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CURL: Press yawns at story much worse than Abu Ghraib

- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2011

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

Paging Seymour Hersh. White courtesy telephone, please.

A scandal of epic proportions is being completely ignored by the media -- including the AWOL Mr. Hersh, who, among others, broke the Abu Ghraib story.

This scandal is far worse than Abu Ghraib. In the Iraqi prison, captured terror suspects were humiliated and abused -- a famous photo shows a U.S. soldier pulling a detainee on a dog leash; another shows a human pyramid of naked prisoners.

Bad stuff, to be sure. But in the new scandal, a group of rogue U.S. soldiers is accused of forming a "kill team" to kill civilians sympathetic to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Civilians. Not suspected terrorists -- civilians. One soldier has already been convicted; he plans to testify against at least four others.

The two scandals have some similarities. At Abu Ghraib, photos of prisoner abuse streamed out. Der Spiegel, the German magazine that broke the new story (again, paging the New York Times), claims to have 4,000 photos and videos of atrocities against civilians.

But the similarities end there. The "kill team" is accused of targeting civilians -- including a 15-year-old boy -- and then trying to cover up the murders by making it appear as if they were attacked. Only 19 photos have surfaced; one shows a smiling U.S. soldier holding a dead civilian's head up off the ground by his hair.

So who's leading the coverage? Rolling Stone magazine. No, seriously. The superliberal magazine is obviously more anti-war than it is pro-Obama. In a lengthy cover story, the mag ticks through a slew of horrific incidents: Soldiers cut of the finger of the 15-year-old boy and kept it as a trophy, later using it as a gambling chip in a game of cards; a new photo showed the severed head of a civilian hoisted on a stick; a video shows soldiers gunning down two young Afghans on motor scooters.

Certainly a scandal of this proportion can't simply be ignored, can it? Let's go to the numbers: The New York Times mentioned Abu Ghraib in 2,072 stories, 446 times on A1. It's mentioned the "kill team" photos from Der Spiegel just four times; none on A1. A Lexis-Nexis search shows just one NYT mention of the words "kill team."

Were the Mainstream Media's networks and cable news teams better? No. CNN mentioned Abu Ghraib 2,639 times; the "kill team" scandal just once, according to Lexis/Nexis. The three networks shaped up like this:

NBC -- Abu Ghraib -- 444; Kill team -- 3.

ABC -- 427; 0.

CBS -- 422; 0.

The White House press corps couldn't care less. After the Rolling Stone article broke, when Mr. Obama was trotting around Latin America, there was exactly one question about the scandal. The White House hemmed and hawed and then said the whole matter was under investigation.

This colossal scandal comes as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton decries the treatment of civilians in Libya. For his part, Mr. Obama has stated that the primary reason the U.S. intervened in Libya was to protect civilians. But there have been no questions at the daily White House briefing, no questions for the president, and no calls for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to resign.

During Abu Ghraib, reporters and political pundits repeatedly called for the head of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. He was clearly responsible, they argued, and hence had to step down.

Last week, The Washington Times asked the former secretary about the new scandal, and his answer was spot on: "It is interesting, in the case of Abu Ghraib, that it was such an important press event and nobody was killed. And in this case, it looks like there are allegations that some people were actually killed."

Now, the killer quote: "The situation, of course, is much worse if someone dies."

The "kill team" scandal is "much worse" than Abu Ghraib. But you wouldn't know that from the coverage. Just another example of how the New York Times is becoming more and more irrelevant - and of how powerful political reporters like Hersh and others care only about hammering Republicans.

U.S. soldiers making human pyramids out of naked suspected terrorists, with a Republican president? The worst scandal in history. U.S. soldiers murdering innocent civilians and then hacking them up to take body parts as trophies, under a Democratic president? Yawn.

Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at jcurl@washingtontimes.com.

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