Skip to comments.Mother of Media Myths (Undoubtedly written by Paul Greenberg so you know it's great!)
Posted on 06/13/2003 5:58:15 PM PDT by Durmundstrang
Whats THE biggest media myth to come out of the Iraq? War and its messy aftermath? Forget Maureen Dowds attempt to trash George W. Bush by altering the presidents words. That kind of "journalism" has become just standard operating procedure at the New York Times. (" All the News Fit to Distort") No, for sheer, long-lasting stamina, we nominate the urban legend about the pillaging of Baghdads archaeological museum.
Remember how it was supposed to have been emptied by looters? It was THE RAPE OF CIVILIZATION! The anguished comments from distinguished archaeologists sounded more like tabloid headlines. The Death of History! Tears were shed, angry accusations made. Scholars whod never been moved to speak out against Saddam Husseins atrocities, and who were able to take death and suffering in stride, at least the death and suffering of others, were suddenly reduced to despair over the loss of these antiquities. (Everybody has their own order of priorities. With some, the human beings come last.)
Now, to quote the museums research director in an interview that appeared in Londons Telegraph: "There was a mistake. Someone asked us what is the number of pieces in the whole collection. We said over 170,000, and they took that as the number lost. Reporters came in and saw the empty shelves and reached the conclusion that all was gone. But before the war we evacuated all of the small pieces and emptied the showcases except for fragile or heavy material that was difficult to move."
Most of the museums actual collections had been hidden away weeks before the war broke out including some 40,000 medieval scrolls and manuscripts, which had been put away in a bomb shelter.
But the story of the missing 170,000 pieces spread everywhere, like an oil spill, and was even harder to clean up. Newspapers, radio, television. CNN, NPR, and of course the New York Times all carried it. The corrections may have started appearing, but theyll never erase the original, front-page, appalled and outraged coverage.
At last report, the 170,000 missing pieces are now down to the thousands, maybe hundreds. But it turns out they were never really lost, just hidden. And a good thing. Nothing can mess up a carefully catalogued museum collection like war. Its not just hell, its messy.
At one point, the incredible shrinking number of Missing Treasures had reached 17, although the report in the Telegraph said 33 major artifacts were still unaccounted for. The figure was down to 27 on Peter Jennings World News Tonight. Nobody seems to know the exact number, although its clear that the original estimate of the museums losses was wildly exaggerated. Nor is it clear why it took so long for the museums officials to correct the record. Just say that Mistakes Were Made. As for who made them, well, nobodys being specific. We loved the way Peter Jennings phrased his not-quite-correction of an earlier report: "The looting of the national museum may not have been as extensive as some people first reported ."
Not as extensive? Like down from 170,000 to 17? Ah, well, no need to go into detail, namely that among the Some People Who First Reported the story were reporters for Peter Jennings own network. Or as Emily Latella used to say on Saturday Night Live, never mind.
Once again, we miss Gilda Radners Emily; only she could have done full justice to (a) the Story of the Missing 170,000 Artifacts told in high-pitched outrage, followed by (b) the quick Never Mind.
Peter Jennings may be ridiculous enough in his own right, but Emily Latella made an art of it. At this late point, nothing anybody can say may drive a stake through the heart of this myth, its been so widely repeated. Like ground-in dirt, the story has become embedded in too many peoples belief systems to be washed out completely. Its become folklore, like the Stolen Election of 2000.
Yes, some priceless pieces are still missing from the Baghdad museum, like a Sumerian vase circa 3000 B. C. that would be a thing of beauty and a joy forever even if it had just been made. But its hard to believe it wont turn up, since its too well known to fence. You have to wonder if the museum has just lost track of it, too.
Meanwhile, independent of the goings-on at the museum, another priceless collection has been found the legendary Treasure of Nimrud, all 613 pieces dating back to the Assyrian period some 2,800 years ago. The wooden crates that contained these exquisite pieces of gold, ivory, and gem-encrusted jewelry have been recovered from a watery grave in the basement of a bombed-out bank. Thats where theyd been hidden before the first Gulf war.
The treasure was saved thanks to a British archaeologist and a reserve Marine colonel from New York with a masters degree in classical antiquities. Not to mention the U.S. Army, some agents from the Department of Homeland Security, and an Iraqi worker. The latter figured out how to cut off the water that had flooded the bank when a pipe burst. All in all, it sounds like something out of Indiana Jones. How long before the Baghdad museum comes up with the original Ark of the Covenant? (Handle With Care!)
A happy ending is now in sight to this mother of all media myths. But some wont applaud. Or thank any Americans and Brits for recovering any of Iraqs national treasures. So many people have invested so much anger in The Story of the 170,000 Missing Pieces that one suspects it will go on and on, popping up years from now when somebody needs a little more ammunition for another anti-American tirade. Facts may be stubborn things, but myths can be stubborner.
IMHO the style isn't Greenberg's, but it's a good editorial nonetheless.
He can open a big can of whupass on the bad guys and then sift through the rubble he's bounced around for artifacts.
for your collection of shot down myths
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Note: this topic is from 6/13/2003. Eight years later, I wonder how the museums of Libya are doing? The Arab Spring results in the gang-rape of a libtard reporter in Cairo, and there's a continual drumbeat of rape gangs in Libya.
Note: this topic is from 6/13/2003. Thanks Durmundstrang. Re-ping.
Who dug this up?
Did the media cite it like its true again?