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April 2nd, 2003 | News Stories
 

Media Blitz

Front-line reports shape and misshape our view of the war.

     
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Front-line reports shape and misshape our view of the war.

Has it really been only two weeks?

In some ways, it seems like we've been at war in Iraq, and on the streets of Portland, for months. That's at least in part because of the saturation broadcasting on the airwaves and endless special sections in newspapers. If the last Gulf War suffered from a lack of media access, many war-weary Americans may feel that this one suffers from information bombardment.

In an effort to cut through the daily updates of battles from towns we've never heard of and declarations from the White House that it's all good, we offer a collection of stories aimed at bringing a bit of perspective to the war:

First is a look at how the U.S. media handled, and mishandled, two big "stories" of the war's opening act.

Second is a look at how one local war supporter, a Kurdish refugee from Iraq, views the battle going on in his homeland.

Third, we spent a week checking in with a young war protester to find out why he spent spring break camping out in the rain.

Finally, we compiled our second weekly calendar of war-related events, because we've got a hunch this must-see TV is going to be around for a while longer.

 


WW's analysis of Al Hayat and other Arabic-language papers was done by Abeer Etefa, an Egyptian-born journalist and PhD candidate at Portland State University.

The Information War
ABEER ETEFA AND CHRIS LYDGATE

Perhaps more than any other conflict in recent memory, the ultimate outcome of the war in Iraq will depend on popular opinion--not only in Peoria and Portland, but also in Damascus, Jakarta, Karachi and Cairo.

To get a better perspective on how the war is being reported, we examined American and Arab-world media treatment of two specific episodes: the reports, in the first days of the war, that Iraq had launched Scud missiles at advancing U.S. troops; and the discovery of an Iraqi "chemical facility" in Najaf.

Both issues resonate far beyond the battlefield, because they bear on the justification for going to war in the first place. Scud missiles and nerve gas both constitute the infamous weapons of mass destruction for which the United Nations arms inspectors searched in vain. Their discovery would vindicate President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. Their absence will tend to confirm what anti-war skeptics have suspected all along--that the official justification for the war is a sham.

The Disappearing Scuds

On March 20, reports began to trickle in that Iraq had launched a battery of Scud missiles at Kuwait. The type of missile was highly significant, because Scuds have a range of 300 kilometers, which exceeds the limit imposed by the 1991 cease-fire agreement.

According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a nonprofit media watchdog based in New York City, several U.S. news organizations rushed to report claims as facts.

"We understand they have fired three missiles," FAIR quotes NBC's Matt Lauer. "One of those was a Scud missile. It was destroyed by a Patriot missile battery as it headed toward Kuwait."

National Public Radio also jumped on the bandwagon, according to FAIR. "Iraq this morning launched Scud missiles at Kuwait in retaliation for the American strike on Baghdad a few hours earlier," declared anchor Bob Edwards, while correspondent Mike Shuster observed that "these Scuds are banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions and have a range of up to 400 miles."

Over on Fox News Channel, William La Jeunesse not only told viewers that a Scud had been launched but scolded Iraq for possessing one. "Now, Iraq is not supposed to have Scuds because they have a range of 175 up to 400 miles," La Jeunesse said, according to FAIR. "The limit by the U.N., of course, is, like, 95 miles. So, we already know they have something they're not supposed to have."

The Oregonian carried a March 21 Associated Press report headlined, "Iraq appears to have fired banned missiles at U.S. troops." That same day, staff reporter Peter Sleeth, embedded with the 82nd Airborne Division in Kuwait, wrote a vivid and dramatic piece about the chaos triggered by "the launch of the first Scud missiles toward Kuwait" and noted that an Iraqi Scud inflicted 28 casualties among U.S. forces in the first Gulf War.

The Arab press treated the reports with more skepticism. Al Ahram, an Egyptian newspaper widely circulated in the Middle East, quoted Kuwaiti officials who accused Baghdad of dragging Kuwait in the conflict by firing the Scud missiles. The paper also quoted the Iraqi minister of information denying that Iraq owned any Scud missiles, and a U.S. military spokesman who could not confirm the type of missiles that Iraq used.

On March 21, the London-based Al Hayat, an influential Arab paper, quoted chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, who said there was no evidence that Iraqis had used banned weapons in the war. The paper noted that Blix's comment contradicted a statement by Kuwait's U.N. ambassador, Mohammad Abulhasan, who said that at least one of 11 missiles fired by Iraq into Kuwait was a Scud missile.

But the Saudi-owned, London-based Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper, which has some sympathies for Kuwait, treated the Scud report as fact. Its front-page headline read: "Iraqi missiles drag Kuwait in the war zone," quoting a Kuwaiti Army spokesman.

Later, however, the Pentagon backed away from the story. On March 22, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal told a Pentagon news conference that the Iraqis had not fired any Scuds and that U.S. forces had not uncovered missiles or launchers.

Not everyone caught the correction. The next day, Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson wrote that "The Scuds he swore he did not have were fired at Kuwait, and Iraq was launching lame denials while the craters still smoked." On March 26, The Oregonian's Sleeth was still describing air-raid sirens as "Scud missile alarms."

The Vanishing Chemical Weapons Factory

Even as the Scud story was unraveling, the Pentagon was dangling dramatic reports of a "chemical facility" near the town of Najaf as proof that Saddam Hussein had indeed stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

The first report came March 23 from a Jerusalem Post correspondent embedded with the U.S. 3rd Infantry. The plant, the paper said, had been discovered by American troops at Najaf.

U.S. networks immediately picked up the story, according to FAIR.

"Amidst all the fighting, one important new discovery," ABC's John McWethy told viewers. "U.S. officials say, up the road from Nasarijah, in a town called Najaf, they believe that they have captured a chemical-weapons plant and perhaps more important, the commanding general of that facility. One U.S. official said he is a potential 'gold mine' about the weapons Saddam Hussein says he doesn't have."

Tom Brokaw sounded a similar theme on NBC. "Word tonight that U.S. forces may have found what U.N. inspectors spent months searching for: a facility suspected to be a chemical-weapons plant, uncovered by ground troops on the way north to Baghdad."

Reporting from the Pentagon, NBC correspondent Jim Miklaszewski added a heap of persuasive detail: "This huge chemical complex...was constructed of sand-casted walls, in other words, meant to camouflage its appearance to blend in with the desert. Once inside, the soldiers found huge amounts of chemicals, stored chemicals. They apparently found no chemical weapons themselves, and now military officials here at the Pentagon say they have yet to determine exactly what these chemicals are or how they could have been used in weapons."

Fox News Channel, according to FAIR, splashed the report in a series of onscreen banners like "Huge Chemical Weapons Factory Found in So. Iraq."

Some print outlets also played up the story. The Philadelphia Daily News called it the "biggest find of the Iraq war" and "a reversal of fortune for American and British forces at the end of the war's most discouraging day."

The Oregonian ran a short AP story on March 24 describing how U.S. forces "seized a suspected chemical factory" but included official statements that it would be "premature" to conclude that any weapons had been discovered.

The Arab press immediately pointed to the Israeli connection and treated the news more cynically, partly because the news came from the Jerusalem Post and Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, a TV station Arabs have accused of being "close to the Jewish lobby."

London's Al Hayat ran the story in its front page with the headline "The Pentagon undermines the importance of the reports of Fox News and Jerusalem Post: Israelis 'discovered' a chemical factory in Najaf."

Al Jazeera television also downplayed the news, casting doubt on its authenticity and showing pictures of the deserted factory. The presenter immediately commented that the news was circulating from Israeli correspondents and has not been confirmed by the U.S. or British military.

Then the story evaporated. Within 24 hours, General Tommy Franks, told a press conference (carried live by Al Jazeera), that most claims about weapons of mass-destruction finds were "based on speculation." Former weapons inspectors also dismissed the reports.

By March 25, The New York Times concluded that "suggestions on Sunday that a chemical plant in Najaf might be a weapons site have turned out to be false."

It now appears that initial reports about Iraqi Scuds and the chemical-weapons facility were duds. The truth eventually percolated through the American media--sort of. But in both cases, the damage has been done. Americans who don't follow the conflict obsessively may still have the impression that Saddam was cheating the U.N. inspectors. And throughout the rest of the world, the publication and retraction of these claims only stokes suspicion and cynicism about American motives.

This article is based in part on "Lack of skepticism leads to poor reporting on Iraq weapons claims," by Jim Naureckas of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a nonprofit media watchdog based in New York City. To read the original article, visit www.fair.org.

 

 


The Khoshnow family tunes in to their
homeland every night, via Kurdish TV.

The Kurdish Quandary
While bombs drop and tanks roll, Portlander Qubad Khoshnow cheers--and frets for his homeland's future.
BY NICK BUDNICK
nbudnick@wweek.com

Like many Portlanders, Qubad Khoshnow spends a lot of time in front of the TV these days watching the war in Iraq. But unlike most of his neighbors, the images he's seeing are being beamed into his Woodstock living room from his homeland, the Kurdish territory of northern Iraq.

Every night, he, his wife, Sakar, and their two children, Nihad, 4, and Gianna, 2, watch Kurdish news on their big-screen TV, courtesy of a satellite dish in his front lawn. From the eerie shots of Baghdad at night to the striking blue graphics, the Kurdish news channel doesn't differ much from CNN.

On a recent evening, as Kurdish TV beams news of hostile Turkish troops massing on the border and U.S. bombs raining down on Hussein's troops, Qubad's children are playful and friendly, much more interested in their guest than the news. Sakar watches with interest--and obvious concern. She "is worried about what will happen," Qubad translates. "But I am very happy."

Qubad enthusiastically supports the war. Six years ago, an Air France jet spirited him out of Iraq to a refugee camp in Guam. There, Kurdish emigrés told him of a place that, like his homeland, was said to be dotted with mountains and lush with greenery. So when immigration officials offered him the destination of his choice in the entire United States, he chose Portland.

"I had not a penny in my pocket," he recalls.

Since then, Qubad has bought a business and purchased his home. At a time when many Americans view the whole Islamic world with distrust, the stocky, mustachioed Qubad Koshnow could be a poster child for how two very different cultures can coexist amicably.

"Hello, my friend, how are you?" he calls out pleasantly as people walk in the 7-11 franchise that Qubad, 41, operates at the corner of Southeast 20th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard. Few customers realize that when President George W. Bush talks about Saddam Hussein committing genocide against his own people, he's referring to Qubad and his fellow Kurds.

Today, the Kurds occupy a precarious position in U.S. foreign policy, perched on the razor's edge of the outcome of the current fighting. In Iraq, the U.S. government has called Kurds freedom fighters. In neighboring Turkey, the U.S. government has called them "terrorists."

Turkey, a key U.S. ally, has waged what some have call cultural genocide, systematically destroying thousands of Kurdish villages inside Turkish borders and turning survivors into homeless refugees whose language is banned inside Turkey.

In Iraq, too, Kurds have been massacred. Following the Iran-Iraq war that extended through 1988, Saddam Hussein--then backed by the U.S.--armed Iranian dissidents and used them as mercenaries to kill Kurds en masse. Chemical weapons dropped by Iraqi aircraft killed thousands.

Then, in 1991, George Bush exhorted the Kurds living in Iraq to rise up and fight for their freedom. At the last minute the United States withheld air support, and Hussein's helicopters spearheaded a slaughter.

Qubad has lost an older brother, a good friend, at least six cousins and numerous acquaintances.

International pressure finally forced Hussein to halt his genocidal campaign against the Kurds, granting them de facto autonomy within Iraq--meaning if they left Hussein alone, he would return the favor.

That uneasy arrangement has been shaken by the current war. Last week, Turkish troops crossed the Iraqi border. Turkish officials say they will not fully engage the Kurds unless attacked, but Qubad is skeptical. Turkey is a nominal democracy, he says, but its army is "not less" brutal than Hussein's army.

For Turkey, he says, an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq would be a "national-security threat" and hinder their access to a rich oil field around Kirkut.

Still, he hopes for an independent state as part of a Iraqi federation and holds no ill will toward the United States for its friendship with Turkey, saying, "It is not easy to give up a relationship that has lasted more than 30 years."

He is well aware that what he calls "the street Muslims" in many countries think the current hostilities are "a war between Islam and the United States." But he's optimistic that "after the war, when they see the next government in Iraq, that will help a lot. That will help the street people realize what is meant by democracy and human rights. Because there are no democracy or human rights in the Middle East."

The TV in his living room shows an announcer in an Arab headdress relaying a plea from Kurdish leaders for people to remain in their homes, assuring them that Saddam Hussein cannot harm them.

Qubad will be happy when Hussein is gone, but he harbors no illusions that it will be easy. If the Turks do conduct a full-fledged invasion of Kurdistan, he predicts much bloodshed. "There will be change," he says. "There will be freedom. Freedom needs sacrifice."

 


Justin Elder and Tom Mooney (kneeling) had to take down their tent, but the Portland Peace Encampment continues to hold a 24-hour, all-weather vigil.

Camping for Peace
How Justin Elder spent his spring break.

BY AMY ROE
aroe@wweek.com

Thousands of protesters stream out of Terry Schrunk Plaza on March 20, muddying the ground around a flimsy orange nylon tent. In the midst of this exodus, Tom Mooney, a political-science student at Portland State University, and Justin Elder, a nursing student at Portland Community College, set up camp.

The duct tape shrieks as Elder rips off a strip. Mooney laughs at the symbolism of the adhesive, the absurdity of their plan, and the admittedly half-assed way they are executing it.

Mooney and Elder are native Montanans, friends since middle school, ardent outdoorsmen. To merge their politics with their pastimes, they decided on an anti-war campout in the plaza. They looked into getting permits but decided just to show up.

"We're camping here until the war is over," Elder explains to the few who stop to ask. He hands out flyers encouraging others to join them to "camp out" for peace. "It's going to be the new spring-break destination," he jokes.

By Friday afternoon, despite visits from federal agents, drive-by hecklers and bone-chilling rain, the two-man encampment has not only survived, but grown. Colorful tents sprung out of the spongy lawn like mushrooms; 25 others have joined them.

Elder, a lanky 24-year-old with close-cropped brown hair and a friendly grin, spends the better part of Friday in jail after dragging police barricades into the street in an attempt to stop morning rush-hour traffic. He admits this was probably not his best judgment, but he was emboldened by the Burnside Bridge shutdown the night before, addled by a lack of sleep and dismayed that so few activists had turned out to join him in the morning.

On Sunday, Elder wearily conducts a painstaking exercise in consensus decision-making when four Portland Police officers approach. It turns out the park is federal property. The campers break down their tents rather than get arrested, but they're allowed to remain, huddled under the open sky in mounds of sleeping bags and blankets.

Seemingly chastened by his first-ever arrest days before, Elder grows concerned the growing encampment might rankle city officials, so on March 26 he ambles across the street and into City Hall in an attempt to meet with Mayor Vera Katz.

"Lo and behold, she was standing there right when we walked in the door," Elder says with a self-deprecating laugh. "I didn't even recognize her when I saw her," he admits. Elder is encouraged by his 10-minute conversation with the mayor, and he's impressed that she set up an immediate meeting with members of the Police Bureau. He worries that the protest might still violate the city's sidewalk policy; days later, strips of duct tape line the sidewalk, creating a pedestrian lane.

After graduating from high school in Bozeman, Elder and Mooney moved to Eugene, where Mooney worked with the Eugene chapter of OSPIRG. When Mooney headed to Mount Hood's Eagle Creek to do tree-sits, Elder joined him.

They eventually moved to Portland, where Elder's activism began in earnest when he learned his sister had joined the National Guard Reserves. "She really likes structure and competition. And my parents kinda pushed for it," says Elder, whose father was in the Army. Concerned his sister was not getting what she'd bargained for, Elder began showing up alongside military recruiters at PCC, so "kids know what to expect."

Casey Elder says her older brother's reaction to her enlistment caused a rift. "Justin can be very headstrong with his opinions, and sometimes things will get kinda tense," Casey recalled during a phone interview from Bozeman. Still, she counted on his encouraging letters when she was in boot camp last summer.

Casey says she was initially disturbed to learn she would be deployed in a conflict about which she was ambivalent. She would've liked the United States to have full backing of the United Nations, but since war has begun she's not complaining. "I disagree with some of the politics," she says, "but I'm gonna do my job."

On March 29, Casey headed to Fort Benning, Ga., awaiting overseas deployment in about four weeks. Two days later, her brother returned to his PCC classes.

War Planner
Two. Four. Six. Eight! Get informed; participate!
BY EMILIE RAGUSO

Nightly

Local peaceniks can meet nightly at Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard and 37th Avenue for this candlelight vigil, 7-8 pm.

Wednesday, April 2

Looking for a lunch-hour pace change? Hand out signs and leaflets in this weekly Peace Vigil, Northwest corner of Pioneer Courthouse Square, noon-1 pm. Contact the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom at 224-5190.

Thursday, April 3

Sit down for peace at the Buddhas Not Bombs Meditation Vigil, Peace Plaza in the South Park Blocks, weekly at noon.

Cream with that picket sign? The Belmont Protest meets weekly in front of Stumptown Coffee, Southeast 34th Avenue and Belmont Street, at 4 pm.

Whatever happened to those North Korean nukes? American Friends Service Committee program director Randy Ireson will speak about his recent trip to North Korea. West Hills Friends Church, 7425 SE 52nd St., 7 pm.

Wieden & Kennedy kicks off its new series "A Conversation About the War." Hear passionate, informed individuals representing a number of perspectives share their views. For more information, email conversations@wk.com. Located at 224 NW 13th Ave., 7-8:30 pm. $5, proceeds to Portland's Mercy Corps.

Friday, April 4

Women In Black for Peace make a weekly midday silent stand against war. This black-clad international activist group is committed to peace with justice. Sorry, guys, vigils are for women only. Contact Yvonne at 288-8958, or www.newconnexion.net/info/wib. Terry Shrunk Plaza, 12:15-12:45 pm.

Portland Peaceful Response (www.portlandpeacefulresponse.org) will make its usual rowdy late-afternoon pilgrimage for peace. Demand an end to the "War on Terror" and learn about civil liberties. Pioneer Courthouse Square, 5 pm.

Changing the road, one bicycle at a time. Critical Mass will ride weekly until the war stops. Northwest Park Avenue and Couch Street, 5:30 pm.

Saturday April 5

Refugees now living in Portland share firsthand accounts of war. Hear the whispers that get lost among so many outspoken voices. Multicultural Center, Smith Memorial Center, Portland State University, 1825 SW Broadway. 6-8:30 pm. For reservations call 287-0077. Free

In times like these, who can afford to be misinformed? Greg Palast, the award-winning investigative reporter for the BBC and the Guardian, will make sure you're in the know during this fundraiser for local independent media. Email Dave Mazza at mazza@theportlandalliance.org for more info. Peter W. Stott Center (gym), PSU, 930 SW Hall St. 6-9 pm. $5 (students/seniors)-$10.

Sunday, April 6

Flags, signs and umbrellas are welcome at this weekly Support the Troops Rally, Pioneer Square, 1 to 3:30 pm. For info, call Dimitri Guillen at 246-3701.

Suburban peace-lovers unite at this weekly Hillsdale Peace March. Gather in the parking lot across from Nature's on Southwest Capitol Highway. 3 pm.

Be a star in the weekly Hollywood Peace Vigil on Sandy Boulevard at Northeast 42nd Avenue, 4 pm.

No Shame Theater Goes to War, a benefit for Not in Our Name and the Artist's Network of Refuse and Resist, is an evening of scenes that promises to be "irreverent." Northwest Cultural Center, 1819 NW Everett St., 449-8077. 7 pm. $2-$10.

American Playwright William Mastrosimone traveled to Afghanistan and returned with The Afghan Women, a play resembling Euripides' The Trojan Women. Keith Scales directs this reading of Mastrosimone's play (with the playwright in attendance) as a fundraiser for International Orphan Care. CoHo Theatre, 2257 NW Raleigh St., 258-9313. 2 pm. $10.

Monday, April 7

Each Monday you can join the Peace Elves on the Bridges from 8 to 9 am. Share peace messages with morning commuters. For more info email peaceelf@yahoo.com.

Portland Peaceful Response Coalition's weekly Peace Rally and March in Pioneer Courthouse Square is now held on Monday as well as Friday. 5 pm.

Looking for an alternative to supporting the war with your taxes? Attend this monthly (First Mondays) War Tax Resistance Seminar. Sponsored by War Resisters League, 238-0605. Laughing Horse Books, 3652 SE Division St. 7 pm. FREE

A second chance to see The Afghan Women (see above), 7 pm.

Tuesday, April 8

Reese Erlich, journalist and co-author of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You, traveled to Iraq in September with Sean Penn to assess U.S. press coverage of the activities there. First Unitarian Church, 1011 SW 12th Ave., 7-9 pm. $8-$10.

Saturday, April 12

Dust off your picket signs and save the date. The next citywide march and rally will occur today. The time, place and theme will be announced shortly. Contact Peace and Justice Works at 236-3065 for more information.

International peacemaker, author and educator Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D., will speak about compassionate communication. For more information, visit www.orncc.net or call 450-9909. Cleveland High School Auditorium, 3400 SE 26th Ave., 7-9 pm. No pre-registration. Requested donation $5-$20.

Sunday, April 13

Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Demystified. Hosted by the Portland Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Email enji@comcast.net for more info. Midland Regional Library Meeting Room, 805 SE 122nd Ave., 1:30-4:30 pm.

Have a war-related event coming up? Send a notice to Emilie Raguso at eraguso@wweek.com.

 
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