Sunday, June 05, 2005

Linda Foley: An Activist in Journalist's Clothing

In the spirit of Linda Foley's philosophical view that journalism should promote truth over balance .... wait, maybe it's to tell the truth and not champion either a political point of view or promote a particular policy initiative." Ah heck, I've been listening to so many, ah, so many, you know, Media Reform recordings and reading so many of Linda Foley's editorials that I suspect I might be a hair too confused by the agitprop. I do know that, with her speeches and writings, Linda Foley has motivated me to agitate.

In looking for remarks on the targeting of journalists by Ms. Foley I'd found "Looking Ahead ..." commentary from October 3, 2003 and her remarks on the targeting of journalists at the University of Illinois and in St. Louis in 2005, I had seen reference to her attending a conference in Wisconsin in 2003. I looked for records on this conference and was successful. This is going to be long and involved to provide a full context, so, please bear with me because there is a point. (One of these days, I'm going to figure out those "Read more" thingamajigs in the post.)

On November 7-9, 2003 there was a National Conference on Media Reform held in Madison, Wisconsin. Linda Foley was on the agenda to speak three times and two of which had questions and answers in sessions -- a Nov. 7th session called "Media Workers, Media Corporations, and Media Reform" with John Sweeney and moderated by David Newby; a Nov. 8th session called "Corporate Media's Impoverished Journalism" with Sam Husseini, Salim Muwakkil and moderated by Jeff Cohen and then she also spoke at the closing session on Sunday, with several speakers and a couple of hosts. I listened only to her speech from the closing session but most of each of the earlier sessions. There was nothing in the closing session on targeting of journalists. In both the earlier sessions she broached the subject of the targeting of journalists. Here is how it happened each time.

In the Nov. 7th session (audio file available here, Nov 7th, 4:50-6:00, second file), the normal informing and agitating had gone along swimmingly until the question and answer session. The questions were collected and collated for this session and the moderator read them grouped in themes. In one set of three, there was this one from a member of the National Writer's Union, "How can unionized media, workers in the US, do a better job of working together, and working with our labor allies around the world." Linda noted that John Sweeney would handle the international aspect and she would handle the rest regarding these three questions. She went first and then Mr. Sweeney. But Linda Foley couldn't resist throwing something out on the international aspect of the question when Mr. Sweeney finished. The following are those remarks [1:03:03 to 1:06:47]

"This reminded me of an issue that I also wanted to throw there out for you folks to put on your radar because I know you're all very active on media issues. And that's the, ah, the the killing of, ah, journalists in Iraq.

Uh, you know there were seven journalists that were lost to so-called friendly fire in Iraq by, ah, by American Forces, and, ah, and I don't believe for one minute, that those soldiers, you know, target, targeted those, ah, those, ah, um, journalists and, and you know, and said, "Ah ha! There's a journalist, I'm gonna, I'm gonna go get them."

I don't believe that for one minute. But there is a real cavalier attitude, on the part of the Pentagon about those deaths. And, ah, in the case of the Palestine Hotel, which many of you may have, be familiar with, there was a tank that fired on the Palestine Hotel and two journalists were killed. One, a Reuters, a cameraman from Reuters and another, a, a, a prominent journalist from Spain.

Um, and then more recently, um, after the hostilities ended, mission accomplished, ah, the, ah, (halting laugh) or, or, at least that's what that banner those sailors put up there, said. [audience laughter] (laughing) The, ah, the, ah, there was a, ah, journalist, another journalist from Reuter's, Mazen Dana, who was a, of Palestinian origin, who was filming, had permission to film outside a prison and he was shot. Um, shot dead. Ah, they said he was mistaken for, the, that he, ah, they thought he had a grenade launcher instead of a camera.

Ah, and again, I mean, I don't believe that the soldiers, that the boots on the ground, actually, you know, meant to do that and I'm sure they felt really bad about it. But here's the bad part, is the Pentagon, after investigating those two incidents said that, um, that, um, the rules of engagement were followed. And now they won't release the investigations. The investigations are classified. The information about the investigations are classified. As are the rules of engagement, by the way.

Ah, and so, um, so there's no way of judging whether mistakes were made and more importantly, there's no way of figuring out how to keep that from happening in the future.

Now, you talk about internationally and journalists in the media, internationally, they view something like that, it's just, you know, it's beyond the pale.

Um, there are, um, you know, I'm the, part of what I do, too, I'm a vice-president of the International Federation of Journalists. There are calls from journalist organizations around the world for war crimes against the United States, because of those actions. (clapping)

And, I mean, it's, you know, one thing we can do in this country, to, you know, is, is, is, is, agitate and, and, we've been trying to do it among media circles, ah, including the unions but we all need to do it and say, you know, tell us what really happened there. We need to make sure that journalists can do their jobs overseas as well as here.

And, um, ah, here we're threatened by a lot of forces but if, you know, if you're killed, you're dead, you sure as heck can't report on what's happening. So, we need to make sure that, you know, that we, that we, also agitate on issues like that because those are very important issues for journalists, whether they're organized or not organized, whether they're in the United States or they're in other countries.

We have to make sure, that, ah, journalists, ah, have the ability to, to, ah, cover something like the Iraq War without being shot by, ah, so-called friendly forces."

The next day's session (audio file available here, Nov 8th, 9:00-10:15, first file), with Linda Foley went rather well, until she became animated by a long comment from a member of the audience. Here is the comment as best I could hear it because the commenter did not have a microphone and it was hard to hear on the audio file (I had to do the ear to the speaker thing.) It sets the tone, or rather, the no-tone for Linda Foley's response [1:13:28 to 1:15:03]:

"I don't know if anybody saw, for lack of a better word, Bush's last press conference, where the most appalling thing happened, ah, I've never seen anything like it. Usually reporters are screaming and yelling, "Next!", "Next!", "Next!".

This time there was absolute silence at the press conference. And the reporters stood, sat with their hands down and were completely silent and obviously they were pre-chosen. They stood up with a mic. And then somebody didn't stand up on time and Bush called his name out.

So it was all completely [inaudible]. It was absolutely frightening. I saw virtually no coverage of that. [ I think the tech crew wanted to make a change at this point, and audio was dropped for about 30 seconds, then it came back to the same commenter speaking]

... And I would like to know, what those guys and who those journalists are, and who (inaudible) That was appalling [cross talk and another audience member said, "he skipped over Helen Thomas ... more cross talk]"

At this point, Linda Foley responded [1:15:03 to 1:16:40]:

"Yeah, well, I was just going to say, well, they feel appalled, obviously, but, you know, but the point is, I mean, [original commenter: but, they're not fighting back, I mean Helen ...] Well, I mean, it's easy to say they're not fighting back. We're all not fighting back.

Ya know, our country's in a war we hate, we're all not fighting back. I mean the problem, I mean, you could say that about anything. The problem is, is that controlling the access, how Bush conducts the press conference, is, is we have very limited control over. What we do have control over is for the reporters to go out and do the real stories. That's what they have to be doing.

So, I mean I can't speak for them because I don't know all those individuals, but the response, you know, that I heard was that they were appalled by that.

And, you know, this is a guy who doesn't hold press conferences anyway. Um, so, ah, um, so it is appalling. The other appalling thing, but the other point on this is: you know, the coverage of the war? The embedding and the non-embedded journalists. That's another example of this. Where the military embeds these journalists and gives them all kinds of access. And then these other journalists, that they call 'unilateral" journalists are out there. And by the way, they're the ones getting killed. The ones that are getting killed are the unilateral journalists and the Pentagon would tell you, "We're not responsible for them."

"We're not responsible for them."

So it, it, really is this problem of access to the government secrecy and then, you know, uh, the, the example that you gave, ah, being able to, to actually do your job is really being imperiled. And, ah, you know, it's, it's such an overwhelming problem, I don't know that individual journalists in the White House press corps feel they can do anything about it."

Nothing but vitriol and disparagement of various kinds and laughing at the good parts, too. It matters not much whether her targeting and killing spiel is planned or her switch gets tripped by either specific discussion or the most remote comment.

What should be thought of her seeming exculpation of troops, "the boots on the ground" because not for a minute would she think that the troops would do something like that intentionally? Maybe these comments by Linda Foley, in turn, exculpate her for her remarks at the NCfMR on 13 May 2005 where she accused US troops of intentionally targeting and killing journalists in Iraq? Not by a long shot.

These remarks were back in late 2003, not 2005. They do not even have the same ring as her editorial in The Guild Reporter of October 24, 2003 (reproduced here) where she mocked military comments from meetings on the matter, accuses everyone not siding with her view of reality as being part of the Bush conspiracy, herself takes words and phrases out of context, and erroneous attributes words to those she dislikes.

The fact is that even before the Pentagon's Palestine Hotel and Mazen Dana incidents or the investigations had been released, Linda Foley and a lot of her like-minded ilk have had it in for Bush & Co, and that includes those serving in the Military. 'We hate the War, she says. And she hates Bush & Co.

So complaints are made that investigations aren't independent, ambiguous references are made to there being questions, accusations are made that non-embedded journalists are not protected (and based on lists of the dead cited, here and there, it seems they mean protection, no matter what), and foul implications that Bush & Co. have it in for journalists not embedded, and brutally so, either through negligence, indifference, intention and/or because of a cavalier attitude, litter her pronouncements. Where's can reasoned public discourse exist in order to make valid policy decisions, when Linda Foley requires everyone to choose sides.

But that is according to her "spin". Words used should have her meaning, her view is the right view, her view is the truth, regardless which side of the elephant she is touching at the moment. And the words she speaks now and her meaning of words she uses should prevail, unless, of course she needs the modus operandi to be what the listener takes to be the meaning. It's easy to have it both ways when you are Linda Foley.

In addition, because the prevailing view regarding the journalists is not to her liking, Linda Foley over time, continues to engage in ratcheting-up the rhetoric, to motivate her followers, her like-minded comrades and minions, though not in "overt" ways since that might backfire. It is sufficient to keep it on the "radar", and urge others to "agitate", and for her organizations to write letters often just before the next conclave for agitators, so she can preen about standing up for her media-workers just before she launches into her tirades.

Contrary to Linda Foley's view, it is the ethics that makes or breaks credibility, not the other way around. And her ethics gives a journalists and activists a bad name.

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