In his blog on Salon, Glenn Greenwald points out that most recent war news reports name the enemy exclusively as "Al Qaeda."
Greenwald, whose piece begins with a cite from Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo, suggests that this is an orchestrated campaign by the Bush administration: Since support for the Iraq War has reached an all-time low, the Bushies are raising the spectre of Al Qaeda to scare us back into a pro-war stance. He writes:
All of a sudden, every time one of the top military commanders describes our latest operations or quantifies how many we killed, the enemy is referred to, almost exclusively now, as "Al Qaeda."
That's bad enough, but the part that really worries me is that the mainstream press seems to be going along with this description. Greenwald says:
[W]hat is even more notable is that the establishment press has followed right along, just as enthusiastically. I don't think the New York Times has published a story about Iraq in the last two weeks without stating that we are killing "Al Qaeda fighters," capturing "Al Qaeda leaders," and every new operation is against "Al Qaeda."
He also mentions similar coverage on CNN and in The Washington Post.
I've noticed the same thing on NPR. In fact, I've found myself yelling at the radio, "Why are you calling all the insurgents Al Qaeda?"
If you follow war news at all -- and particularly if you make a point of reading the broad coverage available on Juan Cole's Informed Comment and often read the detailed reporting of Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker (his most recent article shows how a general's career was ruined because he actually investigated what happened at Abu Ghraib) -- you know that the insurgents in Iraq represent a wide variety of interests. Even the ones who actually use the name Al Qaeda have little or nothing to do with Osama bin Laden and those who attacked the United States.
It's pointless to expect honesty from the Bush administration. But it's absurd to see supposedly competent news sources reporting these statements without even questioning their accuracy. This is exactly the same kind of unquestioning reporting they did in the lead-up to the war itself.
Given that most of the media have expressed regret and even repentance about their earlier naive acceptance of administration lies, it is shocking to see them once again just parroting what they hear. Why aren't they asking the simple question, "Excuse me, but what makes these particular insurgents Al Qaeda?"
If they get an unsatisfactory answer -- as they undoubtedly will -- they can report that as well. And then they can call up sources who know better and try to get closer to the truth.
We all now know that every statement from the Bush administration must be checked against reliable sources. The mainstream press cannot lie down on the job again.
In this morning's Iraq War roundup on NPR's Morning Edition, I am pleased to note that the reporter and the host did not once use the term Al Qaeda to describe the insurgents. I am glad that some reporters are paying attention.