Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored


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by Pat Holt

Thursday, April 10, 2003


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I've been watching many of the following websites and print media long before the war in Iraq and have noticed how they increasingly contribute information about the war that challenges many of the assumptions and predictions held by mainstream media. These sites show us not only what responsible journalism can be in these confusing times but also what healthy skepticism can mean when corporations control most mainstream news outlets and the government has wrangled news pools and "embedded" reporters into a single, equally controlled voice. Be sure to see four other eye-opening websites introduced by Peter Cox in LETTERS below, and of course, any other suggestions are much appreciated.

Electronic Iraq, http://electroniciraq.net

Launched in February 2003 by the antiwar group, Voices in the Wilderness, along with the Middle East news wire, Electronic Intifada, this site contributes news from the Iraqi civilians' point of view that couldn't be more eye-opening or important: Here we see and hear from people in homes, hospitals, schools, businesses hit by bombs or advancing troops, learn about the Iraqi media's view of the war (about "embedded" US reporters, Hussein Ibish comments wryly, "Cheerleaders, we don't need"). Pointed articles and opinion columns from international sources appear here, as well as Palestinian news from the Electronic Intifada side of the operation, many of which you won't often find elsewhere.

Iraqi Body Count, http://www.iraqbodycount.net

"We don't do body counts," U.S. General Tommy Franks is quoted at the top of this site's home page. But as American readers know, that isn't true: U.S. military personnel count American casualties with meticulous care; it's just that they rarely offer estimates of Iraqi deaths - in particular, *civilian* Iraqi deaths - in this war. But Iraqi Body Count a running estimate ("MIN: 1152; MAX: 1388" as of last night) of civilian deaths as a way of pointing out that the much vaunted U.S. "precision guided weaponry" is often mortally imprecise, indeed. US rocket launchers may aim at military targets, but we're hitting civilian ones as well. Links provide information on methodology and origin of the site.

New York Press, http://www.nypress.com

Readers of this column know I don't mind a little shouting and pounding if an original idea or newly exposed truth emerges, and this website for the raunchy tabloid called the New York Press sure has enough grandstanding to make the sensationalism of the NY Post's Page 6 look like obituary news. However there's also enough articulate outrage to inspire readers to learn something substantial here that's far ahead of other media stories. For me, the columnist to watch is Matt Taibbi, a genuine iconoclast with an articulate and admirable foul mouth to boot. Long before Frank Rich of the NY Times criticized the Bush administration for "scripted press conferences" (see #363), Taibbi was raging at NY Press about White House correspondents asking dumbed-down questions to keep their corporate employers happy but while denying their audiences true scrutiny of the prez. Taibbi is just as outraged that the Pentagon has wooed and corrupted the American press so much that it's as if the American military and American journalism keep having an explicit love affair in front of us and we all keep looking the other way. At the start of the war in Iraq, he says, so many Pentagon representatives were interviewed as if their word was gospel that "every network news set was transformed into a boozy officers club, with a succession of current and former military guest analysts who lined up to be gently fellated on air." Goodness, such language! I had to cover my eyes! Check out some of Taibbi's columns and you won't forget his passion or his, um, unusual way mit der woids.

Romenesko, http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=45

He calls it "your daily fix of media industry news, commentary, and memos," but Jim Romenesko's lengthy digest of hyperlinked stories about the media is more than a fix (though the site is certainly addictive): Checking in to Romenesko every day gives the reader a sense of history unfolding as American journalism struggles to get itself back on the track of responsible reporting and finds itself taking two steps back for every step forward. And what discoveries lie in wait for media watchers! Daily reports help us keep track of MIA press reporters in Iraq, resuscitative funding for Salon.com (though only $800,000), and (you'd think I, a beautiful alumna, would know this but nooo, not until it hit Romenesko), the San Francisco Chronicle's suspension of technology columnist Henry Norr for calling in sick and attending a protest against the war, during which he was arrested. ("I *was* sick," says Norr. "Heartsick over the beginning of the war, nauseated by the lies...") What Publishers Lunch is to the book industry, Romanesko is to journalism (although Jim's extensive links to alternative weeklies, general media and columnists are an unbelievable bonus).

Slingshot, http://slingshot.tao.ca/

Here's one of those great irreverent alternative magazines that can be hilarious and serious at the same time. One of the best overviews of the USA Patriot Act and its many horrors appeared here under "Hey There's a Federal Agent in My Book" by Jessamyn West (in which we learn that the FBI has installed surveillance equipment on library computers, which means that librarians in turn are tossing out terminal sign-up lists at the end of the day and allowing "pseudonymous Internet sign-ups" as well. The stories often include ideas for action (in the Patriot Act case: "Check out every book on Afghanistan and militias you can, and fill up the library computers' Internet cache with articles on homemade weaponry and drugs. Then if the FBI comes to your door, tell everyone you know." Slingshot is the first place I learned about FCC raids on the tiny Berkeley Liberation Radio, in which the alleged "violation" of having no license proved to be no violation at all (BLR broadcasts at such a low power transmission that there was no license class available). And say, radio guerillas are saying a new way to transmit is to have "numerous people not associated with BLR [pick up] the Internet feed and rebroadcast it with their own transmitters from shifting locations." Purty crafty. But I think I've come to like Slingshot for its unexpected humor and straightforward manner. When everybody's favorite ex-con, John Poindexter, was appointed to head the government's Big Brother program, Total Information Awareness, Slingshot ran an article titled, "Total Information Asshole." This is not a site that beats around the bush.

The Week, http://www.theweekmagazine.com

For all my table-pounding above about Americans' loss of faith in the press, good writers abound within the mainstream, and The Week, which crams hundreds of condensed versions of news and feature stories from all over the world into each issue, draws on the best of 'em. Far more objective than Time or Newsweek and certainly more international in perspective, The Week loves to quote any number of newspaper and magazine writers on restaurants, books, movies,, "best [real estate] properties on the market," obituaries, country-by-country news and now the war on Iraq. Simple but invaluable maps are included so you know *exactly* where Belgrade, Prague, Grozny (Russia), Warri (Nigeria), Kashmir and other cities are located in terms of surrounding countries. Best of all, The Week has a sense of humor and an eye for the telling but neglected detail: One relatively tiny story asks: Where *is* that list of coalition countries the Bush administration keeps touting, anyway? Aside from the US and UK's nearly 300,000 troops, "Australia has sent 2000 troops; Poland has committed all of 200 soldiers. Spain is sending 200 troops - to Turkey. Denmark threw in a submarine and a destroyer. 'Fellas, hold me back!' The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Hungary said they would help with the postwar cleanup. Thanks, tough guys." (And no, "the truth is that there is no coalition.") By the way, did you know Angelina Jolie found the experience of removing "Billy Bob" from her upper-arm tattoo so painful that she has decided to leave "a second 'Billy Bob' just where it is, since it's located 'in a place nobody's ever seen.' ?" I tellya, this magazine has ever'ting. The print publication is more accessible and fun to read than the website (although the links take you to hundreds of sites around the globe), so if you're gonna splurge for anything (it's $1 an issue), why, Fellows, hold me back.

Library Juice, http://www.libr.org

I don't know how he does it, but librarian Rory Litwin somehow pulls together dozens of engrossing stories from librarians and publications around the country to provide an at-a-glimpse record of all the insider stuff we patrons never see. The column is deliciously long, and while subjects are sometimes too esoteric ("Lib Tech Talk List," "Phones Installed in Free Library") the kind of controversies that occupy librarians can be fascinating ("Bibliography: Attitudes Toward the Poor in Libraries"; "On Despising Genres"; "I Dreamt the Death of Free Speech Now [song]"; "IT'S HAPPENING! LIBRARIES VS. THE FBI"). Given the fact that librarians, along with booksellers and teachers, constitute our front ranks when it comes to the increasingly painful war against censorship, the time is ripe to support them during the Bush administration's horrible and illegal seizure of records and the "gag rule" silencing them from speaking out.

BuzzFlash, http://www.buzzflash.com

This hip, irreverent and addictive collection of "daily headlines and breaking news" offers the world-at-a-glance with easy click-through access and a carload of great eye-opening stories from every possible (or so it seems) media location. Take one gander and you'll put it at the top of your Bookmarks.

Alternet, http://www.alternet.com

The best and most varied stories about "progressive" liberal news - "progressive" meaning what we used to call "liberal," but not moderate liberal or Southern liberal or NPR liberal; nor radical liberal or heaven forfend, Commie liberal. "Progressive" is probably closest to environmental liberal, civil rights liberal, Gore-if-only-they-had-given-him-his-victory liberal. You can subscribe to the weekly digest version and stay up to date on everything from (this week) the status of Arab Americans during wartime to a residential drug treatment plan for mothers to the benefits of a wheelchair for disabled protesters.

The (London) Guardian Unlimited, http://www.guardian.co.uk

Here's a newspaper that's truly "Unlimited" online and seems to *look* for responsible dissent around the globe, a great undertaking in time of war (see the Faisal Bodi article on Al-Jazeera in #363) - and it's entertaining in non-war discussions. Click on "Timeline" to watch the war on Iraq unfold chronologically at a glance (plus hour-by-hour every day), "Webwatch" for site reviews and updates (movie buffs: do you know about the new Tookeys Film Guide?), "Interactive Guidelines" for click-through videos, an astounding variety of opinion columns and links on everything from Elvis sightings to aid in Iraq.

The (British) Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk

On this site, the day's timeline of events in Iraq begins on the home page, as does its link to columnist Robert Fisk, the enormously respected journalist who was interviewing Osama bin Laden before most Westerners knew how to pronounce the name. The Independent puts its international focus up front and is often more critical of the Bush administration than other online newspapers (last week noting the irony in Bush's remarks during his second debate with Al Gore: "If we're an arrogant nation, they'll [the world] resent us. If we're a humble nation but strong, they'll welcome us." Gee, George, guess what happened).

FAIR, http://www.fair.com See #363 for a typical story (mistakes made by American media about the war in Iraq) found in FAIR, watchdog site for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Here's another website that provides an email column you can subscribe to, and boy, for media watchers, it's a godsend. FAIR offers serious (if sour) criticism with responsibly written articles, and the end of most columns provides email addresses to officials and politicians who have the power to change the status quo. Plus the FAIR caveat is attached: "As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if you maintain a polite tone." That's a nice gesture, considering the sometimes impolite tone of FAIR's articles.

Nygaard Notes, http://www.nygaardnotes.org

You can subscribe to Jeff Nygaard's free column, written from Minnesota, and enjoy his thoughtful commentary about civil liberties, journalism, books and current controversies. His current column is "one big anti-war resource" (where I found Electronic Iraq and other neat new sites mentioned above), and he often throws out the most informative links, such as http://www.gt.kth.se/publishing/news.html#C , which lists just about every online newspaper in the world, country by country. Nygaard challenges us with plenty of theories ("The Demogogue Dynamic," "The Two Types of Government") and his mix of chewy, intriguing quotations, neglected facts he alone seems to uncover and a network of contacts and links makes this "independent weekly news and analysis" an intriguing stop. Columns are archived at the website above.

Sites to Follow Regularly (I've Mentioned Before):

Thomas Paine, http://www.thomaspaine.com Working Assets, http://www.workingassets.com Common Dreams, http://www.commondreams.com



Dear Holt Uncensored:

You've precisely articulated my own feelings and fears about the noose-like media coverage we're subject to. Here are a few of those links you mentioned for you to consider for the next issue:

1. http://dear_raed.blogspot.com/ The only known blog written by an Iraqi from inside Baghdad - not updated since 3/24, presumably because phone lines have been cut.

2. http://mnftiu.cc/mnftiu.cc/war.html Get Your War On... Surreal, post-postmodern, acerbic.

3. http://www.aeronautics.ru/news/news002/news082.htm Serious analysis of day-by-day situation, from translated Russian intelligence reports.

3. http://english.aljazeera.net/ Very difficult to access because of DoS attacks, but worth trying - far from propaganda.

Peter Cox

Holt responds: I found it fascinating to learn in #1, the blog from inside Baghdad, that at the beginning of the war, Iraqis who watched BBC and other Western TV news media were able to time bombing raid by "counting the hours from the moment one of the news channels report(ed) that the B52s (had) left their airfield." It took about six hours between the moment Iraqis heard the announcement on TV to the moment the first bombs began to fall on Iraq." At least in theory. "On the first day of the bombing it worked precisely," not so great the second day. Still not updated since 3/24 but rapidly becoming historic.

And pardon my windy assessment of #2 but I can't help it: This comic-book-style conversation between two businessmen on the phone begins with a discussion of "Operation Enduring Freedom" and has all the fake heartiness of an advertisement or propaganda: "You know what I love? I love how we're dropping food aid packages into a country that's one big f-ing minefield. That's good!" At the same time the dialogue turns twisted so fast we can't believe what we're hearing: Food aid, says the second man, is "a game called 'See if you have any f-ing arms left to eat the food we dropped after you step on a land mine trying to retrieve it!' " The second guy says, "Right! Or maybe they could play 'See if, when you step on the land mine, the food package flies into your f-ing decapitated head as it sails through the air!' " Decapitation becomes the strangest theme - when there is a theme - and lordy: The things these two guys do privately at their computers to occupy their time during the slow economy!

Most observations seem to hang in this quiet workplace environment yet emerge screaming into existence by cartoonist David Rees, who began filing several panels a day on his website, beginning October 9, 2001. As he continues, the cartoon conversation shifts around (talk about God shifts from reverent to obscene) while mentions of Afghanistan, terrorism, the Patriot Act ("isn't there a way to beef it up?" says a woman who gets on the phone), Missile Defense Shields, Iraq's concealment infrastructure and sudden exclamations ("OH MY GOD!!! I just remembered! Saddam gassed his own people!!!") become increasingly surreal. Each panel gets closer to the present until we find ourselves reading reactions to yesterday's destruction of the statue of Saddam Hussein with its rusty head rolling around ("that footage is awesome!") and whether human rights organizations should step in or if "Doctors Without Borders would let kids ride around on a f-in' decapitated rusty statue head without a helmet." The whole crazy piece of art is called "Get Your War On," and if you're wondering what to do before tomorrow's episode you can always buy a copy of the book (as far as it got) from that blessed Soft Skull Press or cough up some dough to buy "Get Your War On" merchandise (t-shirts, caps, prints). But as a living work - half cartoon, half addiction - this gorgeousthing was born on the Internet and destined (one hopes) to stay there.

Dear Holt Uncensored:

Well, it's nice to see that the canard about peace protesters' being "on Saddam's side" is alive and well. I was at that 25,000-person (reported size) protest in Boston and it was strange -- I didn't see a single sign saying "Let Saddam Alone, He's Not So Bad." Peace protesters are people of conscience -- of course we don't support Saddam Hussein. What we object to, among other things, is the hypocrisy of a government that didn't mention "liberating" the Iraqi people until (as was recently pointed out in the Boston Phoenix) the other reasons the administration had put forth for going to war did not prove effective enough marketing tools.

There are atrocities being committed by regimes all over the world, but nobody in the government has suggested that we invade Zimbabwe. I also don't recall any of them having apologized for our supporting Saddam in the first place.

Cathy Jacobowitz

Dear Holt Uncensored:

One begins to feel a bit crazy, seeing all this propaganda, and being repeatedly told that it's "disloyal to our troops" to question whether this war (or its coverage) makes sense. The USA seems to be in a dysfunctional Fascist phase right now -- let's hope it's only a phase.

Tina B. Tessina, LMFT, PhD
author, "It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction"

Dear Holt Uncensored:

RE #363: Anyone who questions Saddam Hussein's character is either ignorant or has far more grace than I do. There is no question that Saddam is a monstrous dictator, but what he is NOT is unique. What are the REAL reasons we're attacking Iraq? Saddam is in the company of many other despotic men who lead countries. There is another reason we're in Iraq, and it has nothing to do with liberating its people. Why are we really there? THAT is what the American people need to know.

Kitti Jenkins

Dear Holt Uncensored:

Re your column about the shabby, disrespectful mainstream media reporting on the Iraqi war. I hadn't realized that #43 (as Maureen Dowd calls him; Dad is #41) had scripted press conferences. This is pathetic. (Growing up, I remember JFK's witty, lively press conferences.) What is truly pathetic is that most Americans don't seem to care that we have "an illiterate and illegitimate president" (in the poet W.S. Merwin's words). Nor do Americans seem to care about the influence of "patriotism" and censorship is having on art (music, writing, etc.).

About your refernence to Michael Moore: I was glad that Moore won an Oscar for Best Documentary and I'm glad he spoke out against the administration and the war. (I'm glad he left his baseball caps home, too.) People speaking out for peace, for an alternative to war, get almost no space in the mainstream media, so Moore might as well use his 45-seconds-of-fame while he's got it! (I've found his web site to be humorous and intelligent, too.)

By the way, I attended a peace rally in Eugene a few weeks ago and got into a conversation with a woman who was part of a group who supported the war. She is a conservative, has a son in the military and another son who had been in the Peace Corps. I was curious as to her viewpoint, and it seems to me that what bothers her and other conservatives is that liberals "hate" the U.S. We're so quick to point out what is wrong, seem to take pleasure in criticizing Bush, etc....Perhaps this stems in part from overexposure to a bland media, so that anyone who uses his or her powers of critical thinking is perceived to be complaining and skeptical.

Pat Murphy
Eugene, Oregon

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