Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

“Reporting” of military press releases

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Glenn Greenwald:

On June 22, the BBC — under the headline: “‘Al-Qaeda gunmen’ killed in Iraq” — reported, along with virtually every major American media outlet, the following claim, without any challenge or questioning:

US helicopters have killed 17 gunmen with suspected al-Qaeda links in Iraq’s Diyala province north of Baghdad, the US military says.

But unlike the American media outlets which mindlessly reported these “Al Qaeda kills,” the BBC at least followed up on this story and found that there are substantial grounds, to put it mildly, for believing those claims were false. In a follow-up article — prompted by protests from residents of the village where the “Al Qaeda kills” occurred — the BBC reported:

A group of villagers in Iraq is bitterly disputing the US account of a deadly air attack on 22 June, in the latest example of the confusion surrounding the reporting of combat incidents there. . . On 22 June the US military announced that its attack helicopters, armed with missiles, engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen who had been trying to infiltrate the village of al-Khalis, north of Baquba, where operation “Arrowhead Ripper” had been under way for the previous three days.

The item was duly carried by international news agencies and received widespread coverage, including on the BBC News website.

But villagers in largely-Shia al-Khalis say that those who died had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. They say they were local village guards trying to protect the township from exactly the kind of attack by insurgents the US military says it foiled.

Minutes before the attack, they had been co-operating with an Iraqi police unit raiding a suspected insurgent hideout, the villagers said.

They added that the guards, lightly armed with the AK47 assault rifles that are a feature of practically every home in Iraq, were essentially a local neighbourhood watch paid by the village to monitor the dangerous insurgent-ridden area to the immediate south-west at Arab Shawkeh and Hibhib, where the al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed a year ago.

According to local witnesses, then — none of whom were interviewed by the media outlets obediently reciting the U.S. military’s dramatic narrative about “17 Al Qaeda fighters killed” — those who were killed by the U.S. strikes had absolutely nothing to do with “Al Qaeda,” but instead were guarding their own villages against the very Sunni insurgents whom we now call “Al Qaeda.” The entirety of the screaming headlines on June 22 about the Glorious Military Victory which Killed Al Qaeda was based exclusively on this Press Release issued by the U.S. military (specifically, the Public Affairs Office of “Camp Victory”) — entitled “Coalition Forces kill 17 al-Qaeda gunmen near Khalis” — and read as follows:

“Coalition Forces attack helicopters engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen southwest of Khalis, Friday. “Iraqi police were conducting security operations in and around the village when Coalition attack helicopters from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and ground forces from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, observed more than 15 armed men attempting to circumvent the IPs and infiltrate the village.

“The attack helicopters, armed with missiles, engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen and destroyed the vehicle they were using.”

That Press Release, with no investigation or modification, immediately became the headlines and lead paragraphs of every major American media outlet. Our news organizations, which claim to have learned so many valuable lessons from their profound failures in the run-up to the Iraq war, “reported” on this incident by doing one thing and one thing only: reading the Press Release and then copying it down and reporting it as Truth. Just look at a small sampling of what was produced as a result of this mindless media recitation:

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2007 at 7:27 am

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