A former Marine corps reservist takes on the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran and the rest of the newspaper’s Baghdad bureau. A sample:
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 don’t 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 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 don’t know what they’re 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…
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