If you've been in touch with any news over the last day you've seen reports about 300 "militants" being killed by Iraqi and American forces around Najaf in Iraq. It's grimly fascinating to hear how NPR reporters holed-up in the Green Zone try to wedge this confusing story (see Juan Cole's coverage) into a Pentagon approved script of Iraqi forces successfully taking on their first major battle with insurgents with back-up help from Uncle Sam's army. In the headlines at the top of the hour and half past the hour during Morning Edition today, I heard Diana Douglas and Anne Garrels respectively give this narrative. Both made little attempt to clarify what the specific sources were for their reporting. Here is how Douglas' report was worded:
"Iraqi and American forces attacked the hideout of an apocalyptic Muslim militant group near Najaf. They called themselves ‘The soldiers of heaven,’ and were digging trenches and preparing to attack pilgrims that came to Najaf for the Ashura religious holiday. The fighting lasted all day yesterday with American helicopters and tanks offering support to Iraqi soldiers and National Guard…the Iraqi government said they killed 300 of the fighters."
You would think Douglas was either there, or interviewed various eyewitnesses to make such definite assertions. Although the whole story is questionable, only the death toll is attributed to the Iraqi government. If you read Juan Cole's piece linked above you will see how blatantly skewed Douglas' report is and how interesting the real story might well be (Shiite on Shiite violence? The 'militants' being more anti-Iranian than the government attackers? The US taking sides in a purely religious dispute?) It is clear that Douglas either doesn't have a clue about any of the complexities of the situation, or is purposely flattening the narrative into the usual good-guys versus bad-guys, us-against-them story.
Imagine how different the impression would be if the reporters opened by stating: "Listeners should note that often the information we get in the Green Zone - both official and unofficial - has often proved to be exaggerated, unreliable, or fabricated." That would be informative, wouldn't it?