Welcome to the Occupation

"News is what they don't want you to know. Everything else is publicity." --Bill Moyers

Let's make this not just a job, but also an adventure. Preferably not the Steve Irwin, Danny Casolaro or "let's-invade-another-country" kind of adventure, but something exciting all the same. Something that pisses off all the Right people, throws down the gauntlet, takes a position, maybe even inspires a few readers to take a stand of their own. And hopefully, doesn't get me killed. Or fired. Again.

As a former journalist who fairly recently got tossed from one public relations job, and two months ago fled in abject horror and disgust from another, I want to think that moving from PR back to reporting means I've gone from being part of the problem to part of the solution. But it's not that clear.

As the worlds of entertainment, news, politics and marketing move ever closer to becoming a mind-melting mash-up of increasingly desperate and sometimes diabolical pitches for mindshare, it's distressingly difficult to figure out who and what you can trust.



For all the reasons that have been chronicled endlessly elsewhere--big-media consolidation limiting voices; news programs and publications that increasingly focus on the short-term bottom line to please impatient investors and their corporate masters; a citizenry that seeks and supports only sources that reinforce what they want to believe--the news business is now occupied territory.

Occupied by bean counters. Occupied by partisans. Occupied by once-hungry journalists now co-opted by the Establishment. Occupied by reporters who feel more beholden to--or afraid of--the government than the people.

Hey, you don't have to trust me on this. I'm a big fan of "trust but verify." (Why the Democrats never rolled out that old Reagan chestnut to skewer our current president's continuing two-step with veracity, I'll never know.)

This week, Reporters Without Borders released its annual ranking of freedom of the press around the world, covering 168 countries. The United States, which ranked 17th when the study began in 2002, fell from 44 last year to 53 in 2006. We're now tied with Botswana, Croatia and Tonga. Other Western countries also slipped, including Japan, Denmark and France. The reasons are clearly defined on the Web site linked above.

But just as bad as diminishing press freedom is press complicity--and the rise of partisan news reporting. If you're an honest and professional reporter, it's hard not to be trumped by the partisans in capturing mindshare. If you're partisan, you feel no need to be fair and balanced in your news reporting. You can tell the story any way you want, to fit the frame you prefer. If you're professional, you feel compelled to bring the truth of the matter forward by seeking out as many different viewpoints as possible.

Sometimes, you even have to bend over backward to find the "expert"/nut who disputes what every other true expert knows. That's why Bill Gray gets trotted out to debunk global warming at every turn, despite the fact that pretty much any other serious scientist has gone on the record otherwise.

Finally, there are the stories the news media just doesn't want to let you know about--because it might upset the quiet and comfortable consumer culture the Establishment needs to ensure the economy keeps humming along. For a long time, these cheerleaders managed to keep the lid on Iraq. And they have yet to let Americans know how bad it really is over there.

Don't believe me?

Have you heard about the Oct. 10 attack on Forward Operating Base Falcon, the massive U.S. ammunitions dump on the fringes of Baghdad that rocked the city for hours and left mushroom clouds in the sky? No? You weren't supposed to.

Camp Falcon is/was one of the largest ammunition holding camps in Iraq, full of tanks, helicopters and munitions galore, located about a dozen miles outside Baghdad and staffed by hundreds of members of the 4th Infantry and other military-intelligence types. On Oct. 10, it was attacked by Iraqi insurgents--or terrorists, or freedom fighters, depending on what language thought pattern your pre-conditioned mindshare has been lead to believe.

The day of the attack, it got some coverage in the U.S. from Reuters, and, as it was happening, on CNN's The Situation Room, with Wolf Blitzer.

Check out the CNN transcript linked above. In it, their reporter on the ground says: "The Pentagon is not reporting casualties just yet," as if he's expecting them. Another adds: "It's amazing [the Dept. of Defense is] saying that there were no casualties, either military or civilian, from this spectacular, hours-long, chain-reaction of explosions at this ammunition facility." A third observes: "Pretty scary stuff. I find it hard to believe ... that there are absolutely no casualties to report," which he calls "miraculous."

The segment ends with Blitzer promising that CNN "will stay on top of this story." They didn't, and neither did anybody else. The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal never even mentioned the attack in their papers, although some of their Web sites include the Reuters wire. The official Department of Defense version was reported by Stars & Stripes, the military paper, which admitted: "[Iraqi] civilians aligned with militia organizations organized the attack." The story says there were no casualties, which was also duly reported in a paragraph on CNN's Web site, the Los Angeles Times and by a few other news organizations before the story went away.

I'm sure that's the case: Everybody got out OK. But this type of colossal security breach is a clear indicator of the level of duress the American military is under. If "civilians," according to the Department of Defense, were part of the operation, it's another indicator that the "hearts and minds" battle is going as poorly as the military one--especially when you compare it to the comment on CNN from the retired general about sabotage.

If you want to see some Arab coverage of the result of the attack, there's allegedly some footage from Arabic television on YouTube. I don't speak Arabic, so I can't confirm this is the Camp Falcon attack as the poster claims, but I will point out that the mushroom cloud, which CNN refers to in its transcribed report that rises just before the four-minute mark, is particularly disturbing. It's not a nuke, but it's a mighty big explosion.

It's also worth noting that the day after the attack, Richard Dannatt, head of the British Army, made his controversial comments breaking with Prime Minister Tony Blair, publicly calling for the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq.

Did anybody really die at Camp Falcon? Propaganda stories yesterday from Arab news services claim 300 U.S. casualties, plus hundreds more injured, which you should in no way believe. But it's not your usual vague propaganda, either. The story lists the hospital where the casualties were taken and alphabetically lists the names of the casualties. Has any reporter checked this out? Will any reporter? If you've been paying close attention, you already know the answer.

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