On both sides of the Atlantic, the government may have mistreated those who dared to give whistleblowing evidence to the press.
Abu Mazen Goes To Washington
If he’s going to quell anger on the Palestinian street, Abbas needs to make headway at the White House.
Jessica’s Real World.
Pfc. Lynch’s homecoming has the look and feel of reality TV.
What happens to insiders who blow the whistle on the government’s distortions and lies, in the U.S. and Britain?
Amidst a continuing swirl of accusations of media sensationalism and a mad rush to place blame, Great Britain is still reeling from the suicide of Dr. David Kelly, one of the countries top biological weapons scientists. The BBC and the government are trading vicious blows. Kelly admitted at a parliamental inquiry that he had spoken with the BBC‘s Andrew Gilligan, and Gilligan then named Kelly as one of the primary sources for a report alleging that the British government had “sexed up” information about Iraq’s capabilities. The scientist was found dead in the woods near his home last Thursday. His death, ruled a suicide, was the result of a rapid sequence of events and has prompted a judicial inquiry. The suicide seems to be the result of the stress of finding himself at the eye of the BBC/Blair storm.
Now denying that he ever authorized the leak of Kelly’s name, Blair is scrambling to create some semblance of order. Some sources in Britain seek to blame the BBC, claiming that Gilligan’s reporting was as “sexed-up” as the dossier itself. But the latest bad guy is the British Ministry of Defense’s Geoff Hoon, as Gethin Chamberlain of the UK’s Scotsman reports:
“Although the BBC faces stiff questions about the accuracy of its reporting, the spotlight has swung back on to the question of how Dr. Kelly’s name was made public, with fingers pointed firmly at the [Ministry of Defense (MoD)].
The decision to name Dr. Kelly is believed to have been taken on 9 July, at a meeting attended by Mr. Hoon and Sir Kevin Tebbit, the MoD’s chief civil servant. They are understood to have agreed Dr Kelly’s identity should be confirmed if journalists came up with his name, and, crucially, that they would also be told if they had provided the wrong name, allowing journalists to whittle down their list of possibilities. The decision was a break with normal practice and critics claim it was designed to force Dr. Kelly into the open to undermine the BBC.”
The government, in turn, is throwing the blame right back at the BBC. Gerald Kaufman, the British chairman of the culture, media and sport committee told the Manchester News that “None of this would have happened if it had not been for the BBC story.” Kelly’s family would say only that “Events over recent weeks made David’s life intolerable and all those involved should reflect long and hard.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlanic, a separate but similar storm over a governmental whistleblower is brewing. When former diplomat and US ambassador Joseph Wilson went to the New York Times with info about false uranium claims in President Bush’s State of the Union address, he probably didn’t expect a warm response from the White House — but he probably also didn’t expect the administration to strike back at his family. In an attack on Wilson’s credibility, the White House denied the significance of Wilson’s CIA-sponsored trip to Niger. In that trip, Wilson reported that he found no evidence that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium. But despite the White House’s downplaying, Wilson’s revelations still caused a bit of an uproar.
Then the plot thickens. It seems that two senior White House officials leaked the following crucial fact to the press: Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was an undercover operative for the CIA’s weapons of mass destruction department. Conservative columnist Bob Novak outed her. Novak hoped to undermine Wilson’s credibility by implying that his trip to Niger was simply a favor done him by friends of his wife. Instead, Novak may in fact have served as the vehicle for his “senior official” sources to break the law — and in doing so, he may have endangered the lives of Plame and everyone with whom she’s had contact in the course of her research. Newsday’s Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce report:
“‘When it gets to the point of an administration official acting to do career damage, and possibly actually endanger someone, that’s mean, that’s petty, it’s irresponsible, and it ought to be sanctioned,’ said Frank Anderson, former CIA Near East Division chief.
A current intelligence official said that blowing the cover of an undercover officer could affect the officer’s future assignments and put them and everyone they dealt with overseas in the past at risk.
‘If what the two senior administration officials said is true,’ Wilson said, ‘they will have compromised an entire career of networks, relationships and operations.’ What’s more, it would mean that ‘this White House has taken an asset out of the’ weapons of mass destruction fight, ‘not to mention putting at risk any contacts she might have had where the services are hostile.'”
In the worst case scenario, the British and American governments look frighteningly eager to punish whistleblowers who draw attention to the haphazardly-constructed case for war. Two American officials may have broken the law and endangered both sources and intelligence workers. A British official has killed himself. Wilson’s take on his situation sums it up:
“‘This might be seen as a smear on me and my reputation,’ Wilson said, ‘but what it really is is an attempt to keep anybody else from coming forward’ to reveal similar intelligence lapses.”
It’s ironic that in both cases, the pressure to save face led both countries to alienate key contributors to their weapons of mass destruction programs — individuals who were working to help justify the nations’ case for war. Plame and Kelly were both civil servants, with long careers in the service of their countries. Paul Vallely of London’s Independent points out:
“Whatever the truth, there can be little doubt that the pressure of events combined to a level intolerable for Dr Kelly — and that a good man and faithful public servant died as yet more collateral damage of this questionable war and the spin used to distract public attention from the real issues of whether war was justified.”
Abu Mazen Goes to Washington
While the press’s attention is focused on Liberia and Saddam Hussein’s sons, Palestinians and Israelis have come to another crossroads in their negotiations. The American roadmap does not demand that Israel release any of the 6,000 Palestinians now behind Israeli bars. But in order for Abbas to gain some credibility on the Palestinian street, and in order to ensure that the Islamic militants don’t break the current ceasefire, releasing Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners is crucial.
For the past few weeks Palestinians have been filling the streets demanding that Israel release prisoners. Families marched through refugee camps demanding that their brothers, sons, uncles and fathers be released from Israeli prisons. Today Ariel Sharon’s government agreed to release a “couple hundred” prisoners in an attempt to boost the street image of Palestinian prime minister. Mahmoud Abbas’ image is crucial — the Palestinian public is particularly wary of their American-appointed leader. The pressure is mounting on Abbas as he heads to Washington to meet with President Bush. Palestinian analysts are predicting that if Abbas does not gain Bush’s support on key issues like prisoner release, he could face the wrath of the Palestinian Parliament — a body that could vote him out of office.
The Jordan Times writes in its Wednesday editorial that President Bush must pressure the Sharon administration to comply with its half of the roadmap.
“Not only it is of paramount importance that Bush understand what helps and what damages Abu Mazen [aka Mahmoud Abbas], he must also understand that only through Israeli concessions Abu Mazen can strengthen his own position and restore Palestinians’ hopes in a meaningful peace process.
The US must increase pressure on Sharon to deliver on what he promised in Aqaba and what is stipulated in the text of the roadmap. Because it is that text — reservations or no reservations — that both Sharon and Abu Mazen publicly endorsed in good faith.
In this context, Bush must directly interfere in ongoing negotiations on the future of thousands of Palestinian refugees and in granting Arafat freedom of movement.
If Sharon was serious in Aqaba, he should now deliver on Arafat’s freedom of movement and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners. If he is not willing to do it on his own, Bush must make him do it.”
Israel still has not stopped settlement construction or removed all the settlements built since the demise of Oslo — both acts required by the roadmap. Israeli troops have left the center of many Palestinian cities, but troops have remained stationed on many urban peripheries. And as Amira Hass writes in Ha’aretz daily Palestinian life is still as difficult as always.
The next week of meetings in Washington is incredibly important, and as the Jordan Times points out Abbas is not the only world leader who stands to gain from this weekend’s negotiations. President Bush also has a tainted image in the Middle East, and sticking up for the Palestinians seems to touch a soft spot in the heart of the Arab world.
“If Abu Mazen has a lot at stake in this crucial trip to Washington, so does Bush.
The president cannot afford to lose yet more credibility in the Arab world after he personally committed to the success of the Aqaba process. He went to war against Iraq thinking that if the Arab masses hated him for his determination to make war, they would like him once he wins it. He now says he won the Iraq war. But Arabs still don’t like him, and the liberated ‘Iraqis’ like him even less.
Abu Mazen’s visit offers Bush an opportunity to prove that he meant business when he flew to Aqaba last month and that peace making, and not only war mongering, has a place in his foreign policy book.”
President Bush is scheduled to meet with prime minister Sharon on July 29, which leaves him just a few days to ponder his next move.
Jessica’s Real World
Private Jessica Lynch is in the headlines again, but this time, it’s for her made-for-TV homecoming. Lynch was flown to Elizabeth, West Virginia in a Blackhawk helicopter, and then driven by motorcade to her hometown of Palestine. With a fistful of medals and perhaps even a book deal in the making, Lynch returned from a Washington hospital to a crowd of well-wishers sporting “Jessi” T-shirts and pins. It’s an all-American, heroic “Saving Private Jessica” saga, but still tinged with all-American reality-TV flavor.
Today’s headlines about Lynch, who is often called “America’s Sweetheart” in the press, run the gamut — covering everything from her love life to her mom’s pie. The headlines, though sometimes endearingly hokey, almost all miss one crucial point: Lynch’s story has been drastically exaggerated at best, and deliberately distorted, at worst.
The Pentagon released a report earlier this month admitting that Lynch was not shot or stabbed and that her injuries were not, in fact, sustained in a heroic battle — as was first reported. Lynch was actually injured, Reuters reports, when the Humvee she was travelling in crashed into a truck. Her maintenance unit had gotten lost, and had blundered into an ambush. Lynch didn’t blast her way out of the situation, her weapon jammed. The Iraqi hospital that Lynch was supposedly “rescued” from actually housed Lynch in the cleanest ward in the hospital and treated her rather well, the Independent reports. Many of these facts came out in a BBC report, last May, a report did much towards unraveling of the ultra-heroic version of Lynch’s travails.
But in the past few days, stories covering the Pentagon report, or exploring the possibility that Lynch’s story was stage-managed to manipulate public opinion, have been elbowed out by the headlines heralding her triumphant return. Reuters quotes media experts on the seeming complacency of Americans today — who appear eager to believe just about anything:
“[W]hen the 20-year-old supply clerk arrives by Blackhawk helicopter to the embrace of family and friends, media critics say the TV cameras will not show the return of an injured soldier so much as a reality-TV drama co-produced by U.S. government propaganda and credulous reporters.
‘It no longer matters in America whether something is true or false. The population has been conditioned to accept anything: sentimental stories, lies, atomic bomb threats,’ said John MacArthur, the publisher of Harper’s magazine.”
Perhaps, writes The Times of London’s Elaine Monaghan, an act of desperation led certain higher-ups to cast Jessica in the leading role as a symbol of American superiority:
“As the Army surgeon general pinned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and the Prisoner of War Medal on her lapel before she left hospital, the words of the anonymous U.S. officials still rang untrue. Desperate for a symbol to sugar-coat the war, they cast her as the lead in a battle of good against evil.
The wheelchair that she still needs after 102 days in a Washington military hospital is a legacy of the wrong turn that her convoy took on March 23, and a subsequent Iraqi attack.
But to Americans, she remains a symbol of moral superiority in an ongoing conflict.”
KOMO TV’s Ken Schram sums the melodrama up nicely as a tale of a small-town girl exploited by the media and the government:
“Exploited by the media, manipulated by the government, Jessica Lynch had the look of a deer caught in the headlights as she faced the world via satellite trucks and camera lenses.
Having done nothing heroic beyond surviving, Jessica Lynch is but one soldier around which a sentimental story was concocted.
And even after that story was shown to be false, the luster of the lie stayed with her because it made good TV, sold newspapers and gave the government a piece of propaganda to play with.
Jessica Lynch is but one soldier from a small town, unaware that the world is too full of big city slickers with news credentials, and government offices who have their own reasons to create heroes.”
The verdict is still out, however, on just how spin-off schlock the American public will be willing to swallow. One TV movie has already been canned. Jessica Lynch was originally approached with a host of book and TV movie deals from all the corporate media monoliths. But the BBC is now reporting that CBS has already backed down from its movie offer. The company had suggested the movie to Lynch’s family in the same letter in which it proposed a documentary. Of that marriage of factual and fictitious proposals, chairman Leslie Moonves now says, “Maybe that went over the line. That was not respecting, possibly, the sanctity of CBS News.”