Fat Steve's Blatherings

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Yet Another Comment I Made at Simon's Blog

      In answer to Question #2.

Jay Rosen:

      While I'm not at all certain that 'Just the facts' is THE answer, or even AN answer, I think you exaggerate the difficulties of getting them.

      You wrote: "I noticed among the right side bloggers commenting on the Newsweek Koran story that very few of them mentioned Gen. Richard Myers statement that the Newsweek article had little to do with the riots and were not a cause."

      Let's look at Myers's statement.  The transcript is available here (go to the end, then scroll up slightly).

      GEN. MYERS: It's the -- it's a judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eikenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran -- and I'll get to that in just a minute -- but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his Cabinet is conducting in Afghanistan. So that's -- that was his judgment today in an after- action of that violence. He didn't -- he thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.

      That Gen. Myers said this seems established beyond a reasonable doubt.  That Gen. Eikenberry made an after-action report is unsupported assertion from Myers, but I'm inclined to believe it.  That Myers summarized the alleged report correctly is hard to believe, since he contradicts himself: "not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran" transforms to "it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine" in the course of a few sentences.  Eikenberry's statements in the report, whatever they are, would appear to be pure judgment on Eikenberry's part, even making the assumption that his report is an honest attempt at finding the truth.  The nub of it all, that the riots weren't tied to the Newsweek article, is utterly unsubstantiated.

      So, putting it in purely factual terms: 'At a press conference on base closings, Gen. Myers was asked about violent "demonstrations" in Afghanistan supposedly sparked by a Newsweek story.  Gen. Myers claimed that he had received a report from Gen. Eikenberry on this, which he characterized both as saying the riots weren't "necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran," and "not at all tied to the article in the magazine."  There were no apparent direct quotes from Gen. Eikenberry, and no copies of the report were made available.  No evidence was offered to confirm whatever it was Gen. Eikenberry said.  Neither was any question asked or comment made about riots in countries outside Afghanistan, or about why, if the riots were not "tied to the article" at all, they happened so soon after the publication of the story in Newsweek.'

      Do you find anything in my summary that is non-factual?  The last sentence, saying what didn't happen, is perhaps pushing the boundaries, but I think I stayed within them.

      Meanwhile, another release from the U.S. government says:
      According to initial reports, the situation in Jalalabad began on May 10 with peaceful student protests reacting to a report in Newsweek magazine that U.S. military interrogators questioning Muslim detainees at the Guantanamo detention center "had placed Qurans on toilets, and in at least one case flushed a holy book."  By the following day the protests in the city had turned violent with reports of several individuals killed, dozens wounded, and widespread looting of government, diplomatic and nongovernmental assets.

      That story, IF accurate, would seem to undercut at least the strong form of Myers's assertion about Eikenberry's judgment.  In the absence of corroboration, I see no reason to pay much attention to Myers's statement -- but that's a matter of opinion.  If you disagree, I'd be interested in hearing why.

      Now, concerning Kerry vs. the Swift Boat Vets, which you also raised.  As I wrote the day before yesterday, :
      Fair, balanced, accurate, honest journalism is tough.  In my arrogant opinion, making sure you know what story you're trying to write will aid the effort immensely.

      If the story you were trying to write was 'What do Kerry and his supporters from the Swift Boat crews say about his Viet Nam service, and what do the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth say?', then I don't see much of a problem.  Classic 'he said/she said.'  If the story you're trying to write is, 'What is a 100% accurate account of what Kerry did in Viet Nam?', then I think you're in over your head.  But there's a middle story, 'What can we definitely determine about what happened, and what remains uncertain?', and there things seem manageable.

      To avoid taking this post from 'too damn long' to 'ridiculously too long,' I'll summarize by saying that in the first action for which Kerry received a Purple Heart, the Whaler voyage, most things remain utterly opaque.  For the incident in the river where he got his third Purple Heart, the disputes mostly seem to be the kind of confusion thing you expect from people in combat.  However, he shouldn't have received the third Purple Heart, because aside from a bruise on his arm when his boat lurched, his wounds were accidentally self inflicted.  Concerning his secret missions to Cambodia, they didn't happen, and he was either lying or crazy.  The bottom line was that Kerry spun his Viet Nam service hard, it wasn't as heroic as he made it sound, but it wasn't obviously disgraceful

      Again, I don't see it as particularly hard to do.  Whether it's the right approach for PJM is another question.



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