The Rip Post


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Journalistic untidiness. .

         All those reporters! All that "embedding!" All that cooperation from the military!
        And still those liberal ingrate scribblers dared to report unpleasantries from Iraq.
        Can't trust 'em!
        So, more or less, raged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld---hands in the air, voice up a half-octave:
        "I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn't believe it! I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny--- 'The sky is falling'. I've never seen anything like it! And here is a country that's being liberated, here are people who are going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator, and they're free. And all this newspaper could do, with eight or 10 headlines, they showed a man bleeding, a civilian, who they claimed we had shot - one thing after another. It's just unbelievable ..."
        Let's examine this.
        By the overwhelming majority of press accounts in this country and abroad, Iraq is in chaos. A country that has just had its government forcibly deposed is supposed to be in chaos. The president so much as admitted this in his Sunday morning Rose Garden press conference, in which he snapped, in response to a question about widespread disorder in Iraq:
        "Well, no kidding!"
        Yet Rumsfeld objected. Because the country is "liberated" from the maniacal clutches of Saddam "Gone to Maui" Hussein, the press, he suggests, should ignore: nationwide looting, revenge killings, gang warfare, homelessness, accidental and sometimes pre-emptive shooting of innocent victims by U.S. soldiers (including a ten-year-old boy last week), and lack of water, police, adequate hospitals, electricity.
        Hell, by this logic, those darn reporters should have focused on the 99 percent of Los Angeles that was peaceful during the Rodney King riots. So what if the central city was being burned and looted. . .
        "It's untidy, and freedom's untidy," said Rumsfeld.
        Yes, it's untidy, what's happened in Iraq. It's "untidy" that the U.S. supported---created, really---Saddam, with CIA backing. Untidy that the U.S. sold Saddam chemical weapons during Iraq's war with Iran. Untidy that Rumsfeld spent two years negotiating with Saddam to run an oil pipeline through his country in the '80s, knowing full-well the brutality of Iraqi leadership. Untidy that Dick Cheney, while head of Halliburton, did business with Saddam in the late '90s, claiming that he didn't. Untidy that the U.S. was  aware that Saddam lived like Elvis while he gassed the Kurds, and terrified his country into "peace." Untidy that the U.S. knew Saddam set up neighborhood torture chambers the way Ray Kroc used to set up McDonald's franchises. Untidy that the attack on Iraq has killed yet-untallied thousands of innocent people. Untidy that children were blown to bits, or orphaned, or left doomed to a life without arms and legs. Untidy that families trying to drive through U.S. military checkpoints were machine- gunned to death because they didn't slow down in time. Untidy that 33 of 35 Baghdad hospitals are non-functional (Red Cross figure.) Untidy that suicide bombers will continue to blow up young Americans and Brits serving their country. Untidy that POW's have been tortured and perhaps executed. Untidy that soldiers will return to the States with missing limbs and terrible ghosts in their heads. Untidy that the National Museum of Iraq was stipped of priceless artifacts from the dawn of all human civilization.
        Who are these people who can live with such euphemisms?

      "The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase," said  Rumsfeld, "and you see it 20 times, and you think, 'My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?'"
        This is the kind of petulance you'd expect from Bill O'Riledup, not the Secretary of Defense. For the record, though, yes, it is possible there are more than 20 vases in Iraq.  In fact, there were probably thousands of vases among the 170,000 antiquities smashed and looted from the National Museum of Iraq, which was left unguarded--- while, funny thing, U.S. Troops secured the Iraq Oil Ministry.
        Apparently, Rumsfeld and the administration are so proud of having deposed Saddam that they don't understand why the press doesn't get out the flags and openly celebrate with them. The neon-letter irony, of course, is that a lot of the TV press, led by 19th Century Fox, has done exactly that since well before the undeclared "war" began. Perhaps this is why Rumsfeld was so shocked and awed. Perhaps he was so used to John Wayne-movie images of happy little Iraqis kissing giant U.S. soldiers; so accustomed to Fox busting its buttons to tell how "we" are doing in Iraq (and making cretinous cracks like "the Shiite hits the fan") that the sudden outbreak of actual reporting---the sudden departure from rah-rah, yay-team jingoism---caught him by surprise.
        Or maybe Rumsfeld's remarks were  intended to cow the media back into lobbing red-white-and-blue softballs, and dutifully reporting every non-statement from D.C. as if it were news. After all, this is the "all you gotta know" administration, to borrow the president's frequent sentence opener.
        Those who share Rumsfeld's outrage would do well to remember that news is not when a happy kid buys an ice cream cone. Former CBS newsman Joseph Benti used to say that news is "like two guys fighting in a bar---you can't look away." News is problem, conflict. Why are problems and conflicts reported? Because they pose a threat to peace and order. Why does the press report threats to peace and order?
        Because this is its function.
        Why did the press report the "chaos" in Iraq? Because it was "conflict," and a threat to restoring peace and order in Iraq. Because a population amok in a Middle East country just invaded by the United States poses a threat to peace and order in the region, and the world. Especially considering Rumsfeld's deeply expressed concerns of wayward weapons of mass destruction.
        Because the whole volatile situation concerns every single person on the planet.
        That's all.
        Much of the U.S. press, however enthralled with the moral victory of having rid Iraq of Saddam, could not ignore this.
        Henny Penny? Rumsfeld had the wrong fairy tale. Better to have invoked the story of the naked emperor whose minions dutifully, fearfully lavished praise on his grand attire.

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