Killing the Messenger,

excerpted from the book

The Exception to the Rulers

Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them

by Amy Goodman with David Goodman

Hyperion, 2004


Killing the Messenger

Trouble came early on April 8, 2003. At 7:45 a.m., Tareq Ayyoub, chief Baghdad correspondent for the Arab news service Al-Jazeera, was standing on the roof of the network's Baghdad bureau, intently narrating a pitched battle between Iraqi troops and two American tanks that had earlier appeared on the nearby Al-Jurnhuriya Bridge. Ayyoub's cameraman, an Iraqi named Zuheir, was panning back and forth from the battle to the reporter for the accompanying shots.

Suddenly, the sound of gunfire was drowned out. An American fighter jet came swooping in low across the city. Ayyoub and Zuheir instinctively looked up and saw the jet bank its wing and head straight for where they were standing. "The plane was flying so low that those of us downstairs thought it would land on the roof-that's how close it was," recounted Ayyoub's colleague, Maher Abdullah, to Robert Fisk of the London Independent.'

Inside the bureau, Ayyoub's other colleagues could hear the rocket launch from the plane. There was a high-pitched whine, followed by the thunderous roar of an explosion. "It was a direct hit-the missile actually exploded against our electrical generator," Abdullah recalled. Colleagues frantically scooped up the shattered body of 35-year-old Ayyoub and carried him out in a blanket to an ambulance. But it was too late. "Tareq died almost at once," said Abdullah. The cameraman was injured, but survived.

Moments later and less than a mile away, the journalists and staff of Abu Dhabi Television-which is written in large blue letters on the roof of their building-took cover in their offices. They had just heard that the United States had bombed Al-Jazeera. Twenty-five staff members huddled in the basement, phoning and pleading over the air for someone to help save them. Again, their pleas fell on deaf ears. U.S. soldiers battered their offices with artillery. Miraculously, there were no serious injuries.

Just before noon, it was the turn of the international press corps. At the Palestine Hotel, where a hundred unembedded reporters were staying, many watched in horror as a U.S. tank positioned on the Al-Jumhuriya Bridge slowly rotated its gun in their direction. A French television crew filmed the armored behemoth as it took aim and suddenly, with no warning, unleashed a round into the side of the towering hotel. The bomb struck the fifteenth floor, making a direct hit on the room serving as a bureau for Reuters, the international news agency. A veteran Ukrainian cameraman for Reuters, Taras Protsyuk, 35, was killed instantly. Jose Couso, 37, a cameraman for Telecinco Spanish television, who was filming one floor below, was also killed. Three other international journalists were seriously injured .

That afternoon, as the news began to buzz across international datelines, spokesmen at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar offered justifications. They claimed the tank had been responding to "significant enemy fire from the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad."' A parade of military spokespeople repeated this claim, saying it was the fault of Iraqi forces that had been attacking from civilian locations such as the Palestine.

American networks chimed right in. Speaking on Larry King Live that night, CNN military commentator General Wesley Clark assured viewers, "It's a case of a very unfortunate accident of war. People were in the wrong place at the wrong time.... You can't tell the troops that they can't shoot back when they're being shot at.... The United States wouldn't deliberately kill journalists .

Wrong place, wrong time-in their offices?

The foreign media treated these incidents very differently than their American colleagues. "We can only conclude that the U.S. Army deliberately and without warning targeted journalists," declared the international press watch group Reporters Without Borders. Robert Fisk of the London Independent was even more blunt, declaring that the attacks "look very much like murder." After all, the U.S. military was well aware that reporters were working from the Palestine Hotel. And in an interview with the French magazine Le Nouvel Obseruateur, the unit's tank commander made no mention of hostile fire from Iraqi civilians in the area of the hotel.'

Journalists who saw the attacks scoffed at the claim that gunfire had come either from the hotel or from Al-Jazeera's offices. Besides, they asked, if people had been shooting from the streets, why had the tank targeted the fifteenth floor? Al-Jazeera noted that on February 24, it had delivered a letter to Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke giving precise coordinates for its bureau.

It might have been the Arab news service's biggest mistake.

Victoria Clarke was unmoved by the evidence. "Our forces came under fire," the Pentagon flack insisted. The American troops simply "exercised their inherent right to self-defense.... Baghdad is not a safe place, you should not be there."

That explanation confirmed what many journalists feared: Rather than ensure this would never happen again, the Pentagon was using the journalists' deaths as a pretext to warn other reporters-those who were not embedded with the U.S. military to leave the battlefield.

'We were targeted because the Americans don't want the world to see the crimes they are committing against the Iraqi people," said Al-Jazeera Baghdad reporter Majed Abdel Hadi. David Chater, Baghdad correspondent for Sky News in Britain, wondered aloud whether unembedded journalists would be able to continue reporting from Iraq. "How are we going to continue to do this," he asked, "if American tanks are targeting US?

That may be exactly the message the Pentagon wanted to send.

Dan Scemama can testify to that in late March 2003, he was among a group of four unembedded journalists seized by American troops. All of the men were carrying press credentials issued by the U.S. military. They had been following the troops and staying overnight with U.S. soldiers without incident until they ran into a group of American soldiers who decided they were spying for Iraq. The four journalists were then arrested. Scemama, a correspondent for Israel Channel One, later described the ordeal on Democracy Now! He recounted how one of the reporters "lost his patience" after being locked for five and a half hours in the jeep they had rented. The reporter, who was Portuguese, got out of the jeep and approached the nearby soldiers. "Please, please, I am begging you, I have a wife and children. Let me just make a call, a telephone call to tell them that we are safe, that we are with you, the Americans, and not with the Iraqis. They might think at home that we are killed by Iraqis. Please just let us tell them that."

"Go immediately to your car," the soldiers replied, according to Scemama. But before the Portuguese journalist could get back to the jeep, "five soldiers ... jumped on him and started to beat him and to kick him. We ran to his direction. They all put bullets inside their guns, and they said if we move forward, they would shoot at us.

The soldiers tied the Portuguese reporter's hands behind his back and led him off to the camp. "After half an hour, they let him go, and he came back to us all crying," Scemama recalled. "Then came this Lieutenant Scholl. And he told us, 'Don't mess with my soldiers. Don't mess with them because they are trained like dogs to kill. And they will kill you if you try again."

Duly warned, the journalists sat in the jeep for thirty-six more hours. "They asked us if we need anything," said Scemama. "They came politely, very nice, Lieutenant Scholl, he came again. 'Do you need anything?' And we said, 'Yes, if you can give us a little food.' And he said, 'I don't have enough food for my soldiers. I will not give you food.'

"After about an hour, we saw a soldier going with a bottle of water in our direction. And we said, 'Look! Something human is happening here. Somebody is coming to us with water!' And then we saw that he gave the water to a dog."

After thirty-six hours, the journalists were flown to Kuwait on a helicopter. The next morning, after two days under arrest, "They said, 'Guys, everything is finished. What hotel are you staying at in Kuwait City? We'll take you to your hotel.'"

But their ordeal was not over. "When I arrived in my hotel," Scemama said, "I had time to take a shower. I wanted to eat something, because I did not eat for a long time. And five minutes after I finished my shower, people knocked on my door in my hotel. It was Kuwaiti secret police. And they told me for your own safety, we have to show you out of Kuwait immediately. And they took me to the airport and threw me out of Kuwait. I'm sure the Americans did that."

At least Scemama and his colleagues lived to complain. On August 17, 2003, Mazen Dana, a Palestinian cameraman for Reuters, was killed while filming at a prison outside Baghdad. He had just spoken with American soldiers, making them aware of what he was doing. It didn't matter. Dana ended up filming his own death. As his camera trained on a U.S. tank fifty meters away, the soldiers suddenly opened fire. Dana's camera went out of focus as a highcaliber machine gun bullet tore into his chest.

This time, the explanations were even flimsier than on April 8. U.S. soldiers claimed they mistook Dana's camera for a rocketpropelled grenade launcher. The Pentagon said the soldiers had accidentally "engaged a cameraman." U.S. officials told the Committee to Protect Journalists that Dana's killing was "regrettable," but that the soldiers "acted within the rules of engagement."

It was grimly ironic that Mazen Dana had been awarded the International Press Freedom Award just two years earlier by the Committee to Protect journalists (CPJ)-for his determination to keep filming in volatile situations. He had been arrested and wounded many times while covering the conflict in the Israeli Occupied Territories. "Mazen was one of the finest conflict cameramen of his generation, enduring bullets and physical violence to report the news," wrote Joel Campagna of CPJ.' Thousands marched in Hebron at his funeral, and testimonials poured in from around the world.

There has hardly been a peep from the American mainstream media objecting to the treatment of journalists by the U.S. military. On the contrary, NPR correspondent Anne Carrels reported on the death of At-Jazeera's Tareq Ayyoub, saying, "In my view, this really was an avoidable tragedy." By working from their bureau, the Arab journalists "insisted on staying near ... well-known U.S. targets." Garrels added, "It was clear to everyone this was going to be the scene of fierce fighting."" In other words, it was A]-Jazeera's fault for reporting from a vantage point other than the hotel favored by Western journalists. Garrels, who, ironically, is on the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists, gave us a classic case of blaming the victim.

Foreign reporters had a very different reaction. In Spain, which lost two reporters in the attack on the Palestine Hotel, media workers went on strike for a day. From the elite journalists right down to the technicians, they laid down their cables, cameras, and their pens. They refused to record the words of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Marfa Aznar, who joined Blair and Bush in supporting the war. When Aznar came into parliament, they piled their equipment at the front of the room and turned their backs on him.

Photographers refused to take his picture and instead held up a photo of their slain colleagues. At a press conference in Madrid with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Spanish reporters walked out in protest. Later, hundreds of journalists, camera people, and technicians marched to the U.S. embassy in Madrid and stopped traffic in the intersection. "Murderer, murderer," they chanted.

The Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahrar called the attack on journalists "a massacre." In Mexico, the daily El Universal declared in a front-page story: "The U.S. is now murdering journalists. "

By shooting the messenger, the U.S. military was sending a warning to independent reporters: You could be next.

Media organizations like to claim that "objectivity" is sacred. But during the invasion of Iraq, we learned what that really meant: If you're prowar, you're objective. If you're against the war, you're fired.

So NPR's Scott Simon felt safe opining on the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal in October 2002, "American pacifists have no sane alternative now but to support war."" Mara Liasson of NPR didn't hesitate to slam two congressmen who had just returned from Iraq, where they had criticized President Bush. Speaking on FOX News Sunday in October 2002, she declared, "These guys are a disgrace. Look, everybody knows it's ... Politics 101 that you don't go to an adversary country, an enemy country, and badmouth the United States, its policies and the president of the United States. I mean, these guys ought to, I don't know, resign."

And Dan Rather had little to fear when he declared on Larry King Live on April 14, 2003: "Look, I'm an American. I never tried to kid anybody that I'm some internationalist or something. And when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of win may be. Now, I can't and don't argue that that is coverage without a prejudice. About that I am prejudiced.

Bill O'Reilly of FOX News unashamedly advanced his own military strategy for the war in March 2003-just slaughter the 4.5 million residents of Baghdad: "We should have given the citizens of Baghdad forty-eight hours to get out of Dodge by dropping leaflets and going with the AM radios and all that. Forty-eight hours, you've got to get out of there, and flatten the place. Then e war would be over." O'Reilly champions speaking freely ... against free speech: "Once the war against Saddam begins, we expect every American to support our military, and if they can't do that, to shut Up."

For journalists opposed to war, similar candor has cost them their jobs. The media watch group FAIR kept tabs on the newsroom purges:

* In February 2003, MSNBC canceled Phil Donahue's show. A leaked internal memo claimed that Donahue would present "a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war. He seems to delight in presenting guests who are antiwar, anti-Bush, and skeptical of the administration's motives." The report warned that the Donahue show could be "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time as our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."

* Satirist Bill Maher's show Politically Incorrect was pulled from CABC in September 2001 after he said, "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the air-plane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly." White House press secretary Ari Fleischer warned that Maher's comments and his sacking were "reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that; there never is."

Two wars took place in Iraq in 2003. The real war: 8,000 to 10,000 Iraqi civilians killed and 20,000 injured and an undetermined number of Iraqi military killed ...

Then there was the fake war-the one Americans saw on TV. In this war, there were almost no victims. The United States overran a whole country, destroyed a foreign army, engaged in street-to-street combat and intense aerial bombing, rescued a brave young woman soldier from enemy hands-and barely saw a victim. The American flag starred in this war.

A study by the Project for Excellence in journalism of 40.5 hours of prime-time coverage spread over three days by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and FOX examined 108 reports from embedded reporters. Not a single story depicted people hit by weapons .

Not one.

This, despite the fact that about half the reports from the embeds showed combat action. So much for fair and balanced news.

The U.S. media was engaged in a massive deception. We could devastate Iraq, but the media wouldn't show the results. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the typical American child spends twenty-seven hours a week watching television and will witness 40,000 murders and 200,000 other violent acts by the age of eighteen. We can watch Arnold Schwarzenegger blow away and disembowel scores of villains in the movies, but when it comes to showing us the real face of war, the networks suddenly worry about images that are in poor taste."

"Not the Right Time"

The sanitization of the news hit a new low when US troops first pushed into Baghdad. Fighting was intense: U.S. military officials declared that between 2,000 and 3,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed-in a single day. With even the embedded reporters and cameras capturing blood and death and atrocity, MSNBC announced that it was putting a delay on its live feeds to spare viewers the disturbing images.

Now take a guess: How many Iraqi casualties were shown on U.S. television that day, You guessed it. Not one.

In 2003, the media had far more access to the battlefield than they did during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but that had little bearing on what viewers saw this time around. Bill Kovach, a veteran editor for The New York Times and the Atlanta Journal Constitution and curator of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard University, reflected on what the public saw in media dispatches from the first Gulf War. It could just as easily have been written about the 2003 invasion. Kovach wrote that the dispatches from Iraq in 1991 "formed an image of warfare from which the human cost had been surgically eliminated. Film released for television was of 'smart bombs' guided literally through the front doors of military bunkers by laser beams. The language used was equally bloodless. Military targets such as tanks and armored personnel carriers were listed as 'KIAs' (killed in action) when destroyed by bombs, but the toll on human beings inside them was referred to as 'collateral damage.' Unreported were the costs and consequences of the war in human terms.

... CNN has two divisions: CNN International (CNNi) broadcasts to the world, whereas CNN broadcasts to the U.S. audience. They make separate decisions on what images to air-from the same stock of available footage and reports. The result: one war carefully crafted for Americans, another war for the rest of the world.

The difference was never more stark than on the famous day when U.S. soldiers pulled down a large statue of Saddam Hussein, initially wrapping his head in an American flag. CNN played the triumphal footage in an endless loop: the carefully stage-managed statue-toppling "celebration," in which a small group of Iraqis were allowed into the heavily guarded plaza to cheer for the cameras as Marines, outside the view of the camera, pulled down the edifice. CNNi showed it on a split screen, with images of wounded Iraqis in a hospital sharing half the screen.

Even the websites of the two CNN's conveyed opposite messages. On one typical day during the war, the CNN website featured a photo of people defacing a mural of Saddam Hussein. CNNi went with a picture of an anguished Iraqi being comforted."

"All the American channels are less bloody than most European, Asian, and Arabic channels," said former CNN vice president Frank Sesno.

The Wall Street journal paraphrased CNN president Chris Cramer, assuring that "rather than politics, the difference in approach between CNNi and the U.S. CNN reflects the practical and commercial need to cater to different audiences."

The difference being that CNN's U.S. audience is served half-truths soaked in spin.

The famous statue of Saddam Hussein pulled down by U.S. Marines on April 9, 2003, was conveniently chosen as the site for the defining image of the war because of its location directly across from the Palestine Hotel, the main site of the live-feed television cameras in Baghdad. The Marines established a three-block perimeter around the area, ensuring they could control every angle of this global photo op.

Tom Brokaw compared the event to "all the statues of Lenin [that] came down all across the Soviet Union."

"If you don't have goose bumps now," said FOX News anchor David Asman, "you'll never have them in your life."

'While close-up images of the event suggest that throngs of ordinary Iraqis cheered the toppling of the statue, a Reuters longshot photo showed that Firdos Square was nearly empty, ringed by U.S. tanks and Marines who had moved in to seal off the square before admitting Iraqis." A BBC photo sequence also showed a sparse crowd, comprised mostly of journalists and American soldiers. The BBC reported on its website that only "dozens" of Iraqis were involved.

But these weren't just any Iraqis, as evidenced by two photos published by the Information Clearing House." The first shows the arrival of the CIA's handpicked leader, Ahmed Chalabi, in Nasiriya on April 6, accompanied by several aides. The second photo is a close-up of one of the cheering participants at Firdos Square on April 9. The man celebrating "liberation" in Baghdad in front of the news cameras was one of those accompanying Chalabi into Nasiriya three days earlier.

"It was a rent-a-crowd," chided Reverend Neville Watson, an Australian peace activist who was an eyewitness to the event, in a BBC interview. Robert Fisk of the Independent, who was also at Firdos Square, described it as "the most staged photo opportunity since Iwo Jima."

The rules of mainstream journalism are simple: The Republicans and Democrats establish the acceptable boundaries of debate. When those groups agree-which is often-there is simply no debate. That's why there is such appalling silence around issues of war and peace. When it came to Afghanistan and Iraq, the majority of Democrats in Congress couldn't rubber-stamp the war fast enough.

David Potorti, in book September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

"In a media universe where you're likely to find right-wing conservatives on ABC, Fox, or NPR, the facts don't matter; only the framing. And in the hands of biased pundits posing as objective journalists, the framing is always going to be the same: promilitary, pro-government, and pro-war."

The media provides a forum for those in power. When there is an establishment consensus-such as during the period leading up to the war-the media just reflects that. The picture changes in an election year, when, for a fleeting moment, the Democrats try to distinguish themselves from the Republicans.

But what about the non-official voices around the country and the world who have been consistently opposed to the invasion, the millions of people who took to the streets to say no to war? These voices have been almost completely excluded.

Vassar College sociology professor William Hoynes

The problem is in the norms and practices of the profession and how news is gathered and produced. journalists rely upon officials for both professional status and information, which is one of the reasons why news is so heavily tilted toward the views and actions of officials. Add to that the economic structure of the news, the profit orientation of the major media and the power of advertising, the broad ideological climate in the post-9/1 I era-a narrow version of patriotism, dissent cast as treason-and the news management/intimidation strategies of officials, and you have a news media that often produces ... shameful reporting."

Mario Savio, Leader, Free Speech Movement (1964) Berkeley, CA

When the operation of the machine becomes so odious ... you've got to throw your body upon the wheels, upon the gears, upon the levers, and upon all the apparatus of the machine, and you're got to make it stop.

... General Douglas MacArthur had declared southern Japan off-limits, barring the press. Over 200,000 people died in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but no Western journalist witnessed the aftermath and told the story.

Margaret Mead

Never doubt for a moment that a small group of committed, thoughtful people can make a difference. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Amy Goodman page

Index of Website

Home Page