that the outrage over the tweaking/mistreatment/systematic abuse/torture of Iraqis has gone too far. American soldier-blog 'ChromeDomeZone' makes the vital point that there's no comparison between the treatment highlighted at Abu Graib under US jurisdiction and that which occurred during the former regime. He quotes Rush Limbaugh saying 'These are pictures of humiliation of people. These are pictures of intimidation of people. They're not pictures of violence. They're not pictures of death. They are not pictures of horror.'

Here in the UK, Piers Morgan's Daily Mirror has wheeled out (says the soldier has 'come forward', well, I mean...) another UK soldier linked to the Queen's Lancashire Regiment who describes the horrors to which Iraqis were allegedly subjected- allegedly to violence in this case- in summer-autumn of last year. The trouble is, it's muddling everything up (um, deliberately?). The central fact remains that if Piers' photographs were fabrications he should walk.

The new revelations include 'one of the worst things' where a UK Corporal allegedly 'went up to one of the prisoners who still had a sandbag on his face and was poking his fingers into his eyeballs until the guy was screaming in pain.'. More picturesqely (something I had trouble visualising), he says that when the sand bags were taken off their heads 'looked like haggises'. (you can read the BBC's ever-changing account of the controversy here.)

The odd thing is, that eyeball thing happened to me in the front row of the scrum in a rugby match at school- only I didn't have a sand-bag to protect me. It worked, in the sense that it was disabling and I dropped out of the scrum and their side won it, but although I don't think the other guy could have pushed my eyeballs much harder, they recovered pretty well (in fact I no longer seem to need glasses for anything, though that might be completely unrelated). Not a nice experience anyway. In the light of that I'm a bit sceptical; like me the Iraqi solder could have rolled away before he started to scream. So far as the account goes he wasn't under restraint, so why didn't he just roll away with his face toward the floor, something I managed to do even though bound into the working scrum? That's maybe just a flavour of the questions the soldier might find himself answering as he is being interviewed by military police.

Another point: just under a year ago Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Collins of the Royal Irish Regiment was reported for alleged mistreatment of Iraqis in Basra. He was acquitted, and subsequently pursued successful libel actions against the Sunday Express, and, guess who?- the Mirror ('The Mirror on Sunday', if that makes a difference).

Thursday, May 06, 2004

I'm not forgetting UNscam, even though in the world of nicey-nicey diplomacy that we left behind firstly with Sept 11 but subsequently with the UN ructions over the Iraq invasion, it would be nice to be nice and allow the nice Mr Annan to retain his saintly status.

I'm sure some politicians in the UK and the US feel the same way too, but I think it is very likely what we have uncovered is that France and Russia were conniving with the Iraqi end of the axis of evil, and if you're serious about the axis, which I am sure Bush is, you have to be interested in UNscam, however reluctantly. In that sense interest in UNscam separates the sheep from the goats. As Kerry Buttram noted in his scan of what the BBC aren't interested in, UNscam is an story (like the entire WoT as conceived by Bush) that the BBC are not interested in, which more or less proves the point.

Friends of Saddam today updated their reports on Ambassador Bremer's hindrance of the investigations into Unscam. With Lakhdar Brahimi firmly ensconced in the process of developing the transition to an Iraqi government there are good reasons why Bremer might not want to undermine the UN's involvement in Iraq. Equally, former ambassador to the UN Negroponte (and upcoming man-on-the-ground in Iraq) might not like to see his options narrowed by a damaging investigation into the UN's involvement with the old regime, especially when it seems that parts of the old regime must go unscrutinised in order to bring Iraq some peace.

What with that, and the media's obsession with Bush-the-liar-and-torturer, and the UN's own stonewalling, and powerful enemies on the UN security council (France and Russia), it reminds me that this is a scandal with no friends. No friends, but plenty of people whose interest demands they recognise the seriousness of UNscam. No friends, but a burning sense of injustice that may yet roast the UNscammers in the way that Richard Armitage had in mind when he exploded with the words 'if someone is found guilty they ought to hang'.

An interesting episode is chronicled at USS Neverdock. Marc has been hot on the trail of peace activist Jo Wilding as she gallivants round Fallujah in search of anti-US propaganda. Previously, an article used her as a source for accusations that US troops fired on ambulances in Fallujah, and Marc pursued the BBC with e-mails pointing out Ms Wilding's background as 'a well known anti-War activist that was once arrested for attacking Tony Blair.'

This time it was an e-mail she sent to the BBC that was used to 'kick off' a feedback article, inviting readers to send in descriptions of their experiences relating to Iraq. It's clear that Wilding has been deliberately targeting the BBC as a mouthpiece for her interests. Marc chased them about it, and finally an e-mail came back saying they had withdrawn the e-mail and that Wilding's background 'had not been made clear' (as though that was not their job)- this despite much previous correspondence from Marc Landers over the previous incident. The BBC journalist who wrote to Marc made a fine apology, but what can you say about editorial procedures that don't bother to check the background of people making radical claims, require readers to do their research for them, don't disseminate information amongst their staff about prominent but 'risky' sources, and don't make it clear when a source is identified as having possible ulterior motives? You can say that that editorial procedure turns a blind eye to problematic sources when those sources say what they want and expect to hear.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The BBC's Caroline Hawley, or the 'White Witch' as my brother-in-law calls her, has produced an article following up some TV reporting that tries to capture the state-of-play in Fallujan hearts and minds. They seem rather confused.

The article headline talks of 'fury' in Fallujah, but the first thing Hawley reports is is the declaration of victory on the part of the Iraqis she claims are now in charge of Fallujah. If this was the seige of Fallujah, the defenders have succeeded and this represents a reversal of the US victory over the Iraqi army this time last year. Cause for celebrification, it would seem.

But Hawley insists on saying that 'it was always an uneven battle, and there is fury in Falluja at what people here say was an indiscriminate use of American force.' (note: there is a difference between 'force' and 'American force' that ought to be clear to any right thinking person). So it was an uneven battle favouring the US, with excessive 'American force', which the US apparently lost? Why no credit for being gallant enough to hold back from flattening them properly, even though some Fallujans might have- and have- declared this their victory? Mark Steyn sums up the issue thus: 'heartless and mindless as they are, I’m reluctant to kill 300,000 of them.'.

Then, after the briefest mention of what the 'US military says', we go on to the exemplar Hawley offers to background what she calls 'strong international criticism of what is widely seen as a disproportionate response.'

And this is where it gets even more annoying. Hawley refers to Ali-Hassan as a Fallujah resident. That's all, despite the fact that he's very much a male of fighting age. There's no examination of Ali Hassan's account of the killing of 36 people from three families, presumably in US bombing though that's purely an inference from her account. Again, when we hear that 'The bodies of five children are still said to be under the rubble' there is no corroborating evidence on offer. The gravestones Hawley points to have no names, yet we are asked to believe that two children are buried there- but who knows how they died when even Hawley does not say? All of this appears without corroboration. Are we just supposed to emote with Hawley (a concept difficult to imagine), or have we a right to expect some evidence when atrocities (deliberate or accidental) are being alleged?

Given the BBC's record in Fallujah so far, it's not difficult to imagine them adopting Al Jazeera tactics and asking what those residents who are revolting would like them to report. 'Have Your Say' for Jihadis.

Some Realities On The Ground: a moving letter from Iraq (via Glenn).

Key quote for the attention of Paul 'the insurgency has clearly spread from the few "former regime elements" ' Reynolds:

'they were ambushed by a group of insurgents--undoubtedly former regime soldiers with some military
training--with RPGs, heavy machine guns, and AK-47s'

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Appalling Reynolds (Paul) has outdone himself

It pains me to comment much, so I'll just quote and comment:

'Events in Iraq have been spinning out of control - and out of control of the spinners - so fast on so many fronts that the W word - withdrawal - is now being mentioned.' (by one article in the Times, and not in terms of an immediate or comprehensive pullout either- as far as Reynolds demonstrates.)

'the insurgency has clearly spread from the few "former regime elements" and "foreign fighters" whom coalition spokesmen regularly blame.'
(yeah, and what about all the Syrian fighters in Fallujah?)

...'the ability of the coalition to impose its own solutions has slipped away.' (makes an unsupported assumption about US tactics in Fallujah)

'Whatever the origin of some of these photos, the damage has been done on the street. ' (assumption: the opposition to the US is a popular opposition)

'So will it be able to command the loyalty of Iraqis to a sufficient degree to bring the insurgency under control?' (- again assuming that the resistance is a popular one.)

'Against the gloomy predictions, one has to say that the will of the soon-to-be-appointed Iraqi Interim Government and that of the United States and the UK to see this through should not be underestimated.' (-for 'will' read stubbornness and intransigent optimism. There is no rationale offered for this optimism, ergo it's blind optimism.)

Then he goes on to lash out at the 'panglossian' journalist du jour, Christopher Hitchens, who is described cunningly as
'the gadfly journalist who has been one of the war's great supporters', who, 'writes acerbically of his fellow hacks', and 'is still hoping for an eventual settlement in Iraq which might go democracy's way'. (again, blind optimism- and note the condescending tone from a BBC journalist to a mere well-paid populist hack).

This sickening display is today only partly compensated for by this article from Amhir Taheri, which firmly rebuffs the Reynolds' approach. The difference between an article in the New York Post and on the BBC website is that Reynolds, quite unjustifiably, carries with him the gravitas of a weighty national broadcaster on the international stage.


'May 4, 2004 -- WHAT to do about Iraq? I was bombarded with this question during a recent visit to the United States.
The question is based on two assumptions. First, that Iraq is about to plunge into one of the nightmare scenarios discussed by self-styled experts on TV. Second, that there is some kind of magic wand that one could wave to transform Iraq into a paradise of freedom and prosperity.

Both assumptions are false.

'is Iraq really plunging into chaos? Anyone in contact with Iraqi realities would know that the answer is: No.'

And this is the point: Iraqi realities. The realities that to us in the UK are best expressed by the fact that we've had so few UK fatalities in the last year. Of course I would like to point to detailed on-the-ground realities, like Baathists investigated, criminals prosecuted, mass-graves explored, weapons facilities decommissioned, schools reoccupied, hospitals working, trade developing, and elections, but that's precisely what Reynolds' style of journalism robs us of- meaning that journalists like Taheri are staving off the quagmire analysis rather than getting to the nitty-gritty of expurgating the horrific past and building up the resources for Iraq's future.

It finally Arrived:

The Camel-corps reinforcements in the US have sent their letter of criticism to the President (note- this one's all about Israel, but echoes the UK diplomats' claim that under GWB the US has not been an 'even-handed peace-partner'). I was wondering how long the migration would take from BBC NewsNight to the BBCOnline front page- or even, given the lack of eminent names, whether the BBC would be reporting it. I shouldn't have doubted the latter. They have been unable to resist an anti-Bush headline, despite the vacuum of gravitas behind it. I'm just waiting for them to report Sen Kerry's response. If only (Kerry must wish) all media could be British Broadcasting media.

Blurred Issues: follow-up.

I blamed the BBC for stirring an unfair media response to the Abu Graib scandal. Last night however I saw one of those classic 'eh?' moments on ITV News that's worth recording. They led with an item questioning the pictures that allegedly show British troops abusing Iraqis last summer, and their correspondent said that if untrue the sensational allegations were terrible and putting lives at risk. Then a couple of minutes later the news presenter unambiguously referred to the 'torture' that had taken place at Abu Graib- also unproven, also under investigation. So that kind of sensational approach isn't putting lives at risk then?

Victor Davis Hanson has a well-balanced article which shows how simplistic and wrong the ITV angle was (not to mention hypocritical and contradictory). (via LGF)

Monday, May 03, 2004

Blurred Issues: the trickle down effect.

1st example: In the recent controversy over mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Graib the BBC initially used the word 'torture' in their main report to describe what was allegedly going on there under US juristiction (even now, a minor article still uses the word torture unquotemarked). This set the tone for much of the British media. As usual the BBC did not retract their initial headline even when it was reconsidered, so although they changed it to one of 'abuse' it provided moral and legal cover for a number of media outlets to run the same line- permanently in some cases. The BBC obviously changed it because they could not respectably justify it from the anecdotal evidence- but then why the initial headline?

The blurring between an accusation of misconduct (which has already been acted upon with suspensions etc) and one of criminality (which is unproven as of yet) opened up a range of negative lines of reporting which led to papers such as the Daily Mirror making hay with accusations of systemic abuse and torture, introducing 'new items' like the pictures of UK soldiers maltreating Iraqi prisoners (actually, dodgy old pics allegedly stored since last August). Meanwhile, papers like the Sunday Telegraph said that 'our' soldiers will 'Pay in Blood' for the abuses. Wherever you turned in the newsagent it seemed that the media was united in the conviction that we were indistinguishable from Saddam's henchmen, either because we were or because the consequences would be as though we were.

Two problems arise. One is the morale-sapping effect that unfair criticism creates in the armed forces. The other is the potential enemy response, whether seeking revenge or propaganda, in Iraq and elsewhere. In both cases the BBC is in grave danger of playing with lives when it helps shape a slanted media agenda that is picked up by our voracious and amoral press. If the BBC can't regulate its responses better, it would be better if all the press felt under some moral pressure, rather than relying on our British Broadcasting Corporation to do the dull but worthy. (Interestingly, as though anticipating this criticism, the BBC has run an article criticising the US media for ignoring the abuse story. When faced with accusations of bias last autumn, Greg Dyke attacked 'flag-waving' US media using the same tactic.)

2nd example: The quagmire... again. The BBCOnline headline 'Fallujah Confusion as Toll Mounts' blurs two issues (which cannot be fully separated with subsequent reporting). One is the altering US tactics over the flashpoint of Fallujah. The other is US casualties. This distinction is important because the perception of many, including some Iraqis, is that the US is being driven out of Fallujah, and it is natural to assume that the casualties talked of relate to Fallujah. In fact they do not (eight of them relate to one incident where two mortars were fired at a camp two hours' drive west from Fallujah), and very few casualties have been suffered in Fallujah, considering the situation there.

It is crucial that people realise (both here, abroad and in Iraq) that the US is not being forced out of Fallujah by rising casualties, because that could lead to even more casualties as the rebels see a strategy that works for them. It could also lead to friendly countries considering withdrawal if they come to believe they might also suffer such casualties if they do not draw a line or pull out their troops (the BBC is already on this case- 'Should British Troops get involved in the Fallujah quagmire?'). 'Rising casualties' (a phrase that begs the question, 'rising since when?') and totemic stories like 'Fallujah' shouldn't be associated by journalists unless they are really linked. It would be more sensible to indicate that while US forces are concentrating on places like Fallujah, the jihadis are taking advantage of the distraction- something that also happened after Al Sadr's rebellion.

Sharon: the verdict.

'The BBC's James Reynolds in Jerusalem says Mr Sharon is in a mess of his own making after decisively losing a tactical gamble.' (link)

The BBC's James Reynolds is a proven tosser (link), a circumstance that appears very much of his own making. I'd be very surprised if Sharon didn't figure on the turn of events this weekend. I wouldn't be surprised to find he planned it this way. The BBC's James Reynolds' lack of understanding is further demonstrated here.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Contrasts in reporting the Islamic revival in Zamfara, Nigeria:

The BBC: 'The BBC's Yusuf Sarki Muhammad in the state capital, Gusau, says it is not clear whether churches will be targeted for closure under the new measures.'
: 'Governor Ahmed Sani of Zamfara State, has ordered the demolition of all churches in the state, as he launched the second phase of his Sharia project yesterday.'

Thanks to 'anonymous' at BBBC. More coverage of the ROP at USSNeverdock (just scroll either way).

Auntie's Makeover. Tom Leonard analyses the changes that are going on- some cosmetic and some less so, but for me two things stand out:

Greg Dyke's attitude is still a guiding spirit. Most BBC people undoubtedly hold that he was unfairly tipped out by Hutton. In recent remarks Leonard quotes Dyke saying "I am worried because the vultures are circling... led by the greatest vulture of all, the Murdoch organisation, which today has more political power in this country than one could ever have imagined a single commercial organisation could achieve."

This is inspired by Dyke's fundamental rabid mistrust of capitalism and deification of Public Broadcasting. There are millions of people in this country who will never have seen a single minute of Sky's broadcasting. Millions more who do not read Murdoch's publications. If Dyke can't recognise that the BBC, not BSkyB, has had privileged access to British public opinion for an eternity, his view of Murdoch is mere red-tinted paranoia.

Secondly, being hostage to such a viewpoint the BBC becomes more socialist in mentality as their commercial rivals grow (perhaps hoping to appeal to the governing Labour party faithful). Dyke's attempts to increase the BBC's audience share were not motivated by capitalist zeal- but by the desire to prove a state-sponsored media 'up to the job'. Now, in overhauling what they term the 'Purpose of the BBC', they have concocted an radical agenda to
' "underpin active and informed citizenship", "enrich the cultural life of the nation", "contribute to education for all", "help to make the UK a more inclusive society" and "support the UK's role in the world". '

This idea being pushed of media as social engineering is alarming. It's so 1984 I hardly feel I need to mention it. It's particularly the latter two statements: to make us 'more inclusive', and 'support the UK's role' which require so much interpretation and hand so much political responsibility to the BBC. Does the 'UK's role' mean the Government's chosen stance or the 'UK's ideal role as defined by the BBC'?

Good journalism is naturally inclusive, in that it doesn't exclude anything for political convenience. I don't want the UK to be 'supported' by the BBC, I want the UK to be fairly 'reported' by the BBC. In this makeover they are missing the point that decent journalism would cover all these angles without the need for a politicising wish-list.

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