A Cheesehead’s Musings on the Sunday NYT (Counterpunch)

Here’s a little media criticism I wrote for the underground / activist website Counterpunch.org in 2004:

America is a big, gorgeous country. Thank the heavens, also diverse. If the fate of all Americans is intertwined in some way, it’s also a good bet that the world looks different from Wisconsin than from New York.

Now, this is no diatribe on the evils of the East Coast or the insular politics of the D.C. “beltway.” Here in the land of Brett Favre and Ahman Green, we embrace our friends on the coasts, in the south and in the mountains. But honesty and directness are particularly Midwestern virtues, and it’s about time someone–even a Cheesehead–took the New York Times to task.

Let us then take a closer look at Sunday’s Times, for therein the battle for truth is being waged, and lost. Again and again, despite meticulous wordsmithing, dangerous assumptions become impossible to ignore. And if these words run to sarcasm, forgive me as I forgive Times writers.

Eric Schmitt’s big front page article on American G.I.s in Iraq describes Iraqi guerrillas as a “shadowy,” “criminal” “insurgency,” engaging in “hit-and-run strikes.” Schmitt’s use of terms like “gangs” and “attackers” makes Iraqis sound like caricatured gangstas on a drive-by, only with mortars and explosives instead of Uzis.

The article quotes military personnel–without refuting falsehoods or providing perspective–rhapsodizing about how to maintain the “continuing welcome” of “ordinary” Iraqis who are now “accusing [U.S.] soldiers.” There is no indication that the U.S. military, the most powerful fighting force in world history, is in fact an occupying power which invaded a sovereign nation in violation of international law. Schmitt merely quotes soldiers saying things like “We’re not God. But we signed up for this,” or “Things ar! e a lot better here [since the invasion].” Our troops, we learn, are frustrated that “Iraqis are not taking the lead” and say “it doesn’t seem like [Iraqis] want to help themselves.” The article concludes by praising a lieutenant for ordering his men to “tidy up” and giving $120 to a household whose door was just blasted off its hinges with shotguns, then ransacked, based on the mistaken belief that the occupants were part of the “insurgency.”

In the “Week In Review” section, we find an interesting piece by Daniel Okrent, “The Public Editor,” who, we are told, “serves as the readers’ representative.” Okrent lets two Times reporters off the hook for their “elision” (omission) of two crucial words in quoting President Bush, who said he would support gay marriage “if necessary.” The newspaper’s unwillingness to acknowledge the importance of the “innocent misstep,” Okrent admits, might make some readers think the “simple mistake” was a “willful misdeed.”

Maybe readers are ready to indict the “Gray Lady” because she fails to maintain her objectivity; as we are told in an interesting review of Marianne Moore’s poetry in the Book Review, “omissions are not accidents.” In recent memory, the Times has run transparent front-page articles by Judith Miller on Iraq’s nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction,” greatly amplifying the Bush Administration’s war drums. (We won’t even start on Jayson Blair.) Or maybe readers simply find it hard to believe that not one but two of what ought to be very competent reporters somehow missed a crucial qualif! ier, inexplicably assuming President George W. Bush capable of voicing outright support for gay marriage. The Times remains this country’s most intelligent and comprehensive daily, a source of information a writer based in a northern outpost like Milwaukee can ill afford to ignore. But if “skepticism is the status quo” when it comes to “the government in Washington,” as two-thirds of Americans expressed in last week’s Times/CBS poll (Week In Review), why is the Times so indifferent to its own mistakes?

Read the whole thing here: http://www.counterpunch.org/schmid01062004.html