Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Global Patriot Reporting: Anti-American Bias? Could Be

If you believed the news, an American warship opened fire on innocent Egyptians recently. A merchant whose only thought was to sell cigarettes was killed.

I'm pretty sure that people around the world are angry about this heartless act by America. One of them took the time to leave a comment of my post , "U.S. Warship Kills Innocent Egyptian!! No Wonder Everybody Hates America!!!" (March 24, 2008).

Given how world events are covered, I'm not surprised that so many people hate America, and America's military. Early coverage of the Global Patriot incident is a good example of false reporting and omitted facts: possibly done to maintain anti-American sentiments.

Why Write about the Global Patriot Incident?

"No man is an island...."1 The death of Mohammed Fouad affects me because "I am involved in mankind". What happens in the Middle East, or Siberia, or anywhere else in the world, affects me: directly or (more often) indirectly.

The reason for yesterday' "U.S. Warship Kills..." post is that the Global Patriot incident:
  • Has potential for becoming a major international fracas
  • Offered an opportunity to display news media bias
It might be more fair to call what I saw not "news media bias," but news media assumptions. Last night, as this story was breaking, these are the four headlines I found: This is how much of the English-speaking world first saw the incident. All four headlines identified the ship:
  • "U.S. warship"
  • "US-flagged ship"
  • "US military ship"
  • "US warship"
More accurately, Three out of four articles mis-identify Global Patriot as an American military ship: a warship. The fourth accurately identifies it as a "US-flagged ship".
A Reporter's Lot is Not a Happy One
News outlets need to get stories out promptly, and sometimes this leaves little room for research. That's probably why the International Herald Tribune identified the ship as sailing under the American flag: a rather generic description.

However, International Herald Tribune was able to track a "Global Patriot" to an American shipping firm, and place that ship in the Middle East.

The venerable and esteemed Reuters decided that Global Patriot was a "U.S. warship," and published that.
False Reporting: Conspiracy? Mental Blinders? Sloppy Journalism?
Why publish false information? Possibly:
  • Reuters and company wanted people around the world to believe that American sailors gunned down a poor Egyptian merchant
  • 'American military kills innocent civilian' was what editors of the three inaccurate stories imagined - and they decided that their assumptions must be true
  • That's what their sources said, and it never occurred to them that verifying the claim might be a good idea
The International Herald Tribune stands out as the only news resource that gave the impression of having made a few phone calls and a Web search.
Conspiracy, No: Mental Blinders, Yes
I don't think that there's a vast global conspiracy of editors, seeking to defame America.

I do think that many editors and reporters have a world view which includes the assumption that America is the source of the world's problems, and that the American military goes around the world, intentionally gunning down innocent civilians. And, believing that, don't bother to check anti-American claims, any more than they would check to see if the sky is, indeed, blue.

Back to top

Do I Defend Global Patriot's Crew?

It's too early to tell what actually happened. From today's (American) news:

"Egypt's state-run news agency and other media reports say one person was killed and at least two others wounded on Monday when the U.S. security team aboard the vessel fired on a small boat that approached it.

"But the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and a military spokeswoman said they had no reports of casualties, noting that they had accounted for all warning shots fired at the small boat." CNN (March 25, 2008)

And, about the three boats that were approaching the Global Patriot:

" 'The boats were hailed and warned by a native Arabic speaker using a bullhorn to warn them to turn away,' the embassy statement said.

"After a warning flare was fired, one of the small boats continued to approach the ship, prompting the U.S. forces on board to fire two sets of warning shots which landed in the water, about 20 yards to 30 yards in front of the boat.

" 'All shots were accounted for as they entered the water,' the statement said.

"The senior U.S. military official said an armed military security team was on board for the canal transit, but it was not clear if the team was made up of U.S. Marines or sailors." CNN (March 25, 2008)

Do I defend the crew that fired those shots? Let's put it this way: I don't assume that they're guilty.

This isn't because they're Americans. There are reasons for being cautious about convicting them.

The International Herald Tribune pointed out that it was after sunset when the incident occurred. Take a look at the situation from the point of Global Patriot's senior officer on deck.
  • You're on a ship in a part of the world where excitable people have been known to come up to foreigners and explode
  • It's after sunset
  • Three boats are coming right for your ship
  • Your crew tells them to stop - in their language - and fire flares
  • Two boats turn aside
  • One keeps coming
  • The decisions you make in the next few seconds are a matter of life or death
Remember the U.S.S. Cole? I doubt that sailors in Middle Eastern waters have forgotten how a boat approached the Cole and blew up: leaving the Cole missing some of her hull, together with over a dozen of her crew.

In circumstances like that, with the prospect of becoming part of a shredded hull and crew, opening fire on an unknown craft which has demonstrated an unwillingness to communicate might not be the dumbest move possible.

As far as claims that the crew were drunk, or otherwise incompetent, I found that unlikely. When I heard that the shots were fired by an American military security team, that assessment went up to "wildly unlikely."

I've known Marines and other people in the American armed forces. For the most part, they've been far from harmless: but utterly reliable.

This incident has to be investigated, and I'm sure that it will be.

I'm also pretty sure that, unless the entire Global Patriot crew is tortured, beheaded, burned, and their families hunted down and killed, there will be cries that "justice" wasn't served.

Back to top

Who Was Killed? Why Wasn't He Named?

The International Herald Tribune, the only news service to get the identity of Global Patriot right yesterday, was also the only one to name the victim. Today, The head of the Suez seaman's union, Abbas al-Amrikani, says that Mohammed Fouad, a 27-year-old father of three, was killed. "The bullet entered his heart and went out the other side," he apparently said, adding detail to his account. As I said yesterday, the thoughts and prayers of my family are with them.

The three news outlets claiming that Global Patriot was a warship didn't give Mohammed Fouad's name. They may not have known his name. Or, they may have believed that by identifying him simply as an Egyptian, a man trying to sell cigarettes to foreigners, he'd be perceived not simply as a man, but as a metaphor for all Egyptians.

That way, the shooting on a boat on what might have been a suicide attack becomes more than an individual's death. It's an attack on all Egypt.

That doesn't cover everything brought up in yesterday's comments, but I have to stop somewhere.

Back to top
1"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."
excerpt from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions: XVII. MEDITATION, John Donne (Project Gutenberg ebook)

No comments:

Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle Store


Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.