November 4, 2002
How to kill a story: A primer.
As Bill Funke reports in his piece, "Marching for Peace," you would have been hard pressed to find much reporting in your favorite newspaper or on the TV news programs on the October 26 countrywide anti-war demonstrations. It certainly did not make the front page of The New York Times. The paper buried the story in page 8 and contended that only "thousands" had marched in the US capital and that the turnout was well below expectations (the weather, the sniper, you know...).
Then, quite possibly following one of the regular "Action Alerts" from Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), the national media watch group, which raised the issue of this obvious bias and asked readers to contact the paper (as well as NPR), the Times published another article on October 30, buried in page 13 that reported more accurately that the Washington protest was possibly the biggest since Vietnam and had drawn between 100,000 (police estimates) and 200,000 (organizers' estimates) people.
Now, one would think that the difference between the two reports would have called for a correction from the editors. No such thing happened. Instead, the Times put a story about a potential compromise at the U.N. between France and the U.S. on its front page and the story on page 13 revealing the higher numbers and the high spirits of the organizers was placed under the headline: THREATS AND RESPONSES: Opposition, Peaceful and Otherwise. Notice the word Otherwise following Peaceful, henceforth suggesting that the protests were not that peaceful. Yet not a line in the article reflects the headline... Ah, perception, perception... Sweet, no?
There was another notable discrepancy in these two articles. In the first one (Oct. 27) the reporter states that "The latest Gallup poll showed that 56 percent of Americans favored sending ground troops to Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power." In the second one (Oct. 30) the same line becomes, "Polls show that about 50 percent of Americans support sending ground troops to Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power." Two different reporters, Lynette Clemetson and Kate Zernike, use the very same line (thanks to the magical hands of some obscure editor), but the numbers differ by a margin of over 10 percent. Interesting no?
It sure clarifies the message sent by senior editor Bill Borders to many people who had contacted the paper (according to FAIR): "Accurately measuring the size of a crowd of demonstrators is nearly impossible and often, as in this case, there are no reliable objective estimates."
Indeed, indeed...polls included, one suspects!
Meantime the initial report -- the one that really counts -- was blatantly false and the second one was preemptively discredited through the headline. Neat, no?
According to FAIR again, Bill Borders added, "We appreciate your writing us and welcome your careful scrutiny. It helps us to do a better job."
Glad to hear.
The Paris-Moscow-Beijing axis of greed
We've been told for weeks on end that the objections of the three U.N. Security Council members (with veto power) to give the U.S. a blank check to launch a unilateral war against Iraq is based on self-interests (and, in the case of France a zest of old gallic anti-Americanism). They want to preserve their oil contracts with Iraq. Their commerce-driven politicians fail to appreciate "the moral dimension of the need to overthrow Saddam," writes Bill Safire in an Oct. 28 Op-Ed, "In Material Breach."
But don't worry, asserts Safire. They won't succeed. First, if they did, and the U.N. denied the U.S. its high morally grounded and legitimate will, the organization would be relegated to "the little league of nations;" for Bush, unwilling to see his "administration become a laughing-stock" (oyez, oyez, Mr. President, it's us versus them... do ya have balls or what?), would go ahead anyway, and "undertake the liberation of the Iraqi people with an ad hoc coalition of genuine allies." Ad hoc herein means England and whoever else can be genuinely bribed (Turkey?) Having had no say in the matter the Iraqi people are in awe of the generosity of their benefactors. Free at last, we are free at last, they'll sing on CNN...
After our great victory, according to Safire, we'll get down to business. First "the government of the new Iraq, under the tutelage and initial control of the victorious coalition...[will] reimburse the U.S. and Britain for much of their costs in the war and transitional government out of future oil revenues and contracts." Note, if you will, the composition of "the ad hoc coalition of genuine allies" and note furthermore the not-so-hidden meaning of the "transitional government" (General Frank, are you ready? Yesssss, Sir!).
Then, the "evolving democratic government of New Iraq...[will] repudiate" all former commitments and contractual obligations undertook by the devolving anti-democratic government of Old Iraq (bye-bye, Russia and France and tutti-quanti) and we will dramatically increase oil production so that prices will plummet -- it'll be good for the economy and will bankrupt Russia which is dependent on oil revenues. And if Turkey joins the coalition of genuine allies they'll be recompensed with royalties from the Kirkuk oil fields (the bribe).
And think of "the human-rights benefits," good ol' Safire advances, "to millions of Iraqis liberated from oppression and to Arabs from Cairo to Gaza in dire need of an example of freedom." What a pure sentiment!
In other words, guys, don't mess with us; we are morally driven to conduct business as usual (not to be confused with debased commercially-driven politicians).
How predictable, Bill; how predictable. A pleasure to read!
The Ozone Layer and the Times wide coverage
There was this little-noticed conference on climate change in New Delhi, India, last week. Its final document is covered by the paper in page 4 in a short, 5-paragraph article (Nov. 2). Knowing that "within a decade, countries like China, Mexico and India are collectively predicted to surpass industrial nations in their releases of the gases [that cause global warming]," you'll be glad to learn that the Declaration on Climate Change and Sustainable Development said, "the focus should be on adapting to climate change as much as trying to prevent it."
After all, why would these countries only be choked by the gases emitted by the rich world (the USA presently emits 25 percent of all these gases)? They can't be blamed for following in our steps and calling for a minimum of equity. The U.S. delegation was heard applauding the conclusions.
Don't you breathe better?
Ah, yes, the Hummer
The U.S. automobile manufacturers are reeling from costly incentives such as deep rebates and free financing. Still, the sales of cars and trucks have been going down for a while. The sales of the big three automakers fell more than 30 percent in October. Not good for the economy, not good...
Fortunately, at least for General Motors, one vehicle has stuck a chord with consumers, according to a November 2 article in the Times, "Detroit's Hottest Seller Is Its Biggest Gas Guzzler."
No financial incentives are needed for this baby. At a base-price of $50,000 a pop, dealers "are selling as many of these vehicles as they can get." The vehicle? The Hummer H2, a smaller and plusher version of the Hummer, the military replacement of the Jeep.
Gas consumption? 'bout 9 to 10 miles per gallon...downhill! But, as a happy new owner said, after 9/11 "we feel we are at war and people feel the need to be protected."
7,500 have been sold in three months. GM plans to sell 100,000 Hummers within five years. A pickup H2 is scheduled for next year and a smaller one considered for 2005.
The new improving and evolving democratic government in the making of the New Iraq may as well purchase a fleet for the members of its tutelage team and India should think about a joint-venture with GM to produce the H2 and sell the terrorist buster in the subcontinent.
Oh, and if you should ever inquire, the article on the Hummer is longer than the combined length of the two articles on the war protests, and nicely placed on the front page of the Business Section. Should tell you some and more about priorities, no?
Antiwar and environmental activists rejoice.
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Iraq on Swans
Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.
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This Week's Internal Links
Beyond The Lesser Evil - by Gilles d'Aymery
Political Expediency, Media, And Democracy - by Eli Beckerman
Voter Apathy? Whatever - by Jan Baughman
Guerrilla TV - by Michael W. Stowell
Marching For Peace - by William Funke
The Fourth Estate - by Deck Deckert
Bad Novel - by Milo Clark
The Death Of Merlin - Poem by Sandy Lulay
I Am The People, The Mob - Poem by Carl Sandburg
Letters to the Editor