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Defining Torture Down, Part 2: Going Cowboy on the Messenger

The ConWeb is still trying to divert attention from the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, which includes attacking the guy who wrote the incriminating report.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/14/2004

The ConWeb is continuing its efforts to divert readers' attention from the Iraqi prison abuse scandal with all manner of things.

Our leader in the diversion parade, to no one's surprise, is NewsMax. It takes the shoot-the-messenger approach in a May 11 story, describing the author of the "now notorious Taguba Report" detailing the abuses as "embittered" over "what he regarded as the Army's mistreatment of his own father after World War II." Democrats get scapegoated, too -- Republican Sen. James Inhofe (last seen being more outraged that the scandal was made public than by the brutality itself) cites an anonymous (of course) Democrat as allegedly saying that the scandal is the "silver bullet" that will stop President Bush.

A May 8 article called "Getting a Grip on the Iraqi Prison Scandal" loses its grip on reality. Among the highlights:

  • "President Bush's orgy of apologies and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's offer to pay reparations to injured Iraqis is likely to increase, not minimize, contempt for America in Arab capitals." Apparently NewsMax believes the abuse and torture itself didn't raise a blip on the Arab contempt meter. The article goes on to call Bush's apology "particularly offensive."
  • "The overwhelming majority of inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison were suspected of having participated in or having knowledge of attacks against U.S. soldiers. Very few of the prisoners were common street criminals." Conveniently overlooked is the International Committee of the Red Cross report stating that as many as 90 percent of detainees in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.
  • "To date, there's no evidence whatsoever that any of the prisoners depicted in humiliating photos suffered anything more than embarrassment," the article states, then goes on to note: " The murder charges: Two allegations of murder have been reported so far."
  • "For some of the more partisan Democrats currently calling for Rumsfeld's head, the Bush administration would do well to remind the country that more innocents died at Waco than at Abu Ghraib - and nobody from the Clinton administration resigned back then." Considering the fact that many of those "innocents" at Waco died from gunshot and stab wounds not inflicted by federal authorities, it's worth noting that we're still waiting for an apology from David Koresh.

NewsMax also resorts to that tried-and-not-very-true approach: an online poll! Its latest wants your opinion on whether Rumsfeld should resign, media coverage of the abuse scandal and other related items. Of course, it doesn't really want your opinion; it's all just a set-up to throw some conservative-friendly numbers out there. In an e-mail to promote participation sent to subscribers to its e-mail list, NewsMax makes sure to point out that "John Kerry and many Democrats are demanding that Donald Rumsfeld should resign. Now, President Bush and many media outlets need to know if you still support Donald Rumsfeld." It sure sounds like NewsMax is trolling for a specific answer here. Which it's getting -- preliminary results show support for Rumsfeld and Bush at well over 90 percent.

To further demonstrate the tenuous connection between NewsMax polls and reality (despite its insistence that "NewsMax surveys tend to be predictive"), an April opt-in poll gave President Bush 81 percent compared to 19 percent for John Kerry.

At WorldNetDaily, if it can't bury the story, it will try to take credit for it. David Hackworth, "one of the most decorated living U.S. soldiers and a WorldNetDaily columnist," says he helped expose the scandal. And on the commentary page, Bert Prelutsky says one reason the allegations don't bother him is that "Iraq never signed on to the Geneva Convention." And Joseph Farah claims in a May 13 column that if the Pentagon had just listened to WND and put more troops in, trained them better and hired more Arabic interpreters, none of this would have happened.

WND also continues its obsession with the fake-porn photos, busting the Boston Globe for running one. Hal Lindsey, meanwhile, joins NewsMax in going the shoot-the-messenger route, criticizing CBS for airing the photos, including a little obligatory Ted-Kennedy-bashing. (It's either the Clintons or Teddy Kennedy; they gotta bash one or the other -- or, ideally, both.)

At, we get one explanation of why that news organization is so unbalanced. A May 10 story focuses solely on the comments of one Elaine Donnelly, head of a group that opposes women in much of the military (not to mention a member of WorldNetDaily's speakers bureau), who says that one photo of the depicted abuse, of a U.S. servicewoman holding a naked Iraqi prisoner by a leash, "is exactly what feminists have dreamed of for years." No alternative views are sought, and no one else is quoted in the story. Who is the author of this story, who apparently attended the Jon Dougherty Academy of Journalistic Balance? None other than David Thibault, managing editor of It should be no surprise, but it's more evidence that CNS' slant goes all the way to the top.

And at the Media Research Center, Brent Baker uses a May 10 CyberAlert to criticize Mark Shields of CNN's "Capital Gang" for criticizing Rush Limbaugh for comparing the prison abuse to a fraternity initiation. Shields is "apparently unable to recognize Rush Limbaugh’s humor," Baker wrote. "Too bad Shields doesn’t understand levity."

This from an organization that not only spent way too much time snickering over Clinton sex jokes, but had its own crisis of humor over Alec Baldwin's over-the-top 1998 threat to have Henry Hyde stoned to death during an appearance on Conan O'Brien's show. As Baker put it back then: "Funny political satire or, even if meant in jest, mean-spirited and violence-inciting words that would be condemned if uttered by a conservative?" The MRC decided it was the latter, naming one of its year-end awards " The Alec Baldwin Award (for Hate Speech Against the Presidential Impeachers)."

Perhaps Baker can explain to all of us why Baldwin wasn't funny and Limbaugh is. Or why Accuracy in Media's Cliff Kincaid says the very same thing in a May 13 commentary: "Most of what has been reported about the treatment of the prisoners sounds like the outrageous behavior carried out by fraternities or sororities in abusive hazing incidents." He doesn't appear to be joking, either.

Back at the MRC, a "Media Reality Check" frets that the U.S. media has given more attention to the abuse than to the mass grave of Saddam Hussein's victims. Brent Bozell comments in his leaden way, and guess what? He wants to shoot the messengers, too. "Does America have the 'right to know,' to see every image of smiling American morons at Abu Ghraib? To see every image of the horrors of the war?" he demands to know in his May 11 column, adding that the TV networks "tout the 'right to know' as they exploit the right to sensationalize and propagandize. In return, we get the right to lose the war."

Gee, we didn't hear this kind of concern from Bozell over the public's "right to know" when the subject was Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Looks like the MRC folks have a little more 'splanin' to do.

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