April 10, 2003


Covering the War (NY Times, 4/10/03)
The death of an Al Jazeera journalist was a regrettable mistake and should be acknowledged as such.

Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that the killing was regrettable and that it was a mistake, both dubious propositions, the last part of this formulation does not follow. We are well served by leaving the idea in peoples' minds that if they essentially serve as the propaganda arm of the terror movement they are in the line of fire and must accept the consequences.
Posted by Orrin Judd at April 10, 2003 3:44 PM

An example of warblogging at its worst. Clearly, we'd be setting a good example of democracy and rule of law by letting the military arbitrarily kill journalists who the military considers to be dangerous.

Posted by: Peter Caress at April 10, 2003 5:02 PM

I enjoy your blog, and apart from the issue of evolution, generally think your on the money most of the time. But this is your worst post ever, really low.

Posted by: Wrighty at April 10, 2003 5:42 PM


Posted by: Wrighty at April 10, 2003 5:43 PM

Al Jazeera is quite intentionally fomenting the suicide bombers and other terrorists in the Middle East by presenting propagandistic coverage which attributes all evil to us and all good to our foes. They are a kkey part of the terror network. Would you have not targeted Goebbels?

Posted by: oj at April 10, 2003 5:56 PM

It would be difficult to take much action against Al Jazeera given that they're owned by the Sheikh of Qatar who's allowed Centcom to set up shop in his country.

Anyway let Al-Jazeera broadcast and let their version of events continue to be discredited by what goes on, on the ground.

And Al-Jazeera actually does do a pretty good job in exposing and highlighting the craptitude of most Arab regimes in the region, most of which would be glad to see it go.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at April 10, 2003 7:25 PM

They are also an unreflective mouthpiece for Osama bin Laden.

Posted by: oj at April 10, 2003 7:29 PM

I would have targeted the Nazi propaganda ministry, but Goebbels was enforcing a state monopoly on information. Al Jazeera has competitors, and the competition should improve the quality. Especially now, when the people who run Al Jazeera realize that their viewers would have preferred more honest coverage rather than the flattering but false depiction of brave Iraqi resistance.

The Iranian and Syrian state-run networks have blacked out footage of Iraqis celebrating in the streets, but Al Jazeera has shown these images. It's no bad thing that Iranians and Syrians have some idea of what's happening in Iraq, thanks to Al Jazeera.

Even if you believe that Al Jazeera is so horrible that it must be censored, common decency suggests that killing unarmed journalists should be the last resort. So you should send over the marines to arrest the journalists and disable the transmitters, rather than shoot missiles at the place. And any decision to take out Al Jazeera should be made lawfully and openly: we should not give military commanders a free hand to kill journalists they dislike.

Posted by: Peter Caress at April 10, 2003 7:30 PM


Arrests would be politically messy and would raise a hue and cry like yours. A few dead Al Jazeera journalists and bombing their HQ as we "mistakenly" did in both Kabul and Baghdad is designed to send a subtler message, not unlike accidentally bombing the busload of fighters headed from Damascus to Baghdad.

Moreover, if it is truly accidental, as was the Vincennes shooting down an Iranian passenger jet, it only makes sense to keep a seed of doubt so that, as Nixon wished N. Vietnam to believe, they have to reckno with the possibility that you'll do just about anything. You'll note that Iran's behavior towards the U.S. changed drastically after that.

Posted by: oj at April 10, 2003 8:29 PM

OJ: There are so many things wrong with your postings it's hard to know where to begin.

Regarding Al Jazeera as a key part of the terror network: the PLO, Hamas, Hizbollah, and Al Quaeda were all formed before Al Jazeera went on-line. Al Jazeera isn't a major player in terrorism; it's main sin is telling Arabs what they already want to hear.

Regarding the Vincennes incident, you're saying that it's OK to portray ourselves as potential terrorists, willing to massacre civilians. You then wonder why people in the Middle East have sympathy for terrorists who massacre American civilians. But if Al Jazeera claimed that the Vincennes deliberately shot down the plane, then that would be anti-American propaganda that might get people at Al Jazeera killed.

Putting diplomatic pressure on Al Jazeera's owner to improve its coverage could be considered "sending a subtler message." Shooting missiles and killing Al Jazeera journalists is not subtle.

Basically, you want to have your cake and eat it too. You want America to set a policy of treating propagandists for terrorists the same as terrorists themselves, but you don't want America to take any responsibility for this policy -- indeed, you would want America to deny that this policy exists. So there's no guidance for determining when bias crosses over to propaganda. The Pentagon arbitrarily decides which networks get hit.

But the part that really offends me is the callous disregard for the lives of Al Jazeera journalists. If Al Jazeera really should be treated as terrorists, then we should have raided the building with soldiers, have sent offending journalists off to Guantanamo, and safely destroyed any Al Jazeera equipment. But you would call in missile strikes on an undefended site because "arrests would be politically messy" and hey, "a few dead Al Jazeera journalists" would "send a subtler message" anyway. So what if we deliberately kill unarmed men when we could have simply imprisoned them?

Posted by: Peter Caress at April 11, 2003 2:34 AM

We (that is, our government) should not get

involved in commenting on every death. There's

a war on, remember?

People get killed. In the case of alJazeera,

apparently, get themselves killed.

After I'd been in a few riots I formulated a rule:

If you're going to stay, don't complain about

what happens to you next.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 11, 2003 3:21 AM

Peter --

I think oj erred in seeming to argue the merits of an accidental outcome. Why seem to defend something that was not deliberately done? Perhaps, like me, he was frustrated at how little debate there has been about in general about the deliberate acts of terrorism against civilians and journalists perpetrated by the Iraqi regime and all the regional terrorist elements (which we now seem to know are as foreign as they were in Afghanistan). For example, have you shown any interest in the now very suspcious bombing of the 15th floor of the Palestine hotel killing two Reuter journalists. This case seems to have fallen off the critics radar screen after it became argueable whether it was not in fact target of a regime deliberate blast.

Posted by: MG at April 11, 2003 3:44 AM


I don't wonder why they hate us, I understand perfectly well: it's because their intellectual elites--clerics, journalists, professors, etc.--teach them to hate us. Let them keep doing so and we'll have to keep killing the Muslim masses by the thousands. That seems unacceptable to me, so better to change the message they're hearing. Taking Al Jazeera off the air will do more to win the war on terror than taking out the Republican Guard.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2003 9:01 AM

oj - You can't win by destroying your enemies, new enemies will always pop up to replace the ones you knock down. Rather, you have to present a positive alternative.

That's why we need a free Iraq to work - so that it can present an attractive alternative to the Arab dictatorial model. Once there's an audience for good news about freedom, then private media outlets will serve that market. Al-Jazeera, as the first widely available Arab media outlet not controlled by a dictator, is the first step toward a free press and, even if we don't like their message, we should be greatly pleased that they exist.

Posted by: pj at April 11, 2003 9:55 AM


You've put the cart before the ass. There's no value to a "free"press in and of itself. Rather it is a means for upholding democracy, offering a potential check on government power.

Al Jazeera, by putting itself at the unquestioning disposal of the Saddams and Osamas, serves only evil. It seeks to uphold a pathological;ly disturbed Islamicist/pan-Arabist view of the world. We'll not defeat this view without taking on those who spread it.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2003 12:13 PM

I'm with Don Rumsfeld: the truth has a way of getting itself out to people. Al Jazeera has lost standing among many Arabs because of the lies it spread about Iraq, so quickly revealed to be false as Baghdad fell and Iraqis cheered. To Al Jazeera's credit, they showed cheering Iraqis, while most Arab state media did not.

Posted by: pj at April 11, 2003 5:41 PM

I would have more sympathy for OJ's position if he were talking about one of the Arab state-run stations, because (a) they're monopolistic tools of their governments, and (b) they spew forth a lot of evil anti-Semtism.

But I have a more positive view of Al Jazeera. They sat on a couple videos that made Osama look bad (and therefore made America look good), but I think it exaggerates to say that "Al Jazeera, by putting itself at the unquestioning disposal of the Saddams and Osamas, serves only evil." Since Al Jazeera interviews Americans and Israelis and actually has debates about whether Arab governments should recognize Israel, it can hardly be considered a total tool of the Islamists or Pan-Arabists.

As for Iraq, they covered the war from the angle of the war being illegal, unjust, imperialistic and something that would get a lot of civilians unnecessarily killed. They also thought America deserved to get its butt kicked because of what Israel does to the Palestinians. So their reporting succumbed to wishful thinking, as well as the temptation to pander to the masses. Covering the war in such a fashion is wrongheaded, but not evil.

Posted by: Peter Caress at April 11, 2003 7:53 PM

Actually, a free press does have intrinsic merit.

If it ain't free, then somebody is controlling it. A priest or a politician.

While Orrin might not mind the priest, he's a lot more likely to get the politician, and I don't think that's what he's after.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 11, 2003 10:41 PM


A means, not an end.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2003 11:29 PM


Covering the war in such a way as to play to the psychoses of the masses and thereby foment further anti-American violence is of course evil.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2003 11:31 PM

I agree, but that does not lessen the intrinsic

value of the press, any more than the end

of getting electricity into your computer

means that the wires are not intrinisically


Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 12, 2003 2:42 AM


But a computer is not intrinsically good either--merely a means.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2003 12:08 AM


The war is indeed illegal, since it violates the UN charter which America has agreed to follow. Whether the war is just is something on which reasonable people can disagree. It's quite clearly imperialistic, since we're trying to replace a foreign government with one more to our liking. And of course the war has killed a lot of civilians.

As for the Palestinian issue, you yourself have argued that Israel should unilaterally pull out of some of the occupied territories. Yet the complete occupation continues on, expending lives unnecessarily.

So I see nothing psychotic about covering the war from an anti-war, anti-American angle. Robert Fisk covers the war the same way and though he's a fool, he's not evil.

You also seem to view the "Muslim masses" as sheep-like followers of the "intellectual elites." I tend to think that the masses follow the elites when they masses like the message they're hearing, though I doubt that anyone can ever definitively prove or disprove this proposition.

I disagree when you imply that Arabs hate Americans as such. As far as I can judge, most Arab anti-Americanism derives directly from our support for Israel. (Osama bin Laden is quite unusual in that he hates America principally for other reasons.)

Posted by: Peter Caress at April 13, 2003 1:05 PM