Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Sword is Mightier than the Pen

Glenn Reynolds links to Volokh who describes the intimidation that correspondents are filing their stories under in Iraq.

The New York Times reports that Reuters is upset that the CanWest newspaper chain changed a Reuters story to describe the Al Asqa Martyrs' brigade, a Palestinian terrorist group, as "a terrorist group":

"Our editorial policy is that we don't use emotive words when labeling someone," said David A. Schlesinger, Reuters' global managing editor. "Any paper can change copy and do whatever they want. But if a paper wants to change our copy that way, we would be more comfortable if they remove the byline." Mr. Schlesinger said he was concerned that changes like those made at CanWest could lead to "confusion" about what Reuters is reporting and possibly endanger its reporters in volatile areas or situations. "My goal is to protect our reporters and protect our editorial integrity," he said.

In other words, Reuters must amend its copy to suit or its reporters may be harmed. This is another aspect of asymmetrical warfare that goes unrecognized. Terrorists are essentially free to censor news coverage or even alter it by intimidation whereas Coalition Forces are strictly forbidden from even thinking about it. It's similar to when gangsters would trash 19th century newspaper offices to head off crusading editors except that today's gangsters can edit the copy to describe themselves as 'militants' or 'activists' or 'people' and editors have banished the words 'crusading' and especially 'crusade' from their lexicon altogether. John Burns of the New York Times described how he hid from Saddam's thugs in hotel stairwells during OIF while those who towed the line or paid them off received preferential treatment.

There were correspondents who thought it appropriate to seek the approbation of the people who governed their lives. This was the ministry of information, and particularly the director of the ministry. By taking him out for long candlelit dinners, plying him with sweet cakes, plying him with mobile phones at $600 each for members of his family, and giving bribes of thousands of dollars. Senior members of the information ministry took hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes from these television correspondents who then behaved as if they were in Belgium. They never mentioned the function of minders. Never mentioned terror.

In comparison with this kind of tampering  the CBS 60 Minutes forgery scandal pales into insignificance. Terror, through intimidation, has to some extent been able to control what Americans and Europeans are allowed to read. Yet Reuters says, "My goal is to protect our reporters and protect our editorial integrity". Where have we heard that before?