Sunday, May 01, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities - NPR and US Exceptionalism

This morning on Weekend Edition Sunday, I heard the following:
"...but the fact is...this is all unconfirmed. We know the government...has lied on several occasions about civilian casualties and strikes and damage, and frankly, we only have their word so far for what happened."
Isn't that the standard that ought to apply to all reporting? It seems reasonable that when a government has been proven to have lied about civilian casualties (e.g. here and here), lied about its reasons for going to war, and lied about the torture and murder of detainees then shouldn't all unconfirmed claims by that government be treated with skepticism and always be prefaced with the qualifiers included in the quote above. The answer is a rather obvious, "Yes." But on NPR there is one standard for countries and forces that the US government opposes and a completely different standard for the US government and its closest allies. Despite a long record of systematic lying about war, civilian deaths, and the abuse of detainees - I have - over the past five years - documented how NPR consistently grants official US statements the weight of confirmed evidence (or simply ignores stories where the evidence points to systematic lying and wrongdoing).

The quote above, from Sunday's Weekend Edition, is about the war in Libya and the lying government in question is the government of Libya's Gadhafi. The war in Libya - and especially the siege of Misrata - offers a unique opportunity to highlight NPR's embrace of American exceptionalism.

The forces of the Libyan government have attempted to destroy the rebel forces in Misrata in operations that are chillingly similar to the US military's destruction of Fallujah in Iraq. Misrata and Fallujah have about the same population size, about half-a-million for each. In April 2004 in Fallujah, as documented by the intrepid Dahr Jamail, the US used cluster bombs, indiscriminate sniping of civilians, and attacks on medical facilities. George Monbiot documented further war crimes of the US November 2005 assault on Fallujah - including the use of white phosphorous, thermobaric weapons, and the refusal to allow males of "fighting age" to flee the city. As in Misrata, US forces illegally focused their operations on hospitals and medical facilities. In spite of these illegal and barbaric tactics, you can search NPR in vain for stories on these crimes (cluster bombs- nothing, white phosphorous - mentioned after Pentagon admitted it, sniping civilians - nothing, attacking the hospital - nothing). Not only has NPR never reported the US war crimes against Fallujah, it has actually celebrated the assault.

Consider that NPR's censorship of the US horror show in Fallujah is now into it's eighth year, but in the less than two months of Libya coverage we have been given extensive coverage of every crime that the Gadhafi forces have perpetrated on Misrata. For example, in just this one Morning Edition report from April 13th, we hear the following from refugees:
  • "We heard the Gadhafi troops were kidnapping people."
  • "The Gadhafi forces aren't differentiating among their targets. They're attacking the young, the old, women, dragging people from their houses."
  • "In the streets of Misrata I've seen bodies, I've seen them burned. The snipers are shooting people at random."
And a few days later on April 17th Lourdes Garcia Navarro reports on Misrata,
"From rebels that I've spoken to, Gadhafi's forces are shelling civilian areas - we are talking grad missiles, mortar fire, tank fire. A few days ago came the first reports of cluster bombs, which are banned by international law for use in civilian areas."
It's too bad that it is really impossible to imagine NPR ever providing such immediate reporting on US military actions and their impact on civilian populations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, etc... or to imagine that they would ever give such well deserved qualifications of the lack of credibility that should always be given to any official statements issues by the White House, the US military, the State Department, NATO, etc.


Patrick Lynch said...

Speaking of NPR not questioning government lies, there is the "news" that "Osama bin Laden" is "dead" and "buried at sea". The way this story was told made my B.S. detector peg, then have smoke pour from the dial and then finally explode.

Instead, NPR is in the throes of one big propagandgasm espousing the official line with undisguised glee.

With regards to WE Sunday's quote, I laughed out loud when I heard that. Derisive laughter, but laughter nonetheless because NPR could and would dare say that with a straight face and oblivious to the irony of their statement.

Patrick Lynch said...

Still only one comment? Is our lack of commenting on this post a sign that we are too nauseated to say anything else?

geoff said...

Patrick, That's part of it. Also, a problem with the nprcheck medicine: when you're cured, you don't want to listen anymore.

bpfb said...

^ Aye to that! Praise Gawd, I'm HEALED!!

(but I do confess a liking to spit at 'em from time to time, for a little cheap, vicarious thrill; like the crook that double-dipped you for unnecessary labor last time your car was in the shop)

And woweee, what a cool word verification I rolled!:

Anonymous said...

Hi there, excellent article. I did think I could add something though.

In Michael Asher's book, The Real Bravo Two Zero (p24. Cassell 2002) he finds the Amiriya Bunker in which "400 civilians--among them many children" were burned alive when the bunker was rocketed with incendiary and explosive missiles during the first Gulf war. Asher reports, "The Coalition had claimed that the bunker was being used by Saddam Hussein's military command, and even that the apparent civilian casualties had been 'invented' by the Iraqis."

That was the first qualification.

Asher contiues, "However, foreign reporters (...) found no evidence that it had been used by the military". Among those reporters who "were allowed to inspect the place at the time" and "who watched the mangled bodies being carried out" was Alan Little of the BBC. Asher paraphrases Little, thus giving the second of the qualifications: he "concluded that this was something totally beyond the ability of the Iraqi Ministry of Information to stage manage."

The point being that there must be a scene of incredible carnage: black smoking holes where a children’s hospital or school once stood, but not so much devastation that the place can’t be fully inspected by ‘neutral’ western reporters afterwards in order to provide the proof necessary that the place wasn’t used by the military, not even for canning the pineapple chunks in their rations. There must also be very, very many charred bodies of children carried out right under the noses of western reporters, so many that the whole thing passes beyond the ability of the relevant “Ministry of Information” to stage manage. When all this is satisfied, then maybe, maybe we could then allow ourselves not to immediately accept the stage-managed version that comes from the favoured state and to question it further.

Yes, let us judge all stories by this qualification, taking into account a government or government source’s past record in stage-managing events, in making lies sound truthful, and too, before believing anything, let us consider whether a source has motives for such massage of the truth and then the resources to carry it out.