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    Once a damaging, and most likely delayed, story hits the Western corporate media consciousness, concurrent stories may be released that distract the audience or dilute the potency of the main story. The handling of the Haditha story by corporate Western media is being managed similarly.

    For example, on June 1, 2006, the BBC released a story detailing an alleged “massacre” at Ishaqi on March 15, 2006. Dahr Jamail had reported on the incident and had photographs posted nearly two months before. The BBC’s story was suspicious: not only was it delayed by two and a half months, but its timing was concurrent with a peak in media interest in the Haditha Massacre scandal. Meanwhile, the BBC’s version of the Ishaqi story itself, while tragic, didn’t seem to be much of a scandal at all. It was not surprising that the day after the BBC story “broke,” ABC published a story entitled, “US Military Denies New Abuse Allegation at Ishaqi” reporting that the US Military had conductd an investigation and found that there was no basis for claims of a massacre at Ishaqi. The idea that the BBC could “break” a story and the military could respond, investigate and have a press release about it in time for ABC to report findings of innocence the next day is unbelievable if not outright ridiculous. This series of media events served primarily to distract people from the Haditha story and sow seeds of doubt in their minds about the Haditha Massacre. One would expect savvy journalists to recognize the set-up from a mile away.

    On June 5, 2006, the New York Times provides us with two additional distractions – one involving paid Internet advertising and the other the front page of the paper.

    If one did a Google search on “Haditha” on June 5th, one was presented with a story entitled “Disbelief Over Haditha”: via Google’s AdSense. The story is essentially a patriotic piece comprised of interviews with military individuals at Camp Pendelton on Memorial Day where the interviewees were granted a national audience in the Times and an opportunity to shower sympathy on the soldiers involved in the massacre and cast doubt on the event itself. The fact that the NYT is paying for this story to appear every time one types in “Haditha” in Google, and that this story unarguably serves to create doubts about the events that occurred in Haditha, is clearly a distraction from the horrendous fact of the massacre itself. A question to ask: why isn’t the New York Times paying to promote a neutral piece about the Haditha Massacre rather than for a piece promoting blatant and exclusive American patriotism and denial?

    But on this same day, the New York Times goes further in obfuscating the Haditha Massacre with distraction and doubt by swallowing whole a media event sponsored by the US military. Two reporters were flown by the US government to an excavated mass grave site in a military helicopter. The mass grave site was ostensibly created when Saddam Hussein’s secret police murdered people connected with the Shiite uprising in 1991. Coincidentally, the number of people found in this site is 28, nearly the same number allegedly killed in the Haditha Massacre. The reason that the US flew the reporters to the site is clear; this story of a similar massacre at Saddam Hussein’s hands distracts the public from the Haditha Massacre with the faulty logic of, “Well, if he did it …” The New York Times did not feel the need to delay the story and published “Uncovering Iraq’s Horrors in Desert Graves” on the front page merely two days after the journalists received a government tour of the site. After the kind of directed criticim of the role that the New York Times, via US state and military propagandists like Judith Miller and Thomas Friedman, has played in orchestrating Iraq War propaganda, one would imagine that reputable journalists would know better than to accept a US-sponsored media outing in Iraq. Reputable journalists should additionally wonder why the New York Times continues to accept this type of propaganda as news, while ignoring events such as the ones where the people of Fallujah dug mass graves to bury the thousands killed during the US assault of the city in November 2004.

    But the mother of all distractions came on June 8, 2006, in the media spasm over the alleged killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. We can be certain of this week’s front page news. The ridiculous thing is that Zarqawi himself is perhaps more a US propaganda and media fabrication more than a real threat to the Iraqi people, let alone the security of the US. The story of Zarqawi served to simplify and put an al-Qaeda face on what is really a much more complicated situation regarding the resistance and rising sectarian tensions in Iraq. Now with Zarqawi’s alleged death reported by the US Government, the media is swallowing the state’s version of this story whole, despite all the fraud that we’ve seen in past US propaganda stunts, such as the Jessica Lynch “rescue,” the Pat Tillman fabrication, the pulling down of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square in Baghdad, and even the capture of Hussein himself. Will the death of Zarqawi slow the violent resistance in Iraq? No. Will the death of Zarqawi bring improvement n the electricity, water and medical infrastructure in Iraq? No. Will the death of Zarqawi bring stability and security to the Iraqi people? No. But is the death of Zarqawi a perfect distraction from the Haditha Massacre, total failure of the US occupation of Iraq, and the ongoing US military assault on the city of Ramadi? Absolutely. And his death conveniently distracts the corporate media from reporting that while the Prime Minister of Iraq appointed most of his cabinet last weekend, the position of Vice President Abel Abdul Mahdi, which had been set over a month ago, was the re-appointment of one of the most aggressive supporters of the economic agenda of the Bush administration in Iraq. An agenda which includes the implementation of corporate globalization of Iraq’s laws and far, far greater US corporate control of Iraq’s oil supply.


    Perhaps the most interesting propaganda campaign we have seen in connection with the Haditha Massacre was a massive and well-coordinated effort on the part of FOX news and the right wing bloggers to discredit any allegations of war crimes simultaneously running down the entire “left wing” Internet. This campaign came in the form of fraudulent video testimony from Jesse MacBeth. In this video “testimony” Jesse MacBeth claims to have been a soldier in Iraq and to have committed a variety of horrendous war crimes. The video barely made a stir on the web since people questioned its validity within hours of its release. Yet, on May 24, 2006, mere days after the video’s first appearance on the web, FOX news spun fabrications about the video calling it an “anti-war video” and claiming “that thing posted on the Internet [was] the #2 most cicked-on blog on the Internet in the last few weeks.” #2 most clicked-on blog? One should question where FOX news had been able to obtain data on the most popular blogs – unless Dick Cheney’s news favorite is even closer with the NSA than some might suspect. The data comparing traffic to various web sites certainly is not available to FOX to make such a claim. But the claim was false anyway. Jesse MacBeth never had a blog. The video was posted on a small, low bandwidth web site that could never have handled anywhere near the kind of traffic required for the #2 blog. In fact, three days before FOX’s show, the web site publicly registered just over 1,500 hits – total – and the video wasn’t available because the site couldn’t meet even that meager demand. At 5 pm pst, two days before FOX’s wild promotion of the MacBeth video, a Google search on Jessie MacBeth revealed only two obscure references to the video at all. The video was in fact downright difficult to find anywhere on the web that day, let alone! the “last few weeks” before FOX’s broadcast. FOX’s deceptive promotion of this video and concurrent discrediting was deliberate propaganda to pre-empt any future or existing claims of war crimes, such as the Haditha Massacre, as well as an attempt to dismiss the entire left wing blogosphere and the “anti-war” movement. By far the greatest promoters of the MacBeth video were FOX news and the right-wing bloggers.


    When an issue becomes too large and too damaging to control effectively, savvy PR professionals work to focus the public’s attention on a single topic within the larger issue. The public thereby loses its view of the forest – the more damaging and larger issue – for the single tree of a selective topic or event related to the issue. This single topic needs to be controversial enough to capture a large audience, but sufficiently containable so that the particulars remain debatable and do not spiral out of control. We have seen this pattern of PR repeated over and over in the war. Examples include endless debates about the 500 prisoners illegally held in Guantanamo Bay, when the reality of the larger issue involves over 14,000 Iraqis detained without trail in both disclosed and undisclosed Iraqi prisons, as well as countless people held in secret US detention chambers in Eastern Europe. Another instance is the torture “scandal” at Abu Ghraib, where public attention was focused on sexual humiliation and inane ebates over the uses of dogs or water-boarding, when in fact there exists documentation of torture much more violent, systematic and widespread at US hands.

    The Haditha Massacre is becoming the Spotlight event in the much broader and more volatile issue of US War crimes in Iraq. Haditha is by no stretch of the imagination an isolated incident. Journalists should work to broaden the reporting of Haditha to include a discussion of the much broader issue of International Law and War Crimes. This is, after all, a war where US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales described the Geneva conventions as “quaint,” chemical weapons were used on a civilian population in Fallujah, violent torture continues at the hands of the US or its proxies, arbitrary detentions of Iraqis continue in violation of international law, hospitals have been intentionally destroyed and occupied, cluster bombs and flechettes have been deployed on dense civilian habitations, civilians are being killed daily, and journalists have been intentionally targeted by US troops. If we lose the forest for the trees on the issue of the Haditha Massacre, we risk participation in US propaganda.


    Parallels are being drawn between what happened in Haditha on November 19, 2005, and the 1968 massacre in My Lai during the Vietnam War, in which US forces ruthlessly slaughtered 500 unarmed women, men and children in a small village. The most direct parallels will probably involve what happens legally to those chosen by the internal military investigation to take the blame for the event in Haditha. In the case of My Lai, a lengthy internal investigation was launched, and followed by a court-martial. Despite the massively brutal nature of the massacre, the cover-up, and the many people involved, in the end, one man, Lt. William Calley, spent roughly 3 years under house arrest.

    As we see the media spotlight on the Haditha Massacre, we can expect to see damage control measures through inventing scapegoats as was done in My Lai and Abu Ghraib. As in the Abu Ghraib torture media blitz, the military will not concern itself with loyalty for the troops that put their lives on the line daily. The military will readily sacrifice its Charles Graners and Sabrina Harmans while its superiors dodge and evade responsibility and the incident is made to look isolated. Haditha will be erroneously presented as the crime of a few “bad apples.” With the massive cover-up by military superiors, countless other war crimes occurring in Iraq, and a US media landscape that has assisted in the cover-up, journalists need to do more than produce propaganda of the various trials and legal minutiae of the scapegoats identified to pay for the Haditha massacre. There are much bigger stories that await telling if the offered PR bait can be rejected.

    Conclusion: Is the US Corporate Media Complicit in War Crimes?

    According to principles set during the Nuremburg Trials and the UNESCO Charter, the primary responsibility of journalists during a time of war is not to incite the public to violence. In the case of the Haditha Massacre cover-up, we need to ask: Is the US Corporate Media complicit in the cover-up of this War Crime? By helping to cover up countless events like the Haditha Massacre, is the US Corporate Media inciting the public to violence by distorting the truth about the war in Iraq?

    Already, stories from the US Media and “journalists” like Judith Miller who promoted the war with fabrications have failed the test of journalistic responsibility set by the Nuremburg Trials and the UNESCO Charter. But the US corporate media seems extremely resistant to responsible reform. How can the New York Times be satisfied publishing an unverified official account of what happened in Haditha presented by a military that has been caught in countless lies, such as the Pat Tillman fabrication and the invented Jessica Lynch “rescue?” Is the US corporate media prepared to challenge these government propaganda deceptions? Or are they going to remain engaged in aiding and abetting the war crimes of the US military and its commander in chief?

    Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who spent over 8 months reporting from occupied Iraq. He presented evidence of US war crimes in Iraq at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York City in January 2006. He writes regularly for TruthOut, Inter Press Service, Asia Times and TomDispatch, and maintains his own web site, dahrjamailiraq.com.
    Jeff Pflueger is Dahr Jamail’s electronic publicist. He maintains a web site at jeffpflueger.com.
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