Skip to comments.The Untouchable Chief of Baghdad(reservist rips Washington Post baghdad chief)
Posted on 06/29/2004 1:01:16 PM PDT by Pikamax
By Eric M. Johnson 06/29/2004
Iraq veterans often say they are confused by American news coverage, because their experience differs so greatly from what journalists report. Soldiers and Marines point to the slow, steady progress in almost all areas of Iraqi life and wonder why they dont get much notice or in many cases, any notice at all.
Part of the explanation is Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post. He spent most of his career on the metro and technology beats, and has only four years of foreign reporting, two of which are in Iraq. The 31-year-old now runs a news operation that can literally change the world, heading a bureau that is the source for much of the news out of Iraq.
Very few newspapers have full-time international reporters at all these days, relying on stringers of varying quality, as well as wire services such as Reuters and Agence France-Presse, also of varying quality. The Post's reporting is delivered intravenously into the bloodstream of Official Washington, and thus a front-page article out of Iraq can have major repercussions in policy-making.
This effect is magnified because of the Post's influence on what other news organizations report. While its national clout lags behind the New York Times, many reporters look to the Post for cues on how to approach a story. The Post interprets events, and the herd of independent minds bleat their approval and start tapping on their keyboards with their hooves.
Chandrasekaran's crew generates a relentlessly negative stream of articles from Iraq and if there are no events to report, they resort to man-on-the-street interviews and cobble together a story from that. Last week, there was a front-page, above-the-fold article about Iraqis jeering U.S. troops, which amounted to a pastiche of quotations from hostile Iraqis. It was hardly unique. Given the expense of maintaining an Iraq bureau with a dozen staffers, they have to write something to justify themselves, even if the product is shoddy.
This week, Chandrasekaran has a Pulitzer-bait series called "Promises Unkept: The U.S. Occupation of Iraq." The grizzled foreign-desk veteran -- who until 2000 was covering dot-com companies -- now sits in judgment over a world-shaking issue, in a court whose rulings echo throughout the media landscape. He finds the Bush Administration guilty. Such a surprise.
Before major combat operations were over, Chandrasekaran was already quoting Iraqis proclaiming the American operation a failure. Reading his dispatches from April 2003, you can already see his meta-narrative take shape: basically, that the Americans are clumsy fools who dont know what theyre doing, and Iraqis hate them. This meta-narrative informs his coverage and the coverage of the reporters he supervises, who rotate in and out of Iraq.
How do I know this? Because my fellow Marines and I witnessed it with our own eyes. Chandrasekaran showed up in the city of Al Kut last April, talked to a few of our officers, and toured the city for a few hours. He then got back into his air-conditioned car and drove back to Baghdad to write about the local unrest.
"The Untouchable 'Mayor' of Kut," his article's headline blared the next day. It described a local, Iranian-backed troublemaker named Abbas Fadhil, who was squatting in the provincial government headquarters. He had gathered a mob of people with nothing better to do, told them to camp out in the headquarters compound, and there they sat, defying the Marines of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
Chandrasekaran was very impressed with the little usurper: "'We thank the Americans for getting rid of Saddam's regime, but now Iraq must be run by Iraqis,' Fadhil thundered during a meeting today with his supporters in the building's spacious conference room. 'We cannot allow the Americans to rule us from this office'....Fadhil has set up shop in an official building and appears to have rallied support across this city of 300,000 people.
"The refusal of Marine commanders to recognize Fadhil's new title has fueled particularly intense anti-American sentiments here," Chandrasekeran continued. "In scenes not seen in other Iraqi cities, U.S. convoys have been loudly jeered. Waving Marines have been greeted with angry glares and thumbs-down signs."
Readers must have concluded that Kut was on the verge of exploding. The entire city was ready to throw out the despised American infidel invaders and install their new "mayor" as their beloved leader.
What utter rubbish. In our headquarters, we had a small red splotch on a large map of Kut, representing the neighborhood that supported Abbas Fadhil. When asked about him, most citizens of Kut rolled their eyes. His followers were mainly poor, semi-literate, and not particularly well-liked. They were marginal in every sense of the word, and they mattered very little in the day-to-day life of a city that was struggling to get back on its feet.
We knew the local sentiment intimately, because as civil affairs Marines, our job was to help restore the province's water, electricity, medical care, and other essentials of life. Our detachment had teams constantly coming and going throughout the city, and Chandrasekeran could have easily accompanied at least one of them.
Since he didn't, he couldnt see how the Iraqis outside of the red splotch reacted to us. People of every age waved and smiled as we rumbled past (except male youths, who, like their American counterparts, were too cool for that kind of thing.) Our major security problem was keeping friendly crowds of people away from us so we could spot bad guys.
None of those encouraging things made it into the article. Nor did anything about how we had been helping to fix the citys problems as soon as we arrived. Just a quick-and-dirty sensationalistic piece about a local Islamist thug bravely going toe-to-toe with the legendary United States Marines. The general reaction to Chandrasekerans article was either laughter or dumb bewilderment.
Soon afterwards, a Marine commander met privately with Fadhil and told him he would be forcefully removed if he did not leave the government building. Fadhil, chastened, asked if he could slither into exile without the appearance of coercion, so he could save face. The commander agreed. Suddenly faced with a real confrontation, the "mayor" had backed down, and he left without any riots or bloodshed. The Americans took over the office that Fadhil said we should never occupy. The Post didn't cover any of that, either.
Don't take my word for it that the Posts reporting is substandard and superficial. Take the word of Philip Bennett, the Post's assistant managing editor for foreign news. In a surprisingly candid June 6 piece, he admits that "the threat of violence has distanced us from Iraqis." Further, "we have relied on Iraqi stringers filing by telephone to our correspondents in Baghdad, and on embedding with the military. The stringers are not professional journalists, and their reports are heavy on the simplest direct observation." Translation: we are reprinting things from people we barely know, from a safe location dozens of miles away from the fighting.
Bennett flatly concedes that they have a dim picture of what is happening in Iraq, (not that you would know it from the actual news articles he approves for publication.) "The people of Iraq...are leading their country, and ours, down an uncertain path. This is a story waiting to be told."
Waiting to be told? They have four or five full-time reporters there at any given time. What are they doing, if they're not telling the story of Iraq's new birth?
Bennett might have added that not only are the reporters "distanced" from Iraqis, they're distanced from Iraq itself. Covering it from Baghdad is like covering California from a secure bunker in south-central Los Angeles. Sure, a lot happens in L.A., but you're going to miss important things if you don't go to San Diego or San Francisco, or even Bakersfield once in a while.
Chandrasekerans meta-narrative admits of no ambiguity. For him and his reporters, they report in straightforward, declarative sentences, with none of the caveats that Bennett mentions. The Americans are still bumbling, the Iraqis continue to seethe. So it shall be in the Washington Post, until Iraq succeeds and they can no longer deny it, just like journalists were forced to admit reality at the end of the Cold War. Or else their words will have their effect, and Western journalists have to flee the country as it disintegrates.
Since I saw Rajiv Chandrasekaran's integrity up close, I haven't believed a word he writes, or any story coming out of the bureau he runs. You shouldn't, either.
Eric M. Johnson, a writer in Washington D.C., participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Marine Corps. reservist.
I hope that he sent to the WP even though they would never print it they need to read it.
I am deeply saddened, seriesly, but not suprised.
This story is right on!! Being that I am in Baghdad, I get to see some of what the daily routine for the people is here. When I watch the news, I am wondering where they dig this stuff up.
Its not like the "unbiased" press would report on improving conditions in Iraq would they? Not in an election year and certainly not the Washington Manifesto or the New York Manifesto....
Good story ! ( Too bad it won't be read outside this message board.)
Ouch! That's gonna leave a mark.
I have sent this to Howard Kurtz and to the Post's ombudsman. We'll see if it gets any response.
Or maybe the Washington Times will print it. BTW. I wonder how many of Baghdad Bob's old employees are now stringers for the Post.
Welcome to FreeRepublic, Mike. Stay safe.
This one would also be interesting to Brit Hume and would be likely to get some public exposure.
PING FOR THE LITTLE PRINCE!!!
Thanks! Are you STILL awake?
Even putting ideology aside, this refers to a major troubling development in the "news" business. To save money as they were gobbled up by conglomerates, the media started closing offices overseas and even around the USA. They began relying on the wire services which were also cutting back. The "reporters" became news readers and the news readers spend lots of time interviewing - each other.
Gone are the days of lots of correspondents who had toured the World with U.S. forces during WWII. The media has truly become a left wing paper tiger, with less and less information value for the public.
Let me add a welcome to Freerepublic! I hope you get a chance to check in here once in a while with your perspective.
The media will learn a very harsh lesson come November. The biggest backlash ever recorded will be delivered by the Military to the very people who despise them and paint them as incompetent, bumbling fools. Thanks for the ping.
Did anyone catch Time's Baghdad bureau chief being interviewed on Fox News this morning? Australian guy, rambling, long-winded, full of sh*t. Came off very poorly.
I made a mental note to myself to pay even less attention to Time's biased bullsh*t.
BTT. The days of media gods are long past.
They look for the lowest life forms and hang on their every word .. and if they can't do that the LIE and repeat it enough times hoping people will believe it
By the looks of the subscriptions from the WP and NYT and the rating from CNN .. Many folks are not falling for their LIES
Back when the troops were heading to Bagdad there was a reporter by the name of Richard Engle .. we called him Pretty Boy/Mr. Chicken/Pretty Chicken
Everyday he would call into the main headquarters here in New York to get the updated news so he could report on it because he never left his hotel room
The reason we know this is because there use to be a live webcam were many of us Freepers could hear what the reporters were saying off they air
It was a very eye opening experience Thank you for your service for our country and for the Iraqi people
We ARE hearing the great work y'all are doing ..
tagline: "No trees were killed in sending this message, but billions of electrons were inconvenienced."
Actually, I heard that they were very excited about it.
Ok, I'll go stand in a corner now.
Welcome, and stay safe. I hope you can give us a few word pictures of life in Baghdad from time to time.
WaPo: Get rid of this snotty incompetent.
Hey, this guy's name sounds like he is an Iranian. Now an Iranian wouldn't have a vested interest in seeing Americans fail in Iraq, now would he?
Thanks to Free Republic, Rush, FoxNews, Sean Hannity and the Internet, Americans know what our great military personnel are accomplishing in Iraq. Please know that the majority of true Americans are not as stupid as the liberal media believes. Nor have we forgotten 9/11. God Bless you and thank you for your service to America.
Please let us know if they respond.
thanks for the ping
The leftists lie, get the major headline, the people who want to believe it do, and then the truth emerges and does not get a headline and many people, even good conservatives, don't know the lies they have been told.
Another perspective on the Washington Post.
Should I ping he-who-must-not-be-named? Would he then understand what a birdcage-liner the Wash Compost is???
I truly believe the liberal media is self-destructing. I used to read the N.Y. Times many years ago, but haven't touched it in more than 20 years. I won't even read excerpts from liberal media newspapers here on FreeRepublic, because they disgust me.
You always have a very good eye in pointing things out
I wonder if we can dig up further interesting info about him. Political and religious affiliations?
I thought it sounded Indian/Pakistani.
Sounds Indian to me.
His name sounds more Indian to me, or possibly from somewhere else in Southeast Asia. (Probably Hindu and not Muslim.)
But clearly, looking only 12 years old and getting all this power has gone to his silly America-hating head. He covered dot-coms until a couple of years ago? And the WP put him in charge of Iraq? That says more about the WP than it does about this predictable twit.
Like several of the Reuters "reporters" these guys have connections to all kinds of web sites, religious organizations and various liberal "anti-conservative" media organizations.
They are anything but unbiased.
They are not fans of the home team. Being negative about the war is fine, but spinning against the truth is not in the best interest of the Post. We need a documentary or two. It's probably coming. Many are only qualified to report on negative events. Their shareholders are responsible and need to get the ax out, soon.
The Washington Post isn't telling the full truth!!??
Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.....believe me when I say I am not as in the thick of things as say the Marines are in Fallujah and our guys around this country....
Allawi is a strong leader but he also has something akin to morals too. He will right the Iraqi ship (I hope I hope).
the liberals can call this a failure or whatever, that still won't help their boy win the election....
We will do everything we can here to make sure that their boy (nor his billionaire wife) gets nowhere near the White House.
I saw this and ran to FR to see if anyone posted anything about it. He was unbelievable. His main thesis was that because the Americans "dissed" Saddam's high command and Baathists by not allowing them to become the leaders of the "new Iraq", these heretofore secular and materialistic power mad (power mad is my term, not his) men became fervid Islamic warriors, looking to bring jihad to America as well as Iraq. They long for nothing more than to have Sharia law imposed everywhere!
This was one of the most ridiculous claims I have heard, yet the Time Bureau Chief pointed to his "living with" these people in their "training camps."
If he was hearing such tripe, they were only telling him what he wanted to hear.
Jon Scott could barely keep a straight face and it was obvious that Jon Scott thought he was a crackpot.
Bump for later reading.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.