Bad Reporting and Myths in Baghdad

Bad Reporting and Myths in Baghdad

After the liberation of Baghdad we were treated to numerous reports and commentary castigating the pro-war forces and the Bush administration for overhyping the welcome they would receive from Iraqis, for failing to protect vulnerable institutions like libraries, museums, and hospitals while supposedly protecting the Oil Ministry, for creating ill will with the locals. As usual with most major media coming from Iraq, the reporting was skewed and incomplete, according to a conservative reporter embedded with the troops.

Jonathan Foreman says the Baghdadi people, rather than fighting with the Coalition troops as depicted on the nightly news and in the daily newspapers, are overall very welcoming and effusive in their praise for the liberators. Other reports have revealed that the scale of looting of institutions was not what we were led to believe and that much of the destruction and theft happened before the war even began.

Foreman doesn’t hesitate to name names or be specific.

The Associated Press’s Hamza Hendawi, for instance, massively exaggerated and misrepresented the nature of the looting in Baghdad in the first days after the U.S. armored forces took key points in the city. Like so many Baghdad-based reporters, she described an “unchecked frenzy” that did not exist at that time (the looting was targeted and nonviolent, in the sense that the looters attacked neither persons nor inhabited dwellings). Read her pieces and you’ll meet a veritable parade of Iraqis who are angry with the United States.

Then there were those exaggerated reports of April 18 claiming (as Reuters’ Hassan Hafidh put it) that “Tens of thousands of protesters demanded on Friday that the United States get out of Iraq. . . . In the biggest protest since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein’s iron-fisted, 24-year-long rule nine days ago, Muslims poured out of mosques and into the streets of Baghdad, calling for an Islamic state to be established.” Demonstrators did come out of one mosque, but reporters seem to have confused them with the large numbers of Shia Muslims gathering for the pilgrimage to Karbala—a pilgrimage long forbidden by the Saddam regime.

Foreman says that part of the media myopia might be explained by the fact that many reporters are still relying on interpeters and guides assigned to them by Saddam’s regime and that they hang out all day with one another in the Palestine Hotel rather than going out among the soldiers and civilians to see what’s really going on. Addressing the complaints of looting and the faux story that US soldiers instead protected the Oil Ministry, Foreman says:

More irritating is the myth constantly repeated by antiwar columnists that the military let the city be destroyed—in particular the hospitals and the national museum—while guarding the Ministry of Oil. The museum looting is turning out to have been grotesquely exaggerated. And there is no evidence for the ministry of oil story. Depending on the article, the Marines had either a tank or a machine gun nest outside the ministry. Look for a photo of that tank or that machine gun nest and you’ll look in vain. And even if the Marines had briefly guarded the oil ministry it would have been by accident: The Marines defended only the streets around their own headquarters and so-called Areas of Operation. Again, though, given the pro-regime sources favored by so many of the press corps huddled in the Palestine Hotel, it’s not surprising that this rumor became gospel.

Foreman’s favorite media quote is also mine as well.

But my favorite mad media moment was when an AP journalist turned up in a car heading to the Ministry of Information, the top floor of which was on fire. “Why aren’t you putting out the fire?” she angrily demanded of Sgt. William Moore. He looked at her with astonishment and asked, “How the hell am I supposed to do that?” Turning away, he muttered, “Piss on it?”

That attitude is typical of how the media expected the whole war to progress. They seemed to think that the war should begin, end, and return the city to normal all within the time frame of a Movie of the Week, and that the soldiers should be warriors, firefighters, policemen, construction workers, and politicians all at once.

It all should be a lesson to us bloggers, as well. I saw many of these myths repeated on blogs as they were printed and they were accepted as the whole truth. We have to take what the major media say with a grain of salt, especially on topics that they obiouvsly have a bias on, whether it be morality, the Church, or the War on Terror.

1 comment
  • Given all the arms lying around the country, I think there would be a whole lot more violent actions against our troops if the average Mohammed or Fatima were as upset as the reporters are leading people to believe. The only good that might come of their reporting is that it may keep the pressure on Congress to not pull the plug on funding until we have won the peace as well as the war.  Our Congress is so good at undoing good things in the name of a sound bite or to serve the interests of large political donors.