“They shoot journalists, don’t they?”

April 6, 2010

So, the American military has what it calls “rules of engagement” when active in a combat zone.

Normally these “rules” are to protect the lives of non-combatants, but in the urban battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq there is sometimes very little difference.

At least according to the US military. But how far does the American war machine go to distinguish between friendlies and civilians and the so-called “enemy” – the Taleban in Afghanistan or “insurgents” in Iraq?

Really, it doesn’t go very far at all. In a recent Vanity Fair article about snipers in Afghanistan, one US soldier is quoted as calling the Afghan interpreter in his unit a “stinky”.

A Special Forces sergeant came up and said, “Hey, dude, I got some bad news. I gotta put a Stinky in your truck.” Afghans are Stinkies because they don’t wash.

We’ve all heard the term “raghead” used in relation to Iraqis. When this level of embedded racism is in play, the rules of engagement are not worth wiping your stinky on.

Whenever civilians are killed by “mistake” there are major efforts to cover it up. Details are only released when the families of the dead – you should always make sure there are no survivors – make a fuss, or the media starts nosing around.

But what happens when reporters and news workers are killed? Then the cover up goes into overdrive!

The Wikileaks site has just released some very disturbing video footage of two Reuters correspondents being gunned down in Baghdad. According to the army’s statement, the action that led to their murder was within the rules of engagement.

The attack took place on the morning of 12 July 2007 in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. Two children were also wounded.

Reuters had been seeking access to the video – shot from one of the Apache helicopters that also gunned down the men – for more than two years.

The murdered newsworkers  were local Reuters staff; Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. Chmagh was a 40-year-old Reuters driver and assistant; Noor-Eldeen was a 22-year-old war photographer.

Rule #1: It’s OK to shoot journalists.

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Blacksburg Massacre footage – should it be shown

April 20, 2007

On Thursday night I saw some of the footage of Cho Seung-Hui’s gruesome death video. It had been aired by the NBC network in the USA and, of course, picked up and screened right around the world.
There was not any type of warning on the network news I saw and it was right in the middle of so-called “family viewing” time. Was it necessary to air so much of the tape in which Cho makes it clear he’s going to do something violent, reads his crazed prose and poetry and poses with the handguns he’d recently purchased.
The language of the reporter covering the story was just as violent, it’s what I have begun to call “forensic pornography”. It’s the type of stuff you see in the fictional cop shows, particularly those that feature sexual violence against women as the “crime” that’s being “solved”.
This is exactly how NBC and its affiliated website , MSNBC is covering the story. Here’s an image from their cover piece on the tape and the massacre, a profile of the killer that glorifies what he did in a very sick way.
There are nine clips and a “slide show” of still images from the video uploaded onto the MSNBC website.
This is making Cho out to be some kind of psychopathic hero.
Where’s the empathy for the victims, families and friends. Do they need to have this grisly reminder and “trophy” gloat tape pushed in their faces?
What were the ethical thinking and decision-making principles in the NBC newsroom that led them to think it was a good idea to use this tape in this way?
Perhaps some of the comments posted on the MSNBC viewer/reader pages are an indication.
The overwhelming line is that banning hand guns won’t work, the old “guns don’t kill people, people do” line and some weird religious shit about the fact that “God” won’t tolerate this -“the end is nigh” doomsdayism. So perhaps the audience isn’t very capable of discerning judgment and NBC is pandering to some awful voyeuristic tendencies in its key market demographic.

Interestingly NBC has defended its decision in a statement sent to the Poynter Institute, which is also hosting an extended discussion of this topic: to show or not show the footage. One TV network, affiliated to NBC decided to not show the footage or stills from the tape, or to play the audio.
In my view there are ways to deal with this story that do not involve glorifying a mass murderer who was obviously psychotic. I’m very worried that there could be possible copycat killers out there who are getting off on this material and could become just as unstable.
I also think that in terms of grief reporting that it is just adding to the pain of the survivors, friends and families of the deceased.