Cheney Warmed Over, Bloody Baghdad and Beinert on TV News Coverage

U.S. News looks at the bloody realities of life in Baghdad and New York reports on yet another reporter who might be headed for jail.

Both Time and Newsweek lead this week with the Cheney shooting incident, but thanks to the vagaries of the newsweekly publishing cycle, both magazines landed on doorsteps a full nine days after the event in question — well after the issue had been chewed over by multitudes for days on end.

Fortunately, however, each publication has a vigorous Web site that was all over the story last week, rendering their dead tree editions, at least in this case, moot.

In news we haven’t seen everywhere else, U.S. News & World Report takes a look at a story that only gets a cursory treatment in the American press, the continued small-scale violence and murder happening in Iraq — specifically, in Baghdad neighborhoods. While car bombings have become the norm in our morning headlines, many more Iraqis are being kidnapped and murdered on a daily basis. “Baghdad’s city morgue,” says reporter Ben Gilbert, according to the United Nations, processed 1,673 bodies in the last two months of 2005, of which 1,034 had bullet wounds. “That’s in a city of about 5 million — or nearly two-thirds the size of New York, which had 94 homicides in the same period.”

According to “Sunni leaders” Gilbert spoke to, “communities are being terrorized by the Iraqi police, Army, and allied militias. In a predawn raid in a Sunni neighborhood last week, Iraqi authorities broke windows, grabbed computers, took cars, and hauled away, without explanation, 13 males between the ages of 15 and 60. Family members weren’t told where the men were being taken and fear they will turn up dead.” Part of the problem is that it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. “Iraqi police and soldiers wear black ski masks and balaclavas to protect their identities. The various branches of the security forces wear dozens of different uniforms, which can also be bought on the black market …”

“For now,” Gilbert writes, “it’s a murderous free-for-all.” “It’s basically gang warfare,” a U.N. representative told him. “The real cause is a breakdown of law and order in the absence of any effective police force that can do the job of protecting people.”

Speaking of Iraq, Peter Beinart of The New Republic is unhappy with how the war is being covered on American television news programs. As an example, he uses last week’s news that Ibrahim Al Jaafari is being named prime minister by the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shia Islamist coalition that won a majority of seats in last December’s elections. Beinart says that although the appointment has huge consequences for Iraq’s immediate and long-term future, “Jaafari’s selection sparked little discussion in the broadcast media. It made the front page of Monday’s New York Times and Washington Post, but, in the mysterious alchemy that converts print news into network news, the Jaafari story almost disappeared. According to transcripts, it received less than a paragraph of text on ABC’s World News Tonight Sunday and Fox News Sunday. And those were the responsible outlets. CBS’s and NBC’s Sunday evening broadcasts didn’t mention Jaafari’s selection at all.”

He lambasts network news in general for its fluffy coverage of domestic and international events, writing that “more than four years after September 11 supposedly reintroduced the United States to the world, America’s political television has failed almost as egregiously as America’s political leaders — and in some of the same ways. For George W. Bush, of course, the war on terrorism has been one vast wedge issue, which he has used in the same basic way that Republicans used race in the 1970s and 1980s: to artificially divide liberals and the white working class … And, because cable television feeds on the partisan divide as well, it has played right into Bush’s hands.”

The new issue of The Nation features a fascinating interview with cartoonists Joe Sacco and Art Spiegelman about the controversy surrounding the publication of cartoons making light of the Prophet Mohammed.

Spiegelman: “It’s escalated to the point where it’s moot whether one should reprint these pictures or not because now to do it puts you firmly on the side of the libeler, the defamer. And yet, it seems to me that to write about this without access to the pictures is an absurdity. The answer to speech, in my religion, is more speech, a lot of yakking — and a lot of drawing.”

But Sacco isn’t so sure: “I’d say it’s enough to just describe them. Putting the cartoon itself out — what’s the value of it?”

If, for some odd reason, you didn’t think that the 2008 race for the White House was in full swing, check out GQ’s interview with potential Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden. “He always thought of himself, frankly, as a man who ought to be president … Still, the 2008 election is Biden’s last shot, and he’s struggling with the prospect of running. ‘It’s not ambivalence,’ he says. ‘I haven’t thought through how, tactically, I win this nomination. It’s a Hillary thing — I look at the assets she brings to bear, and the conventional wisdom. Do I need $40 million, like they’re saying? How do I get there? And if the mood of the party is so far left, then possibly that’s death for me.’”

But when has that ever stopped a politician from running?

Finally, in New York magazine, Emma Rosenblum reports that there is another reporter facing jail time — though no one seems to be paying attention. Esquire writer-at-large John Richardson is looking at up to six months in prison for interfering with a U.S. Forest Service officer. Richardson was arrested back in March 2004 while working on a profile of animal-rights activist Rod Coronado, “who apparently disagreed with a government-sanctioned mountain-lion-relocation program.” Richardson was with Coronado in a canyon when they were allegedly seen dismantling a mountain-lion snare. “Richardson’s confiscated audio notes were used to convict Coronado of a felony,” Rosenblum reports, and Richardson’s own trial begins next week in Tucson, Arizona.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.