On propoganda, big-pub news and editorial integrity in wartime

Just caught this post from Jenny the Librarian, with links to both Dear Raed, a weblog by an Iraqi living in Baghdad, and this story on CNN.com about him. Unfortunately CNN seems to have pulled the story, and I find myself wondering why…

The most likely reason is that someone on CNN’s editorial staff decided it wasn’t appropriate, but in my opinion, removing the piece was irresponsible. Through this whole thing, all the information I’ve been able to get directly from Baghdad has been through CNN’s own team who were kicked out by the Iraqi authorities over the weekend, from the images and snippets I’ve seen re-broadcast via Al Jazeera TV, and from Dear Raed — the latter being the only independent source I’ve been able to find within the Iraqi capital.

Is CNN bowing to Pentagon pressure to not (re-)distribute any non-approved information about conditions on the ground in Iraq and Baghdad itself? Did someone at CNN decide that they’d go ahead and run their own little propoganda campaign? Perhaps it’s just stupidity that the story got pulled, but I doubt it.

Interestingly, it still appears in CNN’s own search results (screenshot), though not on the index page for the their “TECH/internet” department where the story originally appeared. Also, it’s unfortunate that Google didn’t manage to index the story, since I could read it via Google’s cache (and mirror it here).

At least I can get some idea of how the story was spun by the sub-title on CNN’s search results page:

“A mysterious Iraqi who calls himself Salam Pax, writing a Web log from the heart of Baghdad, has developed a large Internet following with his wry accounts of daily life in a city under U.S. bombardment.”

Anyone have the full text of the story in their browser cache? I’d love a copy if you do. Email to jake-at-userland-dot-com.

(Note that as I write this, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is reporting on CSPAN that it was probably a mistake on the part of the Bush administration not to wait another month, which would have given them time to get another 50-100K troops on the ground before invading. John Robb would probably agree with this assessment.)

As for editorial integrity, there seems to be very little when it comes to the American mainstream press coverage of the war. I’m not saying that the press should distribute information that would put our troops at risk. I’m also not saying that they even have much information to report that they’re not already reporting. But there’s a very important part of the conversation that’s not happening on NBC, Fox, CNN, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, etc:

We’re not being told about potential conflicts of interest. The "news" is being reported as if it were complete and impartial, with the stated exceptions of 1) not reporting information that would benefit the enemy, and 2) not reporting any detailed information about POWs or casualties, at least until it can be verified that the families already know.

I for one am not impressed. I want my news providers to disclose their policies about what they’re supressing. More importantly, I want to know what they’ve been specifically asked to supress — not the details mind you, nothing that would threaten our mission in Iraq or put lives at risk (Iraqi or otherwise) — just the fact that certain types of things are not being reported, and what those types of things are. Especially when so many lives hang in the balance, editorial integrity requires that the press maintain the highest possible disclosure level.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I heard that Kevin Sites’ weblog was shut down, apparently by his bosses at CNN. Then this morning, I listened to this interview with London Times war correspondent Christina Lamb. She says that contrary to reports I’d heard in a number of places, Umm Qasr has not fallen, and contrary to reports on CNN and elsewhere, that the reception by the Iraqi people to the US and UK forces in southern Iraq has been less than friendly.

Now here’s my take: Since Lamb is not “embedded” with the troops, the fact is that she has more freedom to report what’s happening than do most of the press on the ground in Iraq. But once information like this is public via a non-embedded source, doesn’t the press have the responsibility to report it, even if it must be done with attribution and the caveat that it’s second-hand information and may have bias? My feelings in this regard are similar to my feelings about the press’ relationship with the death penalty here in the US — the press has a responsibility to tell us as much as they reasonably can, and with as much factual detail as possible.

When it comes to Dear Raed, it’s not as if the information on his site isn’t already accessible world-wide. It’s not information that’s going to threaten our troops on the ground. It’s not going to supply any strategic or tactical advantage to Iraqi troops since after all they’re in Baghdad already. But what it does do is bring a human face into public view — the face of an average person who happens to be on the other side of the walls of the Pentagon propoganda machine. It takes us out of our videogame mentality with our animated 3-D maps, rendered helicopters and tanks, and night-vision-enhanced smart-bomb footage. Hopefully it gives us a glimpse into the real human reprecussions of what’s going on.

In my humble opinion, we cannot be truly informed unless we see the human side of this conflict, and an uninformed populace cannot effectively govern itself democratically. It’s the responsibility of the press to empower us with as much information as possible, so that we can live up to the responsibility of democratic self-govenrment.