2010-05-11

Afternoon Roundup: 2010-05-11

Al-Qaeda rampage in Iraq leaves over 100 dead. Debka:
In an unprecedentedly wild rampage, even for al Qaeda, raider-units, speeding drive-by gun squads, car bombs, and homicidal suicides mowed down checkpoints, liquidated Iraqi soldiers, police and security personnel and murdered civilians, in eight Iraqi cities including the capital, Baghdad, Monday, May 10. By the end of the day, more than 100 people were dead and 300 injured.

The gunmen broke new ground in terrorist tactics when they used automatic weapons fitted with silencers to creep up on their victims. debkafile's military sources report that at dawn, the raiders appeared simultaneously at checkpoints in most quarters of Baghdad. They lowered the windows of their cars when asked for documents, then opened fire with the silenced automatic weapons on the officers manning them. ...

IraqPundit:
Meanwhile, everyone is talking about the meeting between Nouri Al Maliki and Ayad Allawi. A deal is getting worked out among the parties. Everyone wants the killings and bombings to stop. Everyone is so tired and fed up that you can smell the frustration in the air.

A writer appears to understand what Iraqis are experiencing. He says in the LAT: "It would be a tragedy if, after having spent hundreds of billions of dollars and sacrificed thousands of lives, the U.S. were to lose the endgame in Iraq. Yet that could very well happen unless senior administration officials — including the president himself — get more engaged in the process and show more flexibility in implementing the troop drawdown."


Iran regime executes five. Azarmehr:
Five Iranians including a woman were executed this morning. Farzad Kamangar, the dissident Iranian Kurdish teacher, Shirin Alamhouli, Ali Heidarian, Farhad Vakili and Mehdi Eslamian were hanged in the early hours of this morning.

View From Outside Iran (formerly View From Iran) writes:
Together with a number of volunteers, we have been preparing a campaign to mark one year of crackdowns on dissent in Iran. That campaign focuses on prisoners of conscience in Iran and those political prisoners in danger of execution. This morning, when we got up and turned on my email, the first message was from a dear colleague who linked to the AP article on the early morning execution of 5 of the people we had come to know through our work. "I can't stop crying," she wrote. "I do not know what to do." ...

Go to the link to learn about their lives.

Irshad Manji on Faisal Shahzad. Irshad Manji:
I’m convinced that Islam is not the intrinsic problem. Rather, the tribal culture of honor in which many of these would-be terrorists are steeped is the real source of their “religious” motivations. Among mainstream Muslims, tribal culture has become synonymous with faith. A lethal mistake.

Young Muslims often come of age being taught that they have a religious duty to avenge the Muslim community’s honor. In fact, it’s not God-given faith but man-made culture that dictates this “duty.”

And the tribal culture of honor travels well beyond traditional Islamic nations, colonizing the hearts and minds of even second- and third-generation Muslims in North America, Europe and Australia. ...

2010-05-04

Times Square Bomb Suspect Faisal Shahzad Arrested at JFK

Debka:
Faisal Shahzad, 30, a US citizen from Pakistan, was arrested at New York's JFK airport Monday night trying to board a flight to Dubai and will appear before a federal court Tuesday, May 4. He was identified as the buyer of the Nissan Pathfinder used to rig the failed car bomb. US Attorney General Eric Holder said that more than one person is sought in connection with the attempted terrorist plot.

Shahzad's information is vital for uncovering the extent of the conspiracy and its potential for more terrorist attacks in New York or other American cities. ...

The Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for the attempt.

CNN:
Shahzad was on board Emirates Airlines Flight 202 to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and the jetway had been pulled back when the plane was called to return to the gate, a law enforcement source said. Shahzad was booked through to Islamabad, Pakistan, via Dubai, a senior airline official confirmed.

"They just caught him at the last second," a law enforcement source said.

More details at the link.

Arutz Sheva: 'Fox News says the record of an overseas phone call helped lead to Shahzad's arrest.'

2010-05-02

Journalism and the Devil's Advocate

How far should one go to understand the other side?

Let's begin where I left off in this morning's post, with a critique of an editorial by David Ignatius in the Wall Street Journal titled "The Dangers of Embedded Journalism." Ignatius stops just short of invoking the phrses "Stockholm syndrome", but I think that's a pretty accurate description of his concern.

I refrained from attacking Ignatius too harshly because I wanted to address a legitimate concern he raised, which I think should be in the mind of any reasonable person. The question is: When a reporter is embedded with the United States Armed Forces - or any organization - is there not a danger that the reporting will become skewed in favor of the host organization? My friend Michael Totten did not think it unreasonable for his readers to ask whether he's only allowed to see "what the Army wants you to see." Michael's eloquent response is at the link.

If embedded journalists were Americans' only source of information about wars - or for that matter, if any other single source has such a monopoly - I would worry. But that's demonstrably not the case. Nor is it the case that today's media establishment is exactly a cheerleading squad of pro-American patriotism.

I argued that
[it is better] to take one's chances with an environment where sympathies are openly declared, and may be factored into the equation by the reader or viewer. The availability of multiple viewpoints allows for critical thinking on the part of the audience. ...

Do people tend to gravitate to similarly-minded communities - like "the Huffington Post and Daily Kos and MichelleMalkin.com and the Drudge Report", to use Ignatius' examples? Yes, absolutely, and that's an inherent limitation of the new journalism. But the environment that fosters crowd-pleasing, ideologically intense outlets like these also gives rise to a whole spectrum of intelligent opinion and analysis between and outside of these extremes.

And that is the essence of the argument in favor of citizen-generated, crowdsourced journalism such as blogging.

Up to now I have been addressing Ignatius' legitimate concern (as I see it) and figuratively "playing devil's advocate". Now I want to turn my attention to some of the more troubling aspects of this editorial.

As it turns out, crowdsourcing has come to my aid, because many of the commenters have complaints similar to mine. So I see that I am not alone, that some other people have expressed similar ideas (perhaps more concisely and articulately than I could), and that some have added points that I would not have thought of.
csanders1 wrote:
I guess it was a real tradegy that these unbiased reporters were not able to interview Hitler and Tojo in order to make sure that the American people understood their side of the conflict. I watch Fox. If you watch it you will see that even though the bias is to the conservative side, they have liberal persons on in equal numbers. If you really want bias, watch NBC, CBS and ABC. I do not see snyone reporting on the massive intrusions that the government is making on citizen rights and privacy but rail that someone might have to prove that they are a citizen before they vote or receive government benefits.

Cliff Sanders, Greensboro, GA
5/2/2010 2:02:52 PM

Cliff is presumably responding to this odious paragraph in Ignatius' piece:
The path back to unembedded journalism won't be easy, especially for war correspondents. It's one thing to want to interview both Taliban leader Mohammad Omar and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and quite another to actually get to talk to them. But we should operate under the assumption that we won't always be at war, and try to restore the normal order.

So, whose side is David Ignatius on? His idea of balance and neutrality is to put Mohammed Omar and General McChrystal on the same level.

Roytex wrote:
It's possible for excellent journalism to be unbiased. I'm conservative. I used to read the NYT editoril page because it produced in me a pleasant sense of indignation. But I read the rest of the paper because the reporting and writing were outstanding, and unbiased even to my keen ideological eye. The paper later allowed it's editorial point of view to contaminate its news reporting and lost me. It was as if Walter Conkrite, or maybe even Mrs. Clinton, were editing the whole thing. Maybe that's changing now that the Times is under economic pressure. That tends to change minds a bit.

24681 wrote:
Journalism is always going to be biased, especially if the journalists are being shot at. I recall quite a bit of bias among NY reporters during the 9/11 attacks. (We didn’t hear anymore about “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”).

But I’d rather the journalists be embedded and be biased on the side of America, than running around non-embedded and being biased on side of the enemy – which is exactly what they did during the Vietnam War.
5/2/2010 7:58:51 AM

breth wrote:
Well, you had me at Fox coming from the right and MSNBC coming from the left.

But then you lost me at CNN and The Washington Post coming from the middle.

Let's be real. Is David Ignatius in the center? Yes.

Is the Post in the center? Uh, no.
5/2/2010 12:29:19 AM

Some points brought up in the readers' comments: (1) Ignatius' column is carefully worded to avoid drawing attention to the fact that the mainstream media are not evenly split between liberal and conservative, but rather are a liberal sea with a conservative island (Fox News); (2) bias in news reporting is not necessarily objectionable in itself, but when the bias is extreme and/or is not acknowledged, it is a problem; (3) there is a difference between presenting opposing views on a topic which is subject to reasonable debate, and giving a platform to dictators, terrorists, and fascists.

Not everyone thinks journalists should talk to to just anyone, anyplace, anytime. Via Norm Geras, here's the tale of Eleanor Mills, who won't be the ayatollahs' stooge:
“Thanks so much for coming on,” [journalist Lauren Booth] said cheerfully. My face must have registered some shock. “Don’t worry: only presenters have to wear a headscarf,” she grinned, and she walked off down the corridor. I noticed that everyone around me looked Middle Eastern and the walls were bedecked with pictures of Iran. D’oh! The penny dropped. Press TV: the controversial television channel backed by the Iranian regime.

My heart started to race and I grabbed my phone. Thank God for mobile internet. Seconds later I’d found Press TV on Wikipedia; it was not reassuring. The station was set up three years ago to give the Islamic republic a way of getting its message across to the outside world. It is designed to look neutral to attract western journalists and politicians. But its message is always the same: it chooses those who are critical of the West for propaganda reasons. As well as Booth — who has been outspoken in her attacks on Tony Blair and Israel — its presenters include that old apologist for tyranny George “Saddam Hussein’s mate” Galloway and Yvonne Ridley, the Express journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban and converted to Islam.

The more I read, the more uncomfortable I felt. Visions of the violent death of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman shot dead by Iranian government security forces as she took part in the protests last year over the rigged election, swam into my mind. I remembered the seas of green flags, the awe-inspiring bravery of all those thousands of ordinary Iranians who ventured onto the streets declaring the election void, protesting that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president, had swindled his way to victory, despite the risk of murderous reprisals. Most of all I recalled the terrible accounts of the brutality with which the regime punished protesters; how so many of them had disappeared, their frantic families knowing nothing of their fate, and had been taken to secret prisons where they had been raped and tortured. ...

Eleanor Mills knew what she had to do, and she did it. Please read the whole article at the link.

Morning Report: 2010-05-02

New York car bomb. Smoke coming from a green Nissan Pathfinder SUV parked on 45th Street led to the evacuation of Times Square, New York City, and the discovery of an unsuccessful car bomb, on Saturday evening. CNN:
Officials said authorities are going through video from dozens of surveillance cameras in Times Square to determine who left the Nissan Pathfinder with its engine running and hazard lights flashing on a street shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday.

Inside the vehicle, police found three propane tanks, two filled five-gallon gas containers, two clocks with batteries, consumer-grade fireworks and a locked metal box that resembled a gun locker.

Full article, with extensive details and lots of videos, at the CNN link. Fox News recalls that
The theater district in London was the target of a propane bomb attack in 2007. No one was injured when police discovered two Mercedes loaded with nails packed around canisters of propane and gasoline.

Officials said the device found Saturday was crudely constructed, but Islamic militants have used propane and compressed gas for years to enhance the force of explosives. Those instances include the 1983 suicide attack on the U.S. Marines barracks at the Beirut airport that killed 241 U.S. service members, and the 2007 attack on the international airport in Glasgow, Scotland.

In 2007 the U.S. military announced that an Al Qaeda front group was using propane to rig car bombs in Iraq.

Again, go to the link for the full article.
Debka observes:
Mayor Mike Bloomberg said: "This could have been a deadly event." He also said the electric wiring of the device "looked amateurish."

This description exactly matches the bungled efforts of the would-be martyrs Reid and Abdulmutallab. It suggests that their al Qaeda masters have not been able to bring the new crop of jihadis up to professional terrorist standards. It is also possible that the Nissan SUV was supposed to blow up in another part of Manhattan and the perpetrator abandoned it on Times Square prematurely when he saw smoke coming out of his improvised device.

The Belmont Club has some thoughts.

Ignatius on embedded journalism. David Ignatius at the Wall Street Journal finds he has misgivings about the value of embedded journalists in the military, and longs for the good old days of objective journalism.

Commentary. It's really worth a longer post of its own, but I want to dash off a few thoughts on Ignatius' column now. First of all, he does have a couple of good points: journalists who embed with soldiers, or any other group, are likely to develop sympathies with the group they're with. Also, a non-embedded reporter can see things the embed cannot:
I covered the war as an unembedded or "unilateral" reporter, entering Iraq two days after the invasion with colleagues in rented SUVs. That experience taught me two things: First, it is too dangerous, in most cases, to cover modern warfare without protection from an army. Second, although my visits were brief, I was able to see things that the embedded journalists could not. I remember visiting villages in southern Iraq after the U.S. Army rolled through and finding local people who were intimidated by the beginnings of the insurgency. (And yes, you could see in that first week that there would be an insurgency, as I tried to indicate in my reports.)

Ignatius goes on to complain about the situation that many of us have noticed (and some of us have contributed to): the role of "objective" news reporters is being usurped by more openly ideological outlets, like cable TV and blogs.

The problem is, many of us have come to see that the traditional, "objective" news establishment wasn't as neutral or objective as it claimed to be. (I had my own experience with Jay Dixit of the supposedly non-political Psychology Today magazine.) Better to take one's chances with an environment where sympathies are openly declared, and may be factored into the equation by the reader or viewer. The availability of multiple viewpoints allows for critical thinking on the part of the audience.

As I argued in my earlier post on source bias,
A soldier on the front lines is going to have a very vivid, detailed, and specific recollection of a battle. The general in a command bunker may not see the battle up close, but he will have information on the "big picture" of troop strengths, enemy positions, strategic decisions, and other things that the soldier will not know, and may not be allowed to know. The soldier's memory may be distorted by trauma, confusion, fear, or shame (of a real or imagined failiing on the battlefield); the general may ignore or suppress key information, perhaps with his career in mind. Both perspectives are valuable, both have their limitations.

Do people tend to gravitate to similarly-minded communities - like "the Huffington Post and Daily Kos and MichelleMalkin.com and the Drudge Report", to use Ignatius' examples? Yes, absolutely, and that's an inherent limitation of the new journalism. But the environment that fosters crowd-pleasing, ideologically intense outlets like these also gives rise to a whole spectrum of intelligent opinion and analysis between and outside of these extremes. In the end it is up to the citizen journalist to provide the facts and analysis that will satisfy the audience, and it is up to the audience - that's you, dear reader - to sort it all out.

(UPDATE: Wow. Ignatius is getting clobbered in the comments. My treatment is charitable by comparison.)