Monday, August 09, 2004


By William Fisher

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked at a recent appearance in Chicago whether he thought the “reporting done by Al-Jazeera and other Arabic news sources still does not uphold the truth and moral values that the American media stand for.”

Rumsfeld’s response: “It is very tough on the terrific young folks who are over there doing wonderful things. I mean they are helping to build schools, they're helping to fix generators in public places. They're assisting people in hospitals. And they don't see that reported, and the people -- their parents back home end up seeing and hearing things that are for the most part negative, because I guess that's more newsworthy….”

The Secretary went on to say: The Arabic satellite TV channels Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah “have persuaded an enormous fraction of the people that we're there as an occupying force, which is a lie, that we are randomly killing innocent civilians, which is a lie… they've persuaded a pile of people that what's happening is a terrible thing...They're doing the same thing in the neighboring countries…which makes (it) much harder for those regimes.”

Rumsfeld’s media bashing was not limited to the Arab press. “One of the people from CNN”, he said, “wrote an article…reporting that (before the invasion) they purposely did not report things that …were uncomfortable for Saddam Hussein, because they would not be allowed to stay in the country. So they stayed in the country…So for a whole series of many, many, many months, the watchers of that station were seeing not what was happening in that country, but they were seeing only that which that network believed would not be unacceptable to Saddam Hussein.”

“Can we -- will we survive it?” Mr. Rumsfeld asked rhetorically. “Yes”, he answered. “Is there anything we can do about it? No.”

Rumsfeld went on to observe that “Periodically the Iraqi government…shuts down Al-Jazeera, tells them…they can't have credentials to come to the meetings for a while. But it is what it is… I wish there was something we could do about it, but it has not improved significantly.”

Which makes one wonder why the new Iraqi interim government puts together a high-level commission to draw up rules to limit press freedom, and why it bothers to close down Al Jezeera for a month, as it did last week. How is this different from the restrictions placed on the press by authoritarian regimes throughout the Middle East – regimes for whom a free Iraq was supposed to be a model? Perhaps it’s true that the United States no longer has influence in Iraq.

We may all feel the images broadcast by Al-Jazeera and other Arab (and other non-Arab) media channels may be – and often are – overly grisly, unnecessary, and in the worst possible taste. But they are not manufactured. Collateral damage did actually happen. So did beheadings. So did prisoner abuse. As Mr. Rumsfeld himself admitted, “In any war, people who should not be killed are killed.”

But he went on to say that “in Iraq today the people that are being killed are, for the most part, Iraqis, and they're almost all being killed by Iraqis. And they're being killed by the extremists, by the terrorists. They're being killed by the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime.” Which makes it OK to ignore it?

The Secretary of Defense is clearly frustrated. And it’s not hard to understand why: he is confusing news with public relations.

I’m sure the Secretary is a lot more comfortable with ‘fair and balanced’ outlets like Fox News.