May 09, 2004

Abu Ghraib: National Press Takes a Pass

Mike Getler, the ombudsman for the Washington Post, examines the Post's coverage of the reservists-gone-wild prison story and concludes the paper "did indeed seem to hesitate to put the story on the front page" even after 60 Minutes gave the American public - and Congress - the first look at their tax dollars at work in Baghdad.

The Post's post-60 Minutes story ran on April 30 - a day after the broadcast - and, says Getler, "carried two of the most shocking images shown by CBS. Yet it was placed on Page A24, and the only clue on the front page was a one-line reference that said, 'Iraqi prison gets new commander as part of probe,' which some readers said was so casual as to be misleading." Getler continues:

"I do not, at this point, have answers to why The Post was slow off the mark on this story other than points I have raised in other columns. One is that war, including the period before it starts, requires alertness at all times and to all angles of the news. That's a high hurdle, but there is no bigger story. The other is that there needs to be timelier investigative reporting. The clues were there four months earlier, on the public record, and they were put there by the military." (Emphasis added).

When I wrote about Abu Ghraib the other day, I said "newspapers must be more aggressive" in their journalism order to "differentiate themselves from the crowd" of media.

Connie Coyne, the reader advocate at the Salt Lake Tribune, echoes that sentiment, saying "reporters in Baghdad and Washington (made) "a poor effort in chasing the story" when the investigation was first announced in January. She continues:

"The Washington press corps has been accused in the past of having a pack mentality -- that they pursue only what they all perceive to be a story or what they can easily get without ticking off their sources and denying themselves access for other stories. That could be the case in this investigation. Or they could be less intelligent than they are given credit for." (Emphasis added).

Hindsight is wonderful, and as I get older I try to resort to it less frequently because every day there's more of it. I don't know why reporters for the New York Times, the Post and others in Iraq and Washington didn't ferret out the story and 60 Minutes and Seymour Hersh did. But I do know journalists need to do better. The first duty of a free press is vigilance toward those who would hide the truth from the society they both govern and serve.

As one person put it so well in my comments: "Where there is no sunlight many cruel habits grow and are accepted as normal ..."

 Washington Post: Michael Getler The Images Are Getting Darker
 Salt Lake Tribune: Connie Coyne Photos aren't the most shocking part of abuse story

Posted by Tim Porter at May 9, 2004 05:29 PM

May the Post had it right and A24 was where it should have been played. Also, all these bromides about "vigilance" and "sunlight" seem hollow when the biggest problem with the mainstream press is what they choose NOT to publish. That's where blogs and the internet are enlightening people. That's why daily circ is down and the nets continue to lose viewers.

Posted by: rivlax on May 10, 2004 10:51 AM

I have been serving in Iraq for over five months now as a soldier in the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, otherwise known as the "ROCK."

We entered the country at midnight on the 26th of March; one thousand of my fellow soldiers and I parachuted from 10 jumbo jets (known as C-17s) onto a cold, muddy field in Bashur, Northern Iraq. This parachute operation was the U.S. Army's only combat jump of the war and opened up the northern front.

Things have changed tremendously for our battalion since those first cold, wet weeks spent in the mountain city of Bashur. On April 10 our battalion conducted an attack south into the oil-rich town of Kirkuk, the city that has since become our home away from home and the focus of our security and development efforts.

Kirkuk is a hot and dusty city of just over a million people. The majority of the city has welcomed our presence with open arms. After nearly five months here, the people still come running from their homes, in the 110-degree heat, waving to us as our troops drive by on daily patrols of the city. Children smile and run up to shake hands, in their broken English shouting "Thank you, mister."

The people of Kirkuk are all trying to find their way in this new democratic environment. Some major steps have been made in these last three months. A big reason for our steady progress is that our soldiers are living among the people of the city and getting to know their neighbors and the needs of their neighborhoods.

We also have been instrumental in building a new police force. Kirkuk now has 1,700 police officers. The police are now, ethnically, a fair representation of the community as a whole. So far, we have spent more than $500,000 from the former Iraqi regime to repair each of the stations' electricity and plumbing, to paint each station and make it a functional place for the police to work.

The battalion also has assisted in re-establishing Kirkuk's fire department, which is now even more effective than before the war. New water treatment and sewage plants are being constructed and the distribution of oil and gas are steadily improving.

All of these functions were started by our soldiers here in this northern city and are now slowly being turned over to the newly elected city government. Laws are being rewritten to reflect democratic principles and a functioning judicial system was recently established to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the rule of law.

The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored and we are a large part of why that has happened.

The fruits of all our soldiers' efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, there are many more people in the markets and shops and children have returned to school.

This is all evidence that the work we are doing as a battalion and as American soldiers is bettering the lives of Kirkuk's citizens. I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well.

Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo

"Die dulci fruimini!"

Posted by: Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo on July 10, 2004 11:02 PM
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