Case in point: Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette, who is one of the top two or three milbloggers out there, in my opinion suffers a rare swing and a miss in taking on the AP and New York Times coverage of Haditha here:
About a week ago, AP ran a story with the headline, Investigators: Unprovoked Marines killed Children. Greyhawk says:
But regardless of what happened, unless there was no bomb, unless Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas wasn't really killed, unless Lance Cpl. James Crossan wasn't really wounded, there was a provocation that the Marines responded too. To the best of my knowledge, no one disputes the IED attack that started this incident, and no one disputes that civilians were killed. It seems indisputable that the attack was indeed provoked - a point that's actually a substantial factor in answering other questions regarding the ensuing events.I understand that there's a difference between cold-bloodedly killing people and killing them after an IED attack that kills one of your brothers. But if - I say again, if - the Marines knowingly killed innocent civilians in retaliation for that attack, then they murdered people who did not provoke them, and I think that this is what the headline is getting at.
Two points here: I'd bet money that the "senior defense official" is someone involved in writing the report. Obviously, the article couldn't say that because it would narrow the field of possible sources immensely. As someone who's been on both the "reporter" side and the "source" side, I can tell you that this kind of thing goes on all the time. In fact, often someone will be quoted by name in an article and be quoted in the same article as a "senior official," or whatever, because he or she was comfortable being identified with some quotes but not with others. In this case, there's virtually no chance that AP would have run with this story if the reporter's source wasn't reliable. (Whatever bias you think AP has, Sy Hersh it ain't.) And my money's on the fact that he or she is reliable because he or she has a direct connection to the investigation.
But quite clearly, according to this headline, the investigators say unprovoked.
Or do they? Here's the first paragraph of the story:(AP) WASHINGTON Investigators believe that their criminal investigation into the deaths of about two dozen Iraqi civilians points toward a conclusion that Marines committed unprovoked murders, a senior defense official said Friday.Read that again if you didn't get it the first time. To clarify, we'll name the actual source up front: a senior defense official said investigators believe that's what their investigation points towards. But that's certainly not the stuff of good headlines, so presto change-o, eliminate the middle man and roll out the 24-point Times New Roman. "Investigators: Unprovoked Marines Killed Civilians"
But nowhere in the story are investigators quoted as saying any such thing. A "senior defense official" is.
Or is he? Skip forward one paragraph:The official ...said the evidence developed by investigators strongly indicates the killings last November in the insurgent-plagued city of Haditha in the western province of Anbar were unjustified.That's closer to an actual quote than the first paragraph, and it says the killings were "unjustified" - something significantly different in meaning than "unprovoked". But quotation marks are noticeably absent from the story - meaning that what we really have is a reporter claiming that an unnamed senior defense official claims that people conducting an ongoing investigation currently believe that the attack was unprovoked.
All beneath a headline that reads Investigators: Unprovoked Marines Killed Civilians. As noted, you must ignore an IED, one death, and one serious injury for that to be true. ("Unjustified" may or may not be more accurate - but it certainly doesn't "sex up" the story to the same degree.)
Let's further illustrate this point. You and I are in a crowded room. Suddenly I throw a punch, and hit you quite squarely in the jaw. You go down but arise quickly, though quite shaken, and immediately throw a punch at me. I'm ready though, so I duck, and you light up the young lady standing behind me, sending her to the carpet.
No doubt at this point you are quite remorseful, but there's no one in the room who could reasonably accuse you of having launched an unprovoked attack on the young lady in question. Yes, you punched her. Yes, you were acting in anger. Yes, you lost control. But as the guy who struck first then avoided your retaliation, sane people might think I deserve most of the blame.Unless, of course, your response was the entire point of my actions in the first place. And if the room is full of my friends who are quite willing to go along, you had best start backing towards the door. Because you hit a girl, you sumbitch. One who had done absolutely nothing to you, so it was unprovoked.
Secondly, Greyhawk's "throwing punches in a crowded room" analogy doesn't work, for the simple reason of motive. Unless I'm completely mistaken, the Marines aren't under investigation for allegedly trying to kill someone and accidentally killing someone else: they're being investigated for purposely targeting and killing civilians. In Greyhawks' analogy, he punches me, I try to punch him back, he ducks, and I accidentally punch an innocent young lady who was standing behind him. It doesn't scan.
Moving on, Greyhawk notes another instance of the use of the word "unprovoked":
It's obvious that Greyhawk is correct in saying that the Times itself chose the phrase "unprovoked attack" to describe what happened in Haditha, and that the President didn't come close to using it. But saying "So now President Bush has used the phrase 'unprovoked attack'?" is a non-starter, because the Times didn't put those words in quotes. If Bush had used that exact phrase, you can be sure it would have appeared in quotes. That aside, however, Greyhawk's larger point is that the Times chose that phrase "[b]ecause it's a very necessary element in getting these Marines condemned to death before their trial - and enraging certain elements of the population of Iraq to kill some more."
But let's get back to the real story and watch it grow. Que The New York Times:President Bush expressed concern today over reports that 24 Iraqi civilians may have been killed by American marines in an unprovoked attack in the city of Haditha last November.So now President Bush has used the phrase "unprovoked attack"? A careful reading of the New York Times quote reveals nothing; the only use of quotation marks in the story is here:"I am troubled by the initial news stories," Mr. Bush said. "I am mindful that there is a thorough investigation going on." If laws were broken, the president said, "there will be punishment."and here:The president said he had discussed the incident with Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "He's a proud marine," Mr. Bush said.But it's possible the reporter's original question used the term "unprovoked". But that question isn't included in the NY Times story. Fortunately the White House has a full transcript of the statement, which came in a question and answer session during a visit with President Kagame of Rwanda:PRESIDENT BUSH: Welcome. The President and I will take two questions a side, starting with the Americans. Nedra.Well now, it would appear the "unprovoked" bit was an after-market construct of the New York Times. (Side note: the unreported aspect of the meeting was the discussion of US support to Rwanda, whose troops are deployed as peacekeepers in Sudan's Darfur region, but hey, who gives a damn?)
Q Mr. President, what have you been told about the killings at Haditha? And are you worried about the impact it could have on the situation in Iraq?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I am troubled by the initial news stories. I am mindful that there is a thorough investigation going on. If, in fact, the laws were broken, there will be punishment. I know this: I've talked to General Pete Pace about the subject, who is a proud Marine, and nobody is more concerned about these allegations than the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps is full of men and women who are honorable people who understand rules of war. And if, in fact, these allegations are true, the Marine Corps will work hard to make sure that that culture, that proud culture will be reinforced, and that those who violated the law, if they did, will be punished.
That should end the "unprovoked attack" story - but it won't. Because it's a very necessary element in getting these Marines condemned to death before their trial - and enraging certain elements of the population of Iraq to kill some more. So please do look carefully at future news stories that include that mysterious phrase from nowhere - along with all others from similar sources.
I don't buy that for a second, but I can't prove that Greyhawk's wrong, just as he can't prove that he's right. This one's a matter of opinion. But look: I loathe the New York Times with a passion. I think its coverage of Iraq (with the exception of John Burns) has been woefully biased, and I think its coverage of military affairs in general shows an almost complete lack of knowledge and - worse yet - an almost complete lack of interest in acquiring knowledge. However, I'm sorry, but I find it next to impossible to believe that the Times has any kind of interest in either getting Marines condemned before their trial, or in "enraging certain elements of the population of Iraq to kill some more." If I understand Greyhawk's point, I think what he's saying is that the Times is so anti-Bush and anti-military that it'll do anything to make the US look bad. I believe that there probably aren't many things the Times wouldn't do to make Bush look bad, but I firmly believe this is one of them. The Times is not the Democratic Underground, it's not Atrios, it's not certain elements of Daily Kos. Does it have a liberal bias? Absolutely. But unless you think all liberals want Americans to die just to make Bush look bad, you have to separate the rational left from the loony left. (Just as you do on the right.)
The bottom line is that of course the Marines are innocent until proven guilty. (Hell, they haven't even been charged with anything yet.) But I think it's foolish to paint every story that mentions what is alleged to have happened in Haditha with the broad brush of left-wing propaganda. And if the Washington Post is correct about what Army Major General Elden Bargewell's report is going to say - and let's face it, the odds are that WaPo had very solid sources for its story - then the Marine Corps is going to be in for what could be one of the toughest times in its history. And it won't be the New York Times' or AP's fault.