We have often noted here the special role that New York Times reporter Michael Gordon plays in the national media. For years, he has served as a key conduit for government propaganda aimed at fomenting military aggression, then justifying it once it has begun. In many ways, he has probably been a far more effective tool of the militarists than the Fox News network.
The latter, of course, pumps the toxic, bloodstained sewage of Bush Regime spin directly into the public discourse 24 hours a day. But Fox is a very crude instrument. The network makes almost no attempt to hide its direct relationship with the warmongers, as demonstrated by its recent hiring of "news analyst" Karl Rove – who, though supposedly retired from politics, is of course still a principal adviser of both the White House and the McCain campaign. Fox preaches largely to the converted, and although it plays a vital role in keeping the faithful roused to fury, its partisan extremism tempers its credibility with the great and the good, the "serious" Establishment players.
The New York Times, on the other hand, is widely regarded as the nation's leading newspaper: somber, serious, independent. It is also seen as a bastion of "liberal" journalism, forever skeptical of government – especially a government run by Republicans. Thus a dollop of militarist propaganda in its pages has a much broader and deeper impact than whole truckloads of bile on Fox. "Wow, the New York Times says Saddam has WMD – and they hate Bush, so it can't be White House spin!" "Look at this: the New York Times says Iran is killing Americans in Iraq – and those liberals wouldn't publish anything that agreed with Bush unless it was really true." And because innumerable media venues throughout the country take their lead from the Times, a well-planted piece of "credible" spin appearing there immediately becomes "conventional wisdom" on the subject.
Not every reporter at the Times serves this function, of course. There is good journalism to be found in the paper; we draw on it here all the time. But Michael Gordon's work is a special case. His by-line on a story (with or without his former warmongering collaborator, Judith Miller) virtually guarantees that militarist propaganda is being "stovepiped" directly from the White House and Pentagon. These days he alternates between pounding the drum for an attack on Iran and prettying up the ghastly, on-going war crime in Iraq. His latest piece of psy-ops involves operations in Baghdad's Sadr City, where a looming massacre has been averted (or postponed) due to a deal brokered by -- not General David Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Crocker or President George Bush – but by Iran.
After a fierce assault by U.S. and Iraqi government forces on the heavily populated area, Shiite nationalist Moqtada al-Sadr and the Green Zone government agreed, with Tehran's help, to a truce. Although it took a few days for the fighting to die down, the agreement is now in place, and is largely a victory for Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia. As McClatchy Newspapers – no stovepipe they – put it in a straightforward report:
Iraqi security forces entered Baghdad 's Sadr City in large numbers on Tuesday for the first time since followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada al Sadr agreed two weeks ago to let them in. No U.S. troops accompanied the Iraqi forces. The agreement specifically barred Americans from entering the Shiite Muslim enclave...
The agreement was brokered on May 9 and allows Iraqi security forces to enter all of Baghdad 's Sadr City and to arrest anyone found with heavy weapons. It also requires that Mahdi Army followers not be arrested without warrants unless they are in the possession of heavy arms. No U.S. forces were allowed into the neighborhood under the agreement.
In other words, Iraqi government troops entered Sadr City this week unmolested because Sadr told his militia to let them in, and told them to cooperate in restoring a semblance of stability to the area. He also demanded that American troops be kept out – and they were kept out. He demanded that his militia members be left alone, unless they were found with heavy weapons – and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acquiesced. This was basically an agreement between two armed Shiite extremist factions – both of which are actually part of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government. (The incessant demonization of Sadr in the American media conveniently overlooks the fact that his political wing is the largest single faction in the Iraqi parliament, and actually held six posts in al-Maliki's cabinet before leaving the coalition last year.) Both sides have ties to Iran, although al-Maliki and his allies are actually closer to Tehran, which regards Sadr's Iraqi nationalism with suspicion. They have now turned to Iran again, as in the recent fighting in Basra, to quell a violent upsurge in their intra-governmental, intra-sectarian conflict. This conflict could break out into slaughter again at any time, but for now the truce is holding.
That's the reality: Iran brokered a temporary peace between two warring factions of the American-backed government – in part to keep American forces, particularly airpower, from turning Sadr City into a charnel house. But that is not how it was portrayed by the ever-faithful toter of White House water, Michael Gordon. In his reports this week, blazoned on the front page of the Times, Gordon paints the picture of a triumphant Iraqi government which, "as it did in the southern city of Basra last month....advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militias." Indeed, with these two "triumphs" – i.e., two Iran-brokered deals that left Sadr's militias intact – al-Maliki could now present himself "as a strong and decisive leader, the kind of leader many Iraqis, Sunni and Shiite, think is needed to control the country."
Of course, one of the ostensible goals of Bush's escalation of the war (known in the United States of Euphemism as the "surge") was "establishing the sovereignty" of America's client government and "curtailing the power of the militias." Yet as we see in both Basra and Sadr City, the Mahdi Army militia is alive and well. And it is a strange sort of "sovereignty" indeed that depends on the presence of 140,000 foreign troops (and vast cadres of foreign mercenares) who imprison tens of thousands of your own citizens, shoot them down in the streets and routinely bombs the hell out of your cities – not to mention the direct intervention of another foreign power to tamp down outbreaks of civil war in your own government.
But nonetheless, with Gordon's help, the narrative of the surge's "success" marches on. An anti-American cleric grants government troops permission to enter areas controlled by his militia – and this is ballyhooed as a triumph. Meanwhile, Gordon does not neglect his drumbeating duties in the push for war with Iran: the story is laced with unqualified references to mysterious "Iranian-backed militias" which, we're told, skulked away from Sadr City when al-Maliki flexed his muscles. Readers of the New York Times – and those disseminators of its conventional wisdom further down the media food chain – cannot be allowed to forget that Iraq is seething with perfidious Persia's evil agents, killing Americans in cold blood. Gordon actually shows some restraint in not ending every article with a stirring cry of "Furthermore, Iran delenda est!"
Needless to say, Gordon makes no mention of Iran's role in making the deal that allowed al-Maliki his great triumph – even though this fact had been featured in the first paragraph of story on truce that appeared earlier this month in....the New York Times, with contributions from...Michael Gordon. That piece, written by Alissa J. Rubin, outlined in some detail the Iranian role in defusing the situation, while also making clear the ambiguity and fragility of the outcome:
The deal would allow the sides to pull back from what was becoming a messy and unpopular showdown in the months leading up to crucial provincial elections. It is not clear who won, how long it would take for the truce to take effect or how long it would hold. But at least for now it would end the warfare among Shiite factions.
The Iranians helped end the standoff by throwing their weight behind the government after a delegation of Shiite members of Parliament visited Iran earlier this month, according to three people involved in negotiating the truce...
The visit to Iran by members of Parliament had been cited by the Americans as the first Iraqi effort to confront Iran with evidence of its training, financing and arming of Shiite militias in Iraq. But the trip evolved into a sophisticated political maneuver that could help the Iraqis out of a situation that was taking a rising toll on the country’s political stability.
The members of Parliament asked Iran to lean on the Shiite militias they have influence with, said Ali Adeeb, a Parliament member from Mr. Maliki’s Dawa Party who was part of the delegation. “They said the better way to deal with the Sadrists is by negotiation; don’t fight them and don’t use force.”
What goes unsaid here, of course, is that the Iraqi army itself constitutes, for the most part, a "Shiite milita that Iran has influence with." So Tehran's ability to bring the two Shiite sides together is not so remarkable. What is remarkable – given Washington's hysterical insistence that Iran is now the prime mover behind all the violence spawned by Bush's war – is Tehran's insistence that the best way forward is through negotiation, not force. Could it be that the mullahs really don't want to see unrestrained carnage raging in a neighboring country with a government run by their own long-time allies?
But now that Gordon has wrested the story away from Rubin, all mention of Iranian mediation is gone. We are left only with the "strong and decisive" al-Maliki, some admiring American brass giving the l'll Iraqis a pat on the head for executing "a plan that was very much their own" – and those dark "Iranian-backed" killers roaming the Iraqi night.
The most important thing, of course, is that the Fallujah-like destruction planned for Sadr City has been averted, at least for now. Hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings under threat of imminent death have been given a reprieve – although they will live on in ruin, want, strife, repression and great, great suffering. But the propaganda assault on the American people will continue to intensify as the war criminals in Washington draw toward the end of their hellish reign, with much more bloodshed to come.
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This story was published on May 24, 2008.