March 5, 2007

The Execution Of Journalistic Integrity


Leading the electronic version of today’s front page, the NYT has a dramatic headline about U.S. and British forces raiding an office of Iraq’s Intelligence Agency.  Accompanying it is the troubling image above.

Combining the picture with the headline and first paragraph of the NYT article (image after the jump), one would think coalition forces had uncovered chilling evidence of summary executions by government-sponsored Shiite militia.  Inspecting the article, however, we have the report of 30 prisoners, “some showing signs of torture,” inside the headquarters of Iraq’s Intelligence Agency in Basra.

Although two previous raids are cited — including one in December, said to have rescued 127 prisoners; and a more notable one last year, in which a secret Baghdad prison, run by the Interior Ministry, turned up 1,400 prisoners who had been regularly abused — details here are extremely sketchy.  WAPO, which offered the most details, said the joint British Iraqi raid happened quickly, based on information accidentally come upon in the morning, and that all the prisoners got away.

It’s how this photo is used (or abused), however, that The BAG is concerned about.

In The LAT article, it tops a series of five pictures otherwise related to the current crackdown in Baghdad.  Besides the fact the image has virtually nothing to do with the story, the caption — describing the image — also completely contradicts the description in the NYT!

Quoting the LAT caption, what we we’re looking at is:

An image taken from video purportedly shows the executions of 18 police officers. The authenticity of the video could not be confirmed.

According to the NYT , however, we get this:

In an image from a video posted on a radical Islamic Web site, a group linked to Al Qaeda claims it recorded the killings of Interior Ministry employees. A photograph of the prisoners, still alive, was posted Friday.

Along with the confusion — and the implication, by the NYT, that the raid on the Intelligence Ministry and the murder of Interior Ministry employees are somehow connected — it’s nice to know that an unidentified “group linked to Al Qaeda” (not that they would have any interest in how the Iraqi government might look to the Western press) is now a source for The NY Times.

Oh yes.  And just at the content level — since we really don’t know what we’re looking at — isn’t it great to have one more widely-disseminated image in the mainstream press (given the lettering, and the architectural form, and the crescent in the TV logo) associating demented violence with the Islamic world?

(image: Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. published March 5, 2007.

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Michael Shaw
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