• Sweden edition
 

Swedish television viewers sold short on Iraq

Published: 02 Jul 2007 18:59 GMT+02:00
Updated: 02 Jul 2007 18:59 GMT+02:00

“Death don’t take no vacation in this land.” I haven’t been able to shake this haunting and distressingly beautiful line over the past few weeks. These devastating words can be found in the second verse of the Reverend Gary Davis blues dirge “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” believed to have been adapted from a long lost Negro spiritual.

The song has been interpreted by numerous artists since the 1960s, though I’m personally fond of the Grateful Dead version. (“Touring” with the Dead, incidentally, introduced me to the wonders of entrepreneurship and capitalism in a far more colorful way than any economics class ever could. But that’s another story entirely.)

For U.S. president George W. Bush and his ever-dwindling, ragtag band of supporters, it must seem like Death truly is squirreling away vacation days. Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, countless lives have been lost.

Every day we learn of new suicide bombings, roadside blasts, kidnappings, mayhem and brutal slayings. Civilians, innocents, servicemen and –women are gone forever. It literally never ends.

That good news has become a scant commodity in Iraq is scarcely an understatement. This dearth of glad tidings has been compounded by the U.S. military’s buffoonish attempts at hero-making—Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman spring immediately to mind—in an attempt to bolster support for the war at home.

Reports of progress on the ground or of heroic deeds by American soldiers have, unfortunately, become worth their weight in pyrite. Indeed, any silver lining remaining on this inky cloud is amply sprinkled with nitric acid to see if it turns green. (Note: metallurgic metaphors officially end here.)

Against this backdrop it was hardly surprising when Sweden’s public television network recently aired a highly skeptical segment on the U.S. military’s chance discovery of a nightmarish, Iraqi-government-run orphanage charged with the care of special-needs children.

In a routine sweep, American soldiers had found and rescued 24 emaciated boys dying a slow and agonizing death in appalling squalor and unimaginable filth, some cruelly chained to iron beds. The soldiers recorded the grisly scene with a digital camera.

CBS Evening News reporter Lara Logan—a seasoned war correspondent with Kevlar-vest experience from conflicts in Kosovo and Afghanistan—broke the shocking story, which of course spread furiously across the airwaves and Internet.

And though Sweden’s nine o’clock news anchor expressed appropriate disgust and dismay at the images of defenseless children sadistically starved to brink of existence, it took only seconds for reporter Stina Blomgren to call into question the journalistic integrity of the photos. After all, U.S. servicemen had taken them. Blomgren then noted, ominously, that no one knows how CBS got their hands on the images.

Blomgren asked an American journalism professor living in Sweden, Karin Becker, to comment on the journalistic aspects of the story. Becker began by declaring that the pictures were not taken by professional journalists, but rather by men in uniform.

Soldiers, said Becker, view the mainstream media as anti-military and therefore use alternative channels to bring their story to audiences at home.

Blomgren was quick to add that U.S. command is more than happy to portray its soldiers saving innocent children, not least given the Iraq invasion’s tremendous unpopularity, the high military death toll in recent weeks, and the ongoing troop “surge” meant to restore order and get things back on track.

The story depicts American soldiers as heroes and humanitarians, the journalism professor explained. Thus she implored the media to handle these pictures—aired by American media outlets and originating with American soldiers—with extreme care. In other words, the orphanage story may be a staged and/or well-timed public relations stunt.

Though I believe a healthy journalistic skepticism to stories emanating from armed conflicts is warranted and crucial, it would appear that this rigorous treatment extends almost exclusively to positive news.

If memory serves me well, Swedish television did not consult journalism professors when the media began airing the stomach-churning images of prisoner abuse at the hands of Americans stationed at Abu Ghraib—photos taken by soldiers. And I’m fairly confident that Swedish reporters did not wring their hands over the journalistic integrity of these images or over how they had found their way into the hands of American media outlets.

But this is beside the point. If Swedish television was so deeply concerned about the origin or journalistic integrity of the story, then why not interview the journalist that had broken it? Unfortunately for its viewers, Swedish television did not interview CBS Evening News correspondent Lara Logan—the one person who could pull back the curtain on these events.

Thankfully, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, who “turns a critical lens on the media” each week as host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, did just that. Logan tells Kurtz that the source was not the U.S. military, presumptively angling for feel-good spin.

In fact, Logan didn’t find out about the orphanage rescue until a week after the fact. The baffled soldiers who had freed the 24 boys had, wrongly, assumed that the media were keeping a lid on the story, but it was U.S. command that had kept things on the QT.

Logan contacted the U.S. military and “hit a wall.” She was told to get permission from the Iraqi labor ministry to do the story because the Iraqis had “the lead.” Officials told Logan to go this route because it was Iraqi soldiers that had rescued the boys.

When Logan pointed out that she had seen no Iraqi soldiers in the photos taken that day, she was magically granted a two-hour interview with an American general. He gave her the green light. That this story was told is a testament to the dogged perseverance of a seasoned journalist.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Swedish reporters should switch off their critical faculties or rubber-stamp good news about America’s war effort. What I am saying is that Swedish audiences would benefit from journalism that covers all the bases. A little follow-through wouldn’t hurt either. Tragically, most Swedes who saw that newscast are left with an incomplete picture.

On a final personal note. Whatever one’s opinion of the war in Iraq, the servicemen who saved 24 disabled from a horrible death deserve respect and acknowledgment. Karin Becker says that this story “portrays” them as heroes and humanitarians. But to think of them as anything else would be callous and cynical.

These individuals represent the overwhelming majority of the U.S. military: honorable men and women willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Let’s not lose sight of this fact.

Billy McCormac is head of publishing and communications at the free-market think tank Timbro.

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
Swimrun
Record win at Sweden's tough island race
Photo: Jakob Edholm/ÖTILLÖ14

Record win at Sweden's tough island race

Two Swedes crushed last year's course record at the Swimrun world championship in Stockholm's archipelago on Monday. READ  

Sweden reveals Academy Award submission
Swedish director Ruben Östlund on set. Photo. TT

Sweden reveals Academy Award submission

The movie set to represent Sweden at the 2015 Academy Awards was revealed on Monday, a film that has already won awards abroad. READ  

Amphetamines
Hidden forest drug stash leads to prosecution

Hidden forest drug stash leads to prosecution

A 53-year-old man has been prosecuted after police in western Sweden made one of their largest drug seizures in the area. READ  

Man shot dead in hunting accident
Photo: Hunter Desportes/Flickr

Man shot dead in hunting accident

UPDATED: Police in northern Sweden say a man was killed on Monday morning after what they described as a "hunting accident". READ  

Pirate Bay Swede's trial set for final stage

Pirate Bay Swede's trial set for final stage

The mother of Swedish Pirate Bay co-founder Gottfrid Svartholm Warg has told The Local about her son's "suffering" in jail ahead of the final stages of his trial. READ  

Suspected Ebola case ruled out in Sweden
Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Suspected Ebola case ruled out in Sweden

UPDATED: Officials at a Stockholm hospital reported that they had found a suspected case of the Ebola virus on Sunday night. But the case was dismissed on Monday. READ  

Murderer on the loose after breakout

Murderer on the loose after breakout

A 34-year-old man who killed a child is on the run after he broke out of a psychiatric ward in central Sweden. READ  

Skåne floods
Huge clear up underway after Skåne floods
A Malmö bus under water. Photo: Stig Åke Jönsson/TT

Huge clear up underway after Skåne floods

Flood waters subsided in the southern Sweden region of Skåne on Monday, after flash flooding saw chaos on roads and trains at the weekend. READ  

Elections 2014
Sweden's Alliance reveals full manifesto
Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Sweden's Alliance reveals full manifesto

UPDATED: Leaders of the Moderate Party, the Centre Party, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats have announced their complete list of election promises in Stockholm's Nacka. READ  

Zlatan scores hat trick in PSG thrashing
Photo: AP

Zlatan scores hat trick in PSG thrashing

Champions Paris Saint-Germain thumped Saint-Etienne 5-0 as Bordeaux saw their 100 percent record at the start of the Ligue 1 season ended on Sunday with a 1-1 draw against Bastia. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Tech
Sweden's highest peak to lose title next year
Politics
How immigration became a key election issue
Society
Brit's life in Sweden becomes BBC radio show
Gallery
People-watching August 27
Gallery
Top ten false friends in Swedish
Blog updates

25 August

Hit och dit, här och där (The Swedish Teacher) »

" Hej igen! A common challenge for Swedish language students are the location adverbs hit/här, dit/där, hem/hemma etc. Some of the location adverbs come in two versions. We should use one type of location adverb when we use a verb describes where we are, and we should use the other type of location adverb when we the verb..." READ »

 

25 August

The Dollar Store (Blogweiser) »

"A dollar store in Sweden. Blog post: http://t.co/tNuuvcP1q0 #USD #greenbacks #sweden #sverige pic.twitter.com/RHFAYf7U1k — Joel Sherwood (@joeldsherwood) August 23, 2014 There’s a chain here in Sweden called The DollarStore. This name always stood out to me in a country where they don’t use dollars. I went there for the first time this weekend. They actually accepted greenbacks..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Roma advocate scoops Wallenberg prize
Society
Meet the man who made a Swedish store recall its high heels for kids
Business & Money
'How I came to run my own business in Sweden'
Politics
Expert explains why Sweden's election oozes uncertainty
National
City plays Schindler's List theme at Nazi rally
Society
For Stockholm Fashion Week, here's the A-Z of Swedish fashion
National
'Amnesiac' man avoids deportation for ten years
Gallery
Princess Estelle through the years
Business & Money
Swedish city all set for six-hour workday trial
Business & Money
Five golden rules for the Swedish job hunt
Sponsored Article
Graduates: Insure your income in Sweden with AEA
Gallery
People-watching August 22-24
National
Armed royal guards caught (very) drunk on the job
National
Sweden orders textbook on Roma discrimination
Gallery
Violent anti-Nazi demonstrations in Malmö
Society
A closer look at Sweden's five official minority languages
Gallery
See the destruction from the southern Sweden floods
Politics
'Sweden Democrats hold the key to elections'
Society
Swedes celebrate first day of smelly fish season
Sponsored Article
Find out what gives this Swedish school executive appeal
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Housing in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

747
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se