May 29, 2003

SPINSANITY HAS A ROUNDUP on Iraq news coverage errors and myths. It addresses all sorts of issues, from WMD to looting to Jessica Lynch, and you should read the whole thing. I don’t agree with them on everything, but it’s still useful and thorough. Here’s the key bit on the BBC story:

BBC correspondent John Kampfner picked up on these stories in a televised May 18 report that has come under close scrutiny. While Kampfner adequately recapitulates the reporting of his predecessors in some respects, he made several mistakes. First, and most blatantly, Kampfner credulously quotes Iraqi doctors asserting that US soldiers used blanks when storming the hospital. But as blogger Wilbur Smith argues, it is improbable that combat troops would not have live ammunition ready for use in their weapons (the Pentagon strongly denies the allegation).

In addition, the online article based on Kampfner’s story — which has probably received more attention than the actual televised report — states that US troops “were said to have come under fire from inside and outside the building.” But Kampfner’s televised report actually said that “They took fire on their way in and out of the building,” not that fire came from inside the building or that troops fired shots inside. Moreover, Brooks specifically denied this claim during his April 2 briefing, saying “There was not a fire fight inside of the building, I will tell you, but there were fire fights outside of the building, getting in and getting out.” While a few media reports may have gotten this wrong, almost all got it right.

I think that SpinSanity is too charitable to the BBC here. I think that the message of the story was that the raid was a fake. Here’s how SpinSanity characterizes it:

There has also been a dispute over the implications of Kampfner’s piece. In the online article, he calls Lynch’s rescue “one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived.” (The TV script also had a suggestive lead-in: “This was a script made for Hollywood. Made by the Pentagon.”) Many have disregarded Kampfner’s direct meaning – that the Pentagon manipulated the media in presenting Lynch’s capture and rescue as more dramatic than they actually were – and leaped to the supposed implication that the raid was staged, which Kampfner did not allege but could be inferred based on the quotation claiming that US troops used blanks and a lack of context regarding possible threats to US troops to the hospital. (When questioned by CNN’s Leon Harris about this, Kampfner specifically said the rescue was not staged and that “The Americans had a legitimate right in getting Lynch out of the hospital.”)

Yeah, but the Harris questioning didn’t come until after Kampfner took a lot of heat for the story, and particularly the absurd “shooting blanks” claim. That’s backpedaling, not clarification.

SpinSanity also says:

Though far more responsible than Scheer or McKinney, critics of the BBC report from the right have used Kampfner’s miscues to try to dismiss or play down the entirety of the Lynch story, though the main contentions of the original revisionist reporting on Lynch have stood up to scrutiny thus far. Blogger Glenn Reynolds, for example, wrote that “there’s no story, really — just a claim that things weren’t as dangerous as they might have been, and that the Pentagon got as much PR out of the event as it could, neither of which strikes me as earthshaking.” Andrew Sullivan simply dismissed the BBC report as a “smear.” But these commentators have not directed the same outrage the BBC has faced at the press outlets that credulously repeated the original, mistaken reports about Lynch’s capture and rescue. Certainly, it’s news that several key aspects of what was arguably most famous single incident of the war were apparently misleading and/or false.

Well, the “was she shot or stabbed” question seems to me to be something that could be put down to the fog of war. The reports came from unnamed “officials” (who were probably enlisted men buttonholed on the way to the latrine) and it was obvious from the reportage that nobody was precisely sure what had happened. And it’s of nothing like the significance of the claim that the rescue was a fraud. The BBC story, on the other hand, was pretty much a lie, or criminal stupidity. If Kampfner didn’t know that the “shooting blanks” bit was bogus, then he has no business reporting on these kinds of things at all.

And call me crazy, but when you report that there were blanks and fake guns being used as part of a Hollywood extravaganza, I think you’re calling the whole thing a fraud. That’s how I read the BBC story, I think that’s how most people read the BBC story, it’s how Bob Scheer (rather eagerly and credulously) read the BBC story and I think that’s how we were meant to read the BBC story.

UPDATE: Scheer’s response to criticism of his Lynch column is substandard bloviation and bluster. He completely ignores the “shooting blanks” issue, and, well, doesn’t really say much except “military bad, Murdoch bad, talk radio bad, me good, BBC good.” Only he’s not as articulate as this makes him sound.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Roger Simon says that Scheer should be fired.