Morning Report 6/30/05Psst! There’s a War Going On.


Iraq’s shortage of runaway brides and sharks keeps U.S. news crews away



No coverage for this: Above, a typical home in Karabila. Below, a protest by Iraqis in Baghdad about the slaughter and destruction in Karabila.

Yasmin Rawi is not technically a runaway bride. If she were, maybe Fox and CNN would be covering her saga.

Not that she didn’t run away. She’s one of 7,000 residents of the western Iraq city of Karabila who fled into the desert of Anbar Province a couple of weeks ago when U.S. soldiers stormed in.

“Operation Spear” was just the latest futile attempt by the Bush regime to show the folks back home that the insurgency is in its last throes. As Salon‘s Gary Kamiya writes, it’s much of U.S. journalism that’s in its last throes. More of that in a minute, but I guess you could say that there are some Iraqis who are at least on their last nerve.

Yasmin Rawi is, that’s for sure. This is what she told the U.N.’s IRIN news service when she finally returned home the other day:

“My husband was killed in the battle, and I returned back to my house and found it dirty, without water and electricity. My two children are sick because of the dirty water and my baby is without milk and I don’t have anywhere to go to search for help.”

If we could get a shark to bite off her legs, maybe the U.S. TV networks and cable channels would pay attention. If the damage is just the usual war shit, who cares. Take Karabila, for instance. Formerly a city of 60,000, it’s pulverized, and there are likely bodies still under the rubble. As IRIN reports:

The offensive, named “Operation Spear,” was designed to root out insurgent strongholds. According to US forces, about 90 insurgents were killed and others detained for interrogation and they are calling the operation a complete success.

The IRCS reported 65 deaths and 85 injured as a result of the conflict, mainly civilians. But the bodies of many residents lie under the debris and rubble and their deaths have not been recorded, according to local officials.

A complete success, eh? The U.S. says insurgents were killed; the Red Cross says civilians. On June 21, the Marines declared victory and left the town. But as Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times reported:

When asked if the foreign fighters would be back, Sgt. Wayne O’Donnell of Company K, the unit that made the final push to the tip of the town, replied in a tired voice as he walked away, “Oh, definitely.”

U.S. troops are spread so thin that the same battles are being fought in the same places, time after time. It’s Vietnam all over again.

The Times‘ story, of course, focused only on the American soldiers. Not one word from the residents of Karabila. You won’t find much of that in any of the U.S. press. Meanwhile, the likes of Fox and CNN are obsessed with the missing girl in Aruba.

Kamiya, Salon‘s executive editor, barbecues the TV networks with sauce for ignoring the war they desperately sought:

Welcome to Fox’s America, land of dissociation, where war isn’t real but must be supported at all costs.

Fox News is rapidly becoming an essential if faintly horrific guide to the American soul, a kind of cross between an organ and a tumor. Fox is certainly not the only offender—its cable competitors CNN and MSNBC are chasing the same ratings, and are guilty of similar sins—but it’s the most egregious. Those who have watched Fox News recently must feel as if they had fallen into a bizarre time and logic warp out of Philip K. Dick, where 9/11 never happened (except when necessary to drum up support for the war on Iraq, which also doesn’t exist except when it has to be defended) and we’ve returned to those happy summer days when lurid, sexually charged murder cases and shark attacks were not just the most important stories, they were the only stories.

Kamiya captures the absurdities perfectly, noting:

The contrast between Fox’s resolute avoidance of showing bloody images from the war in Iraq and its nearly pornographic immersion in shark bites and unsolved murders, was glaring. Only death or bloodshed with high entertainment value gets on Fox.

Strolling through the media zoo, Kamiya stops long enough to examine the panderers closely. Naturally, what he sees angers him. I’ll step aside to let him vent:

If Fox had not been such an ardent supporter of the war, its tabloid wallowing might be merely irritating. As it is, it’s disgusting—the contrast between Fox’s earlier moralizing and its current pandering feels debased, almost depraved. Fox has not lived up to the war it demanded, and it’s hard to believe that even supporters of the war aren’t offended by this.

But for today’s right wing, including those blowhards who make careers out of decrying “the death of outrage” and the loss of Victorian virtues and other sins for which liberal “relativism” and “moral cowardice” are responsible, the idea that war should be covered with dignity and seriousness is as quaint as the Geneva Conventions: What matters is propaganda, effectiveness.

If you want to win a war, and it’s going badly, and its continued prosecution (or the political effectiveness of the president) depends upon the opinion of the American people, then you don’t cover it, or you whitewash it. Hence the violent anger, in some conservative quarters, at the “Nightline” programs that showed the U.S. dead in Iraq. That the ultimate act of disrespect for the dead is to ignore them apparently does not matter.