Jewish World Review July 12, 2004 / 23 Tamuz, 5764
Blogging the watchdogs
On June 28, Paul Bremer gave a farewell speech as he stepped down as U.S. administrator in Iraq. Some Iraqis, at least, found the talk moving. Ali Fadhil, 34, a resident in pediatrics at a Baghdad hospital, watched it on television with a group in the cafeteria. He said Bremer's words choked up even a onetime supporter of April's Shiite uprising. We have this information about the Bremer speech because Fadhil and his brothers are bloggers who file their own reports on the Internet ( iraqthemodel.blogspot.com). I had never heard of "Iraq the Model," but Margaret Wylie of Newhouse News Service produced a good story June 29 about Fadhil's blogging and Bremer's talk.
Word that Bremer actually gave the speech is something of a collector's item among American reporters. The Washington Post said Bremer left without giving a talk. The Los Angeles Times did worse. It missed the speech, then insulted Bremer for not giving it. A July 4 Times "news analysis" said: "L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian administrator for Iraq, left without even giving a final speech to the country almost as if he were afraid to look in the eye the people he had ruled for more than a year." This is a good one-sentence example of what readers object to in much Iraq reporting dubious or wrong information combined with a heavy load of attitude from the reporter.
Not sorry. Bloggers in the United States have been all over this story, quoting one another, leaning on the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times for an apology or a correction. Last Thursday, the Times published a correction of sorts. No apology, though, and no regret for the zinger aimed at Bremer. The Times said that Bremer taped an address that was given to Iraqi broadcast media and "not publicized to the western news media." So nobody at the Times watches Iraqi TV or reads blogs? One blogger wrote: "Bremer's farewell address had been common knowledge among readers of Internet blogs since at least June 30," four days before the Times criticized Bremer for having given no speech. Apparently nobody at the Times reads the American press either. Margie Wylie's Newhouse piece discussing the Iraqi reaction to the Bremer talk ran five days before the Times said the speech hadn't been given.
The blogging world cackled a bit about the mess the Times made, mostly because many bloggers think the most powerful big-time news outlets are becoming more and more partisan. The Times may be on its way to becoming Exhibit A for this belief. Bloggers regularly pummel the Times for fact-free negativity about Iraq. One of the best and best-known bloggers, Mickey Kaus at slate.msn.com, tore apart one of the Times 's front-page we-can't-win efforts "Iraqi Insurgency Showing Signs of Momentum; Analysts and some U.S. commanders say it could be too late to reverse the wave of violence." Kaus pointed out that no U.S. commander said any such thing in the Times report. The allegation was left hanging out there with no factual support. Another the-war-is-lost report was a front-page lead on July 6: "U.S. Response to Insurgency Called a Failure." It said "some top Bush administration officials" were criticizing the Pentagon for "failing to develop a coherent, winning strategy against the insurgency." But the alleged "top Bush administration officials" were AWOL in the Times, just like the absent "U.S. commanders." Kaus wrote: "Again, there are no quotes even blind quotes, even blind paraphrased opinions from 'top Bush administration officials' backing up the story's dramatic initial assertion."
The Times 's negativity about Iraq seems to leak out fairly frequently. A June 29 report depicted the new prime minister, Ayad Allawi, as obscure and unpopular: "little-known to most Iraqis after spending more than three decades in exile . . . . Many Iraqis have questioned the interim government's legitimacy." But four days earlier, the Washington Post reported that a large majority of Iraqis knew very well who Allawi was and backed him with confidence.
Citing a survey commissioned by U.S. officials in Iraq and conducted by an independent pollster, the Post said 70 percent of Iraqis were familiar with their new leaders and 73 percent approved of Allawi to head the new government. Allawi had been appearing in the Iraqi media frequently, visiting sites and generating optimism. The poll was not reported in the Los Angeles Times, possibly because the poll was positive about the war and the Times is not. What's new about the press is that so many people who follow it with a critical eye now have an outlet to howl about inaccuracy and partisanship. The big media used to be able to shrug off critics like this.
Now they can't.
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