Embedded in a Media Fantasy World: The case against objective reporting By William Bowles

26 September 2004

I recently had a brief exchange with the Washington correspondent for the Independent, Andrew Buncombe over his ‘paper’s coverage of events in Iraq. Now although I’ve never actually met Andy, and I’m sure he’s a decent fellow, I brought to his attention a recent ‘War Report’ compiled by an Iraqi journalist that itemizes the horrors being visited on the Iraqi people eg, 14 enormous cluster (anti-personnel) bombs each of which contains 2000 so-called bomblets as well as napalm bombs dropped on the village of Zaydan, 20km south of al-Fallujah. At least forty-four people were massacred in the small village. According to the report 15 of the dead were children, 10 women, and nine were elderly persons. Seven children are in critical condition, and eight women and five men were also wounded. Also killed in the raid was ‘Adil ‘Ali Hamdan the General Administrative Director of al- Fallujah General Hospital. His wife and two of his children were killed as well, and two other children of his were wounded. [1]

These illegal and vengeful war crimes go unreported and at best, misreported in the Western media as far as I know, and the example cited above is just one of many. So why do they not warrant the kind of coverage that for example the British hostage Ken Bigley has gotten?

In response to the story I referred to above, Andy wrote in part, the following:

“…[W]e have one person in Iraq, Patrick Cockburn, who’s generally considered to have one of the best takes on what is happening. He’s certainly been covering the US’s killing of civilians – I’m sure you saw the stuff he wrote when the apache helicopter killed all of those people in the street. It seems that every day we report about the chaos and violence, the daily bombing raids on Fallujah, the estimated 37,000 dead. I don’t for a moment argue that our coverage is comprehensive but I don’t think that we are missing the ‘real deal’.”

So what is the ‘real deal’? For a start, to fully appreciate the Apache helicopter story it has to be set in its context in order to appreciate the appalling state of media coverage of events in Iraq and just as importantly, our connection to them.

Firstly, it took place in Baghdad where virtually all the journalists are based. Secondly, the situation was being covered by journalists at the time it occurred of whom one was killed by the US attack. Hence it was virtually a ‘ready-made’ event that simply could not be avoided and also because (yet another) a journalist was murdered who by the way, was of Arab background, and hence didn’t warrant the same attention (read concern) as a Western journalist would have under the same circumstances.

But perhaps it’s the over the top coverage of hostage Ken Bigley that really puts the issue into focus, a story that the Independent has covered extensively including two front pages devoted exclusively to the event. One just can’t help speculating on the ‘odd’ circumstances surrounding the spate of hostage takings by the almost mythical Abu Zarqawi and and ‘his’ various and sundry ‘organisations’ that come and go, not only because of the suspicious circumstances surrounding the first beheading (if that’s what it was) of the American Berg but because of their timings coming as they do at critical occasions for the ‘coalition’.

As I’ve pointed out before, even the circumstances surrounding the Websites from where the ‘beheading’ videos are Webcast raise serious issues about Western involvement in the hostage takings. The Berg ‘beheading’ first appeared on a Website whose domain was registered in London with an address in High Holborn as I think, was first reported here, yet there was no followup by the British security services who you would have thought would have been somewhat interested in the information. And whilst I have no proof of Western involvement, according to Michel Chossudovsky of Global Research, the reporter for Time Magazine Michael Ware, who was the single, lone source of information for the Zarqawi/Berg story is reputed to have US intelligence connections. [2]

And given the history of journalists acting as conduits for disinformation eg Judith Miller of the New York Times and her Ahmed Chalabi/CIA connection, one is forced to view stories that contain the classic lines ‘it is believed (by an unnamed CIA source) to be the voice of Abu Zarqawi’ or ‘it is thought to be the work of al-Qu’eda’ with extreme suspicion. After all, the story concerning Berg/Abu Zarqawi came and went with absolutely no followup that either confirmed or refuted the alleged Zarqawi connection to the Berg ‘beheading’.

Today (26/9/04) for example, BBC Radio 4’s morning news show ‘Broadcasting House’ visited the town in Jordan where Zarqawi supposedly comes from but apart from interviewing a few people from the town, one of whom voiced the opinion that Iraqi and Palestinian children being blown to bits didn’t get comparable coverage in the Western media to that of Bigley, we learned absolutely nothing about Zarqawi, not even if he actually came from the town or even if anybody knew him. In other words, it was a non-story and a complete waste of airtime.

The issue is not that Zarqawi is a Western invention or ‘asset’ (although he could well be) but the role of ‘foreign insurgents’ in diverting attention away from the fact that every major city and town in Iraq including large chunks of Baghdad are no-go areas for the USUK occupation forces. Unwilling to admit that what is really happening in Iraq is a national uprising against the occupation, the imperium has no other choice but to create an alternate reality, with the invaluable assistance of the mass media.

It would also be naïve to ignore the history of Western intelligence agencies in such dirty tricks, the evidence is just too overwhelming to ignore not the least of which is the entire WMD fabrication that the Western media went along with in spite of the overwhelming evidence that Iraq’s ‘WMDs’ (itself a misnomer) were all destroyed by 1991.

As during the earlier period following Iraq’s ‘liberation’ we are also being told once more that the country could well be ‘degenerating into civil war’ (eg see ‘Possibility of Iraq Civil War Looms Large’ The Washington Post, September 21, 2004) [3], although there is not a shred of evidence of opposing Iraqi forces vying for control of the state, the commonly accepted definition of a civil war. The collusion of the mass media in what amounts to the ongoing creation of an illusory reality is all too evident.

This is what passes for ‘objective reporting’ in the Western media, namely the passive acceptance of whatever the ruling elites dish out as fact, for nowhere in either story is there a questioning of the claim of an imminent civil war on the basis of what constitutes a civil war, it is merely relayed as fact simply because the ruling powers say it’s so.

Returning once more to Andrew Buncombe’s assertion that the Independent carried the stories of Robert Fisk who is generally viewed as being ‘anti-war’ thus justifying the more ‘liberal’ or even anti-war editorial position of the Independent, it’s worth noting that for every story by Fisk there must be at least eight stories that carry the so-called objective news tag. Fisk’s view therefore is the exception to the rule and indeed, his stories come across as ‘op-ed’ pieces rather than as ‘news’.

In all fairness it’s worth noting that it’s the editorial position that is under scrutiny here rather than the words (assuming they are the actual words) of an individual journalist. For underpinning the editorial position of a newspaper like the Independent is the (false) assumption that the invasion of Iraq was based on good (if mistaken) intentions. Were the reportage of Iraq on a day-to-day basis to be more critical then readers would get an entirely different understanding of events and their causes. Even the most obvious question is not asked, namely what on earth possessed the leaders of the US and the UK to come such momentously false conclusions?

To take the most obvious example, the refusal by the corporate media to call or even infer or imply that either Blair or Bush are liars (that they most obviously are by any normal understanding of the word lie) alters the entire perspective on events, their causes, possible reasons and outcomes. For calling into question the honesty of our political leaders would inevitably undermine the entire relationship between the ‘established’ press and the state and hence the readers, an unacceptable and intolerable situation.

Hence one or even several stories of the kind that Andy Buncombe referred to (eg the Apache helicopter attack) are used as examples of the Independent’s ‘objective’ reporting as if one story somehow makes up for the entire set of assumptions that the Independent’s coverage is based upon, namely that USUK intentions are honourable (if misguided), that the crimes committed by the occupation forces are ‘aberrations’, ‘exceptions’ or just plain ‘mistakes’.

Once these assumptions are made and then acted upon, as sure as night follows day, all reportage is twisted and read in the context of for example, the US’s ‘good intentions’ and once seen in this light, ‘objective’ news reporting takes on an entirely new meaning.

Contrary to this view of the world, events are not fixed, immutable or neutral objects devoid of history, context or the role they play in the objectives of the state or the other major players, regardless of the ‘honesty’ of the reporter or even his or her ‘good intentions’. Editorial control makes sure that events are set in the ‘right’ context, a context that doesn’t challenge the basic ‘honesty’ of the state and the machinery that operates on its behalf, the civil service.

‘Objective’ reporting then is an illusion based upon a set of false assumptions about how the world works, for it assumes that there is some kind of ‘neutral’ ground occupied exclusively by the media who from their exulted position have some special view of the world that enables them to escape the ‘rules’ that govern the rest of us.

Blessed with this ‘special’ relationship to the state and its operations, the media has the right apparently, to interpret events on our behalf that when challenged it retorts that it simply reports ‘how things are’ and that it can’t cover everything, nor give every available point of view and a host of other justifications for occupying such a privileged relationship with an alleged reality. Not only is such a position an arrogant one, it hides behind a pseudo-scientific façade of objectivity that is even taught at universities thus giving it the official stamp of approval.

Notes

  1. Iraqi Resistance Report for events of Friday, 17 September 2004
  2. al-Zarqawi or al-Invention? I‘n’I 06/07/04
  3. Possibility of Iraq Civil War Looms Large By Hamza Hendawi, The Associated Press, Tuesday, September 21, 2004
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