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Mar 05, 2007

The Execution Of Journalistic Integrity


Leading the electronic version of today's front page, the NYT has a dramatic headline about U.S. and British forces raiding an office of Iraq's Intelligence Agency.  Accompanying it is the troubling image above.

Combining the picture with the headline and first paragraph of the NYT article (image after the jump), one would think coalition forces had uncovered chilling evidence of summary executions by government-sponsored Shiite militia.  Inspecting the article, however, we have the report of 30 prisoners, "some showing signs of torture," inside the headquarters of Iraq’s Intelligence Agency in Basra.

Although two previous raids are cited -- including one in December, said to have rescued 127 prisoners; and a more notable one last year, in which a secret Baghdad prison, run by the Interior Ministry, turned up 1,400 prisoners who had been regularly abused -- details here are extremely sketchy.  WAPO, which offered the most details, said the joint British Iraqi raid happened quickly, based on information accidentally come upon in the morning, and that all the prisoners got away.

It's how this photo is used (or abused), however, that The BAG is concerned about.

In The LAT article, it tops a series of five pictures otherwise related to the current crackdown in Baghdad.  Besides the fact the image has virtually nothing to do with the story, the caption -- describing the image -- also completely contradicts the description in the NYT!

Quoting the LAT caption, what we we're looking at is:

An image taken from video purportedly shows the executions of 18 police officers. The authenticity of the video could not be confirmed.

According to the NYT , however, we get this:

In an image from a video posted on a radical Islamic Web site, a group linked to Al Qaeda claims it recorded the killings of Interior Ministry employees. A photograph of the prisoners, still alive, was posted Friday.

Along with the confusion -- and the implication, by the NYT, that the raid on the Intelligence Ministry and the murder of Interior Ministry employees are somehow connected -- it's nice to know that an unidentified "group linked to Al Qaeda" (not that they would have any interest in how the Iraqi government might look to the Western press) is now a source for The NY Times.

Oh yes.  And just at the content level -- since we really don't know what we're looking at -- isn't it great to have one more widely-disseminated image in the mainstream press (given the lettering, and the architectural form, and the crescent in the TV logo) associating demented violence with the Islamic world?

(image: Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. published March 5, 2007.


Let us not forget that these are no longer the scrappy one-town newspapers keeping their heads above the "yellow journalism" fray of the early 20th century. They have long since become The News, Incorporated. While there may be individuals still intent on accurate reporting, you must think of the editors and publishers who actually produce the spin products. These are the folks who report to the corporate / political masters and rely on their bottom line largesse.

They don't write very clearly about these two incidents, and the NY Times headline, "Basra Raid Finds Dozens Detained by Iraq Spy Unit ", has nothing to do with the picture. Sunni or Shia, Diyala province or Basra - it's all the same, I guess, to some guy who's probably sitting in the Green Zone, and to his editors in New York...

The video is of the execution of (Shia) Iraqi police north of Baghdad, said to be in retaliation for the rape of a Sunni woman recently by (Shia) Iraqi police. There was also a photograph taken of them, wearing masks, when they were alive. Their bodies were found on Friday.

The raid by the U.S. on the Iraqi intelligence unit was in Basra, several hundred miles away and a couple of days later.

There was an Iraqi insurgency satellite channel, which I think I mentioned before, that showed this kind of stuff nonstop. It was on an Egyptian satellite network, and after much pressure, they finally took it off the air last week. (They said that it was because it interfered with the transmission of other channels, not because of any pressure. Right.)

In any case, I don't think this picture would be shocking to anyone in Iraq, but I guess it is unusual for a major U.S. newspaper. Unless it's a scene from a movie.

The Media keep referring to Al Qaida, lately, in regard to what is happening in Iraq, deflecting the language away from the theme of "civil war" thus, conflating Al Qaida with Iraq so that the Administration can say, "see, we told you Al Qaida was involved with Iraq in spreading terrorism." The Adm is trying to counter the criticisms that they have not finished fighting the "real" enemy, Al Qaida, in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq was not part of the "war on terror," but a fool's errand.

The Administration went to war in Iraq: (1) to get Saddam (2) to stop the WMD (3) to establish "freedom" (4) to stabilize Iraq so that it could form a workable government capable of securing order in the country (5) to stop the "insurrgency," and now, glory be!, (6) to get those pesky Al Qaida, who "we" always said were aligned with Iraq and Saddam...."see, we told you, this was payback for 9/11." Maybe, I missed some of the "reasons" for this war, because they keep changing, but it seems that the Adm is really desperate to win against the public argument for ending it, by touching the memory of 9/11. Frankly, for this old skeptic, it's all (of it) too, too unbelievable. And the sorriness of Congress in forcing the end is deplorable.

Oops, "the sorriness of Congress in NOT forcing the end of the war is deplorable."

I think this fits in also with the strange-but-common practice of usually only showing non-white fur'nurs dead, dying or being killed. In a country that barely grasped the idea of Sunni and Shia (and a war-time leadership proven to be confused at the difference) why should the caption matter?

It's a war of "savages", usually killing savages, and as we get in the way, we get killed too. The chaos isn't our fault, it's theirs, for not "standing up" so we could "stand down." And the grainy web-cam quality with bandana-masked faces could be from 2001 Afghanistan, or 2002 and the beheading/kidnappings or 2004 Najaf or, hell, Seattle in 2000. Doesn't matter. It's all "bad guys doing bad."

This sort image will be tremendously common when the US mostly pulls out (which it most certainly will). Especially since the nets will likely be getting most of their footage from Arabic TV. It'll be interesting to see who wins the framing of it. Is it "these people could never be saved, we had to leave." or "The Democrats made us leave and this is their fault," or "the war never should have happened so this is the GOP's fault," or "Nah nah nah, I can't see you, I can't hear you, not happening, what's up with Britney..."

It's a shame about the media's inability to get the caption right, but no surprise.

This picture has had 10,000 captions already. How many times have you read a sentence that starts like this - "Baghdad police found 20 bodies in the western district of...." Well, those were all captions for this image.

THIS is how it's going in Iraq. This is what the civil war looks like there. Like all terrorism, it's going to take Investigative work within a legal framework, not rockets and bombs to bring this to an end.

Gasho says, "This is what the civil war looks like there. Like all terrorism, it's going to take Investigative work within a legal framework, not rockets and bombs to bring this to an end."

'Civil wars' are not like 'all terrorism'. Terrorism may, indeed, be best fought with effective international policing and legal prosecution, but how many civil wars can you think of that were resolved by foreign boots being placed on the ground? Certainly, not the American Civil War.

In Iraq, both civil war and terrorism is happening. Once the civil war is resolved, the anti-terrorism work can commence.

We sure are killing an awful lot of people. Well, on a positive note, at least it is in ALL of our names.

I'm so horrified by this picture I don't know what to say. What can be done to stop it?

Bushco is doing everything they can to let the war drag on like this for another couple of years so they can "leave office without a failure". How can they stand the sight of themselves in the mirror every morning?

As to the pick--yeah, as somebody else pointed out this happens every day to a few dozen people, mostly young men in similar employment, so....I also appreciate the post that pointed out we can look at foreigners being killed or dead but we turn away when it is "our own" (I remember after the Asian tsunami news stations were torn apart for showing the bodies of some European sunbathers who had died in Thailand. Disrespect for the dead!). It's all become entertainment after all.

it's just so sickening. Like I said I don't even have any coherent thoughts at the moment.

How does it feel to be the last person in that line?

Or have they been so beat half to death they are grateful it is almost over?

That last man's hands look brutally tied--red and discolored. I won't make further observations although I have a few.

I'm going to go away and be depressed now.

"In Iraq, both civil war and terrorism is happening."

Civil war, terrorism, ethnic cleansing... and don't forget the Iraqis who are still fighting against American (and British) troops.

mashup ie., : recombinant forms; eg., : content re-purposing.

collage : “(From the French: coller, to stick; and colle, glue) is regarded as a work of visual arts made from an assemblage of different forms, creating a new [gestalt] whole, thus.

Techniques of collage were first used at the time of the invention of paper in China around 200 BC... The concept of collage has crossed the boundaries of visual arts: In music, with advances in recording technology around the mid-twentieth century, avant-garde artists started experimenting with cutting and pasting audio. By the beginning of the 21st century, the concept of collage accelerates toward visual montage : an editing technique to condense narrative; and, instant messaging : the robust parsing of natural language descriptions expressed in tele-graphic style. to wit :

news mashup ie., : recombinant forms; eg., : content re-purposing.

Journalistic Integrity NYT, a good beginning.

"You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war" (from Fredrick Remington (artist) quoting William Randolph Hearst's response to his remark that all was quiet in Cuba and there would be no war.


Sorry, I should have done as the BAG asked and spoke of the picture and the confusion generated by how it was used. I don't really believe it was deliberately used to mislead. They just wanted it in there because it was horrible and gruesome and people, liking such snuff images, might buy the newspaper.

Nobody I know can get straight what is going on in Iraq any more. Most of them don't know the difference between Shia and Sunni; they just know they are shooting at each other. A fellow at the coffee house this morning who wanted Bush to bomb Iran didn't know if Iranians were Shia or Sunni, but he sure had a lot to say about what a big threat they were....

It's an accumulation of little things that leads to the general sense of unease felt by that person and others like him. He didn't know anything specific about Iran or its people, he just knows the MSM has been nattering on about it, so....maybe they are responsible for 9-11!

Everybody around my little town is comfortable with the statement "Iraq attacked us, so we had to defend ourselves". Absolutely everybody. The notion that 9-11 was not some Pearl Harbor like moment carried out by a sovereign state is totally alien to them. Still more so is any debate about how best to deal with non-state actors and provocateurs, in other words terrorists. In their minds, you catch a terrorist, you find out what country he is from, you attack that country. Simple.

In this context a mixed up headline more or less is not going to make any difference. We don't know what's going on. As has been amply demonstrated, the press cannot move in Iraq freely and does not know what is going on. Our intelligence agencies do not know what is going on (at all). The Iraqi people, isolated in their enclaves do not know what is going on.

I don't even think the shooters and their victims in this picture have the full picture of what is going on.

It is anarchy, pure and simple. A power vacuum which will be filled by a strong man not much different than Saddam, but maybe Shia and pro-Iran (something Bushco has finally grasped, and apparently is prepared to do almost anything to try to prevent).

Sadly all this was predicted before the war ever started. If only anyone had listened.

Tina -

I don't think that last man to die even had the mercy of a blindfold.

That is a final act of gruesome torture. Not only to be the last, but to watch and witness everything that has gone on before. To be left to beg and plead for your life, and then to be kicked down, photographed and shot from behind - probably after waiting agonizing minutes and enduring verbal taunting.

It reminds me of the Saddam hanging.

And the end game will be for someone to kill them all - the whole country's worth, and let God sort them out.


You can email me. I'd like to talk.

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