Sunday, August 27, 2017

Is the mission of a free press to elucidate or obfuscate?

This story from the Washington Post (August 23) has found its way into my Sunday Star today, four days later. Only the title has been simplified for the benefit of the Canadian readership; Was the cost of defeating Daesh in Mosul too high?

Writers Kareem Fahim and Aaso Ameen Schwan never get around to answering their rhetorical question, because, by gosh, it's just too hard to figure out what the cost was. Nobody seems to know how many civilians have died in Mosul. We are provided with a reassuring quote from a US Army spokesman about "how we apply rigorous standards to our targeting process" and of course even one civilian casualty is too many.

The best estimate they can come up with is 1,429 civilian dead, sourced from the Iraqi military. Had they tried a little harder and spent five minutes with Google, they might have happened upon this story from PRI citing an Amnesty International report that came out a month and a half before their story, that claims 5,805 civilian casualties.

Or they might have stumbled over this story by Patrick Cockburn in The Independent. Citing Kurdish intelligence, Cockburn speaks of 40,000 deaths in Mosul.

PRI, Amnesty International, Patrick Cockburn, and The Independent are all legitimate (although Western) sources who are quoted without hesitation when their reportage suits the narrative we're trying to spin. When it doesn't, they can be safely ignored.

In a similar vein, a story by Ann Hui in the Globe and Mail last week included the audacious claim that China has more journalists in prison than any country in the world. Say what? Even a pot-addled hillbilly from the backwoods of Bruce County knows that's a crock of shit!

I fired off an appropriately miffed letter to the editor providing a link to more recent information than what their reporter apparently had access to. Within a few hours I got a reply from the Globe's "Public Editor," Sylvia Stead.

Well, by golly, the reporter had made an oopsie and mistakenly used statistics from December of 2015 for a story written in August 2017. That's an honest mistake of course; major news platforms use outdated stats all the time when it suits the narrative they're spinning. We must never be allowed to forget that China is a totalitarian state with no press freedom.

To their credit, they printed a correction of sorts the next day - China no longer had the most journalists locked up. They could have gone a little further and pointed out, given the latest available stats (and if I can find them, Ann Hui could too), there are currently about five times as many journalists in the prisons of our NATO ally Turkey (population 90 million) than in the Peoples Republic of China (population 1,400 million), but I guess that would be asking too much.

It would undermine the narrative. As we all know, NATO is a force for freedom and democracy while China is an evil dictatorship.

It's worth fudging the facts to preserve such an essential truth.

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