Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Media Double-Standards

NYT headline appropriately re-edited

Was the bombing of an Afghan hospital an accidental incident of “collateral damage,” as the government claimed at first, and as the media reverberated? Or was it a deliberate attack on the Taliban, who were supposedly firing from the hospital? It can’t be both.

When US enemies like Russia carry out airstrikes, all nuance is thrown out the window; US media drop their standards and accuse the enemies of war crimes. Yet when the US and NATO carry out airstrikes, journalists suddenly have a new found skepticism. Their language immediately becomes ambiguous, their writing unclear; murky passages written in the passive voice are ubiquitous. When Russia denies killing civilians in its airstrikes on Syria, US media are suddenly skeptical and thorough; yet when the US government makes the same claims, journalists just recycle US government press releases, justifying and excusing their criminal actions.  

 AFP, the first network to report the story, in the early hours of October 3, quoted NATO saying, “US forces conducted an air strike in Kunduz city…. The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”

“Air Attacks Kill at Least 19 at Afghanistan Hospital; US Investigating,” wrote CNN (9/3/15). Who carried out those attacks? Never asked is who else could possibly have bombed the hospital. What other air forces are attacking Kunduz? Did the bombs magically fall from the sky? CNN provides no answer. “Aerial bombardments blew apart a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the battleground Afghan city of Kunduz about the time of a US airstrike” CNN said. The blowing apart of the hospital just appears to be a temporal coincidence.

The New York Times completely rewrote and changed the title of its report on the bombing seven times. Early on October 3, the Times published an article headlined “Airstrike Hits Hospital in Afghanistan, Killing at Least 9.” Minutes later, it changed the headline to “Airstrike Hits Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan.” Two hours after, it became “Afghan Hospital Hit by Airstrike, Pentagon Says.” Then “US Investigates After Bombs Hit Afghan Hospital,” before finalizing as “US Is Blamed After Bombs Hit Afghan Hospital.” Not one of the five New York Times headlines indicated that the US was responsible for the bombing. The final title, “US Is Blamed After Bombs Hit Afghan Hospital,” which was published in print, fails to acknowledge that it was the US who dropped those bombs, which explains why it is blamed.

The Washington Post (10/4/15) also changed headlines and URLs for its reporting, making it difficult to track. It did choose a title acknowledging the US role in the attack, but attributed it to MSF, writing, “Doctors Without Borders Says US Airstrike Hit Hospital in Afghanistan; at Least 19 Dead.”

USA Today’s headline was ‘19 killed after Afghan hospital hit in suspected U.S. airstrike’

AP headlined an article (10/4/15) updating the death toll, “Doctors Without Borders Leaves Afghan City After Airstrike.” The piece says, “A deadly airstrike destroyed its hospital and killed 22 people, as the US and Afghan governments vowed to get to the bottom of the carnage.” Not mentioned is that the US government is responsible for the carnage.

The Wall Street Journal (10/4/15) openly justified the US bombing of the hospital. The unsigned editorial justified the mass killing of MSF aid workers by shifting the blame onto the Taliban insurgents. It even brought up the specter of Hamas, writing, “Like Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the terrorists hide near civilians. These Taliban tactics put the medical personnel and patients at risk.” The Journal claimed that “no force in the history of warfare has done more to avoid civilian casualties than the American military.”

Ambiguous, misleading and dishonest language abounds throughout the coverage. Language that is often repeated verbatim by journalists who just uncritically quote government press releases.US media spin the story to reflect positively on the culprit; they report that the US is investigating the atrocity, while failing to acknowledge that the US itself is responsible for the atrocity.

Official international bodies have not minced words about the bombing. The UN says the US attack on the Kunduz hospital was “inexcusable and possibly even criminal”. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein remarked, “If established as deliberate in a court of law, an airstrike on a hospital may amount to a war crime.” MSF called the bombing a “war crime” and “a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law.” The humanitarian organization is demanding an investigation “by an independent international body,” not by the US, noting that “relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient.” Do not expect any American or NATO commander to be called to answer for this latest war crime in Afghanistan. And, of course, the US rejects the authority if the international courts and claims to be above their jurisdiction.

MSF says the US “repeatedly and precisely” hit the hospital. The aid group explained that the “bombing in Kunduz continued for more than 30 minutes after American and Afghan military officials in Kabul and Washington were first informed by MSF that its hospital was struck.” That is to say, the US persisted in bombing a hospital that it explicitly knew before and during the attack was a hospital.


Mike Ballard said...

Anybody who has actually been in the military knows that fuck-ups happen all the time. I don't care which military it is.

ajohnstone said...

True enough.
But the post was centred upon the role of the media in being complicit in cover-ups whether the incidents were deliberate or screw-ups by diverting attention or minimising the seriousness or passing the blame, and selectively choosing the information to be relayed that we do not know if things are accidental or not.
Afghan government said Taliban were inside the hospital using it as fire-base. MSF denied that there was any Taliban presence. So who is right? Just who is qualified to judge the true train of events? Certainly not for the media to interpret. But media has always taken sides.

ajohnstone said...

Further info leads me to the conclusion, that this was a deliberate attack by the US. The attacking aircraft was a low-flying C-130 gunship which was in touch with US special forces on the ground, talking to it.

"We had a special operations unit that was in close vicinity that was talking to the aircraft that delivered those fires,” Campbell told the Senate armed services committee on Tuesday morning.

The attack lasted one hour and that is a long time. It was not just a single missile attack or one that went astray or a few confused moments in a fierce fire-fight. The only confusion it seems was how to sweep the incident under the carpet.

So i respectfully don't agree with your initial observation that it was an unintended action...or a mistake as the US wish to present it as...Instead someone somewhere along the command chain knowingly committed a war-crime