Friday, November 18, 2005

Chemical-Like Weapons

My morning commute is often timed so that I hear the beginning of a CBC Radio news show called 'The Current'. (Quiz question - please explain the strange order on that web page of the five times during the week at which the show runs.)

It usually strikes me as a silly and slanted piece of work - normally it is just at the usual CBC level of badness that it is not worth mentioning. A symptom of the problem with the show is that every episode opens with a very deep-voiced man (who, I hope, also has a day job) reciting some extremely lame and silly joke supposedly relevant to issues of the day.

I NEVER feel sorry to leave my car when I reach the office parking lot.

But today's was worth mentioning just for the low quality of the script and reporting balance (I suspect reflecting lazy research, from those all too happy push the chosen narrative).

The overall story - the US is under irresistible pressure to withdraw from Iraq, and there are compelling accusations of the use of 'chemical-like' weapons in Fallujah.

Here's some of the evidence.

From the transcript of today's show:
A number of Republicans who once whole-heartedly supported the war in Iraq, are having second thoughts. Yesterday, Republican Representatives Dennis Kucinich, Walter Jones and Ron Paul joined Democrat Representative Neil Abercrombie in signing a petition calling for a timeline for withdrawal.
Holy Cow! This was shock to me - I recall a Dennis Kucinich who was a lame competitor in the last Democratic Primary (he helped make Kerry look good). So I wondered - the poor man, he must have been so disappointed he changed parties. I was surprised I had not heard of this.

Just to make sure, I went to the web page for Congress and found the web page for a Dennis Kucinich. OK, I felt a bit better - his staff did not even realize he had crossed the floor! I was impressed at the CBC research team that had discovered this fact.

The next major fact was this one:
Also yesterday Democrat Congressman and Vietnam vet, John Murtha another long time supporter, added his passionate voice to the anti-war chorus.
Well that is shocking - that 'yesterday' was a clear sign of a recent change. Well one need only read Instapundit to discover the following from Murtha back 18 months ago:
Signaling a new, more aggressive line against the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq, Rep. John Murtha (Pa.), the House Democrats’ most visible defense hawk, will join Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) today to make public his previously private statements that the conflict is “unwinnable.”
A simple Google search turns up this tidbit at about the same time:
I suppose the CBC might consider some of that sort a "long-time supporter" of the war, at least by comparison to the rest of the folk in the newsroom. The Instapundit post above provides some ideas about why this fellow is not quite steadfast in his support, and has not been for quite a while.

On to the next topic.

The transcript reads as follows:
Officials were forced to acknowledge that troops used a chemical weapon called white-phosphorous in the 2004 offensive against insurgents in the Iraqi city of Falluja. It's a chemical that, on contact, burns skin right off a person's bones.
The currency of this topic derives from its appearing in an RAI 'documentary' that ran last week and has been followed by extensive reports in the Independent and Guardian in the UK.

For a lot of background on the UK reporting on the subject, it is worth reading Scott Burgess as he takes multiple opportunities to fact-check and analyze the reports over several posts in The Daily Ablution, here, here, here (with regard to the quality of the reporter's response in this post, see also this post of my sister), here , here and here.

The "Officials were forced" above provides a lovely sense of the arrogance of some media - as Burgess documents, it has long been a matter of public record that it has been used. It is decidedly questionable it is a chemical weapon (it is a chemical, as is Vitamin C).

Now I left the car during the interview with Ron Kovic (after partial interviews with two soldiers, who are claimed to have 'seen' something in Fallujah, though I never heard either of them say he had seen much at all, though they reported they had heard chatter). And when the full CBC documentary being puffed here is broadcast, it will be interesting to see if we find the folks discussed by Burgess appearing as experts.

I was going to send you off to read the whole transcript and play the audiocast they offer, but something jumped out of the transcript at me. As I sat in the car this morning, I could have sworn that I heard Francine Pelletier say 'chemical-like weapon' where it says 'chemical weapon' above. And even stranger, the audiocast contains 'chemical weapon'. OK maybe I was not giving it my full attention, and Ms Pelletier's quite attractive accent might have misled me. And if they have edited the show to replace "chemical-like" with "chemical", I suppose I should admire the backbone, as "chemical-like" clearly has purely rhetorical effect, while the latter is a serious accusation, which even the BBC coverage (see Daily Ablution post here - scroll to the relevant section search for BBC) seems to agree is inappropriate.

This is NOT reporting as I would to have people report to me. Almost none of the stupidities above would survive minor fact-checking - simple Google searches would have hit them all. But reporters eager to slant a story their own way are unlikely to do those searches, without a professionalism that seems pretty rare in the media I am forced to subsidize.

So a question for such readers as I have - did anyone else hear this show and hear the 'chemical-like' phrase?

UPDATE: Even if the rhetorical sleaze I thought I heard was not there originally, I do note some fishiness in the "Officials were forced" sentence that had not struck me. Read the sentence closely. The transcript provides no reference to what the Pentagon admitted, but I will bet it is the long publicly known fact that white phosphorus was used, but I would be very surprised if those officials agreed that it is a checmical weapon.

In fact checking yesterday's Yahoo News, we find:
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon on Wednesday acknowledged using incendiary white-phosphorus munitions in a 2004 counterinsurgency offensive in the Iraqi city of Falluja, but defended their use as legal. Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. military had not used the highly flammable weapons against civilians, contrary to an Italian state television report this month which said the weapons were used against men, women and children in Falluja who were burned to the bone. "We categorically deny that claim," Venable said.
I am ashamed to pay for the sleazy efforts that go into the writing of these CBC reports. The only mitigation to my shame is that there is no way not to pay without going to jail.

UPDATE: There is an excellent discussion of the white phosphorus stories on A Soldier's Perspective here. The comments thread has value as well, as it does expose how sloppy wording (and thinking) can oversimplify an issue of some complexity. I am curious whether the planned CBC broadcast on this will reflect such refinement but I doubt I will ever find out.


At 8:33 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Sorry I didn't hear that one but at the moment the "avian flu" thing is pissing me off. Such iresponsible reporting.

I've got a couple of posts on it and some other poor reporting stories.

Post 1

Post 2



Post a Comment

<< Home