The Nation's Jeremy Scahill had the guts to go on TV yesterday and become the first "pundit" to call the Obama drone program in Yemen murder. His characterization provoked all the outrage we have come to expect from presidential apologists -- blaming the messenger for speaking the truth that our charismatic leader has declared himself judge, jury and executioner and is breaking the law. My hope is that Scahill is just among the first wave of a sea change in how the mainstream media will be covering this story. Could complicity be on the way out, and could some much-needed adversarial journalism be making a comeback?
An article in today's Times has at last referred to those killed in the latest drone strike in Waziristan as "people", and even implies that the escalating attacks by Obama are a campaign of terror to force the Pakistanis to reopen their supply routes to Afghanistan. The roads had been closed ever since an American strike killed two dozen Pakistani border soldiers and Obama refused to apologize. Reporter Declan Walsh's lead paragraph:
Missiles fired from a suspected American drone killed at least 14 people in Pakistan’s tribal belt early Monday, the third strike in as many days and a signal of the Obama administration’s determination to press ahead with the controversial covert campaign even as it conducts tense political negotiations in Islamabad.
(snip)This is a small start in truth-telling to be sure, but an improvement all the same in the usual journalistic dialogue on the drone attacks. Heretofore, it's been five militants killed here, a dozen terrorists killed there. No names, no evidence. But notice how Walsh carefully differentiates the geography from the people living in it. He also goes to the trouble to identify by name the various factions suspected of operating in the area, rather than simply calling them "militants" or "al Qaeda associates."
Pakistani officials said on Monday that two missiles slammed into a compound and a pick-up truck in Hassu Khel, a small village just south of Mir Ali, the second largest town of North Waziristan. Between 14 and 16 people were killed in the attack, officials said, making it the deadliest in the tribal belt since November 2011.
A journalist from the area said the compound was being used by Uzbek, Tajik and Turkmen militants fighting for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an Al Qaeda-affiliated extremist group.
Walsh even quotes a Pakistani official who directly accuses the Obama Administration of conducting the drone strikes out of political motives, as a boost to the re-election campaign. And when a White House official is reached for comment on the sudden surge in Drone strikes in heavily populated civilian areas, he mumbles something about an annoying cloud hanging around for weeks before it finally cleared up enough for the joystick operators to get a pristine-enough view of their projected bugsplats. (Of course he didn't use those words, but the subtext was evident.)
It was almost as though Walsh was turning to Glenn Greenwald for a Journalism 101 refresher course:
There is, as usual, no indication (wrote Greenwald recently) that these media outlets have any idea whatsoever about who was killed in these strikes. All they know is that “officials” (whether American or Pakistani) told them that they were “militants,” so they blindly repeat that as fact. They “report” this not only without having the slightest idea whether it’s true, but worse, with the full knowledge that the word “militant” is being aggressively distorted by deceitful U.S. government propaganda that defines the term to mean: any “military-age males” whom we kill (the use of the phrase “suspected militants” in the body of the article suffers the same infirmity).
Meanwhile, the United States continues its doubly inhumane practice of raining its drone bombs down upon the rescuers and mourners of the initial rounds of attacks. The Guardian is calling the undeclared war on Pakistan a blitz, with the article alternately calling the victims "people", "militants" or the traditional, ass-covering "suspected militants."How is it possible to have any informed democratic debate over a policy about which the U.S. media relentlessly propagandizes this way? If drone strikes kill nobody other than “militants,” then very few people will even think about opposing them (and that’s independent of the fact that the word “militant” is a wildly ambiguous term — militant about what? — though it is clearly designed (when combined with “Pakistan”) to evoke images of those who attacked the World Trade Center). Debate-suppression is not just the effect but the intent of this propaganda: like all propaganda, it is designed to deceive the citizenry in order to compel acquiescence to government conduct.
I am still waiting for the mainstream press to start calling Obama's killing spree a vile episode of state-sponsored terrorism that has nothing at all to do with taking out anonymous militants. It has everything to do with killing civilians to force the Pakistani government to cave and open up its roads, to make it easier and cheaper for the American occupiers to move their idle Humvees into Afghanistan and continue waging their forever war.