• 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)

Today's headlines
Business & Money
Profit leap for Swedbank
A branch of Swedbank in Malmö. Photo. TT

Profit leap for Swedbank

Swedbank has seen its profits rise higher than expected. READ  

New coalition
Sick pay U-turn from Sweden's new coalition
Stefan Löfven has changed his strategy on sick pay. Photo: TT

Sick pay U-turn from Sweden's new coalition

Small businesses won't face rising sick pay costs, following a policy reversal from Sweden's new coalition government. READ  

Presented by CurrencyFair
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
CurrencyFair co-founder Brett Meyers

CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers

Tired of losing money when you send cash back home? Join other expats in Sweden who avoid bank fees and hidden charges by sending money internationally with CurrencyFair, an online marketplace where secure transactions are faster and cheaper. READ  

Stockholm 'submarine' hunt
Vessel hunt continues at 'full strength'
Minehunter HMS Koster takes part in the search in the Stockholm archipelago on Sunday. Photo: Marko Säävälä/TT

Vessel hunt continues at 'full strength'

The search for a suspected foreign vessel in the Stockholm archipelago continues with "full strength" on Tuesday morning, according to Sweden's armed forces. READ  

Ebola crisis
Sweden hit by two Ebola false alarms in two days
The Uppsala University Hospital. Photo: TT

Sweden hit by two Ebola false alarms in two days

UPDATED: A patient has been cleared of any Ebola suspicions at the Uppsala University Hospital. It marks the second suspected case in Sweden in two days. READ  

Analysis
Why a foreign vessel lurks in Swedish waters
The HMS Stockholm patrols Jungfrufjärden in the Stockholm archipelago on Monday morning. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Why a foreign vessel lurks in Swedish waters

With Sweden engaged in its biggest domestic military operation since the Cold War, The Local spoke to Johan Wiktorin, a fellow at the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences, to get insight into what’s going on in the Stockholm archipelago. READ  

My Swedish Career
US woman starts up Swedish toy store online
Leigh Neil and a llama hand puppet. Photo: Private

US woman starts up Swedish toy store online

For this week's My Swedish Career we meet Leigh Neil, who one day came to realize that there was a gap in the Swedish market for children's toys and decided to do something about it. READ  

Stockholm 'submarine' search
No truth to Russia's submarine claim: Dutch
A CB90-class fast assault craft at Kullbäling, a small island in Stockholm's archipelago. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

No truth to Russia's submarine claim: Dutch

The Netherlands on Monday denied a Russian claim that a mystery vessel the Swedish military has been looking for could be Dutch. READ  

Lufthansa Strike
Over 20 Swedish flights hit by Lufthansa strike
Grounded Lufthansa planes. Photo: TT

Over 20 Swedish flights hit by Lufthansa strike

A strike by pilots at German airline Lufthansa will affect over 20 flights in and out of Sweden over the next two days. READ  

National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Photo: Shutterstock

Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars

A dentist in western Sweden is offering free dental care to his town's Roma begging population. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
National
Sweden deploys troops over underwater threat
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Blog updates

19 October

Getting it (Blogweiser) »

"Follow Joel Sherwood on FB Few watch baseball in Sweden. This is excellent when your team loses..." READ »

 

17 October

Editor’s Blog, Oct 17th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Here’s the whole week of news in just 60 seconds. The most-read story was about a..." READ »

 
 
 
National
A Touch of Scandinavia: Reindeer in the kitchen
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Lifestyle
Sweden's The Bridge to become 'more Danish'
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Politics
Ten new minister faces you should know
Tech
First womb transplant baby in world born in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 5th
National
What's on in Sweden
National
Sweden rethinks Afghan translators' protection
Society
Interview with Geena Davis: 'I want to be in a Swedish movie'
Gallery
Stefan Löfven through the years
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
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

994
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
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN