Green Zone BlackoutMarch 30th, 2008

There are two kinds of censorship. There’s black-out censorship, of the sort you see in redacted documents, with words and sentences blacked out so you can’t read them. You might come across this form of censorship in government documents that make reference to secret information and also in letters from prison inmates. And then there’s blackout censorship, in which you’re kept in the dark without explanation.

Take the current news coverage of Iraq. There isn’t any. Last we heard two days ago a couple of people in the so-called Green Zone got killed, but they didn’t have names, and they still don’t.  (That report has since been revised without explanation to ”at least two,”  as of 4/1).  We saw smoke rising from the U.S. compound, but no reporter told us what was burning or even why they weren’t telling us what was burning. We know that there was an announcement to embassy personnel to stay under cover, but that was days ago.

There were some bombing raids in the south, we learned, and there’s about five minutes of film from Basra, which all the news media seem to be sharing. The websites for CBS, NBC, ABC, and CNN combined have less than a half-hour of video from Iraq, much of it two and three days old. You can’t tell how old a piece of film is, because the networks don’t date their video dispatches, allowing them to show clips over and over, as if they were news. The CNN site has something called “Hot Topics.” Iraq isn’t one of them. None of the networks is treating the renewed conflict as a top story, even though hundreds of people have been killed and the American compound has been under attack.

The Sunday interview shows had next to nothing on Iraq. Tim Russert asked the Director of Central Intelligence whether he knew in advance that the Iraq government was about to launch an offensive, but he didn’t insist on an answer and he didn’t get one. The main topic of conversation everywhere in today’s news was who’s ahead between Obama and Clinton.

All signs point to a total news blackout from Iraq, and it’s the most pernicious form of censorship. Not only are we not permitted to know what the reporters in Iraq are seeing, we’re also not allowed to hear why they’re not talking. I’m sure the silent journalists could recite a list of “security” reasons for their reticence, but they know what they’ve become–whores for a corrupt military regime–and they’re not expressing any reservations about that.

I wonder if al Sadr watches American TV. If so, he must be frustrated at the news coverage. He’d probably like to know how many people have to die to get the attention of the American media. He’s not alone there.

Soldiers and former soldiers watch TV and read newspapers. Put yourself in the place of a 24-year-old vet whose unit is still deployed. He’d like to know what’s happening to his friends, and he may be in touch by email with some of them, but there’s no big picture for him, no substantive reporting, and this has to be frustrating. I got my discharge almost 40 years ago, and I’m worried for my young comrades.

You hear less talk these days among journalists about freedom of the press and its role in maintaining the republic, and no wonder. Unable to report what they see, they must be experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance. Hope they gag on it.