Accuracy in Media

By Tara Servatius*

In the media’s version of the story, after the February 22 bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra, Iraq was swept up in a wave of retaliatory religious violence.

In the weeks after the bombing, national news outlets fed Americans a steady diet of sectarian violence. Some 90 to 200 Sunni mosques across Iraq? the number varied depending on which newspaper was telling the tale?were attacked, burned or bombed.

Almost immediately, polls began to show that a majority of Americans believed that Iraq would descend into civil war.

But in the days after the Samarra bombing, a counter-offensive the American public still doesn’t know about was quietly launched by the American military. Military leaders who had been on the ground in the wake of the bombings had seen violence and bloodshed, but nothing on the scale of that which the media had reported. So they directed a systematic “check” on the media’s reporting, cataloging damage to mosque and violence incident reports.

Media Misinformation

On February 25, at a press conference aimed at correcting “media exaggerations,” the military released the preliminary results of ground and aerial surveillance that found that just 22 mosques had been attacked, that only six sustained significant damage and that only two were destroyed completely, figures much lower than those the media repeatedly reported in the days after the attacks.

At the press conference, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch warned members of the media that these erroneous reports were benefiting the terrorists and leading the Iraqi people to believe that “the violence is more widespread than it really is.” “Keep in mind, these reports are for a country that has thousands of mosques,” Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Commander, Multinational Corps Iraq, later told the media. “Yet as I watched the news, I thought that every mosque in Iraq was being at-tacked.” Rather than correcting their own reporting or challenging the military’s evidence, virtually every major American mainstream media outlet in Iraq simply blacked out the military’s claims.

On Feb. 23 and 24, Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue and Alexandra Zavis reported that 168 Sunni mosques had been attacked, a figure they attributed to the Sunni clerical Association of Muslim Scholars. After the military press conference on the 25th, the AP quietly dropped that figure from its stories, referring instead to “a wave of reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques” without any numbers attached. The news service did not report the military findings released at the Feb. 25 press conference.

Anonymous Sources

Other media organizations simply continued to report the same anonymously-sourced mosque bombing and violence totals they’d used before?most of them attributed to unnamed Sunni leaders while ignoring the much lower figures released by the military.

In a Feb. 27 article, Knight Ridder reporter Nancy Youssef wrote that “more than 100 Sunni mosques in Baghdad were vandalized or destroyed,” a claim she attributed to unnamed “Sunni leaders.” No military sources were referenced. On Feb. 28, the Washington Post reported that “more than 100 Sunni mosques were burned, fired upon or bombed,” in an article by Ellen Knickmeyer and Bassam Sebti. The military wasn’t sourced once in the article, and if military officials were given a chance to respond, that response wasn’t included.

The military again attempted to correct what it called exaggerated and erroneous reporting at another press conference on March 4 held by Gen. George Casey, who released the final findings of the military’s investigation into the media’s reporting on the mosque bombings.

The Facts

A transcript of the press conference, which was attended by all the major print media outlets, showed that reporters were told by Casey that:

  • A total of 30 mosques across the country were attacked, with less than 10 of those mosques moderately damaged and only two or three of those mosques severely damaged.

  • In one example, the military visited eight mosques the media claimed had been damaged. It found just one broken window, but no other damage.

  • Contrary to media reports of widespread violence across Iraq, only two of Iraq’s 18 provinces saw violence, Casey said. In eight others, there were demonstrations that were contained by the Iraqi police and army. In the remaining eight provinces, there was no reaction to the bombing.

According to a review of articles published on Lexis-Nexis, only the Washington Times fully reported the information from the second press conference. Most other media outlets stopped giving totals in reports that referred to the mosque bombings after the second press conference. So far, they have continued to black out the military’s accusations about their initial reporting.

Media Lies

At a March 7 press conference, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld could barely contain his disgust with the media’s reporting and their failure to correct inaccurate reports, as he spat a list of their inaccuracies and exaggerations back at them. “From what I’ve seen thus far, much of the reporting in the U.S. and abroad has exaggerated the situation, according to General Casey,” said Rumsfeld. “The number of attacks on mosques, as he pointed out, had been exaggerated. The number of Iraqi deaths had been exaggerated.  The behavior of the Iraqi security forces had been mischaracterized in some instances.

“Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side,” said Rumsfeld. “It isn’t as though there simply have been a series of random errors on both sides of issues. On the contrary, the steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq. And then I notice today that there’s been a public opinion poll reporting that the readers of these exaggerations believe Iraq is in a civil war?a majority do, which I suppose is little wonder that the reports we’ve seen have had that effect on the American people.” 

Ten days later, at a March 17 press conference, the war between the military and the media raged on. This time it was Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli who took on the media over its growing tendency to characterize all violence in Iraq as sectarian and violence levels in general as increasing.

“I can tell you that in the first few days following the bombing, we did indeed see an increase in sectarian violence,” said Chiarelli. “That has since tapered off, and what we are seeing now are the same types of attacks we were seeing before the mosque bombing, and actually at a slightly lower number, except now all events seem to be characterized as sectarian in nature. Now, some of those events are sectarian, but far fewer than are being reported. Most of the events are a combination of the work of al Qaeda in Iraq, insurgent attacks designed to prevent progress in building the government and pure, unadulterated crime.”

As usual, a Lexis-Nexis search showed that Chiarelli’s comments, like Rumsfeld’s the week before, never made it into print.

*Tara Servatius, an investigative journalist based in North Carolina, has won over two dozen journalism awards.

 

 

DIRTY REPORTING ABOUT A DIRTY WAR
By William Dorich*

When Peter Brock came to me to publish Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting, I was thrilled but I was fully aware that this manuscript was submitted to and rejected by every major publisher in the United States, revealing an ugly truth that dissenting views are not always welcome in the media or in the American publishing industry. 

In the entire decade of the 1990s, during the dismemberment wars of Yugoslavia, not one single article was printed in the New York Times that was written by a Serbian journalist, author, scholar or political leader. The same can be said of numerous major newspapers across the nation, including the Los Angeles Times, in my city. Serbs were simply muzzled into silence.

The result: the word Serb has become synonymous with evil. I should know as I was the victim of two hate crimes and received numerous death threats for daring to defend, write and publish Serbian views.

Dr. Alex Dragnich, a Serb, is the recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award for Outstanding Scholarship at Vanderbilt University, where he taught for several decades. Dr. Dragnich is the author of ten books on Balkan history and politics and was a member of the diplomatic corps in Belgrade after the Holocaust. 

At the height of the Bosnian Civil War, Dr. Dragnich submitted 42 Op-Ed articles to the New York Times. Not one was reproduced, yet lie after lie was published by the Times from instant Balkan “experts,” few of whom had credentials on the Balkan region.

David Binder, who graces our book with a profound foreword, was a member of the Washington bureau of The New York Times from June 1973 to his retirement in 1996. He continued reporting until 2004, offering unique insights into foreign policy and the Yugoslav breakup. The admiration and respect for Mr. Binder’s reporting and reputation as a journalist for almost five decades is without equal during what is fast becoming an era in which most journalists seem to strive to be mediocre at their craft; too many are simply recklessly irresponsible.

Binder Vs. Burns

Can you imagine that when the war broke out in former Yugoslavia his editors sent John Burns to cover the story, a journalist who relied on Muslim translators?

Burns won half a Pulitzer for writing about the confession of an alleged Serbian rapist and killer. This Serb was found guilty by his own confession without a single victim of rape or a body of an alleged murder victim presented as evidence at his trial. It was later proven his confession was tortured out of him. John Burns claimed there was not a mark on his body. 

Was the American public duped about Bosnia? We should be asking what kind of justice is this at The Hague that cases against Serbs are not overturned when Muslim witnesses have admitted that they were coached by Bosnian authorities to lie on the witness stand? What kind of justice is Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal, promoting by keeping Serbs imprisoned for killing numerous Bosnian Muslims who turned up alive and well in Sarajevo?  

The U.S. blackout of court coverage of the Hague Tribunal conveniently hides what has turned out to be lynch-mob-style tactics of judicial abuse yet we are told that this tribunal is the linchpin of future international court cases involving war and genocide.

Media Run U.S. Policy

Ambassador James Bissett of Canada said it best in his attack on the media: “It is not the media’s responsibility to influence governments to make unwise policy decisions affecting the very course of history.” But that is exactly what the media did in Yugoslavia.

If Osama bin Laden and Muslim terrorism are this nation’s number one enemy, then the invasion of Bosnia by thousands of bin Laden-trained terrorists was a threat to Serbia and they had every right to defend themselves. Hundreds of those Muslim terrorists remain in Bosnia and Kosovo today.

Since the end of the war in 1999 and the arrival of KFOR troops in Kosovo, over 150 ancient Serbian churches have been destroyed. For the most part the press has remained silent. The same press that demanded human rights and religious tolerance for Bosnian Muslims continue to deny the Serbs equal justice as Serbs have been made nearly extinct in Kosovo where they were a majority of the population in 1939?the year in which I was born.

The media tell us that Albanians are a majority of Kosovo but never publish the fact that 40 percent are illegal aliens who cross the border into Serbia as easily as Mexicans cross our borders each night in San Diego.

Phony Witness

In the preface to his book, A Witness to Genocide, which is truly an oxymoron, Roy Gutman wrote: “Having set such lofty standards, I immediately make an exception and wrote about the Omarska camp which I had not visited, based on second-hand witness accounts.”

Gutman wrote to my author refusing permission for Peter to quote from A Witness to Genocide, so we paraphrased his quotes. Meanwhile his publisher, Simon and Schuster, said we could quote from their book and then charged us $450 for the privilege.

Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting documents how many journalists covering the Balkan Civil Wars also made exceptions to their lofty standards. They lied, fabricated, and distorted the truth. They repeated the propaganda of other journalists ad nauseam. They trampled on journalistic ethics, integrity and morality for their bylines.

On March 15, 1993, French journalist Jerome Bony, reporting from the Muslim stronghold of Tuzla, said:  “When I was at 50 kilometers from Tuzla, I was told go to the Tuzla gymnasium, there you will find 4,000 raped women. At 20 kilometers, this figure dropped to 400. At 10 kilometers, only 40 were left. Once at the site, I found only four women to testify.”

And this is the sort of evidence that gave us headlines screaming 60,000 rape victims in Bosnia, an absurd claim that to this day has never been exposed as a fraud by the American media.

I attended a panel discussion at Long Beach State in California in which Jacques Merlino, Deputy Chief Editor on Antenna 2 in Paris, told his audience: “All journalists in Bosnia are required to submit their articles to Bosnian censors in Sarajevo. Notice that any reference to conflicts between Croatians and Muslim forces are heavily edited, visual images of these conflicts are forbidden. Any journalist breaking these rules is expelled from Bosnia.”

In other words, John Burns accepted half a Pulitzer and never told his readers that he abided by this kind of censorship.

The Big Lie Technique

In his December 1993 editorial in Strategic Policy, defense expert Gregory Copley wrote: “The big lie technique is alive and well. Croatia has used the media and skillful image manipulation to hide its renewed genocide against the Serbs while at the same time ensuring that Serbs are themselves wrongly accused of the same type of crime, and more. Pictures of dead, wounded (or raped) Serbs often fill the screens of the world’s television and print media, only to be re-labeled as dead, wounded or raped Croats or Muslims. Serbs not only suffer the indignity of defeat in death; they also are used in death as models in the macabre image manipulation operations of the Croatians and Muslim Bosnians.”

Mr. Brock’s career as a newspaper journalist for more than 30 years is highlighted by 17 professional awards, including being named a finalist for the 1989 Pulitzer Prize competition for Public Service. Recognized as a political and environmental writer and investigative reporter, Mr. Brock holds the Southern Journalism Award for Investigative Reporting (Duke University), the Thomas L. Stokes Award for Environmental Reporting of the Washington Journalism Center, and 15 other distinctions.

He has traveled widely throughout the Balkans, Western and Central Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and other regions since 1976. A specialist in the role of the Western media in the Balkan wars, Mr. Brock’s controversial articles and reports were reprinted in major newspapers worldwide and he appeared on U.S. and foreign media outlets.

Peter Brock began his newspaper career at The Philadelphia Inquirer, served for 20 years with The El Paso (Texas) Herald-Post, and wrote/reported/edited for newspapers in New Mexico, Colorado and Washington, D.C. During his career, he has covered organized crime, drug-trafficking, and the unique politics along the U.S.-Mexican border as well as critical water issues in that desert climate.

His “Dateline Yugoslavia: The Partisan Press,” published 13 years ago in the journal Foreign Policy, set off shock waves in Washington and the media that are still rippling. The publisher was regaled into organizing a virtual accountability session at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Brock appeared with David Binder, facing a roomful of media “pit bulls,” and restated his findings about the co-belligerent Western pack journalism maneuvering and manipulating for NATO intervention, encouraging NATO to violate its own defensive treaty.

Investigating The Media

In preparation of Media Cleansing, Peter did what any good investigative reporter does. He searched for information, talking with scores of professionals and eventually tracking down the offending correspondents one-by-one, some of whom refused to answer questions.

They complained to his superiors at his newspaper, and even threatened him with lawsuits. He caught up with one Pulitzer Prize winner at an international Balkan conference in Sweden and unrelentingly questioned him from the audience.

One of the best lines in his book is from the editor of a top supermarket tabloid who, when asked about the shrill and surreal war-coverage by the American media flagships, answered:  “They’re doing a better job of it than we could!”

*William Dorich, publisher of GMBooks, is the author of 5 books on Balkan history and religion, including his 1992 book Kosovo. The book, Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting, can be ordered by calling 310-475-2988. The website is www.mediacleansing.com.

What You Can Do

Send the enclosed card to Ivan Roman of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Use another card to order Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting. And order the AIM film, “Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope.”




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