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The Role Of Media In The Second Gulf War


An Adddress By Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson At St Andrew's On The Terrace - Tuesday, 29 April 2003

"The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers."- Thomas Jefferson


While preparing this morning for this talk I was listening to the latest radio news bulletins and reading this morning's paper, and I think we can now say with some confidence that the New Zealand media's focus on Iraq has come to an end. However for reasons I will expand upon today I think that reports of the demise of this war are greatly exaggerated.

The subject matter for this talk is potentially so broad as to risk my taking up your entire afternoon. I will try to be relatively brief however and confine myself to addressing several of the most interesting aspects of our recent collective experiences of the war and the media.

But first of all I should introduce myself. I am the editor of a small New Zealand based independent news agency called Scoop. We publish on the Internet at the address Scoop.co.nz.

Scoop is a fairly unusual news agency. There are only two fulltime staff. Myself and Deputy Editor Selwyn Manning, based in Auckland, and we have no paid writers nor formal connections to any other media networks.

We publish a combination of raw news – press releases and speeches from political parties, government departments, corporates and lobbying organisations etc – and commentary from what might loosely be described as a wide range of independent writers and thinkers.

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These include lots of Kiwis, a few of them expats, and recently – especially during the lead up to the recent war and the war itself – lots of Americans. We also have a smattering of commentators from elsewhere writing for us too.

During the war Scoop has been a place where if you visited on a daily basis you would most probably find a smattering of the news behind the news about the war.

In our international section we have been running raw transcripts of what protagonists have been saying, George Bush, Rumsfeld, Powell, Blair and Annan, as well as a wide variety of press releases from NGOs. Meanwhile in what we call our Scoops section we have been publishing news and views on what is really going on.

In addition we have published a large number of images of the "reality of war", it is clearly true that a picture is worth a thousand words as these images resulted in an massive surge in our readership, which is something I will talk about in more detail later.

But before I move on to discussing what has happened in the past few months I think it is necessary for us to have a starting point for this discussion.

Namely, what is the media supposed to do during wars?

Rupert Murdoch would no doubt have a different view on this question, but in my view the role of the media in civil society is to inform and illuminate in the public interest.

The media's role in a democratic society in general is to provide the public with an informed basis upon which they can exercise their democratic rights to lobby, and express their views on what should happen to their elected representatives. And nothing changes during wartime.

When measured by this standard I would conclude that the media both here in New Zealand and everywhere else in the Western World – with the exception of the Internet – has failed spectacularly to do its job.

Notably what is excluded from this definition of the Media's role is their job of making profits for their owners. This is presumably the role of the media carved on Rupert's desk, and is unfortunately, a role of the media now commonly understood in large segments of civil society.

The philosopher Jeremy Bentham once remarked, "As to the evil which results from a censorship, it is impossible to measure it, for it is impossible to tell where it ends."

It is clear that during the Second Gulf War the media not only had to contend with censorship – much of which was self-imposed – but also with a serious dose of what is called information warfare.

This information war was conducted on numerous fronts. Among the techniques used have been direct attacks on journalists, deliberate misinformation – i.e. lies, obstruction, legal threats and intimidation, linguistic sophistry, staged media events, planted information, forgery, and even cointel-pro type slander attacks on commentators and opposition figures.

And if you are inclined to simply believe that all this was simply a case of the fog of war, and or that it can be neatly summed up in the old adage, "truth is the first casualty of war", I think you would be severely underestimating the level of organisation that has gone into misinforming you.

To return to Jeremy Bentham's analysis it is impossible indeed to determine the evil that has resulted from all this. What can be said with certainty is that the public by and large remain hugely uninformed not only about what happened during the war, but about why the war was waged in the first place and about what has happened since. And because they remain uninformed about what happened they are also ill-equipped to perform their democratic duties with respect to their government.

On a more positive note in order for there to have been an information war it is clearly necessary for there also to be some opposition to the misinformation and propaganda offensive. And in my view the recent war has seen the emergence of a remarkably effective new media force – the independent Internet media. Nearly all of what I will talk about that follows is sourced from this new media.

In principle the counter-propaganda role ought to have been played by the mainstream media – and certainly that is how they bill their coverage - TV3 promises to always "ask all the questions", CNN promises to ensure you the viewer will be the "first to know". But before, during and after the war, neither of these organisations it seems has tried very hard to ask any of the difficult questions.

Newspaper reporters did little better with a few notable exceptions, Robert Fisk of the Independent being the most well known of these. Fisk's reports were published in New Zealand in both the Dominion Post and the NZ Herald so they would have been very widely read here.

While I cannot claim to have studied in any great detail the New Zealand media's portrayal of the war, from what I have seen and heard, most of the criticisms that I will make today about the international media apply equally to the New Zealand media. This is because by and large NZ's media has simply picked up and republished whatever information has been supplied to them off the satellite and over the wires from what are almost exclusively US and UK news sources.

A notable exception to this rule has been Radio New Zealand who at least go to the trouble of interviewing foreign commentators directly, rather than picking up pre-packaged content. Also worthy of a bouquet have been The New Zealand Listener, and editor Finlay MacDonald and writer Gordon Campbell in particular.

In order to impose some order on the rest of this speech I have divided it into three distinct sections which deal with respectively the lead up to the war, the war itself, and the aftermath.

I refer to numerous concrete examples in the course of this talk. And to assist you to research some of the issues I raise more full I have placed the text of this address and links to all of the source material online at Scoop.co.nz.









George Bush During His 2003 State Of The Union Address


With the benefit of hindsight it is now possible to trace the origins of this war back to well before George W. Bush was even elected and a organisation called the Project for the New American Century, a group of Washington Hawks which include an alarmingly large number of the members of the Bush Administration.

However for the benefit of this address the countdown proper to the Second Gulf War began in August 2002. Not that the White House wanted it to start then, as Bush was still on holiday on his ranch. And as White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card explained in 2003, this was why the plan to wage war against Iraq was formally introduced in September 2002.

"From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August.", he said.

Leaving aside the insensitivity of this remark itself, from a media perspective it is interesting to see the way the Internet has digested this off-hand remark – a remark which Card would no doubt love to retract, but which returns 31,200 matches when searched for in Google.

(Links: The Roll Out for the War on Saddam )

At Scoop we didn't wait for the official launch of the war plan. By mid-August we had been publishing commentaries for several weeks on the subject of a possible war with Iraq, and we then launched a special feature page to archive content on the subject.

(Links: Countdown To War With Iraq
Archiving: Countdown To War Full Coverage (1))

It was at this stage that what I like to call "The War Against The War On Iraq" began in earnest. This war reached its nadir on February 15th 2003 when an estimated 11-15 million people marched against the planned war in Iraq in close to 1000 cities around the world.

(Links: Worldwide Peace Mobilisation - F15 Full Coverage)

This mobilisation is by far the biggest public demonstration of displeasure over a war in human history. Not that the mainstream media were keen to acknowledge this fact. Some of you may recall that George Bush's response to the mobilisation was to say that the administration did not, "make policy based on focus groups".

Illustrative of the media's response to the anti-war movement was the coverage of the lead-up demonstration to the Feb 15 mobilisation held on January 18th . Though nearly 1 million marched around the world and more than 200,000+ in Washington the Associated Press estimated the crowd in Washington at 30,000- a number far less than the 200,000-500,000 estimated by the Washington Post, and numerous independent observers. Meanwhile a columnist in the Washington Post accused the marchers of having been duped by a remnant group of Stalinists.

Washington March January 18th – 30,000 People? You Be The Judge

( How the Press Downplayed the Protests
Demonstrations in Washington Show Mounting Opposition to Iraq War
Michael Kelly's Libel A Response
Marching With Stalinists – Washington Post Jan 22
World-wide protests demand: `Don't attack Iraq!')

Notably Jan 18th was not the first time U.S. media were caught out with this trick. During an earlier also impressively large October 26th March in Washington with at least 100,000 in attendence NPR's Nancy Marshall remarked: "It was not as large as the organizers of the protest had predicted. They had said there would be 100,000 people here. I'd say there are fewer than 10,000."

A similar remark in the New York Times brought out an action alert from media watchdog organisation FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), this in turn led to both NPR and the New York Times – both of which are considered liberal left-leaning media outlets – to correct their reports.

(Links: NPR, New York Times Count Out Anti-War Activists
Times, NPR Change Their Take on DC Protests )

However as was shown with the widely carried AP report January 18th even if the flags have been raised on such questions, the media can still easily revert back to its old ways..

The protest story was of course only a small part of the story of the lead-up to war.

In fact I suspect there has never been a war which has received more coverage and public debate in the planning than this war.

And well before we even started the countdown to the war we had already seen the arrival on the scene of organised propaganda on a scale not seen since the Goebbles and the Second World War.

In February 2002 it emerged that the U.S. Defense Department had established an organisation called the Office of Strategic Influence shortly after the attacks of September 11th 2001. Among the methodologies that the OSI said it would use was the "planting of false stories in foreign media" in order to manage perceptions of the War on Terror. Unsurprisingly the revelation of this till then unknown gem in the public service in the New York Times made the OSI's job untenable very rapidly. In late February it was technically dissolved under the "alleged" orders of Donald Rumsfeld.

(Links: New Pentagon office to spearhead information war )

However the publicly acknowledged existence of an organisation committed to lying to the public is arguably not necessary for such things to go on.

And what is clear from the fact that the OSI was established in the first place is that lying for the purposes of pursuing war was a key part of the game plan in Donald Rumsfeld's suite in the Pentagon.

Moreover in the first Gulf War a very instructive example of how PR lies can be used to sell war occurred without such an organisation in place. Then Hill and Knowlton, paid by the Kuwaiti Government but acting with the apparent approval of the then Bush I administration fabricated a story that in 1990 invading Iraqi soldiers pulled Kuwaiti premature babies from their incubators and left them to die on the cold floor.

The story's star witness was a 15-year-old identified only by her first name of Nayirah. It later emerged that Nayirah was in fact a member of the Kuwaiti royal family, and her father the ambassador to the United States. And the story itself was an outright lie. Nevertheless it provided much of the impetus for the Congressional approval of the first Gulf War.

(Links: Propaganda: Remember the Kuwaiti babies?
Funding War Public Relations With Foreign Cash - Like Father Like Son? )

12 years later in January 2003 George Bush Junior, flush with his very own signed and sealed congressional authorisation to go to war against Iraq, signed into existence a new organisation capable of managing similar PR tasks to those previously contracted out to PR agencies working for administration friendly nation states .

And while there is no hard evidence that the New Office of Global Communications working out of the White House is doing the work that the OSI used to do, nor is there any evidence it isn't.

(Links: White House Office Coordinates Global Communications)

What there is a great deal of evidence of is that someone has been playing the misinformation warfare game on a grand scale.

In the lead up to the war the sharp end of the propaganda war can be found in the communications of the U.S. President and the U.K. Prime Minister to their legislatures and in public statements. Tony Blair's propaganda was a great deal more sophisticated than that of George Bush, but equally deceptive in the final analysis.

On Pennsylvannia Avenue the White House strategy appeared to be to mention September 11th as frequently as possible in the context of Iraq so as to drive an impression in the public mind that Saddam was involved in organising the 911 tragedy . This flew in the face of all the evidence, but never mind, it is a classic propaganda ploy used by the Nazis and it worked a treat. Repeat a single simple idea often enough and you will drum it into the minds of your audience. By the time war broke out nearly 50% of Americans believed that Saddam was involved in 911.

Across the Atlantic at Downing St message discipline was focussed around the publication of a series of dossiers which gave the impression of some substance behind the, "imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction", arguments coming out of the white house.

Unfortunately as we now know the first of these dossiers was based largely on a plagiarised undergraduate thesis. And the second dossier based its most significant conclusion – that Iraq was lying about its attempts to purchase uranium from Niger – on a set of forgeries.

Notably these dossiers formed not only the basis of Tony Blair's arguments, but also the basis of speeches given at the UN by both Powell and Bush himself.

The extent of the use of misinformation in the lead up to the war was such that I cannot possibly do it justice here. At the Scoop Website you will find links to a series of articles by Dennis Hans – an American writer – in which he thoroughly analyses the techniques of deceit employed during this period.

(Links: Bush the Fork-Tongued Scaredy Cat
Exposing Bush and His "Techniques of Deceit"
The Disinformation Age
I'm Calling You Out:
Marching Orders for Journalists, Officials and Celebrities

See also from the Independent on Sunday this week…
Revealed: How the road to war was paved with lies)

ADDENDUM: As this speech is prepared for publication a new report has been published today by ABC news quoting unnamed Bush Administration sources saying that they " emphasized the danger of Saddam's weapons to gain the legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans." "We were not lying," said one official. "But it was just a matter of emphasis."

(Links: White House Officials Say Privately the Sept. 11 Attacks Changed Everything)

Concluding my remarks on the lead up to the war I will mention two more incidents that highlight important issues and tactics utilised in the information war.

First there was the Scott Ritter affair. Scott Ritter is a former UNSCOM Chief Arms Inspector who has campaigned against war with Iraq for several years. He is (or should I say was) the leading anti-war arms expert on the network TV circuit. His testimony was important and credible because of his background.

And then in mid-January this year he suddenly taken out of the game. Justin Raimondo of Anti-war.com wrote the seminal piece on this affair and I will paraphrase a couple of paragraphs from his detailed report that you will find linked at Scoop.

Ritter according to news reports from an obscure New York newspaper may have been arrested, in June 2001, as the result of an internet sex sting, in which an undercover cop posing as a sixteen-year-old girl lured him into "sex chat" over the internet.

This story apparently came to light when an assistant district attorney was fired for settling the case and not informing the D.A.

Raimondo goes on to say. " So the police just happened to conduct a "sex sting" operation against the one man who had exposed the lies of our war-mad rulers from the inside. On the eve of war, as hundreds of thousands protest in the streets, this staunch Republican and solid family man who has become one of the War Party's most formidable enemies is suddenly "exposed" as a child molester."

(Links: TARGET: SCOTT RITTER - The War Party gets ugly )

The use of such tactics to blackmail and thereby gain control of troublesome individuals and people in strategic positions is another age-old tactic and one made famous in the bad old days of Cointelpro. I notice that Ritter has now re-emerged into the public arena, but the smearing had the desired effect of knocking him completely out of the debate over WMDs a key point in time, and continues to provide perfect ammunition for online pro-war forum participants and leader writers to smear any arguments against the war attributed to information sourced to Ritter.

My last example of prewar information warfare is the strange case of the "Capture" Of "Most Wanted Terrorist" Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. This example also serves to bring out one of the key problems of war reporting, the necessity of accepting information from "official" sources.

If you think about it even if a war correspondent is attempting to do their job in good faith, what are they to do? They forced to get their information from the security forces. The very same spooks, generals and police inspectors whose information they are supposed to be scrutinising, and critically reporting on.

How, for example, can a reporter confirm or verify a statement made about a military or police action at which no-one other than the police are present. Thanks to the Internet's ability to make all publications available to a single researcher in real time we now have a new tool available for the purpose of verifying such reports, comparative analysis.

We owe another North American writer, Paul Thompson, a debt of gratitude for revealing the full extent of media duplicity in case in the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

All that can be said for sure following an examination of Thompson's research is that all news in Pakistan is lies. Thompson examined reports from The Washington Post, New York Times, Times of London, Christian Science Monitor and several other publications all reporting on the capture of the Al Qaeda kingpin.

The thing is, they all reported completely different accounts of what happened? Each paper had a different version of the number of people present in the raid, the number of people arrested, the evidence recovered and sundry other small details. Meanwhile the family who live in the house where the raid took place tell another story altogether.

Sure, there is always a bit of a risk of Chinese whispers interfering with the clarity of such reports, but on reading the evidence it seems clear the extent of variation is beyond that which could occur by accident. And so it seems Pakistan's security services aren't very good at the level of message discipline required to tell a convincing lie. But how good are the U.S. spokespeople? As you will soon discover lying is not quite as easy as it seems.

(Links:Is there more to the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than meets the eye? )


The Bombing Of Baghdad – Shock & Awe


Which brings us to the war proper. As we now know at 1pm on March 18th NZT (March 17th Primetime in the US) Bush delivered his 48 hour ultimatum to Saddam. Get out or face an invasion.

(Links: Hussein Must Leave Iraq Within 48 Hours : Bush)

But even in this final phase of the countdown George was still being disingenuous. Ari Fleischer explained the real position the following day.

"The President also made plain to the American people that if Saddam were to leave, the American forces, coalition forces would still enter Iraq, hopefully this time peacefully, because Iraqi military would not be under orders to attack or fire back. "

(Links: Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer - March 18, 2003 )

That is the US would invade either way. Whether Saddam left or not. So why give the ultimatum?

The answer to this question can I think can be found in the same lexicon that produced Shock and Awe, and the Most Wanted Deck Of Cards. The media strategy in this war has been to turn the war into something the audience – Andrew Card's market who need to be sold the war - are familiar with, Hollywood drama.

Therefore Sheriff Bush issues his ultimatum to the villain of the peace, and so sets the tone of what was to come. A war made for the small screen, one which was minutely stage managed, and in which every shot needed to be approved by the script editors.

Readers of newspapers and viewers of what we have come to call "CNN war-porn" during those first few days of the war will recall the breathless tone of proceedings. Reports in the newspapers attempted to evoke a sense of moment with purple and gushing prose, satellite crossovers on live TV brought the viewer to the locations, albeit with virtually no actual information about what was going on. The media played the game they were asked to play.

Instead of analysis we received grainy pictures of tanks streaming across the desert, the seventh cavalry – a name seemingly evoking Injun hunting parties of yore. We watched reports about scuds being fired that were not actually scuds, and we saw numerous reports about the taking of Um Qasr, the discovery of WMDs and the surrounding of Basra nearly all of which turned out to be false.

We waited patiently for the top billing act, "Shock and Awe" for several days before being presented it in glorious technicolor only to find that it was far briefer than what we had been promised. Meanwhile we got used to briefings from Generals Brooks and Franks delivered at the Qatar press center from a $250,000 set designed in Hollywood. And these briefings too quickly sunk into a predictable pattern.

Regardless of what he was asked and how much evidence to the contrary raised by the questioner General Brooks' answers were always the same. The U.S. was doing its absolute best to avoid civilian casualties, no he could not confirm any reports of any actual bombing mistakes, nor could he confirm reports of Iraqi resistance or tell us where the troops were as that would potentially compromise security.

This strategy worked remarkably well. During the first 48 hours of news of any potential Public Relations catastrophe or military mistake occurring - for example, the bombing of a market in Baghdad or the cluster bombing of the town of Hilla - the reports of civilian casualties could not be nailed down and confirmed as being the responsibility of U.S. forces for several days.

Always there were inquiries underway – and suspicions of Iraqi malpractice were hinted at. Later, by the time reporters emerged with pieces of identifiable wreckage and photographs confirming U.S. Air Force involvement, the attention of the media had moved on to the next issue of the moment.

A case in point was the missile that hit Kuwait. For the first 48 hours it was reported that this missile was probably a silkworm Chinese made missile filed by the Iraqis from the Al Faw peninsula. Later we learned that it was in fact a stray U.S. cruise missile. But by then the cameras had moved on to new vistas.

Admirable and quality newspaper reporting of these issues was done in numerous print publications, but it rarely saw the light of day on television screens and certainly hardly ever made it into New Zealand papers.

Meanwhile General Brooks obfuscatory performance was of course closely matched by that of the Iraqi information minister Mohammed Said Al-Sahaf who also knew it seemed nothing of anything untoward happening to Iraqi forces. Strangely Al-Sahaf has become a cult figure but General Brooks has not.

*** ### ***


But so much for the official spokespeople, what about the reporting of the war from the field

Well for a start it paid in spades for reporters to be accredited and embedded, and for them to consent to the U.S. government censorship that this entailed. It paid because the main alternative to being embedded appeared to be to become a target.

Again with the benefit of hindsight it was not that surprising that the ranks of Journalists experienced a remarkably high level of casualties in this war. What was perhaps remarkable was the lack of hard questions asked about this to the military hierarchy by their colleagues.

It was not surprising because of what we had seen from the earlier war in Afghanistan. Then the U.S. bombed Al Jazeera too. And then there was the warning given to the BBC's Kate Adie before the war began.

On March 10th, Adie, a senior BBC war correspondent told Irish national radio broadcaster Tom McGurk.

" I was told by a senior officer in the Pentagon, that if uplinks --that is the television signals out of... Bhagdad, for example-- were detected by any planes ...electronic media... mediums, of the military above Bhagdad... they'd be fired down on. Even if they were journalists .."

( Pentagon Threatens To Kill Independent Reporters In Iraq )

Strangely this apparent Scoop, which was picked up and widely distributed by the independent online media prior to the war, was as far as I can see not reported in any other mainstream media at all.

Later, after numerous independent journalists were targeted – allegedly accidentally of course–the question about Pentagon shoot to kill policies regarding independent journalists were raised by several Journalist related bodies, if not by many actual media outlets.

On April the 10th after the most egregious examples of Journalist targeting on April 8th FAIR issued an advisory press release headed: " MEDIA ADVISORY: Is Killing Part of Pentagon Press Policy?". This said:

"On April 8… U.S. military forces launched what appeared to be deliberate attacks on independent journalists covering the war, killing three and injuring four others. In one incident, a U.S. tank fired an explosive shell at the Palestine Hotel, where most non-embedded international reporters in Baghdad are based. Two journalists, Taras Protsyuk of the British news agency Reuters and Jose Couso of the Spanish network Telecino, were killed; three other journalists were injured. The tank, which was parked nearby, appeared to carefully select its target, according to journalists in the hotel, raising and aiming its gun turret some two minutes before firing a single shell.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. launched separate but near-simultaneous attacks on the Baghdad offices of Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV, two Arabic-language news networks that have been broadcasting graphic footage of the human cost of the war. Both outlets had informed the Pentagon of their exact locations, according to a statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists. "

(Links: MEDIA ADVISORY: Is Killing Part of Pentagon Press Policy? )

*** ### ***


U.S. Prisoners Shown On Arab TV

Which of course begs the question why? Why would the U.S. military be targeting independent camera crews.

And this in turn brings us to the importance of images. Fairly early on in the conflict it was clear where the Pentagon was drawing their lines in the sand. As soon as the pictures of U.S. POWs appeared on the Al Jazeera arab news channel the Pentagon spin doctors threw a major hissy fit.

"Out of respect for the families and consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions:" their advisory read. "We request news organizations not air or publish recognizable images or audio recordings that identify POWs. Additionally, we request you not use their names, first or last, or their unit until next-of-kin notification is complete."

Notably a follow up advisory was never issued indicating that notification of next-of-kin had been completed, and in the meantime the initial advisory had performed its function. Network TV in the States did not broadcast the pictures, newspapers did not show them. And a major debate was prompted over the ethics and legalities of posting pictures of POWs.

An independent news website with which Scoop works yellowtimes.org, based in the States did post the pictures., and their Internet Service Provider promptly pulled the plug on the entire website citing the DoD Advisory as the reason for doing so. By then however Scoop and several other outlets had published the pictures too and they quickly proved to be extremely popular viewing. In the end thousands of Americans viewed the images that they could not see at home on Scoop.

(Links: War Pictures Cause Yellowtimes.Org To Be Shut Down, Again
Scoop Images: U.S. POWs Shown On Al Jazeera TV
Link: Truthout.org's Version Of Images (Very Graphic)
Grisly Images Stoke Media Debate
Amnesty Intl. - Iraq: Treatment of POWs
ADF Advisory - Identifying prisoners of war
DoD Advisory - On Coverage of POWs and Deceased
Recovered History - Al Qaeda Prisoners At Camp X-Ray)

What was quickly pointed out in the independent media was that the concern over the legality of POW images was entirely one-way. No similar concerns over the Geneva Convention were raised concerning the Guantanamo Bay captives, who the Pentagon issued pictures of trussed up like turkeys, nor had any concern been shown about the screening of pictures of surrendering Iraqis.

What was abundantly clear from the incident was the level of sensitivity that the Pentagon's media minders had over unfavourable war images. They didn't want any. And once bitten by Rumsfeld's dogs the U.S. Media proved remarkably shy on the image front for the rest of the war. Meanwhile all around the world U.S. owned subsidiaries and other publications acting as imitators thereof played ball too, largely keeping the reality of war, the decapitations, the dead civilians and charred soldier corpses invisible to the Western public.

Think to yourself how many pictures you have seen of the casualties in this war, both coalition and Iraqi? How many photo essays have you seen of the dead and wounded in Baghdad not being treated because the hospitals have been looted and are closed?

This clean-sanitised view of war was not followed in the Arab Media, and this probably goes a long way towards explaining why it was Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV officers that were bombed in Baghdad on April 8th. Though there is another explanation for this as well which I will come to later.

Back home here in New Zealand Selwyn and I at Scoop decided as a matter of editorial policy not to follow the rest of the media on this point. The images we published – many of them taken from Al Jazeera screenshots – were horrible it is true. But then so is war.

Deputy Editor Selwyn Manning explained why we published these images in an editorial on March 27th.

"Is it right that the general public have access to the realities of what is going on in Iraq? Ought we to be determined to publish and present a true reality of warfare? Is it likely that images such as those of the US POWs will aid people to realise how chilling, how unfair, how cruel, how sick warfare is?
Scoop’s editorial policy insists this is so.

The more people who realise this, the more compelled our communities may be to become participants in our democracies, to challenge elected leaders, and to insist leaders pursue alternative means of resolution outside the devolved condition of state-sanctioned murder.

To sanitise the reality of warfare is abhorrent to those serving the public interest. To censor images of capture, of death, as a consequence of war, is wrong. If Scoop were to do so, it would be subscribing to the glitzy rah rah top-gun Hollywood-façade-style of reportage that the mainstream United States based media has become obsessed with. "

(Links: Scoop Continues To Publish Reality Of War Images
Scoop War Images Feature Page)

We also solicited feedback from readers on what they thought about our decision and over the course of the next three weeks we received hundreds of pieces of feedback on this question – most if which we published. At a ratio of roughly 15 to one the feedback supported our stance.

Subsequently the issue of the visual scrubbing of the Iraq War has become a fairly hot topic for discussion on the Internet and several almost mainstream media commentaries have been written on the subject in the states. Some of these are linked in the website version of this address, and two of these linked back to Scoops images to illustrate their views.

(Links:Truthout - MSNBC's Banfield: Media Filtered Realities Of War
SF Chronicle - Body counts, Rummy's plan, and the grisly stuff they don't want you to see
Salon.com Disasters of war - Photos you're unlikely to see on U.S. television. - you will need to get a free day pass here to view this story.
NOTE: Both the Salon.com and the SF Chronicle articles link to Scoop's images. )

*** ### ***



Does This Look Like The Fall Of The Berlin Wall?

Which brings me to another important visual moment in the war. It was called the "defining moment", "The tipping point". Network television in the United States lingered live at the scene for two hours waiting breathlessly for the triumphant moment. And the following day it was heralded all around the world with huge front page photos and banner headlines proclaiming the fall of Saddam and Baghdad. I am talking of the symbolic toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue. Donald Rumsfeld compared it to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and network talking heads nodded wisely in agreement.

But was the scene what it seemed to be? And was it what we were told it was, namely a spontaneous outpouring of Iraqi feeling against their dictator?

Apparently not.

Within hours of the great event an enterprising Indymedia contributor had pulled together a remarkable piece of detective work seemingly proving that at least one of the angry Iraqi's photographed at the statue toppling by Associated Press was actually none other than one of Ahmed Chalabi's henchmen - and possibly even a bodyguard to the former exile and Pentagon nominated future leader of Iraq.

If this doesn't concern you then there is also a wide angle photograph of the square – seemingly taken from the Palestine Hotel which housed most of the Western Media in Iraq showing that the crowd present at the occasion was at the most around 150 people, and that this relatively small crowd was guarded by at least three Abram's tanks.

Meanwhile a close look at video footage of the event shows that apart from the frenzied few who jumped on the statue and started whacking it with their shoes, most of the crowd at the scene hardly even moved as the bronze Saddam hit the dust.

(Links: The pulling down of the Statue was a staged media event
Russell Brown's Hard News - Paranoid and Let Freedom Ring
Scoop - Image: A Wider Angle View Of The Fall Of Baghdad)

In a recent analysis of the event in his Hard News blog mediawatch's Russell Brown quoted John Lee Anderson in the New Yorker being almost dismissive of the statue event:

"By the time we got back to the hotel, the marines had arrived, and the approach to the street was blocked by armoured personnel carriers. We got out of the car and walked toward them. A man who was standing in a crowd gathered at the side of the road called out to ask us if we were Americans, and when we said yes the whole group began cheering and applauding us, clapping their hands as if they were at a performance in a theatre. Not long afterward, in the traffic circle in front of the hotel, a statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down by soldiers in an armored personnel carrier."

Russell Brown concluded his analysis saying.

"Television in particular needs visual symbolism and spectacle, and the US networks, which went live from the square for a good two hours, got what they needed. And, in a way, so did we, the punters. People were looking for a tipping point, an end of sorts, and they got it. But the Brandenburg Gate, it most certainly was not."

Global Peace and Justice Auckland, an anti-war lobby group, has taken the issue of the footage up with the state broadcaster TVNZ. I understand that though the news editors were not particularly interested in hearing the complaint initially Ian Fraser has since agreed to meet to discuss the matter further – it will be interesting to see if they agree eventually to run some form of rehash of the story explaining the discrepancies, but I will not be holding my breath waiting.


My second example of information warfare is no so much a piece of propaganda as an inside Scoop on an aspect of the war that has received very little airplay. Last week a report carried in a Lebanese newspaper outlined what it claimed were the terms of a surrender deal by the Republican Guard.

Several aspects of this story are remarkable from a media and information warfare perspective. Firstly there is the fact that if true this report is the clearly the supreme Scoop of the war, it is the real story of how the war ended when it did, explaining why U.S. casualties were kept to a minimum, and why the U.S. was able to march in to Baghdad virtually unopposed.

What is really odd is that thus story be found almost exclusively in independent and online media sources? Aspects of it have been reported in the French and Russian media too. Moreover why hasn't it been clearly denied by official sources?

Perhaps this is because from the U.S. Defense Department media minder's perspective it has numerous unsavoury aspects they would probably want to keep from the general public. And denying its allegations would just draw attention to them. These are

- the fact that senior Republican Guard commanders – some of whom are almost certainly war criminals – have not only been given large sums of cash and gold but also offered resettlement inside the United States;

- and secondly the article begs the question. If a deal was done for the Republican Guard to surrender peacefully then why did numerous armoured columns advance to the center of Baghdad guns a-blazing and killing reportedly hundreds of civilians and militia members on the way?

- Finally there is the level of detail in the report. And one detail in particular. According to the author the shelling of the Palestine Hotel and the attacks on Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV on April 8th were part of the plan. As he explains it, this was done in order to: " herd the journalists into a place from which they could not move, except by order of the coalition forces, or, to be precise, the US Marines. " With the journalists so occupied the evacuation of 200 top commanders of the Republican Guard could be accomplished without embarrassment.

(Links: The Surrender Deal Of Iraq's Republican Guard
U.S. drops top Iraqi general from most-wanted list
Secret War: How the CIA Defeated Saddam Hussein
Russian Ambassador: U.S. Bribed Generals to Surrender
CIA’s golden victory: U.S. Bribed Iraqi Military Leaders )

But none of this of course explains why the media aren't doing their job and asking these questions.


The search for Weapons of Mass Destruction is a focal point for misinformation for obvious reasons. Failure to find these weapons will make Rumsfeld, Bush, Blair and Hoon into fools at best, and liars if not war criminals at worst. Perhaps more importantly from their perspective a failure to produce a smoking gun will put ammunition into the hands of their political opponents and potentially undermine their credibility with the public when it comes around to election time.

Consequently cynics the world over have been confidently predicting the discovery of a smoking gun at any moment. Afterall even if one cannot be found then presumably one can be planted, and as we have seen before with the Niger Uranium documents, this sort of operation is not beyond the expertise of some of the people involved in this affair.

On the other hand the delay in seeing this smoking gun is also understandable, given the fact that so many earlier misinformation plots in this area have been sprung, and that so many people are waiting and watching for this plot to be hatched. This time the information warfare team really needs a victory.

And so thus far there has been almost nothing. (The discovery of several missiles and drums of chemicals over the weekend could be the something we are waiting for, but so far everyone is being cautious about calling this flock of swallows summer.)

The almost something we have had so far came on April 21st in an article from the New York Time's Judith Miller. Miller it is worth pointing out has made a career out of writing breathlessly accusatory articles about Saddam Hussein's Iraq, including a book purchased in bulk by the Kuwait government. Links to a couple of articles on her background can be found in the online version of this address.

Miller's report which was also published in full in the NZ Herald was an extremely carefully crafted piece. While it studiously avoided claiming the existence of any actual evidence and contained enough disclaimers to make you wonder why it had been published it all, it still managed to make all the points necessary for President Bush to claim in a very widely reported statement on Friday that evidence of WMD programmes is being found:

"Iraqis with firsthand knowledge of these programs, including several top officials who have come forward recently -- some voluntarily -- (laughter) -- others not -- (laughter) -- are beginning to cooperate, are beginning to let us know what the facts were on the ground. … And so, it's going to take time to find them. But we know he had them. And whether he destroyed them, moved them, or hid them, we're going to find out the truth.," The President said Friday.

Not everyone has been so easily convinced however. A reader of Buzzflash wrote the following response to Judith Miller's article.

"We were led to believe that you couldn't take a walk in Iraq without tripping over [WMDs]. But as luck would have it, just as the whole world was starting to shout, "Liar, liar, pants on fire!" the military gets a visit from the WMD Fairy.

WMD? Why yes we had them aplenty but just before you got here we destroyed them all. "Good enough for me," said the Pentagon. "Good enough for me," said the Chickenhawks. "Good enough for me," said Judith Miller of the New York Times.

Oh, and WMD Fairy, did Saddam by any chance share these weapons with Al Qaeda? "Why he certainly did," said the WMD Fairy. "Good enough for me," said the Pentagon. "Good enough for me," said the Chickenhawks. "Good enough for me," said Judith Miller of the New York Times.

It would be oh so helpful if Saddam shipped some of these nasty old weapons to Syria. "Well I'm nothing if not helpful," said the WMD Fairy. "I personally saw Saddam drive them across the border in his pickup truck when he escaped." "Good enough for me," said the Pentagon. "Good enough for me," said the Chickenhawks. "Good enough for me," said Judith Miller of the New York Times."

(Links:Judith Miller's original NYT piece Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert
Buzzflash - Judith Miller and the WMD Fairy
Scoop Dennis Hans - Judith Miller reveals Raiders won 2003 Super Bowl
President Gives Iraq Update to Workers of Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio
The Decline and Fall of American Journalism (Part LXV): the Case of Judy Miller)


A New Deck Of Cards Is Released


A reader of Scoop recently wrote to the editor urging us to remain especially vigilant about events in Iraq now that the glare of the International Media spotlight is beginning to dim.

And he is very right to be concerned. How much have you read lately or heard lately about the war in Afghanistan? I can report that it is very much still underway, and is getting bloodier by the day. War lords remain in control of most of the country and very little of the international aid and reconstruction promised by Tony Blair, George Bush and the international community has eventuated.

Instead the country is flourishing as a home to organised crime, drug production and drug trafficking. All the while US military aid is being provided to ruthless local commanders to be used to police this narcotics trade and further ruthlessly oppress the civilian population. I wonder if this picture sounds familiar to anyone.

In the aftermath of the war in Iraq the role of the media - as in Afghanistan - ought to be to hold the politicians to their promises. It should be to insist that war criminals are brought to justice, that Iraqis be delivered a democratic state and that they receive a fair share of the income from the sale of their oil.

Unfortunately it appears that certain that the media are headed towards a very similar position to that they have adopted over Afghanistan. Iraq will soon be old news and events there will rapidly disappear off the radar screen – especially if the Bush Administration mounts a new offensive against North Korea, Syria or Cuba.

(Links: UN-Afghan mission condemns killings in Afghanistan)

I personally would not be at all surprised if we were to see a state of emergency declared for security reasons in the fairly near future in Iraq, followed closely by a crackdown on political leaders who are causing the new administration problems. Particularly Shiite religious leaders. This scenario could very quickly turn into a guerrilla war situation like that in Afghanistan with ruthless puppet proxies doing the U.S.'s dirty work well away from the eyes and ears of the Western Media.

Meanwhile in the aftermath of the war, the evidence of deception and duplicity that we experienced before and during the war has continued at pace. In my view at least there is very little reason to be hopeful that the liberation of Iraq will be followed by a blooming of freedom and civil society.

Some of you will have read Robert Fisk's reports concerning groups of arsonists arriving by bus after the looters leave government buildings in order to torch them. As libraries, museums and police stations full of the history of the nation and the evidence of war crimes go up in flames, the only two ministries in Baghdad under U.S. military guard are the oil ministry and the ministry of the interior.

Is the U.S. military being held to account over these issues by the media?

I am sure you can guess the answer.

Instead the news diet both here and in the U.S. in the aftermath of this war continues to be driven directly off a menu provided by the Pentagon's spin masters.

Yet another dumbed down Hollywood style device has been employed to keep us infotained, this time a pack of cards. War it seems is now like a game of cards.

And so every morning if you tune in to the radio you will hear a running total on the number of "most wanted" cards who have thus far been taken into custody, and which card the latest captive is represented by.

(Links: Deck of Cards Helps Identify Regime's Most Wanted)

I for one would be keen to know a bit more about the deck of cards than simply who has been caught so far.

How this list was decided on, by whom and what is its official status?

Is this the entire list of people who will be arrested by the coalition forces?

Are U.S. soldiers authorised to shoot these people on sight, and if not what exactly does General Brooks mean in saying these are people the U.S. " intend to pursue, kill or capture"?

Is this legal?

How did they decide to confine their list to just 55 people?

Who was left off because they didn't make the cut?

Why are there only four names on the list associated with the feared republican guard? (Of course we now know one possible answer to that question, but it would be nice to hear what the story is officially.)

Unfortunately in the reports I have seen thus far on the deck of cards none of these questions have been asked let alone answered.

A search of Google news on the most wanted cards is kind of instructive. In addition to news on the capture of the six of clubs, you will see that a video game based on the cards has now been launched, that spam generated by the sales of the cards has become a major problem and that they are selling like hotcakes all around the world.

One cannot help but wonder if the cards were ever really supposed to be taken seriously? Indeed if the war itself supposed to be taken seriously?

Probably not. Leastways not if the United States' democratically elected representatives have their way.

Fortunately as always the independent online media have produced an antidote to Rumsfeld's Most Wanted Deck of Cards, a deck of their own featuring Tony Blair, the Bush Family, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and a clutch of corporate CEOs who are as we speak making plans to make a killing out of the reconstruction and exploitation of Iraq.

(Links: Playing Card Deck Shows Way to U.S. Regime Change)



In conclusion you will by now be aware that I have been less than impressed with the mainstream media's efforts in covering this war.

In fact I would go further and say that the mainstream media are now quite clearly part of the problem.

Global media ownership is now concentrated in fewer hands than it has ever been. And many of the major media companies are now associated with industrial empires with fingers deep into the war profiteering pie.

Mega-corporation General Electric is the owner of the NBC and CNBC networks. Rupert Murdoch is the owner of the rabidly pro-war Fox network – and Rupert himself is on the record as saying he is fully behind the war on Iraq. Why? God only knows… perhaps he thinks war is good for the sales of newspapers. It is certainly odd on one count as televised war is not a favoured medium of advertisers – in fact they tend to keep away from it as if it were leprosy.

But while the mainstream media may have served us appallingly badly, the fact that I am able to stand here and tell you all that I have today is proof positive that something in the media melee is still working.

And that something in my view is the Internet.

The Internet is populated by an army of independent writers, editors and reporters. While they are working completely without formal coordination and largely without remuneration they have done an absolutely remarkable job of providing a force of opposition in the information war just experienced.

It seems as though within hours of any significant piece of misinformation appearing someone has written a well researched and referenced column as a counter. Significant in enabling this to happen has been the remarkable development in the effectiveness of search engines. This means that it is possible to immediately, on reading a piece like Judith Miller's about the WMD Fairy, find out a considerable amount of information about her background.

And while online audiences are relatively small in straight numerical terms, I suspect they are far more influential than they look. For while the general public may not get their news off the Internet many journalists, politicians, defence analysts, PR people and public servants do, and the networked nature of the internet enables the important information in the morass to be filtered and distributed extremely quickly.

Even among the public at large the fact that 11 million people turned up to peace demonstrations on February 15th is proof positive of the power of the Internet as a co-ordinating tool. It can be safely assumed that very few of those marchers were coordinated with the assistance of the mainstream media.

And even more conservative elements in public – people like newspaper letter writers, traditionally fairly well healed middle aged types - are increasingly showing they are far more attuned to the skeptical views expressed on the Internet than they are to those they are routinely reading in their papers.

Take for example the remarkable Dominion Post reader reaction to Michael Bassett's column poking the borax at anti-war protestors following the fall of Baghdad.

While I may have missed the letters written in support of his view, from what I could see there were none and there were certainly a huge number of letters attacking his position. Did these people form their views from reading the Dominion Post's editorials, or news coverage?

Finally before answering your questions I would like to make a brief request on behalf of the independent media for your support.

None of those involved in the independent online media business are in it for the money. But these ventures all need your support. And equally importantly the Rupert Murdoch's, Tony O'Reilly's and Izzy Asper's of this world will only understand one sort of message from their readers. And that is the cancellation of subscriptions, and boycotts by their advertisers.

If you want a media that serves you better than what you now have you will have to start doing something about it. And as always that something will start at home.

Thankyou for listening.



Iraq The Media War – Guardian Special Report
Information Warfare Resources: Pro-U.S. Information Must Prevail
The Memory Hole – A Great Source Of Censorship Info
Truthout.org – An Excellent Daily Summary of Important News
Take Back The Media – A Website About Fixing the Media
Information Clearing House – A Great Source Of Important But Difficult To Find News Stories
Buzzflash.com – A Brazenly Partisan Source Of Links To The Best Of American Media
Sam Smith's Progressive Review – Another Excellent Source of Links To The Best Of American Media
Whatreallyhappened.com – A Link Based Website Dedicated To Digging Behind The News
Mike Ruppert's From The Wilderness - Independent News Service For The Robustly Skeptical
Antiwar.com – A Great Source of War Story Links and Commentary
Fair.org – Fairness And Accuracy In Reporting
Counterpunch.org – A Great Independent News Site
Commondreams.org - Another Great Independent News Site
Cooperativeresearch.org – A Website Dedicated To Researching Media Issues Via A Comparative Analysis Methodology
Bartcop.com – The One And Only

There are countless more independent news websites that I should list here, but part of the fun of the Independent Online media is to find it for yourself.

- Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson April 29, 2003

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