Saturday, May 07, 2011

The spinner





Protest continue in Iraq. They've been taking place every Friday in Iraq since February. Today is Situation Friday. The Great Iraqi Revolution reports, "Tahrir [Square], Baghdad reflects an amazing community -- one watches and listens to a young man, a member of the Free Youth Movement, who speaks tirelessly about the political ills and the reasons for them that exist -- everyone -- literallly everyone listens to him and is supportive of him and his ideas. The scene then zooms to a mother crying heartbreakingly searching and at the same time mourning her son who had left his home with his cousin and never returned; then to another woman crying 'we are not terrorists - we are not terrorists - you, Maliki, are the terrorist!' People shout and sing 'thieves' 'thieves' 'thieves' . . . and 'liars'. They also chant everything is illegitimate and false. These people have been coming here every Friday since the beginning of February - they represent all walks of life - artists, workers, civil servants, young university students; Facebook users; mothers, fathers; lawyers; retired civil servants as well as children. The songs, the chants and the fervour . . . where is the foreign press, I wonder????"
It's a cry that's been repeatedly made: Where is the media? Why won't they cover the protests? Tim Arango (New York Times) thinks they have. Go to last week's snapshots, I don't want to rehash that because I don't want to pick on him. His view is the paper's view which makes them a great fit but of little interest to those trying to follow the Iraqi people. (The New York Times became the paper of record -- before Tim Arango was even born -- due to its reliance upon officials. That's why it's unable to report on actual movements. They are so rarely led by elected officials.) We've tried to cover the press silence here and also we've covered it at Third (for Third coverage, see "Editorial: The press covers up Iraqi protests" and "Editorial: We Heart Iraqi Protesters" and "Editorial: The Children of Iraq" among other pieces.) Today Joel Wing makes like Christopher Columbus and 'discovers' the issue and he sees things differently which can be fine -- we're all entitled to our own viewpoints -- and it can be wrong. I'll applaud him for finally noting what is one of the most pressing issues even if he completely misses the underlying causes for the lack of coverage. I won't applaud him getting things wrong.
If you're going to include -- in your survey piece -- NPR's coverage of Moqtada al-Sadr's protest, you cannot write "and McClatchy Newspapers never reported on the Iraqi unrest" and be accurate. Laith Hammoudi reported on Moqtada's protest with Jane Arraf. Which is the other thing. McClatchy has no one to head their Baghdad desk and doesn't trust their stringers are reporters. I don't mean that as an insult to Laith, Mohammed, Sahar or anyone else there. I think they're reporters and I think they've demonstrated that repeatedly. The Laith link goes to a piece written with Jane Arraf and anyone can benefit from writing with Jane. But Jane's out of Iraq and is McClatchy going to do nothing? Hannah Allam can't head Baghdad, they've assigned her elsewhere. The smart thing to do would be to realize that McClatchy has strong reporters in Iraq -- the local population -- and set them up with an editor in the US who would go over their copy (the way editors -- in the pre-web days -- were supposed to). But Joel Wing is wrong about what McClatchy did or didn't do and he might want to check some pieces that will have end note credits to McClatchy. I heard about his blog post from a friend at CNN who was irritated that CNN got no credit for their work. CNN had more than the 9 he gave it credit for. Equally strange is the fact that he doesn't include AP. Reuters, AFP, etc aren't US outlets. But AP is and readers of American newspapers in print are more likely to have read about the protests via AP than anything else because AP is a wire service carried by so many outlets. AP has done some strong coverage of the protests. Kelly McEvers has done some for NPR (NPR gets noted by Wing) but the strongest protest coverage was done by the Washington Post and specifically by Stephanie McCrummen. She did the best US coverage of the attacks on protesters and journalists who covered the protests -- attacks after the protest had ended. In addition to filing stories (plural) on that (the New York Times did a strong editorial on the subject but the reporting section of the paper never covered the detention and beating of journalists by Iraqi forces), she also contributed the first and so far only -- THE ONLY -- feature article on the protest leadership that ran in the US. (Le Monde had a nice article but that was only in French, it didn't run in their English language version.)
Joel Wing writes, "Finally, the Los Angeles Times and McClatchy Newspapers never reported on the Iraqi unrest." Really? What is the basis for that claim? We've dealt with McClatchy already, let's move over to the Los Angeles Times. "New Iraq protests smaller, less viollent amid tight security." That March 5th article was written by Aliice Fordham and Raheem Salman for the Los Angels Times. I don't know how Joel Wing does his research but I do know the reaction.
I don't read Wing. I heard about his post via a phone call from a CNN producer who first noted how CNN's coverage was slighted. CNN did much more coverage than Wing gave it credit for. And since he was wrong about that, the reaction is to dismiss all the parts of his essay or post. It's a bit like the people who wrote pieces after the March protest against the illegal war on the 8th anniversary of it. A lot of people showed up making false claims in their 'analysis.' Such as, "NPR never even mentioned the protests!" Actually, not only did it get some coverage after, Mara Liasson noted the protests a day before they took place, noted them on air on NPR. Now we can disagree with one another on the quality of Mara's coverage and that's fine. But we can't ignore that NPdid mention it on air. Not if we're claiming to be honest.
There's no point in including the Los Angeles Times at all. The paper had to step it down because they published stories that made Nouri al-Malik uncomfortable. That's not a criticism of the Los Angeles Times and certainly not one of Ned Parker. Joel Wing will no doubt have the facts down for the future but the people playing catch up now are missing a huge part of the story.
As January wound down, Ned Parker reported on the secret prisons for the Los Angeles Times and Human Rights Watch issued their report on it. Parker's January report on the secret prisons and how they were run by Nouri's security forces, the Baghdad Brigade followed up on his earlier report on how the Brigade was behind the prison that he and the paper exposed in April 2010. All the while Nouri insisted that there were no secret prisons in Iraq -- such as February 6th when Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported, "The Iraqi government on Sunday denied a human rights organization's allegation that it has a secret detention center in Baghdad, run by Prime Minister Nur al-Maliki's security forces." The report then quoted Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Moussawi stating, "We don't know how such a respectable organization like Human Rights Watch is able to report such lies." Camp Honor is a prison that's under Nouri's control, staffed by people working for him. Amnesty International would also call out the use of secret prisons while Nouri continued to deny them. And of course, Nouri was wrong. But, honest, seriously, swear, it was the last time. (That's sarcasm.)
Ned Parker's article kicks off the 2011 round of protests. Outside of Baghdad, the most pressing issue in January and early February for protesters was the issue of their family members being wrongfully detained and a lost in a hidden maze. This continues to be a key component of all the people-protests in Iraq (as opposed to the Moqtada-ordered protests or Ahmed Chalabi silly reigonal protest). And it was the impetus for this year's protests.
Having written and published that strong article -- one that truly proved the power of the press -- the Los Angeles Times followed with a lower profile which is and has been their pattern. I don't question that. Everyone knows Nouri is hostile to journalism and that he and his cronies are litigious (see many, many lawsuits but especially Nouri's defamation suit against England's the Guardian in 2009 which, thankfully, the newspaper won on appeal in January of this year.). A step back, a lower profile, for a bit is in keeping with the pattern the paper long ago set in their coverage of Iraq. April 12th, Amnesty International issued the report [PDF format warning] "DAYS OF RAGE: PROTESTS AND REPRESSION IN IRAQ" and it provides an overview of the protests.
I'm confused by Wing's claim that "Iraq held its first protest on January 30, 2011." That's wrong. It's incorrect. That was not the first protest in 2011 by any means. I have no idea why Joel Wing can't get the facts correct but the easiest way to prove him wrong is to quote this passage from January 20, 2011:
Protests against Iraq's troubled electricity network have spread to the north. In Tamim province there was a street demonstration against the lack of power. The governor also announced that electricity produced locally would be used for the governorate's own use, rather than be sent to Baghdad. Tamim joins seven other provinces that have complained about the troubled power network in the last several months.

Clearly a January 20th protests is prior to January 30th so Joel Wing is wrong. And for those who might say, "C.I., maybe Joel Wing doesn't consider the source of that passage trust worthy?" He may not. There are people who do not trust themselves. Maybe Joel Wing is one of them. But he wrote that passage, it's from his January 20th entry "Electricity Protests Spread To Northern Iraq." Since he wrote it, he must agree with it, right? So I have no idea why he'd write that in January and then ignore it in May. January 16th (still before January 30th), Reidar Visser (Iraq and Gulf Analysis) reported "More Kurdish Protests against the budget.
But that's just one example. The protests -- as we define them -- have featured calls for improvements in basic services from the start. They've also called for an end to the foreign occupation of Iraq. So let's drop further back to January 14th when Jason Ditz ( observed, "Protests against Vice President Joe Biden's visit and the ongoing US military presence in general were reported in a number of cities in Iraq, with supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr getting the credit for organizing many of them." Maybe that should be the date we count the 2011 Iraqi protests as starting from? January 4th there were protests. Namo Abdulla (New York Times) reported, "More than a thousand protesters took to the main street in Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital, to condemn a new law requiring all public demonstrations to have government permits." Should we consider that the start?
On this end, I've called Wing out because (a) he's wrong and undercounted a number of outlets (including CNN) and also because doing this draws attention to media criticism which interests the press (if it weren't for self-love, sometimes the press would have no love at all) and may help draw more attention to the ongoing Iraqi protests in the long run.
One serious slam I will hit Wing with is, "How do you write about the media silence on the protests on a day when protests are taking place and not note that fact?"
Protests also took place in Ramadi. Revolution of Iraq reports on that protest noting "the arrival of the delgation of the families of Jalawla to Tahrir Square," and a "large delegation from Mosul," The Great Iraqi Revolution notes that the Ramadi crowd was "estimated to be 7,000" (and link has video). Among those protesting was a young Iraqi male in a wheelchair as a result of the ongoing occupation. Today, the 8th day of ongoing protests in Ramadi, the Great Iraqi Revolution notes, poet Abdul Wahid Al Badrani arrived to join the Ramadi sit-in. And the Great Iraqi Revolution notes, "A Free Iraqi Woman addressing all men who ware the Iqa'al to join the Squares of Freedom - Tahrir - and if they don't then they should give their Iqa'al to their wives, daughters and sisters so that they come over to the Tahrir in their stead! "

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