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  US Media Ignore Civilian Tragedy of Fallujah


US Media Ignore Civilian Tragedy of Fallujah

by Mathilde Soyer

Outside the US, media are reporting far more details about the impact of war on Iraqi civilians, calling what has happened in Fallujah a “human disaster.”
A review of international media coverage reveals that, in general, the US press, as in this instance, focuses on battle tactics and keeps score of US casualties, while elsewhere in the world the press is emphasizing the human costs of the war.

A USA Today story about the Iraq conflict on November 10 read: “US sends divert troops from Fallujah to Mosul to quell uprising,” sub-titled: “The US Army has diverted an infantry battalion from the fighting in Fallujah and sent them back to Mosul after an uprising there by insurgents...”

Contrast that with a British BBC news report on the same day that quoted Iraqi journalist Fadhil Badrani, a Fallujah resident who reports regularly for Reuters and “BBC World.” Referring to those who are outside the conflict, he says: “I want them to know about conditions inside this city--there are dead women and children lying on the streets....People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever.”

Le Monde relates this aspect too, titling its story on November 10: “There is no surgeon left in Fallujah.”

The International Herald Tribune quotes an Iraqi journalist: "People are afraid of even looking out the window because of snipers," he said, asking that he not be named for his own safety. "The Americans are shooting anything that moves."

On November 11, MSNBC’s website, to its credit, published a story titled, “Eyewitness: Smoke and Corpses.”Firdoos al-Ubadi, an official from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, is quoted as saying, “From a humanitarian point of view it’s a disaster, there’s no other way to describe it. And if we don’t do something about it soon, it’s going to spread to other cities.” The Red Crescent Society was reported to have teams of doctors and relief experts ready to go into each of Fallujah’s districts with essential aid, but they had not yet received the required permission from the US military.

The story further reported, “The International Committee for the Red Cross says there are thousands of elderly and women and children who have had no food or water for days. At least 20,000 have gathered in the town of Saqlawiya, south of Fallujah.... On Tuesday, a 9-year-old boy died after being hit in the stomach by shrapnel, because he couldn’t receive help.” Further, MSNBC’s website on November 10 carried the headline “Fallujah creating a humanitarian ‘disaster’...”

The mainstream US press has failed to mention the civilian casualties—though they number, according to international reports, in the thousands.

Since the initial attack on Fallujah, the mainstream US press has failed to mention the civilian casualties—though they number, according to international reports, in the thousands.The US press has focused instead on ‘team sports’ reporting, assuring the US public that their ‘team’ is winning, limiting statistics only to those of the ‘team,’and reporting the US military officers’ next plans. The tone of these stories is clinical, cold and distant.

The Boston Globe reported, on November 12, that, “Under constant fire, US soldiers were ordered to shoot at anything suspicious. US tanks, other armored vehicles, and aircraft bombarded factories, apartment buildings, and other two- and three-story structures where guerrillas took up positions in the rubble.”The Baltimore Sun reports on that same date that a military officer urged his troops to “protect civilian lives, but give no quarter to insurgents. ‘Given those constraints, kill everything that you can kill,’ he said.”

Such instruction clearly shows that it is understood that civilians are likely to be killed—a sad fact of war. Still, the lack of empathy shown in US news reporting is difficult to understand.After all, the press is expected to have its own ‘frame of reference’ on events, and reporters are supposed to have a personal understanding of the world and their surroundings. The press should deliver complete information and objectively inform citizens about all realities and consequences of the policies and actions of their government.

One might respond that this biased news coverage of the Iraq war is mere patriotism, demonstrating togetherness against the “enemy.” But the Iraqis who are currently dying never attacked the United States. They never even threatened the US. How, therefore, can the US media give such one-sided reporting on the Fallujah assault?

Even the New York Times only weakly reported the need to aid Fallujah civilians, quoting an e-mail came from a US officer saying:"The Marines and Iraqis are working to bring humanitarian assistance right behind tactical units once areas are clear and secure....There is, for example, already food and water going in to certain areas, and Iraqi medical assistance/supplies going into the hospital." Is this unsubstantiated e-mail message enough to balance the paper’s overall military-as-sportsemphasis? Is this lone witness more valuable than the observers from the Red Cross and Red Crescent, whom the Times did not interview for that story? The Times seems to think so.

For other major US papers, there is little hint of this sort of reporting dilemma. “Many, if not most, of Fallujah's 200,000-300,000 residents fled the city before the assault,” USA Today assures readers. But that story doesn’t mention that there were 60,000 civilians left in that city, as does Le Monde, The International Herald Tribune, the Guardian, or CNSNBC News.

One ‘loaded’ mention of the word ‘civilian’ can be noticed in the Baltimore Sun: Hadi Omer, a 33-year-old Iraqi policeman who witnessed a militants’ assault, is quoted as saying: "I heard a huge blast and saw a fire behind us...It was a car bomb directed at our patrol, but it hit civilians. We're still trying to find people under the rubble." Thus when civilians are not part of the resistance, they are victims, not of the US-instigated war, but of the “insurgents”--thereby legitimizing the tough American military action.

On November 8, The Guardian, commenting on the assault of Fallujah, said,"The reality is that a city can never be adequately described as a 'militants' stronghold.' It's a label designed to stiffen the heart of a soldier, but it is blinding us, the democracies that have inflicted this war, to the consequences of our actions. Fallujah is still home to thousands of civilians.”

The title was of that story was "Screams Will Not Be Heard.”

One thing is sure: if the suffering of Iraqis’ civilians in Fallujah is to be considered someday, it will not be through the US press, which all too often is just following the government line like embedded journalists can be expected to do.

From such lopsided media coverage of the Fallujah story, an observer can only conclude that the so-called “free press” no longer exists in the US. Either that, or the US press is choosing to mirror the worst in US society: indifference, cruelty, greed and selfishness. Which of these conditions, one wonders, is more difficult to cure?

Copyright © 2004 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on November 30, 2004.

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