US Journalists: Stand Up and Be Counted

U.S. media coverage of the Iraq War reports with an unspoken silence: parts within news stories are missing, so we do not hear the comprehensive Iraqi reality. We do not hear the point of view of the people living under Anglo occupation. The Iraqis’ perceptions, which have diverse social, political, cultural, geographic, economic, historical, and religious contexts, are not articulated in American media. Iraqi life is minimized to the label, “sectarian violence.” It is rare we hear from the women, men and children who live with war every day.

Based upon the work of Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his colleague Linda Bilmes, the per day cost of the Iraq War for the first four years has totaled $720 M.

It is time U.S. journalists stand up and be counted for their news coverage of the Iraq War. Media coverage not only includes straight news stories, but investigative reports, interviews, opinion pieces, and feature stories about Iraqis. The tenets of journalism state we must seek the truth and report it. Coverage must be fair and balanced: the numbers of news stories, the quality of content, the depth of analysis, and the point of view within news angles have vital roles in media coverage’s fairness and balance.

U.S. journalists should take the time to acquire all the facts across-the-board, meaning not just from the Anglo perspective. When journalists have the facts from both the Anglo and Iraqi perspective, they should not fear to speak or write the truth. What have they got to lose, their jobs? What is the point of retaining titles such as editor, news anchor or news correspondent when the reporting reveals these titles are cosmetic? At the end of the day what is the meaning of these professions when some of journalism’s tools have been replaced with rhetorical sophistry? U.S. media coverage impacts American public opinion and perception of the Iraq War and with this power is responsibility.

During the Great Depression it was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who said: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself –” nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Some journalists may say, “I’m not working in Iraq, so I do the best I can with the sources of information I have to work with.”

My response to you: Do you limit yourself to Anglo sources only? Can you communicate with Iraqi people via Internet? Several months ago I came across a Spanish soldier working in Iraq and my primary goal was to end our conversation in peace because I did not want him expressing his anger toward Iraqis and/or his peers. To be frank, he was sexually frustrated and I did not want to deal with him.

Whenever I think of all the men in Iraq, regardless of who they are, where they are from and what is their designated role, I fear most for Iraqi women and girls. Their attackers not only emotionally and mentally scar them, but damage them physically. Do men understand what can happen to a woman’s genitals because of rape? How do these women survive when their families will most likely reject them if not kill them to “erase shame” from the family? This example is just one complexity of the Middle East that U.S. journalists must understand to report the complete ramifications for victims of the Iraq War. In the West, a woman who has been raped is a victim who transforms into a survivor and she has some support to move on with her life. However, an Iraqi woman who is raped is a victim who must save her life, which means she may leave everyone and everything she knows behind.

American political leader Anna Eleanor Roosevelt said: “A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.”

It is women like the women of Iraq and their children who endure the force of war; who live under a blistering sun; who live without adequate water and electricity, especially when temperatures exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the hot and humid summer months.

In July 2007 the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq and Oxfam released a report that explains: “The number of Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies has risen from 50 per cent to 70 per cent since 2003, while 80 per cent lack effective sanitation.”

This past summer I spent some time in the Middle East region and when I sat still in the shade I could feel perspiration on my fingertips. By accident I drank the water, which gave me an acute case of gastroenteritis. All of the medication prescribed to me by a doctor would cost an average family at least one week’s worth of food. When the power cut the water pump for running water and the much-needed toilet no longer worked. Lying in bed the box fan blowing hot air on me stopped. It was explained to me that my illness was normal for the people living there, especially children.

By sharing this experience it shows that it is easy for U.S. policymakers to have concepts and ideas, and then test what they think on people who live so far away. When the chaos arrives, the policymakers return home safely. They have dinner with their loved ones and a shower before bed. If the weather is hot and humid, then the air conditioner hums away. In front of a computer, changing the geopolitical structure of a country halfway around the world looks impressive on a CV or resume. How many bullet points does it garnish? Their cover letters may even read, “We changed the world.”

U.S. media coverage must make it clear that the Iraq War, initiated and implemented by U.S. foreign policy, forced Iraqis and U.S. troops into a desert pressure cooker. The U.S.-led war is the root cause of death, suffering and devastation within Iraq.

Any Iraqi I have met via Internet says these four words to me: “You destroyed our country.”

U.S. media may be owned by corporations, but their employees, the editors and writers put content on the page every day. It is the obligation of both editors and writers to stand up for the professions they believe they support. Journalism reports life, which means giving voice to the voiceless. Iraqi women, men and children depend on journalists to not only tell their war stories with accuracy, but the factors and the forces that are the root causes of the war. Every day Iraqis live in violence with no escape. The occupation perpetrates this violence. If writers refuse to expose the perpetual rape of Iraq, the civilization that gave birth to writing tablets, then what is the point?

Journalists, editors and the American public, it is up to each person – whether she is for or against the war – to stand up and be counted. Strength is in numbers.

The Iraqis, the troops, the Middle East’s stability and the U.S. kitty that was exhausted more than $1 trillion in the first, four years of the war ($500,000 in the past 60 seconds) are waiting for us.