Friday, September 26, 2008

AP on Iraq: News Reports or Editorials?
Artist: BySilent

Detain This

When the world’s largest news organizations toe the line with U.S. officials on highly unpopular government policies, you don’t have a press: you have a Ministry.

In its declaration of journalistic ethics, The Associated Press demands, “Anyone who works for the AP . . . must refrain from declaring their views on contentious public issues in any public forum.” [1]

That has not prevented AP’s Baghdad bureau from promoting the belligerent U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Judging from Robert H. Reid’s latest report — “Will Iraq squander the gains of the surge?” [2] — an AP bureau chief isn’t “anyone who works for the AP”; the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the so-called surge are not considered “contentious public issues”; and AP news reports do not count as “public forums.”

Chief H. Reid, according the editor’s footnote, “has covered Iraq since before the U.S.-led invasion”; perhaps in a cynical way, this exempts him from having to qualify the opinion stated as fact once again in the first sentence: ”The U.S. troop surge did what it aimed: Calm Iraq down.” Of course Reid, as usual, is merely agreeing with U.S. officials; a rising number of whom, according to sentence two, “are worried that the hard-won drop in violence may be only temporary.”

Indeed, the term hard-won is appropriate, insofar as it modifies the U.S.-sponsored ethnic cleansing by sectarian militias. Neighborhoods will become quiet, once their human populations have been killed or driven to desperate refuge, and once the human remnants are terrorized into submission. And, quite naturally, refugees do tend to at least attempt to return home; at which time, violent “reconciliation” occurs, thereby possibly threatening that ”period of calm” when U.S. militants take relatively few or zero casualties. So the word temporary is perfectly apt here as well.

But, for AP to suggest that the tentativity of the “calm” is some unforeseen phenomenon is ludicrous and insulting to readers; it implies that we were all hinging the long-term stability of Iraq on what amounts to the U.S. military’s damming and redirecting of the flow of internecine genocide.

Though Reid refers to those militant groups and the U.S. government’s support of them, in true AP form he omits the dubious nature and impact of their actions in the so-called surge.

His editorial suggests that some of those thousands of U.S.-backed fighters are turning tail against the U.S. occupation, then trumpets the fears of U.S. officials about flaring violence; yet it fails to contextually analyze the two related phenomena. It’s as if there is no relationship between the thoroughly detested U.S. occupation and anti-U.S. violence.

This is typical of AP on Iraq; to wit, a September 16 report, “US soldiers battling hard in Iraqi city”:

Although security in Iraq has improved, it remains fragile, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters in the capital Monday. And nowhere is the fragility more apparent than here in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. Sunni Arab insurgents, routed or weakened in Baghdad and other urban centers since last year, are making a stand in this former bastion of support for Saddam Hussein. . . .

“Honestly, I don’t know who we are fighting,” said Staff Sgt. Tim Carter, who has survived six roadside bomb attacks. “If I see them placing a roadside bomb or firing at us, then that’s who we are fighting, but otherwise there is no way to tell if he is a civilian or al-Qaida. Here, a kid can run up to shake your hand and then later throw a grenade at you.” [3]

So that’s success?

To any sane person with a pulse, after 5½ years, thousands dead, and astronomical costs, Staff Sergeant Carter’s death-defying dilemma is only more reason to end the logic-defying occupation of Iraq. To the shrewd followers of these stories, it means that the U.S. government must also stop committing and funding ethnic cleansing. But to U.S. officials and their lapdog media, legal precedents and contextual lessons are for the “bad guys”; blowback is a function of a vacuum cleaner, not a consequence of wrongheaded foreign policy.

According to their story, the numbers of ”insurgents” and “terrorists” have diminished, and the metropolitan streets have grown “relatively quiet” except for all those happy families frolicking in the parks of course — all due to an increase in troop numbers and the savvy diplomatic maneuvering of U.S. officials.

While dutifully highlighting U.S. government ingenuity, this likewise ignores the greater number of civilian deaths and flights caused by the U.S. occupation and intervention in the first place, and diminishes the Iraqi and Iranian roles in the surge’s “gains.”

Also not-surprisingly missing from Reid’s report is that the U.S. government supplemented the efforts of those ironically-named Awakening groups (or “Sons of Iraq”) by bombing neighborhoods, allegedly targeting “terrorist hideouts” but killing mostly civilians.

But it is hardly a coincidence that the more difficult the facts are for U.S. officials to concede, the less likely they are to be contextualized in AP’s news reports.

AP’s coverage of U.S. foreign policy, in a nutshell, is a win-win narrative for the fringe minority in favor of fascist empire. Issues are kept at superficial levels (ethnic, sectarian). U.S. imperial exceptionalism is an understood reality — the U.S. Constitution, treaties, and international law be damned. The initial victims (Iraqi people) of state violence (U.S. invasion, occupation) and the losses they’ve suffered are disregarded completely, as is the economic impact on the American people. And there is no such thing as an anti-U.S. Iraqi resistance. The word resistance is put in scare quotes, or related from the quote of a marginalized figure, if mentioned at all.

How politically convenient for those U.S. officials, that the world’s largest news wire service has its coverage zeroed-out at their sensibilities.

But, if you’re going to editorialize at all, then of all things, why do it on behalf of the empire? Simple. Though it already has all the military, political, and financial wherewithal under its command, the U.S. empire — and especially its corporatist state, of which AP and other corporate news media are parts — would not thrive without a propaganda ministry. And, of course, AP, like all news organizations and journalists in Iraq, operate, ultimately, at the mercy of the U.S. occupation.

That’s why AP’s editors are happy to hold the feet of Iraqi officials to the flame on behalf of U.S. officials. The entire second half of Reid’s report does so to the point of self-contradiction. Opening with a supposition that the Iraqi government is too powerful and that it may be abusing that power for sectarian and political reasons, it closes with the hypothesis that the same Iraqi government is not powerful enough that it can control sectarian political violence in the long run.

Either way, true or not, and relevant or not, the necessity for a longer U.S. presence is once again suggested.

Ironically, when news editors habitually agree with U.S. officials and their policies, they usually disagree with the supreme law binding those officials: the U.S. Constitution, which denies the U.S. federal government the authority to run an empire in the first place!

AP and corporate news media must never note this, lest the criminality and hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy, with which they concur, becomes evident. That’s also why you’ll rarely see U.S. foreign interventions juxtaposed with the U.N. Charter, Geneva Conventions, or Nüremberg Principles. To even attempt to would be to suggest the self-defeating truth: U.S. foreign policy is morally, legally, and philosophically bankrupt.

Instead, we are inundated with struggles based on myopic time-lines and false choices — civilian v. terrorist, pro- or anti-U.S., surge v. no surge, pro- or anti-Iranian — to hide the root-level issues. Fantastic demons and false prophets are hyped beyond question to make sure there is always a more-evil ”other guy” to take the focus.

They’re fighting “al-Qaeda in Iraq” and “Iranian-trained insurgents” — every last one of them. Though who knows how we can believe that the bad guys were what the good guys said they were. And don’t forget to blame Iran. Heaven forbid that the Iraqi government should be friendly with one of the U.S. government’s chosen enemies, even if the friendliness was beneficial to the Iraqi people and “regional stability.” After all, Maliki’s Iranian counterparts are doing all the supplying and training of those anti-U.S. militants, according to evidence-deficient U.S. officials and corporate media.

General David Petraeus and other U.S. officials are credited with preventing a civil war in Iraq — stunningly discarding that the same geniuses have sponsored and overseen internecine mini-wars to that phony end. The prevent-civil-war-through-civil-war efforts began when civil war was, arguably, already at hand; so if “relative calm” is a victory, they don’t get much more hollow or disingenuous.

Meanwhile, the relatively low U.S. casualty rate is used to paint the surge successful.

And when it’s time to account for the ongoing fratricide, send in the political wedges. Ignoring the negative impact of U.S. foreign policy, the Iraqi government is reportedly seen as “weak” due to its failure to accomplish “national reconciliation.” The U.S. presence is suggested to thus be necessary.

Recall the 18 benchmarks. They were sold as a collective yardstick for a “diplomatic” or “democratic” surge: the fewer benchmarks met by the Iraqi government, the “weaker” and more “ineffective” and less democratic it was painted. You’ll notice that those benchmarks are not quite newsworthy as they used to be; that’s because the Iraqi government’s “failure” to meet them demonstrates fundamental flaws in U.S. foreign policy.

Yet the surge is a “success,” according to U.S. officials and AP. They just have to stay longer to babysit that incompetent and pro-Iranian Iraqi government, you see.

Corporate news media simply refuse to admit that nobody likes to live under foreign occupation or be told how to run their political, economic, and social affairs. It can not be fathomed that the almighty democracy-spreaders can be so wrong that they are the prime source of adversity. “What occupation?” [4]

But what kind of success is the “hard-won drop in violence” for Americans and Iraqis, when it is achieved on top of more than a million dead Iraqi civilians, more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers, and a burning heap of trillions in U.S. taxpayer dollars? A cherry atop a turd doesn’t make dessert.

And what is an editor’s personal code of ethics saying here: to objectively and comprehensively make sense of why U.S. foreign policy is so overwhelmingly unpopular and faulty, or to more-conveniently apologize for it, making a personal surge of his or her own up the career ladder?

Shame on the empire, but shame on Robert Reid, AP, and their peers. It is not righteous ”success” when high crimes are committed to achieve it; nor are they ”gains” when so much life and sustenance is lost — immolated and discarded for glittering generalities.


[1] The Associated Press: “THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES” ( Bonus excerpt: “we abhor inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions.”

[4] See for example Reid’s November 6, 2006, report — ”Iraq’s violence might be unaffected by Saddam verdict.” Excerpt (my emphasis):

“I believe that this trial is politically motivated and not a judicial one,” said hardline Sunni cleric Harith al-Dhari. “If Saddam is charged with crimes, then the trial should be postponed until the occupation ends.”

But the fact is that Sunnis are likely to remain unhappy even if Saddam were to live. It is their diminished role in the post-Saddam Iraq that most distresses them.


At the time, opinion research had already shown not just sectarian “hardline[rs]” but a massive majority of everyday Iraqis as being against the occupation. And neither the occupation nor the initial invasion are legitimate according to the U.S. Constitution or international law. So, perhaps in the eyes of most Iraqis and people everywhere with minds of their own, the trial of Saddam was expedited for dubious reasons. It certainly was hypocritical on its face, in light of the death and tyranny wrought by the U.S. invasion and occupation. But according to Reid et al., it’s not the all-encompassing tyranny of imperial occupation that primarily fuels Iraqi disquiet, but rather the superficial sectarian issues — themselves too, of course, not fueled by the occupation.



  1. It always leaves me to wonder, when is enough, enough.

    Can we really end terrorism? At what expense will we continue this war? I asked someone the other day what they thought of the war and they actually told me they did not know what we are fighting for and why we are even at war anymore. It is sad to think that is what has become of this war, in any case, thanks for you articles love reading them.


    We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken … we don’t give up and quit ... We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going." (2 Corinthians 5:80)

  2. Could you please change the BySilent link to:

    Thank you.