Does the N.Y. Times Condone Killing Journalists?

2011 January 28
by Turk Studzel

The loutish hatchet job done on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks by Times executive editor Bill Keller in  Sunday’s Magazine features an ugly bit of Orwellian “Ministry of Truth” revisionism that must be pointed out and resisted by anybody with a conscience. For whatever reasons, Keller seems intent on using this article to propagate a blatant, outrageous lie – a murderous lie, in fact—meant not only to discredit WikiLeaks, but to also excuse U.S. military conduct in Iraq, and thus justify the illegal war, for which the Times played a key role as enabler and cheerleader.

In the fifth paragraph of his article, Keller recounts WikiLeaks’ rise to notoriety in spring 2010 with its decryption and posting of the “Collateral Murder” video:

“WikiLeaks’s biggest coup to that point was the release, last April, of video footage taken from one of two U.S. helicopters involved in firing down on a crowd and a building in Baghdad in 2007, killing at least 18 people. While some of the people in the video were armed, others gave no indication of menace; two were in fact journalists for the news agency Reuters. The video, with its soundtrack of callous banter, was horrifying to watch and was an embarrassment to the U.S. military. But in its zeal to make the video a work of antiwar propaganda, WikiLeaks also released a version that didn’t call attention to an Iraqi who was toting a rocket-propelled grenade and packaged the manipulated version under the tendentious rubric “Collateral Murder.” (See the edited and non-edited videos here.) [My emphasis–Turk.]

Now, watch the first few minutes of WikiLeaks’ edited video, and you will see both Reuters journalists pointed out with arrows, each carrying what are obviously cameras with big telephoto lenses; behind them you see two men with rifles—AK-47s, which are apparently a common sight in Baghdad. Then, when one of the Reuters journalists crouches and raises his camera, you hear the helicopter crew identify that camera as an RPG — a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, which in fact, looks strikingly different — a misidentification that gives the helicopter crew reason, apparently, to start firing, killing them all. It’s this journalist that was, according to Keller’s account,  “the Iraqi who was toting a rocket-propelled grenade” — the one that WikiLeaks failed calling attention to in its “manipulated”and “tendentious” work of “antiwar propaganda.” Now watch the same segments of the unedited video — the only thing different is that the Reuters journalists are not pointed out with arrows.

Edited or unedited, the video bears witness to slaughter, plain and simple–especially when the helicopter lets loose on a van that arrives and attempts to remove one of the wounded Reuter’s journalists, who is crawling pathetically along the sidewalk; the van, incidentally, contained two young children, both badly injured by the helicopter’s gunfire. Now, one might rationalize this massacre by insisting that the helicopter crew mistook the telephoto lens for an RPG–indeed, this was the conclusion of some observers at the time the video was released.  But for Bill Keller the question is not about mistaken identification–on the contrary, Keller is just blatantly misrepresenting what anybody with eyes can plainly see. What does this say about Keller’s regard for journalists, let alone his regard for the truth? Would you want to work for a newspaper whose executive editor was willing to defend the massacre of journalists?

The Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was, of course, not in the business of truth at all, but rather bending and erasing the truth in whatever ways necessary to serve the Party’s ideological and practical needs. Spending his working days at the Ministry, Winston Smith hangs onto his sanity through a desperate belief that certain truths are self-evident—that 2+2=4, for instance—and that things you see with your own eyes must be true, even if the Party tells you different. So steadfast is Winston in this belief that he must be tortured to finally discard it—to the point that when O’Brien, his torturer, holds up four fingers, Winston finally sees five, and believes it.

What’s astonishing is that our “newspaper of record” expects the same of its readers—without the torture.

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