Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 9, 2007

The Blackwater Network

Blackwater-Explosion

It’s only fitting the abc logo escapes the fire.

My question is: with the media bumping around in bed with the U.S. military, how would the September 12th Blackwater shooting have been perceived if the Iraqi’s hadn’t blown a big whistle on the mow down?  Although it is no surprise media storytelling largely parrots the (Grand Old) party line, ABC’s early framing of the event serves a vivid reminder of the death of even semi-independent media thinking.

What is especially troubling is how the visuals ABC presented in the aftermath of the incident creates a picture that is both wildly inaccurate and completely deferential to Blackwater.  The photos in the ABC slide show (gathered from whom, we’re not told) makes it look and seem like the shoot out was directly related to the dramatic car bombing above.

According to a U.S. Embassy report, however, the bombing incident and the shooting attack in Nisoor Square were virtually unrelated.  What actually happened is that a roadside bomb detonated during a Blackwater-supervised visit by a U.S. official to a financial compound.  Following the explosion, the two original Blackwater teams transported that official back to the Green Zone.  At that point, a completely different Blackwater unit was dispatched “to “deal with the aftermath of the blast” along with one of the Blackwater teams that had dropped the official off.

Given the fact this explosion occurred at 11:50 (as reported by the NYT and ABC), then Blackwater teams waited for the official, then transported him to the Green Zone, then arrived at the square at 12:08 (via NYT) means it is highly unlikely this explosion — as dramatic as it appears, and as much as the ABC slide show hypes the connection — has any cause-and-effect relationship to the eventual shoot out.

Instead, we can 1.) clearly see that a separate and more beef-up convoy of Blackwater armored vehicles (apparently, on an independent commando mission) returns to the scene, and 2.) the layout of the street where the shoot out occurred, with its tree-lined median strip, has a different configuration than where the initial blast occurred.

Why would ABC go on to highlight holes blown in the asphalt, reinforcing the idea that the initial explosion (quoting their caption) “precipitated the Blackwater shooting incident,” when the shoot out happened elsewhere?  And, considering ABC knew there was an 18 minute gap between the incidents, why did they still choose to stitch the version together this way — unless, of course, rather than thinking and asking obvious questions, they simply kneejerk-assimilated  the Blackwater version?  Further, not only did ABC package this scenario in the slide show, they also produced a video report, complete with digital video simulations, even splicing in close-up footage of Blackwater enforcer’s itchy trigger fingers.

Funny thing is, checking out the account at ABC’s Blotter blog, notice how commenter after commenter smelled the rat right away, and then totally picked apart the pictures.  (The comment I liked best, by the way, was the one pointing out that the aerial shot was likely taken a different day, with the vehicles simply drawn in!)

For the flip-side to this mockery, my companion entry at HuffPost exposes the complementary problem at the executive level.

(screen shot: September 20, 2007. abcnews.go.com)

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