Foreign correspondents’ pool shrinks, Youtube “reporting” by opposition in Iran easily manipulated

CounterPunch, May 9, 2011, “Patrick Cockburn: Does It Matter? Portrait of the US Press in the Hour of Its Fall”

……. US newspapers and television networks have famously been in a state of deepening crisis in the last few years. But the Arab Awakening has been a watershed in this decline. It was CNN’s reporting of the first Gulf War from Baghdad in 1991 that made it the channel that presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and journalists around the world had to watch. Back in 2003, CNN and the US networks CNN and the US networks still had the most ample coverage of the start of the war in Iraq. But since the start of the Arab Awakening even the White House has reportedly been watching al-Jazeera English to find out what was happening (though the BBC has not been far behind).

It is depressing how swiftly the corps of American foreign correspondents has shrunk over the last five years. Papers like the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe, which once had a full roster of reporters, no longer do so. US television networks that used to rent whole floors of hotels, to the envy of non-American broadcasters, are now down to a single journalist to cover a story. At least one US network did not send a single correspondent to report the uprising in Tunisia in January that began the capsizing of the regional political status quo.

Does it matter? In one sense it obviously does, since there are fewer effective journalists in the business. The drop in their numbers would be more evident if so many Arab countries in turmoil like Syria and Yemen had not banned reporters from obtaining entry visas. The consequences of more limited journalistic resources being deployed is also masked by the use of YouTube, photographs taken on mobile phones, and conversations with eyewitnesses on satellite phones.

This sort of evidence is powerful but easier to manipulate than it looks. Governments that kick out foreign correspondents may breathe a sigh of relief without realizing that they have created a vacuum of information that can easily be filled by their enemies. Thus much of the reporting of demonstrations, arrests, shootings and killings in Syria now comes courtesy of opponents of the regime.

It is difficult to feel much sympathy for governments whose abortive attempts at censorship make them vulnerable to hostile propaganda, but it does make it very difficult to verify what is going on. For instance, at the end of February I was in Tehran where exile websites reported that there were continuing street demonstrations. I could see none of these though there were plenty of black-helmeted riot police. Local Iranian stringers for foreign publications had mostly had their press credentials suspended so they could not write.

“In any case,” one of the stringers complained to me, “the news agenda for Iran is now being set by exiles and, if we report that nothing much is happening, nobody will believe us.” On YouTube I noticed one video of a demonstration in Tehran that had supposedly taken place in February showing all the men in shirts and without jackets, though the temperature in the Iranian capital was only a couple of degrees above freezing. I suspected that the video had been taken at the height of the Iranian protests in the summer of 2009.

This is not to say that flickering films of atrocities by the Syrian security forces are not true, but collection and control of such information by the exiled opposition, makes it impossible to judge the extent of the violence.

It is naïve to be too nostalgic about the passing of the age when the US dominated the foreign news media. What made CNN’s coverage so distinctive in 1991 was that Peter Arnett, their correspondent in Baghdad, was prepared to take a sceptical approach to US government claims about the accuracy of its bombing and the identity of its victims. CNN lost its critical edge over the years, while network correspondents, often privately critical about US government policy, were prevented by their bosses in New York from straying too far from conventional political wisdom

The press has always been more dependent on the powers-that-be than it likes to admit. American journalists outside Washington often express revulsion and contempt at the slavish ways of the Washington press corps. But it is difficult to report any government on a day-to-day basis without its cooperation, cooperation that can be peremptorily withdrawn to bring critics into line. Also, contrary to every film about journalism, people tend not to admit voluntarily to anything that might do themselves damage. Woodward and Bernstein learned about Watergate almost entirely from secondary sources such as judges, prosecutors and government investigative agencies which could force witnesses to come clean by threatening to put them in jail.

The media is often credited or blamed for an independent sceptical spirit which it seldom shows in reality. In wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan effective media criticism has tended to follow rather than precede public opinion. Even then it usually needs important politicians to be standing on the same side of the fence. The Afghan war is unpopular in the US, but there is no effective anti-war movement because the Democrats, once so critical of the Iraq war, are now in the White House and, if Obama goes on being presented with targets as vulnerable as Trump, are likely to stay there. Read Full article

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Bin Laden compound contained women, children, chickens, eggs…

AFP: Bin Laden’s Pakistan ‘farm’ had rustic charm”

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan – Three women, 12 children, cows, rabbits and chickens all hid behind the high wall where Osama bin Laden carved out a family life, set to the gentle rhythm of changing seasonal crops outside his gate.

Mobile phone video footage taken Tuesday by a Pakistani soldier offered a final glimpse into a life of rustic simplicity — a dozen eggs sitting in the kitchen sink, a few dishes on the side, large wooden cupboards open and bare.

Bin Laden’s final home, ransacked by US Navy SEAL commandos in an overnight raid last Sunday in the foothills of Pakistan’s Himalayan mountains, was not the luxury pile US reports first suggested. Continue reading

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Jerusalem Post: NY Hassidic paper ‘deletes’ Clinton from iconic photo

Situation Room watches update on bin Laden raid.
Photo by: REUTERS/Ho New

Jerusalem Post: “NY Hassidic paper ‘deletes’ Clinton from iconic photo”
Brooklyn newspaper altered photograph of Obama and staffers watching raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound* to remove all females.

NEW YORK – The photograph showing President Barack Obama and staffers in the White House Situation Room carefully watching the raid in progress by US forces in Pakistan on the bin Laden compound last Sunday [sic*] has been published far and wide.

One Hassidic paper in Brooklyn, however, has chosen to alter the photo – excising Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and another female staffer from the picture.

[It has since come out that they did not actually watch the raid “in progress'”]

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Media scrambles as Bin Laden story crumbles, When was Situation Room photo taken?

New American, Alex Newman, May 6, 2011 – While the establishment media was busy parroting President Obama’s announcement of Osama bin Laden’s supposed assassination, reporting the unsubstantiated claims as if they were unquestionable facts, much of the so-called “alternative” press was far more cautious — and accurate, it turns out. But more importantly, with the new official storyline indicating that bin Laden was in fact unarmed, bigger and much more important questions are beginning to emerge.

In terms of coverage, it turns out that the skeptical approach proved far superior in terms of getting it right. Countless mainstream sources were so confident in Obama’s word that they reported many of the claims as fact without even attributing them to the President.

But the official White House narrative has been changed so many times in recent days that now it’s almost unrecognizable. There wasn‘t even a fire fight; yet this was one of the crucial elements of the original story that justified the assassination of a person the government painted as the most valuable source of information on the planet — the leader of al-Qaeda. And in reporting the statements as fact, the establishment press has officially been left with egg all over its face again. Continue reading

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Senators misled by likely fake bin Laden photos

By:

May 4th, Washington (CNN) – Several senators said Wednesday they had seen a photograph of Osama bin Laden after he was shot, describing it to reporters and using it to help form their opinion on whether or not President Obama should release pictures of the dead terrorist.

Now, on a day when fake photographs of a dead bin Laden are flying around the internet, those senators say they cannot be sure whether what they saw and talked to reporters about was real. Continue reading

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CIA made video purporting to show Bin Laden swiggng liquor – Washington Post

“…The agency actually did make a video purporting to show Osama bin Laden and his cronies sitting around a campfire swigging bottles of liquor and savoring their conquests with boys, one of the former CIA officers recalled, chuckling at the memory.

The actors were drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” he said.The agency actually did make a video purporting to show Osama bin Laden and his cronies sitting around a campfire swigging bottles of liquor and savoring their conquests with boys, one of the former CIA officers recalled, chuckling at the memory. The actors were drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” he said.

CIA unit’s wacky idea: Depict Saddam as gay, By Jeff Stein, Washington Post, May 25, 2010

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Noam Chomsky: My Reaction to Osama bin Laden’s Death May 6, 2011

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.

By Noam Chomsky

It’s increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.”

In April 2002, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, informed the press that after the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it “believed” that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though implemented in the UAE and Germany.

What they only believed in April 2002, they obviously didn’t know 8 months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know, because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence—which, as we soon learned, Washington didn’t have. Thus Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”

Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement. Continue reading

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