Unfit to print, take two


Geraldine Sealey
June 4, 2004 8:37PM (UTC)

Michael Massing's follow-up in The New York Review of Books to the Times' mea culpa on WMD has lots of good stuff in it, including a critique of recent Gray Lady coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal and other big stories of the day. Has the Times learned anything from its faulty prewar coverage? If anything, Massing describes the paper of record as following rather than taking the lead on important stories coming out of Iraq. "In general, the Times has seemed cautious and complacent. With few exceptions, its editors have purged the front page of any signs of blood or death; reports of US casualties are usually relegated to inside pages, and photos seem selected more for their visual appeal than for what they might reveal about the terrible realities of war."

Here's another passage that will resonate for anyone who has seen the excellent new documentary "Control Room," about Al Jazeera. While many U.S. reporters are still "embedded" (Salon's Phillip Robertson is one exception), leaving journalists reliant on the U.S. military for perspective and access, the Arab world is getting a less fettered view of the fighting that continues in Iraq.

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"US journalists have generally been unable to see the fighting up close. But ... the problem is as much one of attitude as of access," Massing writes. "As the fighting in the south escalated, I spoke with Youssef Ibrahim, one of the few journalists of Arab descent to have worked for a major US news organization .. While he was in New York, Ibrahim told me, he was able to see al-Jazeera only on its Web site; in Dubai, he can watch it live, and, even as we spoke, he said, it was showing daily reports of the heavy fighting in Najaf and Karbala."

"'There's nothing of this on CNN, let alone Fox or MSNBC,' he said. 'Right now I'm watching a gunfight in Najaf. They're filming it themselves, without being embedded with American troops. Now they've switched to Baghdad they have [a team] reporting from Sadr City, which has 2.5 million people. If I flip to CNN, they'll give a report from Baghdad about the day's goings-on in Iraq, as seen by Americans with a Marine unit. As a professional American reporter, I feel that's not the way we are trained to do our job.'"

"Asked if he felt al-Jazeera is balanced, Ibrahim said of course not. 'It's our equivalent of Fox News,' he said, "but it's our Fox News. It gives me the other side of the story.' Americans rarely get to see the other side."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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