Thursday, September 30, 2004

Farnaz Fassahi's e-mail

It's appeared suddenly on a number of blogs: the well-known Andrew Sullivan's http://andrewsullivan.com/index.php?dish_inc=archives/2004_09_26_dish_archive.html#109651307528857970 and the obscure (although not as obscure as me!) Wiserblog http://wsrblood.typepad.com/wiserblog/2004/09/iraq.html .

And what is it, you ask? It's a private e-mail attributed to WSJ journalist Farnaz Fassahi http://poynter.org/forum/?id=misc and being circulated around the web through the magic of e-mail forwarding. As far as I know it has not yet been authenticated as actually being from her (http://www.observer.com/pages/offtherec.asp). But let's assume that the attribution is correct, and that it is indeed from Fassihi.

The first point this incident makes is a cautionary one: be careful what you write in your private e-mails, and to whom you write it, because once you click on "send," you've lost all power over it, and it can become a public document.

Fassahi's e-mail describes a climate of chaos and fear in Baghdad and beyond. It seems a good bet that the motivation of many doing the forwarding is to stir up fear that the situation in Iraq is even worse than the MSM is already reporting it to be. But, is it?

Remember that this is a private e-mail that was never intended for publication. As such, it is more of a personal and psychological document than reportage. The beginning of the e-mail makes it pretty clear that Fassihi is terrified, and perhaps even suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from a recent nearby bombing. Fassihi is not a seasoned, hardened reporter; she is a young and relatively inexperienced woman (more about that later). She's not speaking as a reporter here, and she's not writing an article; she's speaking privately as a very young woman who is scared out of her wits, and frustrated that she's not been able to explore Iraq freely, as she had originally dreamed of doing.

It's clear that she isn't writing about the situation of the average Iraqi person, because she is mostly unable to talk to Iraqis or to go about the city: "Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest... I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories...There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows."

A recent article quotes Fassihi, making it clear that the recent kidnapping of the two French journalists has greatly increased her fear for her own personal safety (http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/palestine/?id=11274) : "It made us feel more vulnerable... that it could happen to anybody,' said Farnaz Fassihi, a Wall Street Journal correspondent. Previously journalists had thought they were safe from kidnappings if they carried a non-coalition passport, she said. No longer."

So, who is Fassihi? She is a 31-year-old woman, a Muslim-American with Iranian-born parents. The following biographical information can be found at http://www.asne.org/index.cfm?id=4894 :

About Farnaz Fassihi
Age: 31
Title: Middle East correspondent, Wall Street Journal
Education: M.S. in journalism – Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. B.A. in English literature – Tehran University in Iran
Previous work experience:
Assistant and translator for Western reporters visiting Iran
New York Times: Stringer
Providence Journal: Reporter
Newark Star-Ledger: Reporter, worked on the team that covered the Sept. 11 attacks and later served overseas as a correspondent

So, it appears that all of Fassahi's foreign correspondence has occurred post-9/11. She is quite new to the game. My guess is that she may have been pressed into foreign-correspondent service post-9/11 because of her language and ethnic background. Until her recent Iraqi stint, her foreign correspondence seems to have involved mainly what used to be called "human interest" stories, mostly in Iran and Afghanistan: Valentine's Day in Tehran, how Iranian women deal with fashion, the plight of Afghan refugees.

You can see that Fassahi's academic background is in English literature and journalism--a BA from Tehran University and an MS from Columbia. Does she have any experience, training, or special knowledge in Mideast or Arab affairs other than her ethnic background and linguistic powers? Does she have any particular knowledge of war, military strategy, or the history of postwar reconstructions and occupations? If she did, I would imagine she might have been able to bring some context to the present situation in Iraq, and perhaps been better prepared psychologically for what she would be facing there.

It's another guess on my part--I don't really know--but isn't it the case that, years ago, someone based in a position such as Ms. Fassahi's would be a senior correspondent with years of experience and knowledge to back up his/her reporting? My strong suspicion is that Ms. Fassahi is in over her head and is terrified by the danger facing journalists in Baghdad, particularly the kidnappings. I can hardly blame her--in fact, I don't blame her at all. But I wonder what relatively neophyte journalists such as Ms. Fassahi are doing in Iraq, and what their superiors are thinking of, sending them there without the situation being more stable.

When Saddam was in power, journalists had to tow the party line, and the news we got from Iraq couldn't be trusted. Now, journalists are virtual prisoners, and their articles (and certainly their private e-mails!) are just as likely to reflect their fears for their own safety as to reflect reality for the Iraqi people as a whole. Hard to draw any conclusions from this, except that the truth of what's really happening in Iraq is elusive, and that Fassahi's e-mail is only one tiny part of the picture.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Draftscam

I'd heard about the new e-mail campaign to scare students and mothers of teenagers into thinking Bush is going to reinstate the draft. And last night, just like clockwork, one of my friends forwarded it to me. So it seems this thing has gone pretty far if my usually level-headed and not-particularly-gullible friend fell for it.

The most salient part of the draftscam e-mail goes like this:

I am deeply concerned by the fact that there is legislation currently being discussed
by the Armed Forces committee that would reinstate the draft as early as next summer
for both men and women ages 18-26 with no student deferment. Equally disturbing is
the fact that there has been no public discussion of this. Who is silencing the media?

Isn't it clever? Note the passive voice: "there is legislation currently being discussed." Omitted is the fact--easily learned by anyone who follows the news or knows how to use Google--that the legislation is a liberal Democratic project.

Truth is, the bill to reinstate the draft was proposed and introduced in 2003 by two of the most extreme liberal Democrats in the House, Charles Rangel and Fritz Hollings, who wanted to get it on the table in order to later make the charge that it was under consideration (see this: http://www.mail2web.com/cgi-bin/redir.asp?lid=0&newsite=http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/01/07/rangel.draft/ ) (See also: http://www.mail2web.com/cgi-bin/redir.asp?lid=0&newsite=http://guilfordian.collegepublisher.com/news/2004/04/02/World/New-Bill.May.R einstate.The.Draft.For.2005-653279.shtml ). Jim McDermott, another Democrat who is one of the most liberal members of Congress, was another sponsor of the draft bill: http://www.mail2web.com/cgi-bin/redir.asp?lid=0&newsite=http://www.house.gov/mcdermott/pr_draft.shtml .

This is actually one of the most cynical and cold-bloodedly Machiavellian schemes in my memory, and my memory goes back quite a ways. Let's see: propose a bill that you have no interest in actually passing, for the express purpose of using it later to smear the opposition by insinuating that it is their bill. Launch an e-mail campaign at just the right moment to get the word out and scare the living daylights out of anyone in college, or anyone with a son approaching college age.

And they thought Nixon was a dirty trickster!!

And then there's that vaguely conspiratorial "who is silencing the media?" Last I checked, no one--the media has been quite verbose lately, thank you very much. If the media has ignored this subject recently, it's because it's a nonstarter and a nonissue and a transparently political ploy. And, as you can see by my links above, it was covered in the media when the bill was originally proposed by Rangel et. al.

The Internet is a double-edged sword in this election, a player as never before. Yes, bloggers like Little Green Footballs and Powerline were instrumental in scotching CBS's plans to bring down a President through the airing of questionable documents. That's the good news. The bad news is that Churchill's old adage, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on" feels truer than ever, thanks to the instantaneous magic of e-mail.

As a lifelong liberal Democrat turned neocon, I feel ashamed of my former naivete. After all, I used to actually believe liberals were above such dirty tricks. And so I feel the intense anger of a person whose lover has been unfaithful: long ago, I trusted these people, and they have betrayed me, over and over, in a time of grave danger. I'm not likely to forgive them.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Testing

A test to see whether everything's in order, blogwise.


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