Screw objectivity

A quote from the Orlando Sentinel from a front-page article published Nov. 8 about the helicopter crash that killed six American troops in Tikrit, Iraq, the previous day: "'No matter how many attacks there may be on a given day, `American soldiers'` morale has not slipped at all,' said Col. David A. Teeples, commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which patrols much of western Iraq and suffered heavy losses in the Chinook crash Sunday."

A quote from an article by Robert Fisk, published Oct. 24 in the British paper The Independent: "No wonder morale is low. No wonder the American soldiers I meet on the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities don't mince words about their own government. U.S. troops have been given orders not to bad-mouth their President or Secretary of Defence in front of Iraqis or reporters ... . But when I suggested to a group of U.S. military police near Abu Ghurayb they would be voting Republican at the next election, they fell about laughing. 'We shouldn't be here and we should never have been sent here,' one of them told me with astonishing candor. 'And maybe you can tell me: Why were we sent here?'"

Is this the same war? The same planet?

Affirmative. What's different are the types of journalism being practiced. One relies heavily on officialdom, dutifully transcribing what the U.S. government says is going on in Iraq, making sure the quotes are accurate and calling it a day. The other is imbued with guts, brains and humanity, and downplays what Bush officials running this war want you to know.

One amounts to spin control, making its practitioners little more than flaks. The other is on the ground, reporting that people are dying, and nobody seems to know why.

One is "objective," and the other isn't. "There are lies, damned lies and statistics," as either Benjamin Disraeli or Mark Twain said (the attribution is murky).

Fisk, perhaps the best journalist covering this war, simply isn't interested in "objectivity" as practiced by the Sentinel -- and, to be fair, almost every other American newspaper. His stories are written in the first person. He understands history and doesn't care who knows it. He observes, talks to people and draws his own conclusions. In an interview published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Fisk says relying on official sources produces monotonous, predictable stories that serve the interests of the powerful. "If journalism is about writing stories that look like government reports, then I'll go and do gardening or something."

With an attitude like that, it's easy to understand how he finds soldiers with nothing good to say about the chickenhawks in the Bush administration, soldiers who refer to Iraqi insurgents as "freedom fighters" instead of the Rumsfeld-approved term "dead-enders." It's easy to see how he finds evidence of an increasingly trigger-happy occupation force, created and enabled by a military machine that doesn't even bother to count civilian deaths. "On the ground in Iraq, Americans have a license to kill," Fisk writes. "Not a single soldier has been disciplined for shooting civilians."

Is anyone surprised by the fact that the military doesn't count dead Iraqis? These are the same people who refuse to let American war dead be filmed as the coffins come back, the same president who has yet to attend a military funeral.

War is an organized atrocity tolerable only when it can be justified for a greater good. The constantly shifting justification for this war is proof that it need not have happened and that George W. Bush lied (or ignored information counter to his imperial aspirations, which is just as bad) to make sure it did. Journalists who rely on official sources, and nothing else, are complicit in the lie.

Let's take a quick look at the Nov. 9 Sentinel to see just how far up the administration's backside a newspaper can be. Page A17 featured a story quoting Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, blaming the growing number of attacks on U.S. forces on the same old bogeymen: Hussein supporters, foreign fighters and criminals. It's inconceivable that ordinary Iraqis would be attacking American soldiers, because then soldiers would be "occupiers" instead of "liberators."

A story on Page A23 confirms it: "Hundreds of foreign militants answer call to kill Americans in Iraq," reads the headline. The source? U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The crowning achievement in this display of "objective" journalism belongs to Sentinel public editor Manning Pynn. In a column even more ponderous than usual, Pynn dislocates his shoulder patting himself on the back for the Sentinel's decision to publish a daily tally of American casualties. "Wars cost much more than money, and the Sentinel owes its readers as full an accounting as it can provide of that expense," he pontificates.

Dead Iraqis, however, won't be included in the info box. "There is no official accounting of those deaths and injuries," he writes.

One, two, three ...

What are we fighting for? An Orlando resolution denouncing the USA PATRIOT Act. If you believe John Ashcroft has gone too far, join the demonstration 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., Friday, Nov. 14, at City Hall. The more warm bodies in attendance, the greater the possibility that at least one city commissioner will get the message that civil liberties mean something.

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