Media news 5: Looking into the lens of Al Jazeera (and other items)

June 10, 2004

* This dispatch contains articles connected to Middle East reporting. Below are contents, followed by summaries, and then the stories in full.

CONTENTS

1. New Yorker's Seymour Hersh gets big book deal on Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
2. Boston Globe: "Looking into the lens of Al Jazeera."
3. Washington Post Pulitzer winner Anthony Shadid plans return to Baghdad.
4. Peter Jennings to Baghdad for political handover.
5. Chesler on "Islamist Barbarism And The Western Media".

 



SUMMARIES

HERSH GETS DEAL FOR BOOK ON IRAQ PRISON

Hersh gets deal for book on Iraq prison (New York Post. June 3, 2004). "HarperCollins announced that it had acquired world rights to "Chain of Command," a new book about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal by Seymour Hersh, the journalist credited with exposing that scandal. "We are proud to be publishing one of the most influential journalists of this generation," said Harper CEO Jane Friedman in a statement.

Hersh is the author of eight previous books, many critically acclaimed and/or best sellers, including "The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House." ... HarperCollins paid in the mid-six figures for "Chain of Command." The house will publish the book in the fall, with an introduction by David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, the magazine that first published Hersh's Abu Ghraib articles."

 

LOOKING INTO THE LENS OF AL JAZEERA

"Looking into the lens of Al Jazeera" (Boston Globe. June 6, 2004). "Al Jazeera, the seven-year-old Qatar-based satellite television channel -- seen by more than 40 million viewers and staffed by many former BBC Arabic Television veterans -- is a bold experiment in independent journalism in a region long dominated by state-subservient media. It's also the subject of a new documentary, "Control Room," directed by Jehane Noujaim, a Harvard graduate.

"... For many Americans, however, Al Jazeera seems more like the ominous voice of the enemy than a breath of fresh air. The outlet has become famous for airing those chilling, threatening Al Qaeda videos. It infuriated Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by transmitting footage of dead and captured US prisoners in the early days of the war in Iraq. Its cameras have focused on the kind of collateral damage, civilian casualties, and anti-American sentiment that were only rarely beamed into US homes..."

 

PULITZER WINNER SHADID PLANS RETURN TO BAGHDAD AFTER BOOK

"Pulitzer Winner Shadid Plans Return to Baghdad After Writing Book" (The Editor and Publisher magazine. June 7, 2004). "With a Pulitzer Prize and other recent awards to his credit, Washington Post foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid is taking a six-month leave to finish a book about his experiences in Iraq both before and since the start of the current conflict. After writing from the relative calm of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., where he is a visiting scholar, Shadid plans to return to the Middle East for the Post next fall. He will be based in Beirut, though he anticipates spending most of his time, once again, in Baghdad.

He acknowledges his return to the States this spring has been a little unsettling: "Probably the most difficult thing is Iraq being transformed from a life experience into a policy debate."

His book will follow several families he met in Iraq before and during the war. "I'm struck by how much of what happened turned out as Iraqis feared it would," he says... "lawlessness, humiliation, occupation..."

Shadid, a Lebanese-American who is fluent in Arabic and has reported throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world, spent his time relentlessly interviewing people. "It struck me how far ahead of the story you could be by spending a lot of time talking to people," he points out... "You heard Shiites doing lutm, beating their chests, essentially," he recalls. "The Shiites knew they were now the majority, and they were looking for the power that goes with that. Spending time in the Arab world, I saw how Islamists used social networks to build support. You saw this play out in Iraq after Baghdad fell. Within days, a social welfare network had been set up in Sadr City. The pace of change is breathtaking."...

 

PETER JENNINGS TO BAGHDAD FOR POLITICAL HANDOVER

Jennings to Baghdad for political handover (New York Daily News, May 27, 2004). "ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings will be an on-the-ground witness to history June 30 as the United States hands authority of Iraq to an interim government. Jennings will start filing a series of reports for "World News Tonight" as well as other ABC News shows June 25. Jennings could be the only one of the major broadcast network news anchors on site..."

 

ISLAMIST BARBARISM AND THE WESTERN MEDIA

Islamist Barbarism And The Western Media (By Phyllis Chesler, June 3, 2004).

"Leftists and "politically correct" progressives insist that Americans and Israelis are the real barbarians -- that we purposely and sadistically shoot innocent Arab civilian demonstrators from gunships and tanks and drop bombs on wedding parties, hospitals, and children. I strongly disagree. Americans and Israelis only kill civilians by accident; Islamist terrorists kill civilians on purpose. The vast majority of American and Israeli soldiers have ethical standards that are far different from those of their Islamist opponents. The world, accordingly, holds them to a different, higher standard.

"The world media are also quick to accuse the Israeli and American armies of crimes that they have not committed -- and slow to print retractions. In the so-called "massacre" of Jenin (which never took place -- even the United Nations exonerated Israel of this libel), 23 young Israeli soldiers lost their lives.

"... Of course I acknowledge that all loss of civilian life is terrible; that in war, unintended accidents do occur; that war is hell - perhaps a crime against humanity and God. But just wars and wars of self-defense must be fought, not ducked. Part of the problem is caused by a world media whose headlines are systematically, blaringly, anti-Israel, and whose corrections appear in fine print, if at all.

"... More recently, we have seen the international media gasp in horror - but not in response to the videotaped beheading of Nicholas Berg, and not in response to the pitiless slaughter of the pregnant Tali Hatuel and her four young children. Some journalists blamed Berg for having been there at all; others spread rumors that he was a Zionist agent. And some blamed Hatuel for having lived in Gaza.

"What the world media focused on instead were the photos of the psychologically humiliated and abused Iraqi prisoners in American captivity. They did not focus on the sight of Palestinian terrorists in Gaza as they exhibited the "trophy" body parts of Israeli corpses and held the body parts aloft for ransom..."

 



FULL ARTICLES

HERSH GETS DEAL FOR BOOK ON IRAQ PRISON

Hersh gets deal for book on Iraq prison
By Sara Nelson
New York Post
June 3, 2004

Publishers often announce important book buys in the days before a major book convention, and this year is no exception. On the eve of Book Expo America, which officially begins with Bill Clinton's keynote address tonight at 6:30, HarperCollins announced that it had acquired world rights to "Chain of Command," a new book about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal by Seymour Hersh, the journalist credited with exposing that scandal.

"We are proud to be publishing one of the most influential journalists of this generation," said Harper CEO Jane Friedman in a statement.

Hersh is the author of eight previous books, many critically acclaimed and/or best sellers, including "The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House." Executive Editor David Hirshey, who had been speaking with Hersh for four years about writing a book, has already begun working with the journalist on this one.

"He called me today in a lather and said he was pumping out the pages," Hirshey said. "And when Sy's in a lather, that can only be good for journalism."

HarperCollins paid in the mid-six figures for "Chain of Command." The house will publish the book in the fall, with an introduction by David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, the magazine that first published Hersh's Abu Ghraib articles.

 

LOOKING INTO THE LENS OF AL JAZEERA

Looking into the lens of Al Jazeera: A new documentary about the Arabic outlet reveals coverage a world apart from US news
By Mark Jurkowitz,
Boston Globe
June 6, 2004

www.boston.com/news/globe/living/articles/2004/06/06/looking_into_the_lens_of_al_jazeera/

Al Jazeera, the seven-year-old Qatar-based satellite television channel -- seen by more than 40 million viewers and staffed by many former BBC Arabic Television veterans -- is a bold experiment in independent journalism in a region long dominated by state-subservient media. It's also the subject of a new documentary, "Control Room," directed by Jehane Noujaim, a Harvard graduate.

"I grew up in Cairo, where the news was completely run by the state," said Noujaim. But after returning home in the late 1990s, she recalled, "people were pooling together their money to buy a satellite dish to see debates on Al Jazeera. People were talking about issues they never talked about before."

For many Americans, however, Al Jazeera seems more like the ominous voice of the enemy than a breath of fresh air. The outlet, which burst upon this nation's consciousness by relaying the first images of the US attack on Afghanistan in October 2001, has become famous for airing those chilling, threatening Al Qaeda videos. It infuriated Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by transmitting footage of dead and captured US prisoners in the early days of the war in Iraq. Its cameras have focused on the kind of collateral damage, civilian casualties, and anti-American sentiment that were only rarely beamed into US homes.

"Control Room" opens Friday and has a special premiere tomorrow night at the Harvard Film Archive with Noujaim in attendance. Her previous film was 2001's "Startup.com," a documentary that followed a dot-com started by two high school friends from its inception in 1999 through its collapse the following year. The film was nominated for a grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival the year of its release and won numerous prizes at other festivals.

Noujaim's latest film focuses on Al Jazeera's coverage of the US-led assault that drove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. And it doesn't try and soft-pedal the chasm between Al Jazeera and the United States -- or at least between it and US policy. The outlet's most likable character, a Sudanese journalist named Hassan Ibrahim, is nevertheless such a staunch opponent of the Iraq war that he acidly sums up the Bush administration policy as "democratize or I'll shoot you."

In the film, Al Jazeera staffers make it clear that they believe that the US fire that killed the channel's Baghdad correspondent represented a deliberate attack to silence them and posit the theory that the young men who helped pull down the Hussein statue in Baghdad were US-recruited ringers rather than citizens caught up in a moment of spontaneous celebration. Antiwar sentiment practically oozes from every pore of the news organization.

"Most of us resent American foreign policy throughout the Middle East; we cannot agree with it," Samir Khader, the cigarette-puffing Al Jazeera senior producer who is one of the major figures in "Control Room," declared during a Boston Globe interview.

Noujaim, who was also interviewed by the Globe, added that there are "very different perceptions of what's happening in the world. I knew this was a conflict where there were strong feelings on both sides. . . . There's a lot of lack of understanding on both sides."

In what may be the most effective scene in "Control Room," a number of Western journalists watching US forces triumphantly enter Baghdad seem fascinated and almost elated while their Al Jazeera counterparts wallow in shocked disbelief. "Where is the Republican Guard?" wonders one such stunned staffer.

But viewers who stop to ask themselves why the Western journalists' upbeat reaction is any more journalistically appropriate than the Arab journalists' dismay will absorb a key lesson of the documentary and have a better understanding of the driving force behind Al Jazeera. Or as Khader put it when asked about his channel's journalistic objectivity: "You have to define objectivity... in the eyes of our audience."

That audience is made up of millions of Arabs who, despite misgivings about Hussein, largely saw the US invasion of Iraq as no cause for celebration. Khader himself is a native Iraqi and in one scene in the film, a correspondent for Abu Dhabi Television talks about reporting on the conflict without bias. "I have to reflect what my people are feeling," he complains. "How can I smile when my people are being killed in Iraq?"

"Every story could be covered from a different angle," Khader told the Globe. "I followed many of the American news channels, and I think they did a good job while being too... patriotic."

One of Al Jazeera's unlikely -- and maybe unwitting -- allies in "Control Room" turns out to be a US press officer, Lieutenant Josh Rushing, who actually becomes a persuasive spokesman for walking a mile in the other guy's shoes. At one point in the film, he ruefully acknowledges feeling guilty that images of Iraqi casualties don't affect him as strongly as seeing dead US troops. "It makes me hate war," he says.

He makes an equally salient point in comparing Al Jazeera to the Fox News Channel, the ratings-leading, right-tilting cable network that displayed the Stars and Stripes in a corner of the screen during the war and talked of B-52 bombers making a "grand entrance" into battle.

"It benefits Al Jazeera to play to Arab nationalism because that's their audience, just like Fox plays to American patriotism for the exact same reason," muses Rushing.

While the analogy holds, it wasn't just Fox that wore its heart on its sleeve. American television commentators and anchors often referred to US troops as "us" and "we" during the war, and good news and bad news was measured in terms of American success on the battlefield. US viewers may have been comfortable with coverage filtered through a nationalistic prism, which makes it hard to fault Al Jazeera for providing the same thing for its audience.

In fact, there are some scenes in "Control Room" that provide real reassurance about Al Jazeera. After airing an interview with a US analyst who characterizes the war as an American grab for oil reserves, Khader, citing the need for journalistic balance, bawls out his producer for giving air time to "a crazy activist." And a number of the Al Jazeera staffers come off as decent, thoughtful people, the kind you'd like to have dinner with. In one surprising vignette, Khader even says he'd take a job at Fox in order to change "the Arab nightmare into the American dream" and vows to send his kids to study and live here. (In the Globe interview, he appeared to have reconsidered his desire to work at Fox, saying "I was under stress and pressure at that time.")

Despite the deep differences between Al Jazeera and US media, Noujaim said that in making the film, "I really wanted to find characters that were trying to bridge that gap." Ibrahim and Rushing gamely try to start some kind of conversation between people on different sides of the divide. But Noujaim's success in both demythologizing and defanging Al Jazeera in "Control Room" comes from simply showing that its Iraqi war coverage mirrored the core philosophy of the electronic media in this country -- stay in synch with your customers.

 

SHADID PLANS RETURN TO BAGHDAD

Pulitzer Winner Shadid Plans Return to Baghdad After Writing Book
By Barbara Bedway
The Editor and Publisher magazine
June 7, 2004

www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000525686

New York With a Pulitzer Prize and other recent awards to his credit, Washington Post foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid is taking a six-month leave to finish a book about his experiences in Iraq both before and since the start of the current conflict. After writing from the relative calm of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., where he is a visiting scholar, Shadid plans to return to the Middle East for the Post next fall. He will be based in Beirut, though he anticipates spending most of his time, once again, in Baghdad.

He acknowledges his return to the States this spring has been a little unsettling: "Probably the most difficult thing is Iraq being transformed from a life experience into a policy debate."

His book will follow several families he met in Iraq before and during the war. "I'm struck by how much of what happened turned out as Iraqis feared it would," he says. In a story written just days before the fall of Baghdad, Shadid reported one local family's longing for normalcy, but fear of impending chaos: "They predicted little . stability ahead. From a bloody battle for the capital, to lawlessness, to the humiliation of an occupation, they braced for a future that hardly anyone in Baghdad dares to predict."

Shadid notes that the continuing lack of security in the country has put both lives and the truth at risk, with "danger for journalists" still high. "Isolation is debilitating," he observes. "Journalists can develop a real bunker mentality. Just as the Coalition Provisional Authority members are too isolated from the people to govern, the same thing can happen to journalists - they get too isolated to cover the real story."

During his last weeks in Iraq this spring, he made it to Nasiriyah. "I understand it's eased up," he says in mid-May, "but the last few weeks I was in Nasiriyah, I was really uncomfortable.There had been kidnappings a few days earlier and mortars and gunfire that night.The driver and I woke up and said, 'This is crazy,' and headed back to Baghdad. I think the kidnapping, in particular, spooked my driver."

Shadid, a Lebanese-American who is fluent in Arabic and has reported throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world, spent his time relentlessly interviewing people. "It struck me how far ahead of the story you could be by spending a lot of time talking to people," he points out. "You'd hear the demands happening at the local level - demands for elections, frustrations about the constitution." He instantly saw how strong an issue Shiite empowerment was going to be on the day the Saddam statue fell.

"You heard Shiites doing lutm, beating their chests, essentially," he recalls. "The Shiites knew they were now the majority, and they were looking for the power that goes with that. Spending time in the Arab world, I saw how Islamists used social networks to build support. You saw this play out in Iraq after Baghdad fell. Within days, a social welfare network had been set up in Sadr City. The pace of change is breathtaking."

Shadid has another, unfortunate advantage when it comes to covering war: He knows, from his days with the Boston Globe, what it's like to be a civilian casualty. "I was shot in the back in Ramallah by the Israeli Army," he says, still sounding incredulous that he survived the shot that went through one shoulder and out the other, knocking off the tip of his spine. "I was sitting in the middle of the street, and thought I was going to die. That fear, isolation, and sense of menace - I felt that a lot in Baghdad."

In the book, he plans to explore at length the two very different mindsets he feels were in play from the conflict's beginnings. "I never saw the two sides on the same page," he says. "It was an impressive experience to see the cold, relentless way the war was prosecuted. Iraqis expected the peace to be prosecuted like the war. They expected, as in other coups, that the new power comes in, immediately institutes a curfew, gets rid of the top echelons of the old government. But it was unlike how every other coup had unfolded.

"I feel the Iraqis never signed on to this 'Big Ambition' for Iraq, to be the engine for change in the Arab world," he ruefully notes. "Iraqis are the most American of Arabs - forthright, confrontational, very resilient, with a can-do attitude. However, this sense of identity is distinct from the West. Even in an Arab country with these similarities, there are deep reservations about their identity and protecting their culture and identity from the West."

The book for now is untitled. "My editors have universally denounced my titles," he says wryly. "But I know the subject, and I have the outline."

 

JENNINGS TO BAGHDAD FOR POLITICAL HANDOVER

Jennings to Baghdad for political handover
By James Endrst
New York Daily News
May 27, 2004

ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings will be an on-the-ground witness to history June 30 as the United States hands authority of Iraq to an interim government.

Jennings will start filing a series of reports for "World News Tonight" as well as other ABC News shows June 25.

Jennings could be the only one of the major broadcast network news anchors on site. A spokesman for CBS News said the "Evening News" staff is "discussing" the possibility of sending anchor Dan Rather, but at the moment has made "no commitment."

Officials at NBC's "Nightly News" also had no firm plans to send either Tom Brokaw or successor Brian Williams as of this writing. "NBC News will have a significant presence in Iraq for the proposed handover, but our plans about who have not yet been determined," said an NBC News spokesman.

As for the internationally oriented Jennings, this will be his second trip to the region in the past three months. His previous dispatch from Iraq was in March for the one-year anniversary of the war. Prior to that, Jennings was on hand as war was about to begin in March 2003 as well as reporting from Iraq in January 2003 when weapons inspectors were preparing their report to the United Nations.

 

ISLAMIST BARBARISM AND THE WESTERN MEDIA

Islamist Barbarism And The Western Media
By Phyllis Chesler
The Jewish Press (NY),
June 3, 2004

Leftists and "politically correct" progressives insist that Americans and Israelis are the real barbarians -- that we purposely and sadistically shoot innocent Arab civilian demonstrators from gunships and tanks and drop bombs on wedding parties, hospitals, and children.

I strongly disagree. Americans and Israelis only kill civilians by accident; Islamist terrorists kill civilians on purpose. The vast majority of American and Israeli soldiers have ethical standards that are far different from those of their Islamist opponents. The world, accordingly, holds them to a different, higher standard.

The world media are also quick to accuse the Israeli and American armies of crimes that they have not committed -- and slow to print retractions.

In the so-called "massacre" of Jenin (which never took place -- even the United Nations exonerated Israel of this libel), 23 young Israeli soldiers lost their lives. Possibly, given the world`s hostility toward Israel`s right to defend itself, the IDF felt it had no choice but to send its soldiers in on foot, house to house, to engage in hand-to-hand combat.

Last year, at the Israeli Film Festival, I saw a remarkable documentary in which the Israeli soldiers in Jenin were wracked with anguish for what they had to do. They did not gloat over their victory -- they mourned it. In my view, the Israeli army has behaved with exquisite, almost self-destructive, restraint as it faces hostile civilian populations who actively shelter armed terrorists in their hearts, homes, and demonstrations.

The U.S. army in Iraq has also behaved with Israeli-like restraint -- despite the fact that many mosques routinely shelter weapons and terrorists. Americans have tried hard to avoid civilian casualties and the destruction of mosques. Their considerable efforts have been rendered invisible by the media`s obsessive fascination with the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Of course I acknowledge that all loss of civilian life is terrible; that in war, unintended accidents do occur; that war is hell - perhaps a crime against humanity and G-d. But just wars and wars of self-defense must be fought, not ducked.

Part of the problem is caused by a world media - as the website HonestReporting.com brilliantly continues to document - whose headlines are systematically, blaringly, anti-Israel, and whose corrections appear in fine print, if at all.

The media not only engage in double standards but also insist on looking at the sensational "small picture" as opposed to the complex "big picture." The media show us photos of wounded and dead Palestinians -- but do not show us the equally horrific number of wounded and dead Israelis. Worse: the media systematically present the "small" daily tragedy out of context, sensationalizing the gruesome close-up -- as if it exists in a vacuum.

Yes, the Palestinians are suffering - not only from the harsh realities imposed by Israeli control of disputed territories, but as a direct result of the war that Arafat`s jihadists have chosen to wage against Israel.

Palestinian suffering is also due to the fact that, for 56 years, 22 Arab countries have refused to offer citizenship to those refugees who fled what was, at the time, Jordan, Syria, or Egypt. And while the U.S. has earmarked more money to support Palestinians than have all the Arab countries combined, such monies (also sent by the United Nations) have been siphoned off into Arafat`s private bank accounts and used to fund terrorism against Israel. The entire Arab world allowed the "Palestinian" refugees to fester so that they could become human fodder, human weapons, against the Western, Zionist, and infidel presence in the Muslim Middle East.

Back to barbarism, and the media`s double standards:

Who can forget the 2000 lynching of the two Israeli reservists in Ramallah? The lynchers smeared themselves with the blood of their victims, showed bloody palms to the media, smiled and danced in the streets. I was struck by how dispassionately the world media presented this lynching, over and over again, without once drawing back in horror. Their neutrality constituted tacit support for barbarism.

More recently, we have seen the international media gasp in horror - but not in response to the videotaped beheading of Nicholas Berg, and not in response to the pitiless slaughter of the pregnant Tali Hatuel and her four young children. Some journalists blamed Berg for having been there at all; others spread rumors that he was a Zionist agent. And some blamed Hatuel for having lived in Gaza.

What the world media focused on instead were the photos of the psychologically humiliated and abused Iraqi prisoners in American captivity. They did not focus on the sight of Palestinian terrorists in Gaza as they exhibited the "trophy" body parts of Israeli corpses and held the body parts aloft for ransom.

How are we to understand the savagery of Islamist and Palestinian jihad? Muslim Arabs have routinely tortured, beheaded, and mutilated their victims -- and then further mutilated their corpses.

If one recalls what happened to the first King of Israel, Shaul, in his last battle with the Plishtim, one may see a pre-existing pattern in the region. King Shaul "fell upon his own sword;" he did not want to be captured alive by the Plishtim. But they captured his corpse. And what did they do? They cut off his head, stripped off his armor and sent both the head and the armor to be displayed in their cities and in their temples.

Further, the Plishtim fastened his body to the walls of Beth Shan. And what did King Shaul's valiant soldiers do? At night, and at great risk, they went and cut his body down and, contrary to Jewish law, burned it, rescued the bones, and buried them under the tamarisk tree where Shaul used to sit.

The rabbis were puzzled. Why did the Jewish soldiers do this? My chevrutah, Rivka Haut, and I think that perhaps they knew the Plishtim were capable of digging up a grave and of continuing to mutilate and display the mutilated corpse. Hence, they burned the corpse but buried the bones in a place familiar to Shaul but perhaps unknown to the Plishtim.

Thus, such ghoulish and barbaric behavior existed long before Islam. Sadly, the monotheistic, religious influence against it -- including that of a "compassionate" and "peaceful" Islam -- has been negligible. Today, such barbarity has escalated alarmingly.

May we have the strength of purpose to do whatever it takes to stop our jihadic enemies for at least another 1000 years. If we don't, they will annihilate us.

[Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D is Emerita Professor of Psychology and the author of twelve books including "The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis And What We Must Do About It." She may be reached at www.phyllis-chesler.com.]


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.