Iraq Fallout  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   October/November 2004

Iraq Fallout   


I am writing in response to your article about coverage of the Iraq prison abuse story ("Missed Signals," August/September 2004). Your article implies that the New York Times was late to the story.

I can tell you that I was chasing the story before it broke on either "60 Minutes II" or in The New Yorker. I was pursuing reports I had heard that there were photos and other evidence of widespread abuse. Sources involved in the story were frustrated that "60 Minutes II" had delayed its broadcast for two weeks at the request of the Pentagon and were beginning to talk to me. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the information I needed before "60 Minutes II" went on the air. I wrote a story the night of their broadcast describing their story. I then chased after the Taguba report and was about to get it when Sy Hersh wrote his article. I then wrote a story about the Taguba report the same weekend that Hersh wrote his first story.

"60 Minutes II" and The New Yorker got to the sources first, but to say that we were not aggressively pursuing the story before it appeared elsewhere is incorrect.

James Risen
Reporter, Washington bureau
New York Times
Washington, D.C.

I am writing to offer praise for the excellent article "Missed Signals" in your most recent edition. It was an exquisitely written piece on a media failure of epic proportions.

Now, I would like to direct our attention to another what's really happening in Iraq. I hear it from writers and TV talking heads all the time. "Iraq's a mess." "It was a mistake." "We will fail there." "President Bush lied."

I am a small-town journalist who has interviewed many a soldier returning from Iraq; I still have folks I know over there, and one of my friends has died there. If you want to know what's really going on, ask a soldier or even a returning civilian contractor. Yes, there are terrorists mostly on jihad from other countries. Yes, there are car bombs. Yes, innocent people are dying because some want to derail efforts aimed at reconstruction and restoring Iraqi sovereignty. Yes, all these things are newsworthy, the returning Americans say.

Also newsworthy, they believe, are the stories viewers and readers aren't often hearing about Iraq -- most of the country is stabilized and is in better shape than anything its people ever experienced under Saddam Hussein. Schools, hospitals and utilities -- many of which were down long before the war -- are being rebuilt. And an overwhelming majority of Iraqis are damn glad Hussein -- a mass murderer and tyrant, and the world's most dangerous man in the world's most dangerous place - is gone. We have photo upon photo of Iraqi children and adults hugging U.S. troops and smiling. We have photo after photo of the reconstruction efforts. We've published them. Why, if so many everyday citizens have these images, can't the national press seem to get their hands on any?

Matt Pedigo
News editor, Citizen-Times
Scottsville, Kentucky

The fact that the press did not report on Abu Ghraib until CBS' "60 Minutes II" aired its photographs on April 28 is not the fault of the administration. It is the result of lazy reporting. Do you expect that the administration has to spoon-feed reporters? The information about Abu Ghraib had been made available months earlier when the public affairs officer announced that there were some alleged abuses. And the press ignored it.

After "60 Minutes II" there was little original coming from any of the major media other than showing the same photos. All the big media ran with the same thing. That's hardly investigative reporting. Your entire article is just more of the usual mainstream media's false piety from on high.

Here's another take on the subject: Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, wrote in "Abu Ghraib and Us," May 11: "Then, there is the very fact of the pictures. The American jailers, who live in a country where pornography is a $10 billion-a-year business, became amateur pornographers. They videotaped themselves having sex with one another. One of the officers disciplined at Abu Ghraib allegedly took pictures of a female soldier showering. The Americans sexually humiliated Iraqi prisoners, forcing them to masturbate, to wear women's underwear, and to commit (or feign committing) unnatural acts, and captured it on film. If they had done this stateside in different circumstances, they might be very rich and perhaps even up for an Adult Video Award."

Quit the pontificating and be honest.

Elaine Kolodziej
Publisher, Wilson County News
Floresville, Texas

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