Accuracy in Media

On the MSNBC Hardball show, host Chris Matthews occasionally rails against a neoconservative cabal that he claims took us into the Iraq war with no justification.  On June 23, a key member of the cabal, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, was on the show but Matthews was not.  His substitute, co-host Campbell Brown, then asked Wolfowitz to comment on press coverage of the war.

Hardball showed Wolfowitz testifying on Capitol Hill and declaring, “Part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors.” Wolfowitz later apologized for those comments, but Brown offered reasons why reporters might be afraid to travel in Iraq.  She said she that when she was in Iraq, a car bomb “exploded about 200 yards from the entrance to my hotel, a car bomb exploded at the entrance to the Green Zone, where I walked every day to go to the briefings, and three of my colleagues were kidnapped in Fallujah.”

Wolfowitz said that good news was being ignored and cited the case of an oil pipeline break.  The media claimed there weren’t going to be any oil exports for the next three months, and that this was causing civil unrest.  Wolfowitz commented, “The pipeline was projected to be repaired in 10 days.  It was actually repaired in five days.”  The media picture “seems to be unbalanced,” he continued.  “And I’m not the only one who’s saying it.  I met sergeants up in northern Iraq who are dealing with one of the hard-core areas of Iraq, and they say, ‘It’s not what we see in the international media.  The story isn’t being described accurately.’  There is a lot of bad news that should be reported.  But I think there’s a lot of progress that’s been made.”

Wolfowitz noted that Senators Rick Santorum and Joe Lieberman held a press conference to show “the real torture tapes from Abu Ghraib,” tapes made by the Saddam Hussein regime of prisoners having their hands and even heads cut off.  This is far worse than making a prisoner wear women’s panties, which occurred under U.S. management of the prisons.  Yet “there’s been zero coverage of that in the media,” Wolfowitz claimed.

In fact, the video has been covered, by Fox News and a few other outlets.  But the major media have mostly ignored the tape.  Deborah Orin of the New York Post noted that, last fall, when Fox broke the story of the Saddam torture videos, the Times ran five paragraphs back on Page A-14 with a small picture.  That compares with 181 stories on American abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, more than 40 on the front page.

Orin said a woman named Laura Daniel wrote New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent to complain, and he responded that, “I don’t think the [New York Times] needs to cover the video?but I do think it should make periodic mention of Saddam’s torture?which, in fact, I believe it has, and does.”  Orin quoted Senator Santorum as saying in response, “That’s intellectually dishonest, and he knows it.”  He said if the media had pictures of American soldiers chopping off hands, it would be a huge story.  Is there any serious doubt about that?  Why are American journalists so eager to undermine their own country?

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