I have competition!

Not that I particularly relish competition, seeing as I’m a natural monopolist at heart, but it seems there’s a site called IraqJournal.org that has a lot of reporting from Baghdad coordinated by Jeremy Scahill.
I point to this site in a spirit of “we’re all journalists, check it out!” but I gotta be honest. I think Mr. Scahill and his team are pretty biased. First of all, they’re based in Baghdad, which means they’re there with the permission of Saddam’s regime. It’s unlikely they’re going to report on things that make the Iraqis look bad. Secondly, his bio has a couple of telling quotes (emphasis added):

  • “He primarily covers international stories, focusing on the ugly face of US foreign policy.”
  • “He spent more than a month in Iraq (May-June 2002) where he reported on the ongoing suffering there caused by the US-led sanctions and continuous bombing.”

Now, I don’t want to take away from Mr. Scahill’s accomplishments. As his bio says, he’s the youngest person to ever win the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting, (He’s 28). And living in Iraq as a Westerner is hard.
But the coverage is overwhelmingly sympathetic to Saddam. Two stories on the prison amnesty fairly brim with admiration. The implication is, “See? He’s not so bad!” Reports that political prisoners and those accused of spying for Israel and the United States were not released or — worse — “disappeared,” are breezily dismissed. He trashes John Burns’ (NY Times) account of many prisoners thanking Bush for their liberty by saying:

Many prisoners thanked Bush? Is he kidding? “Many” implies that thousands must have been rushing up to Burns (on the day of their “liberation” back into “Saddam’s Iraq”) to make sure that The Times relayed their message back to the Oval Office (which is currently threatening to destroy Iraq). Even if Burns had managed to hunt down that handful of Iraqis who do have affection for the US president, none of them would have been stupid enough on that day, when they had just hit “freedom,” to come out swinging at Saddam and praising Bush to an American reporter. And “many” is a flat-out fairytale.

Now, I have no idea if “many” or “a few” or “every goddamned one of ’em!” thanked Bush for their freedom, but it’s clear from Scahill’s wording that he doesn’t either. There are no quotes from recently released prisoners backing up his claims and his reportage is peppered with “would have”s and “could have”s. In short, he’s assuming.
In another story, running under the headline “Bush Corleone,” Scahill makes the claim that “These days most UN officials here, while deriding the infamous Iraqi bureaucracy, speak of deep collaboration with the government in attempting to deal with the devastating impact of the US-led sanctions.”
That?s simply not true. When I was in Iraqi Kurdistan, Mike Parker of the Mine Advisory Group, which helps locate and cleanse the massive minefields laid during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, told me that 12 expatriates and UN workers had been killed in the four years he had been working in Suleimanya. They were killed by car bombs, snipers and other mayhem. He also traveled with an armed escort and after I met him for dinner, refused to let me return to my hotel without my own armed escort. Mike isn?t with the United Nations, but foreigners there are only safe when they cooperate with Saddam, and that includes talking to the press — especially in Baghdad.
OK. So perhaps I’m being hard on Scahill and his team. After all, they’re on the ground doing work and I’m still in New York. But is it really so hard to say, as one of my friends did recently, “Saddam is a bad guy and a monstrous tyrant, but now is not the time to go after him.” Why are some people on the left unable to take this at least intellectually honest approach? Because it would mean the United States has a point?
So here?s my bottom line: I desperately want to be in Scahill’s position and I have a lot of respect for him that he’s managed to get himself there and do reporting. His site looks nice, too, and I guess I’ll link to it. But — and this is a big but — reporting propaganda, regardless of where it comes from doesn’t serve the most important people journalists should be thinking about: their readers. Also: I oppose the seemingly inevitable war in Iraq not because I think Saddam is a swell chap or because I think everything the United States does is in quest of yummy oil. He?s not and not everything the U.S. does is evil. I oppose it because it’s geostrategically dangerous, because it violates many aspects of established international practices and laws and it shows a shockingly shortsighted vision of foreign policy. From various reports, it seems the United States will hang the Kurds out to dry, and that?s not fair. War with Iraq will also distract us from the important task of containing Al Qaeda and alienate our allies making everything the United States does harder. So, yes, I?m opposed to the war, but not at the expense of truth, the famous first casualty.
But if I was assured that the United States had the backing and blessing of the United Nations, that there was proof of Iraq?s evil machinations to inflict serious and immediate harm and the Kurds were protected by a solid commitment to democracy, then hell, I don?t think I could oppose taking out Saddam.
At least I?m honest.