Monday, November 08, 2004

What Bias? What Ignorance?

Let's compare the news coverage of the beginning of the battle for Fallujah: the capture of the main hospital by the Iraqi 36th Commando with US spec ops troops in support.

In short: AP mangles the story. Some sources do better, but the AP story and photos have been reproduced almost everywhere.

From best to worst coverage:

NY Times has a rather nice description of the hospital fight. Quote: "Iraqi troops eagerly kicked the doors in" and "A man who identified himself as a fighter from Morocco was wheeled down the hallway, where he pointed out several others he said were also anti-American fighters from other countries." The apparent use of the hospital by spotters for the insurgents is also mentioned. A side photo shows "a soldier with the Iraqi 36th Commando Battalion". In another story, one of the four AP photos is described as "a soldier". All in all, a good job.

CBS covers the hospital fight and correctly identifies photos as "Iraqi coalition troops" [sic] and "U.S. and Iraqi troops". Well, they should be correct: their reporter Kirk Spitzer - who is a very brave man - took the footage. CBS seems to be on the mend, at least in this case.

CNN describes the operation as "Iraqi soldiers backed by U.S. Marines have staged a key raid", which is almost right. The AP photos are described as "troops" or "soldiers". They are also the only ones to note this: "When Iraqi commandos raised the Iraqi flag at the hospital, the insurgents began an unrelenting barrage".

The Telegraph of London mentions Iraqi troops only about half a page down, but at least correctly attributes the AP photo as "Iraqi troops attack the main hospital in Fallujah".

SF Chronicle's article titled "U.S. forces press offensive ..." mentions Iraqi forces about a page down, and has one of the AP photos as "a U.S. soldier". This is typical of papers that used the AP pool photos.

Washington Post leads with "U.S. Marines, Army's 1st Infantry Division Lead Operation Phantom Fury" and hardly mentions Iraqi troops until the second page. A side photo shows insurgents firing a mortar at U.S. and Iraqi troops. Free propaganda for the jihadis, why not.

LA Times "Coalition Forces Fight Way Into Fallouja" does not mention the hospital fight, but says "The Interim Iraqi government tried to frame the Fallouja fight as a battle between "Iraqis" and "terrorists." ". The quotes imply we're not supposed to believe that, it's just a "frame". Iraqi troops are mentioned briefly most of the way down the page. A side photo shows "a soldier". There is also a cheery article titled "Why America Has Waged a Losing Battle on Fallouja".

But the all-time worst award goes to the Associated Press. They distributed to all their photo pool customers four stills probably taken from Spitzer's footage which obviously show Iraqi commandos. However, to the idiots at AP, they are... "US soldiers", "a US soldier", "a US soldier", and "US soldiers". Are they totally ignorant or do they have an agenda, or both? Can they tell an AK47 from an M16? Do they know what US uniforms and gear look like? Apparently not.

When called on it, they can only issue the following lame excuse for a correction: "Correcting that there were also Iraqi troops as well as US soldiers involved in seizing Fallujah hospital and that, due to the quality of the TV grabs, a positive identification of the soldiers is not possible."

Which is a bullshit excuse if there ever was one. A positive identification is not only possible, it is trivial, to anybody who has a clue. But I guess certain things - like Iraqis fighting side-by-side with US troops to secure their own country from jihadi terrorists from abroad - are so far outside the worldview of the guys at AP that they cannot even register. Not even when they are pointed out to them.

You decide: bias, ignorance or both?

Whatever it is, it is certainly not credible reporting.

UPDATE: For a better view of what is going on, read Belmont Club's excellent analysis here, here and here; and Chester for live analysis from a military intelligence specialist. This letter from Marine LtCol Dave Bellon in Fallujah provides some essential background.

UPDATE: Rantingprofs is keeping a close eye specifically on the quality of news coverage, with some interesting notes about embedding with the enemy and why we took the hospital first.

UPDATE: Pierre Legrand who independently noticed the mis-identified AP photos, perhaps a little before me. He has some choice words for the media.

UPDATE: As of this morning, Fox has corrected the captions here at least. Now they say "coalition soldiers" instead of "U.S. soldiers". Progress, sort of. Still no response from AP. Question: does AP have an ombudsman? It seems they need one.