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Wednesday, August 20, 2003

To slam Dubya for the bombing of the Baghdad UN headquarters, NYT buries the key fact on page A9, paragraph 11

The first two questions anyone asks himself upon learning of yesterday's deadly bombing of the U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad are, "How could this have happened and who's to blame?" Never fear: Our national paper of record, the stately Great Grey Lady, has the answer somewhere amidst all the news that's fit to print. But only if you're willing to really dig for it through all the rest of its anti-Administration coverage. The front page of the print version of today's New York Times offers two stories, a news piece entitled "Huge Suicide Blast Demolishes U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad; Top Aid Officials Among 17 Dead" and a "news analysis" piece entitled "Chaos as an Anti-U.S. Strategy." The first reports that
[t]he suicide bombing marked a brazen assault on the American occupation here, apparently calculated to destroy any sense of security for people charged with reviving Iraq in the aftermath of the war. If anarchy was the goal today, it was anarchy that unfolded.
It also reports that
the [U.N.] compound here is also one of the least fortified of its kind here, with neither tanks nor troops to protect it.
The latter article begins by opining that
[t]he bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad today provided grisly evidence of a new strategy by anti-American forces to depict the United States as unable to guarantee public order, as well as to frighten away relief organizations rebuilding Iraq.
Back on page A8, we find "Bush Condemns Iraq Bombing and Vows U.S. Will Persevere," which by its third paragraph reports that
[i]n political terms, the bombing provided Democrats with a new opportunity to criticize Mr. Bush for failing to anticipate the perils and difficulties of occupying and rebuilding Iraq.
This is followed immediately after by predictably condemnatory quotes from Democratic Senators Bob Graham and John Kerry. And of course when we flip back to the editorials on page A24, in "The Baghdad Bombing: A Mission Imperiled," we find this:
Terrorists aim not just at inflicting death and devastation. They also hope to poison the emotional and political climate around their targets.... The Bush administration has to commit sufficient additional resources and, if necessary, additional troops, to prevent that....
Yesterday's attack is described as "another sign that surly, chaotic postwar Iraq is becoming a magnet for terrorists," which in turn is described as "yet another consequence of the Iraq war that the Bush administration failed to anticipate." Damn dumb Dubya & Co., falling down on the job again! Idiotic cowboys! Is there any other possible conclusion you can reach from this coverage? Unless ... Unless you flip back to page A9 to the article entitled "The Scene: Amid Blood and Rubble, a Sense of Helplessness." This article is also filled with criticisms, such as the one attributed to "many" Iraqis that the bombing is "another sign of the poor job the occupation forces are doing providing security in a country they now nominally control." But there — tucked away nicely in the eleventh paragraph, without subheading or italics or boldface or sidebar ("too damn bad we don't have footnotes we could drop this into," you can almost hear the editors murmur) — we finally learn the key fact to answer the questions, "How could this have happened and who's to blame?"
After a bombing at the Jordanian Embassy last week, senior American officials warned that other soft targets might be next. But the United Nations deliberately avoided sealing itself off because it feared that such barriers would send the wrong message to Iraqis seeking help.
Also slipped into that story is an acknowledgement that "[t]he United Nations has been a target before. Three employees were killed over the last few months in various shooting attacks." But you have to leave altogether the bizarro-world of the NYT to learn from somewhere like the Associated Press, as printed in the Houston Chronicle, that
U.N. officials at the headquarters had refused heavy security — aside from the recently built concrete wall — because the United Nations "did not want a large American presence outside," said Salim Lone, the U.N. spokesman in Baghdad.
Oh. Well, about that condemnation of Dubya & Co. for failing to anticipate and guard against this attack: In the words of Emily Litella, "Never mind." Kofi Annan (AP photo)UPDATE (Weds Aug 20): See my Comments below. Don't miss the "money graf" in boldface from Kofi Annan, which pretty much 'splains everything having to do with Iraqi, Iraqis, the war, the UN, the "New-" and "Old-Europeans," the UK, the US, and the whole rest of the world since 9/11. I believe we've just been treated to the Grand Unified Theory of World Politics. UPDATE (Thurs Aug 21): Also check my new post to confirm that the NYT is marginally less braindead than the UN, based on today's news reports.

Posted by Beldar at 07:36 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to To slam Dubya for the bombing of the Baghdad UN headquarters, NYT buries the key fact on page A9, paragraph 11 and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Thoughts on the UN attack from Daniel W. Drezner

Tracked on Aug 20, 2003 11:41:28 AM

» Tragedy Strikes the UN from Swerdloff's Personal Life

Tracked on Aug 20, 2003 11:42:14 AM

» All the News That's Fit to Slant from The Eleven Day Empire

Tracked on Aug 20, 2003 12:28:00 PM

» Sloppy Editing from Wunderkinder

Tracked on Aug 20, 2003 12:42:34 PM

» Kos points the finger at Bush, while the UN refused additional security measures.. from FreeSpeech.com

Tracked on Aug 20, 2003 2:19:06 PM


Tracked on Aug 20, 2003 3:19:21 PM

» Ground Zero: Iraq from Randal Robinson

Tracked on Aug 20, 2003 4:09:13 PM

» NY Times spins UN bombing story from Low Earth Orbit

Tracked on Aug 20, 2003 4:15:11 PM


(1) The CR made the following comment | Aug 20, 2003 11:28:50 AM | Permalink

Ah, but its not as bad as the Washington Post's Pamela Constable:


"Today's bombing, although not directly aimed at U.S.-led forces, poses a challenge for the Americans nonetheless. First, the U.N. headquarters is guarded by U.S. troops, largely because the Bush administration did not want U.N. peacekeeping or other forces involved here after the war. Several current and former U.N. officials today pointedly noted that "coalition" forces were responsible for the building's security. Jim Wilkinson, chief spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, said, however, that responsibility for guarding the facility did not rest with U.S. troops, but with the United Nations."

This is contrary to all other reporting and to the CENTCOM statement in the same paragraph.

(2) Cheesehead made the following comment | Aug 20, 2003 2:30:25 PM | Permalink

ugh...Why can't you folks admit that there is a discrepancy between the UN and the centcom stories andthat we don't have the facts yet. The UNSG has denied that there were recommendations to step up security. The NYT and everyone here seems to be missing this...


Q: Who would you say is responsible for the security?

SG: I think security is obviously one [issue] in Iraq in the situation that is seen now. The occupying power is responsible for law and order and security of the country. But when you have this kind of terrorist attacks, you never know where it is going to come from and I'm not sure if one can entirely protect against it. But in the broader sense, to secure the environment is the responsibility of the Coalition.

and later...

Q: How much of the authority given to you by the Security Council have you been able to implement? Are you happy with the state of affairs in Iraq, with the way the country is being [inaudible] by the occupying coalition forces?

SG: I think Sergio [Vieira] de Mello and the team have done an admirable work. They have used the mandate given to them by the Security Council very effectively and they have made a difference. They have made a difference in terms of their cooperation with the coalition and with the Iraqi population and the Iraqi Governing Council. Sergio is going to be a loss.

As to the situation in Iraq, we are all aware of the security environment. We had hoped that by now the coalition forces would have secured the environment for us to be able to carry on the essential work of political and economic reconstruction, institution building and for Iraqis to carry on with their work. That has not happened and all efforts are being made to bring the security situation under control. When this will happen I do not know, but

serious efforts are taking place.

Q: Mr Secretary-General, the United States claims that it offered to beef up security at the UN compound. Is that right and why was that offer turned down?

SG: I am not aware of those details, I'm not aware of it.

It's clear the SG thinks the US is responsible for security so there seems to be a breakdown of some kind here. I think the NYT, the WaPo, and this blog are all a litle premature in assessing the "who was responsible" blame. It's likely both sides thought the other was ultimately responsible.

(3) Clay made the following comment | Aug 20, 2003 3:06:25 PM | Permalink

From what Cheesehead has excerpted for us, I don't see how he can conclude "The UNSG has denied that there were recommendations to step up security." The SG makes no such categorical statement. "SG: I am not aware of those details, I'm not aware of it." He can't say. But a UN rep on the ground in Iraq apparently can: "The United Nations 'did not want a large American presence outside,' said Salim Lone, the U.N. spokesman in Baghdad." Why shouldn't I believe Lone? The SG has not contradicted him. When the SG has anything to say about security, it's clear to me, at least, that he's referring to the general situation in Iraq, not the specific situation at the UN compound.

(4) VRWconspiracy made the following comment | Aug 20, 2003 3:56:33 PM | Permalink

Ted Kopple on Nightline last night committed essentially the same lie -- he loaded a rhetorical question about how could the U.S. control Iraq having failed to prevent the bombing of the U.N. in Baghdad.

(5) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 20, 2003 4:25:13 PM | Permalink

From the beginning of the Times' "Amid Blood and Rubble" story quoted in my original post:

Soon after Salim Lone, the spokesman for the special United Nations representative in Iraq, stumbled dazed and bleeding from the wreckage of the headquarters here, he learned that rescue teams were trying to get water to his boss, Sergio Vieira de Mello, trapped and wounded but still talking from beneath the rubble.

"Everybody said to me he needs water, so I assumed he was still alive," Mr. Lone said hours later, tears for his slain boss coursing periodically down his cheeks, the back of his shirt and his pants covered in dried blood.

Mr. Lone is also the person quoted by the Associated Press as saying:

Except for the recently built concrete wall, U.N. officials at the headquarters refused heavy security because the United Nations "did not want a large American presence outside."

Now, I suppose it's possible he doesn't know what the hell he was talking about. Obviously I wasn't present whenever UN officials and the CentCom folks discussed security for the UN Compound. Pretty much all of us in the blogosphere are dealing with third-hand hearsay or worse.

For better or worse, however, I unavoidably tend to bring to my blog the tools of my own trade as a lawyer, so I'm reminded of Federal Rule of Evidence 803(2). That rule creates an exception to the hearsay rule — that is, makes an out-of-court declaration admissible when it otherwise would not be — if it can be shown to be "[a] statement relating to a startling event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition." Such "excited utterances" are thought to be trustworthy because the person making them was too distracted to dissemble.

To be absolutely cynical about it — with due respect to the dead and injured, none of whom deserved that fate regardless of who oversaw the UN compound's security arrangements — I'm frankly more inclined to trust a "UN spokesperson" when the back of his shirt and his pants are covered in his boss' blood than just about any other time.

Some are asking, "Why would the bad guys attack the UN?" The rather obvious answer — albeit preliminary, I'll grant you — is "Because they could." That is to say, the bad guys could get a truck bomb close enough to blow up a bunch of western bigwigs at the U.N. when they couldn't manage to pull off that stunt at other tempting targets that had accepted American security.

The Bush administration has been warning about just this kind of attack since before the war. Thank god we've still got some people around who remember what happened in Beirut on October 23, 1983. If we're to believe the statements of the understandably bereft Mr. Lone, however, some folks who decided and spoke for the UN on security matters sadly didn't.

(6) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 20, 2003 5:22:14 PM | Permalink

The Beeb attributes this quote to UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw:

The UN had quite consciously eschewed the idea that they should be part of a secure area precisely to emphasis their separateness and independence of the US-UK coalition forces.

(7) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 20, 2003 7:41:42 PM | Permalink

It all becomes clear now:

[UN Secretary-General Kofi] Annan said he was surprised to hear reports that the United Nations turned down an offer of security from U.S.-led coalition forces. He stressed that security was the responsibility of the United States as the occupying power and if it was needed, the United Nations shouldn't even have been asked.

"I don't know if the U.N. did turn down [a U.S.] offer for protection, but if it did, it was not correct and they should not have been allowed to turn it down," Annan said. "That kind of decision should not be left to the protected. It is those with responsibility for security and law and order, who have intelligence, which determines what action is taken."

(Emphasis added.) Now that we clearly know what's required of us, we'll feel free in the future not only to ignore, but to go directly against everything the UN actually says it wants, in favor of what we determine to be best.

I'm sure this newly clarified authority on our part will tickle the French delegation pink.

(8) Paul made the following comment | Aug 20, 2003 11:02:20 PM | Permalink

fan-effen-tastic! I can't wait to link this!

(9) AlexPGP made the following comment | Aug 23, 2003 6:44:13 AM | Permalink

FWIW, as of the time of this note, Mr. Lone's statement no longer appears in the AP story at the Chronicle.


(10) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 23, 2003 12:23:40 PM | Permalink

Thanks, AlexPGP; I know you're not expressing skepticism but rather are catering to my mania for accuracy, which I appreciate. The same AP feed ran on hundreds of other news outlets that have not edited their stories, including for instance the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Manchester Guardian, and so forth. And of course it's since been amply confirmed in more detail by multiple news media reporting from sources inside both the UN and the US occupation forces.

(11) PA made the following comment | Oct 24, 2003 12:26:31 PM | Permalink

Who would of thought that every bad thing in the world is NOT for once the fault of the Bush Administration...From the grey lady herself. Was this front page news?

Also see WSJ article page A4, Oct 23, 2003

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