Saturday, June 30, 2007

Military mindset spins the press

The US military's snarlingly defensive spin-meisters showed their true colors in a Haditha talking points memo written by four officers last January. It was part of the evidence submitted at a Camp Pendleton hearing to determine whether some US Marines should face court martial for murder after 24 Iraqi civilians were killed.

The NY Times ran excerpts from a five-pager that mulled over how to respond to Time's veteran war reporter, Tim McGirk. Stonewalling by the military put the Haditha story on the backburner for several weeks until Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) broadcast his misgivings that these killings of old folks and children in their beds might have been "in cold blood". Was there a cover-up?
NY Times reporter Paul von Zielbauer, attended the preliminary military hearing in San Diego then highlighted how the marines were dismissive and suspicious of anyone who confronts them with difficult questions. They conceal rather than inform, and obviously prefer that their heroics are extolled by embedded hacks. The Los Angeles Times had quoted from part of the same scary memo last week.

McGirk: How many marines were killed and wounded in the I.E.D. attack that morning?

Memo: If it bleeds, it leads. This question is McGirk’s attempt to get good bloody gouge on the situation. He will most likely use the information he gains from this answer as an attention gainer.

McGirk: How many marines were involved in the killings?

Memo: First off, we don’t know what you’re talking about when you say “killings.” One of our squads reinforced by a squad of Iraqi Army soldiers were engaged by an enemy initiated ambush on the 19th that killed one American marine and seriously injured two others. We will not justify that question with a response. Theme: Legitimate engagement: we will not acknowledge this reporter’s attempt to stain the engagement with the misnomer “killings.”

McGirk: Are the marines in this unit still serving in Haditha?

Memo: Yes, we are still fighting terrorists of Al Qaida in Iraq in Haditha. (“Fighting terrorists associated with Al Qaida” is stronger language than “serving.” The American people will side more with someone actively fighting a terrorist organization that is tied to 9/11 than with someone who is idly “serving,” like in a way one “serves” a casserole. It’s semantics, but in reporting and journalism, words spin the story.)

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