Journalists find many ways to kill truth in Iraq

Truth dies, just as people die, every day in Iraq. Sometimes the people are killed by Americans paid with our tax dollars. But we rarely hear about it, thanks to other Americans, the ones who kill truth: the journalists. There are different ways to send truth to its grave, as two current examples prove.

On March 13 the Iranian news agency Mehr reported a story that, if true, is surely the biggest news of this election year: “U.S. forces have unloaded a large cargo of parts for constructing long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the southern ports of Iraq. A reliable source from the Iraqi Governing Council, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Mehr News Agency that U.S. forces, with the help of British forces stationed in southern Iraq, had made extensive efforts to conceal their actions.”

According to Mehr’s source, the parts are old ones, just the kind the U.S. gave to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. Once they are “discovered,” they would be the smoking gun that George W. needs to get re-elected.

Five days after Mehr broke this story, a Google and Lexis/Nexis search failed to find it reported in any U.S. news source. Not even a story to say “We checked and found nothing to support the allegations.” Why? Two possibilities come to mind. Perhaps American journalists in Iraq, and their editors at home, saw it and said “Oh, that’s silly. With all the serious stuff we have to investigate, why waste a good reporter’s precious time on such nonsense?” They are not warmongers or conspirators, just serious professionals doing their job in the approved manner. They got their jobs by sticking to mainstream “common sense” thinking. Why change now?

Oh yes, they did use the same kind of mainstream “common sense” last year, when they assumed that the Bush administration must have secret evidence of Saddam’s WMDs. But you don’t abandon “common sense” just because of an occasional mistake, do you?

The other possibility is that some American journalists believe the U.S. might indeed be planting WMD parts in Iraq for pre-election “discovery.” But the story is just too hot, too dangerous to touch. A reporter for a mainstream U.S. news source knows that his or her editor might very well not run it in any event. So why waste time on it, when so many other good stories are out there that could see the light of day.

In either event, if there is a startling pre-election “discovery,” hang on to your Mehr News Agency report and remember: You saw it here first.

Of course, you don’t have to bury the news to kill the truth. You can kill it by reporting it in a lethal way. That’s what Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times did on March 17.

He revealed that, twice a week, Captain Jonathan Tracy hands out “sympathy payments” to the relatives of Iraqi civilians killed or injured by the U.S. military. No admission of U.S. guilt, but you get $1,000 for an injury and $2,500 for a death. Now you know what Iraqi life is worth, in official U.S. eyes. Captain Tracy, who is only 27, says he is “getting pretty burned out.” That is understandable. It’s a hellish job.

To make it worse, Tracy has to worry about cheaters. How does he know that the Iraqis who come asking for payments really deserve them? He “checks each claim a civilian files against a database of military incident reports,” Gettlemen reported. “We do keep records of innocent civilians who are killed accidentally by coalition force soldiers,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, assistant commander for the First Armored Division, which patrols Baghdad. “And, in fact, in every one of those innocent death situations, we conduct internal investigations to determine what happened.”

But earlier in the very same news story, Gettlemen wrote: “Military officials say they do not have precise figures or even estimates of the number of noncombatant Iraqis killed and wounded by American-led forces in Iraq. ‘We don’t keep a list,’ said a Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell. ‘It’s just not policy.’”

We used to assume that what Commander Campbell said was true. We rely on websites like www.iraqbodycount.net because we thought that our government was killing and not bothering to count the victims. Now we just ain’t sure, because our nation’s newspaper of record says, in the very same story, that our government does and does not keep a list.

When you say it’s both night and day at the same time, truth is dead. When someone says the U.S. is planting evidence to “prove” the biggest lie yet, and you don’t even bother to check it out, truth is dead. Truth is the first casualty of war. We always knew that. Now we know that there’s more than one way to kill the truth.