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"100 different ways" to slander a soldier


Poor Linda Foley.

She just can't seem to understand why so many people "on the right" are upset with her.

A story by Joe Strupp in Editor & Publisher—"Guild Chief Under Fire for Comments About Attacks on Journalists in Iraq"—tells her tale of woe:

Linda Foley, national president of The Newspaper Guild, drew strong criticism today from some conservative groups for comments she made last Friday about the killing of journalists in Iraq. Foley said, among other things, that she was angry that there was "not more outrage about the number and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq. I think it's just a scandal."

Okay, wait a sec. Let's deconstruct Strupp's lead for a moment.

"Some conservative groups"? What groups? The ACU? The National Taxpayers Union? Project 21? The Heritage Foundation? What little criticism I've seen on this subject has come from individuals, not groups.

And since when do only conservatives get upset about unsupported charges coming from people in high places who should know better? I seem to recall that it wasn't only conservatives who were upset with Eason Jordan over his January remarks at Davos. Two of the most liberal members of Congress joined in the almost universal outrage.

But it wasn't her concern about the supposed "cavalier nature of the U.S. military" toward journalists that produced the outrage. It was her unsupported contention that journalists are "being targeted for real, um … in places like Iraq …. They target and kill journalists…uh, from other countries, particularly Arab countries like Al -, like Arab news services like Al-Jazeera, for example. They actually target them and blow up their studios with impunity …."

The controversy isn't over a "cavalier attitude" toward journalists; it's about a very serious charge—repeated three times—that our military is "targeting" (a word which by its nature implies malice aforethought) journalists to be killed. This charge has not been substantiated by any evidence Ms. Foley has so far produced. And that, Mr. Strupp, is what's kicked up all the fuss.

The story continues:

Last month, Foley sent a letter to President Bush criticizing the U.S. investigation into the deaths of journalists in Iraq.

The backlash became so severe Thursday that staffers at Guild headquarters in Washington, D.C., stopped answering the phone because of abusive phone calls and "people screaming at us," Foley said. Instead, callers were required to leave messages on voice mail and await a return call.

"We don't want people to be subjected to that kind of abuse," Foley said, adding that the angry calls began early Thursday. "It is annoying, but it isn't deterring us from doing what we have to do."

Okay, I'll admit it. I posted the telephone number of Newspaper Guild here yesterday, along with a link to Ms. Foley's email address. I requested that those who contacted her be polite. I suspect that most of them were. I certainly can't imagine that this website (or the few other blogs who may have listed the number) could have produced a volume of abusive calls sufficient to shut down the Guild's phone system. But then again, Ms. Foley seems to be the sort who reads a man-bites-dog story and assumes people are biting dogs all over the place.

Anyway, thankfully, the call volume isn't deterring the Guild from "doing what we have to do," which to judge from Ms. Foley's recent remarks mainly appears to be (1) inveighing against the evils of corporate media; and (2) maligning the reputation of the U.S. military.

The calls were apparently in reaction to comments Foley made during a panel discussion at the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis on May 13. There she offered a lengthy commentary on corporate ownership of media, and she refuted certain criticism of journalists. During that session, she also briefly discussed deaths of journalists covering the war.

Foley's comments, which she says have been distorted, have already drawn the ire of several conservative news organizations, including NewsMax.com, The Washington Times, and Sinclair Broadcasting, charging that she accused the U.S. forces of deliberately targeting journalists.

"She also briefly discussed deaths of journalists covering the war." Yes, it's true that her slander of the military was only incidental to her fulminations about the dangers of "corporate journalism." But her comments were very clear, and they have not been taken out of context. There is simply no other way to read or interpret what she said last Friday—namely, that the U.S. military is deliberately targeting journalists, primarily foreign journalists, for killing in Iraq.

Eight paragraphs into the article, Strupp finally gets to the money quote:

According to a video of the session available on the conference's Web site, her only comments on this specific subject were:

"Journalists are not just being targeted verbally or politically. They are also being targeted for real in places like Iraq. And what outrages me as a representative of journalists is that there's not more outrage about the number and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq. I think it's just a scandal."

"It's not just U.S. journalists either, by the way. They target and kill journalists from other countries, particularly Arab countries, at news services like Al Jazeera, for example. They actually target them and blow up their studios, with impunity. This is all part of the culture that it is OK to blame the individual journalists, and it just takes the heat off of these media conglomerates that are part of the problem."

"Her only comments on this specific subject …"? Admittedly, it's not enough material for a speech at the National Press Club, but—speaking as a professional here—I'd have to say two paragraphs are more than sufficient to make an inflammatory (not to mention baseless) charge.

A NewsMax.com story charged that Foley had accused U.S. soldiers of "committing atrocities without offering any evidence to back the charge up." Mark Hyman, a Sinclair commentator, called her comments "irresponsible" and "horrible allegations." Several critics immediately compared her criticism to the case of Eason Jordan, the former CNN executive who resigned after suggesting that U.S. military personnel may have targeted journalists in Iraq.

Foley told E&P Thursday that her words were taken out of context by critics and said her original intent was to discuss how journalists are often scapegoated for their coverage. "This was almost an aside," she said. "But it is true that hundreds of journalists are killed around the world, and many have been killed in Iraq."

Okay, let's be clear. The deliberate assassination of a journalist is a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention, so the term "atrocity" isn't hyperbole in this context. Accusing someone, whether an institution or an individual, of war crime is a "horrible allegation." Doing so without adducing any evidence is "irresponsible." So what is being "taken out of context" here?  The fact that the remarks were made as "almost an aside" in no way mitigates their force—or Ms. Foley's irresponsibility in making them.

As for the notion of "a culture that it is OK to blame the individual journalists" and that allegedly ignores the supposed evils of "media conglomorates," what could Ms. Foley possibly be talking about? Amazon lists 283 "corporate media" titles—only a handful of which are favorable to (or even neutral about) their chosen subject. I find hardly any that attack "individual journalists"—unless you expand your definition of journalist to include Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore.

When asked if she believed U.S. troops had targeted journalists in Iraq, she said, "I was careful of not saying troops, I said U.S. military. Could I have said it differently? There are 100 different ways of saying this, but I'm not sure they would have appeased the right."

The subject at issue, of course, isn't whether or not "the right" should have been "appeased." It's whether charges of war crimes should have been made—against the "U.S. military" or against "the troops" is a distinction without a difference here—in the absence of any evidence to support those charges. And in this she's correct: There 100 different ways of making a slanderous accusation—none of them acceptable to those on the receiving end of the slander.

She did point out that those who bombed the Al Jazeera studios in Baghdad in 2003 had the coordinates of the television station, "because Al Jazeera had given it to them and they bombed the hell out of the station. They bombed it knowing it was the Al Jazeera station. Absent any independent inquiry that tells the world otherwise, that is what I believe."

Her comments at the conference followed the letter she sent last month to President Bush criticizing the U.S. investigation into the deaths of journalists in Iraq, including several during an attack on the Palestine Hotel in 2003.

In that attack, two journalists—one form Spain and the other from Ukraine—were killed. She also noted the bombing of the Al Jazeera office the same day, in which a reporter died. "Neither of these attacks has been independently investigated nor have the deaths been properly explained to the satisfaction of the victims' families, their friends and their colleagues," the letter said, in part.

It's one thing to allege that journalists may have been inadequately safeguarded in a war zone; it's quite another to charge that they were deliberately targeted. Ms. Foley and Mr. Strupp—who fails in his own journalistic responsibility to point out this distinction—are embarked on an exercise in damage control. (Interestingly, Mr. Strupp appeared last night on "The O'Reilly Factor" to defend Ms. Foley. Among his many misrepresentations on the program—which you can find here—was the astonishing contention that it was "unclear" whom the "they" in Ms. Foley's remarks about "targeting" referred to.)

Tragic accidents—including civilian deaths and friendly-fire incidents—are an inevitable part of warfare, even in an age of computer targeting and precision-guided bombs. But to assume malice on the part of military toward journalists or other civilians—in the absence of credible evidence to the contrary—constitutes leap in logic that is the province of agitprop, not  journalism.

That Ms. Foley should be in the position of representing more than 34,000 journalists and other newspaper professionals is a sorry reflection on the state of the news business.

UPDATE: More at MediaSlander.

Posted by Rodger on May 20, 2005 at 08:27 AM | Permalink


re: targeting

She claims to mean "the military" and not "the troops." I figure she means to distinguish between the higher-ups versus the NCO's and CGO's on the ground.

As for the higher-ups, I've sat in targeting meetings. I've sat and listened to passionate discussions and debates over the pros and cons, risks and rewards of dropping bombs on different targets. I've seen them take a BE number and go over every possible good thing and bad thing that could come out of destroying it. I have never seen anyone hesitate to address an issue, especially the loss of innocent life.

To deliberately target journalists at a planning level would require the same nomination and vetting it takes to target a C2 bunker. I don't see that being successful. And after the fact, don't you think there'd be at least one anonymous source for the likes of Newsweek and CBS? Or do they manage to keep a lid on Operation: Kill the Media, yet somehow the secrets of the Koran-in-the-crapper get leaked?

While claiming to be setting her sights on the military leadership, she is in fact critical of the NCO's and CGO's on the ground. They are the ones who must make the life or death decisions in real time.

Are the Generals and civilian leadership to blame for the death of each journalist in Iraq? Only in the sense that they orchestrated the invasion. The invasion itself, ultimately, is what she and her ilk resent the most.


Posted by: anonymous sarge | May 20, 2005 2:37:31 PM

You killers for freedom (assuming there are really more than a dozen of you on this whole site) are just high on napalm here (oh sorry, make that Mk 77 firebomb, NOT napalm).

The hotel incident happened to a REUTERS journalist, and the entire incident was filmed! Of course, it was not shown in the US because the MSM is so liberal, right? If it was not an outright deliberate tactic, which is highly doubtful if you watch the film, it was surely a case of convenient negligence since the press in that building was causing all sorts of PR grief for the brainwashed "coalition".

The al-Jazeera incident was just so obvious that whatever the cause- outright corruption of command, pilot or squadron level killing spree's, or plain incompetence at any level- whatever, many critics just gave up on reasoning with war supporters at that point.

I provide links for more obscure information, but these incidents are basic data. If you don't have the references you just have not bothered to get even the most basic facts and you just don't know what you are talking about.

Reporters enable the possibility of truth to be told/collaborated/refuted outside military sources. Truth is also the first fatality of war, so it's understandable journalists might be targeted in warfare today, as they have in most past wars. Now there is no doubt US forces hit these two high profile targets. They may have hit more which went unreported or under-reported. It is up to Bush to acknowledge the incidents and explain them, if indeed he has an explanation. Otherwise, Bush's lame cover-up makes him look guilty of just censoring news which contradicts his policy.

For some critics at the time, these incidents turned the Iraq war into a non-defensible joke on a level with Vietnam in the late 1950's and early 1960's. An absolute murderous, f*cking joke.

I guess the Pentagon and CIA learned a lot by giving the press too much free reign in Vietnam. Just that image of the napalmed girl and the stories about Cambodia alone could have caused support to vanish.

I can't believe anyone without a vested interest in the military would support the war at this point. I never did. Just out of my own curiosity, who is paying most of your paychecks?

FROM THE BLOGDESK: Sorry, but there's nothing "obvious" about either incident, and your allegation that a Palestine Hotel videotape exists is hardly proof of "targeting." You speak of web links, but provide none by way of evidence for your assertions. So let me offer one for you: http://www.mudvillegazette.com/archives/002187.html End of story … unless you're Linda Foley, Nik Gowing or Eason Jordan.

And who pays your paycheck, John? The Newspaper Guild?

Posted by: John McLaren | May 21, 2005 7:23:00 PM

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