Studies show that it really is impossible to be totally objective. A recent one asks a set of people that if they lose a trial they brought, if they should still have to pay the defendant’s legal fees. 80% said no. But if the question was flipped — should you have to pay your own legal fees if you lose a case brought against you? — only 40% said yes. Given data like this, it’s not surprising that organizations typically considered bastions of journalistic propriety are full of reporters who can’t help but bare their biases.
The latest is a piece on Iraqis’ PTSD: present-traumatic stress disorder. They can’t leave their homes without worrying they won’t come back. Constant bombings and shootings — some 20 a day on average in the country — maintain civilians in a state of chronic terror. Our Margaret Griffis documents several to dozens of Iraqis killed and wounded every day in the country’s low rumble of violence — and these are just the ones that make it into the papers. The controversy for AP reporter Lara Jakes is that Iraq is indeed worse, by far, than it was under the last years of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
In America, this has always been an inflammatory statement. Whatever you may say about the wisdom of the Iraq War, even those who opposed it say, at least Saddam is gone — so goes the conventional wisdom. Only rarely does anyone question this. Jakes may think she’s gone rogue, but even the headline — “Fear still reigns in Iraq, even after Saddam” — is wimpy. Even after Saddam? Whatever their evils, dictators are interested in calm and quiet, no upheavals to disrupt their rule. With the dictator gone, the artificial empire he created is in a state of violent unraveling. So it’s actually quite obvious — Iraq is far more violent eight whole years later, though much of this has to do with the presence of the American occupiers.
Jakes quotes several Iraqis, even those who initially supported the 2003 invasion, who now long for the life of relative ease they had when they only had one predictable enemy to avoid. After each anecdote, she inserts a sentence that amounts to “but still, Saddam was pretty bad.” And as if to illustrate her desperation to keep it a crap-on-Saddam party, she cited an “expert” from the American Enterprise Institute, the key neocon outfit home to all the most prominent jerks who pushed for the war.
AEI’s Gerard Alexander says it’s a “‘conservative estimate’ that an average 16,000 Iraqis a year were killed.”
But as I pointed out to a sloppy jingoistic pro-war “libertarian” in 2005, this is a very dishonest take. If Hussein killed even the highest estimate of one million people within a few years of his taking power, you don’t average that out over his entire rule and declare he was an insatiably murderous monster. I mean, if you want to be taken seriously. The most respected estimates hover around 300,000 Hussein victims. Over half of these were killed in the Anfal campaign against the Kurds — from which we get the “his own people” meme — and the US was still his buddy afterwards. Others were likely direct political rivals, and then those killed when Bush the elder encouraged a Shi’ite uprising, promising US backing, and then abandoned it to be crushed by Hussein. The killing and terror had ebbed by the late 1990s. The American invasion dramatically ramped up killing in Iraq, and this turmoil has not let up. That is a plain fact not open to interpretation.
As if to illustrate further the desperation to make an anti-invasion set of facts into a pro-invasion narrative, Jakes matter-of-factly credits the 2007 “surge” in Iraq for “quell[ing] much of the sectarian violence.” This is false. Sectarian murder had already succeeded in its aim of separating Iraqis by religious tradition; no further violence was “necessary.” But this reporter doesn’t ask questions to which she doesn’t want the answer.
It’s not that a reporter should be a robotic recorder — we have suffered for lack of inquisitive journalism, for a surfeit of stenographers who simply present “both sides” without actually parsing a given controversy. But when you are desperately shoehorning in statements to drag the facts back to your point of view, it’s time to give it up.
In response to the inevitable accusation of Saddamy, my response is what I said back in January in the wake of the Tunisian overthrow and in the midst of the revolutionary swells at Tahrir.