Reuters sponsored a debate this week in New York asking the question: “Iraq–is the media telling the real story?” At the event, Amy Goodman asked Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, the former chief military spokesman in Iraq, about the killing and detaining journalists by U.S. forces and the paying of Iraqi journalists to plant stories in the press. [includes rush transcript]
“Iraq–is the media telling the real story?”–that was the question asked at a public debate sponsored by Reuters this week in New York. The panel included journalists from The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal and Al -Hayat. Also on the panel was Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan, who recently returned to the United States after 16 months in Iraq as chief spokesperson for the military. Amy Goodman was at the event and I had the chance to question Boylan.
- Lt. Col. Steve Boylan responds to Amy Goodman
AMY GOODMAN: Iraq: Is the media telling the real story? That was the question asked at a public debate sponsored by Reuters this week in New York. The panel included journalists from the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal and Al Hayat. Also on the panel was Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan, who recently returned to the United States after 16 months in Iraq as chief spokesperson for the military. I attended the event and had the chance to question Boylan. This is an excerpt.
AMY GOODMAN: How many Iraqi civilians do you believe have been killed?
LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: I have no idea. I really don’t. There are so many conflicting reports depending on who you listen to. I’m not sure even the Iraqi government knows to date, because of —
AMY GOODMAN: President Bush said at least 30,000. The Lancet said an estimate, based on a Johns Hopkins/Columbia University study, said over 100,000. I would like to get your comment and two other journalists on this, and then two other quick questions. One is about —
MODERATOR: Well, let’s make it one question. Understand — I’m sorry, but there are other people who want to ask questions.
AMY GOODMAN: I know, but these are real quick. One is about fake news, about the U.S. military continuing to use groups like the Lincoln Group and the Pentagon itself planting stories, paying Iraqi journalists to print stories. And the third is we talked about journalists killed by insurgents, but what about journalists killed by and detained by the U.S. military? Specifically we had David Schlesinger debating you, Lietenant Colonel Boylan, when the Reuters cameraman, Haider Khadem, was wounded and detained; Waleed Khaled, the Reuters soundman was killed; the Al Jazeera reporters who were held at Abu Ghraib for months, Ahmad Mohammad Hussein and Salam Ureibi, and then released with no explanation, detained again and released with no explanation; Jose Couso at the Palestine —
MODERATOR: Okay, I think we get the message, Amy. Steve?
LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: That’s a lot. Okay, well, based on my understanding right now, there are no journalists being detained in Iraq right now, journalists may — whether they are stringers or any other journalists for that matter. The situation in Iraq is not like you will find it in New York or Chicago or Miami or London or any other place. It is a war zone. They are held — they are not arrested, which is a misperception by a lot of people. They are a security detainee, because at the time of the event there was something that was going on that at least appeared to be a security risk to the Iraqi forces, the Iraqi government, the coalition troops under the U.N. Security Resolution 1546.
There is a process in place to investigate what happened, investigate the individuals, but there is not the same jurisprudence that you would think that is happening in the United States. It’s not the United States, it’s not Europe. The same rules do not apply. And until everybody understands that, there will always be the issue of unlawful detention from some people. I believe, like I said, that from what I understand today, there are no more journalists or stringers or anyone else that works for the news media that’s being detained.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan, the former chief military spokesperson in Iraq. We’re joined by Robert Fisk, chief Middle East correspondent of the London Independent. For the last 30 years, he has been covering almost every major event in the Middle East, from the civil wars in Algeria and Lebanon to the Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq War, from the massacres at Sabra and Shatila to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, from the 1991 Persian Gulf War to the invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq. Robert Fisk has just finished his latest book — it’s called The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East — and joins us in our Firehouse studio here in New York. Welcome to Democracy Now!
ROBERT FISK: Thanks you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know Lieutenant Colonel Boylan?
ROBERT FISK: I have seen him in performance, yes, live.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response?
ROBERT FISK: Look, these guys live in the Green Zone, the little area of the former Republican Palace, which is a bit like living inside, I’m sorry to say, a crusader castle. You can look between the palisade and see a bit of the street outside, and they are totally divorced from the reality of Iraq. I mean, Boylan says, for example, 'Oh, I don't think even the Iraqis know how many Iraqis are dead.’ Bush didn’t say, by the way, “at least 30,000.” He said, “30,000, more or less.” He would not have said, “Oh, there are 2,000 American dead, more or less,” would he? He wouldn’t have dared to say that, but he could say it, because they were Iraqis. I think the Iraqis have a very clear idea how many there are dead, because when I went in August to the main mortuary, the mortuary officials in Baghdad showed me the Ministry of Health computer, which I’m not allowed to see, which showed 1,100 Iraqis dead in Baghdad alone in just July. So, they have the figures. That’s not a truthful statement by Boylan.
AMY GOODMAN: At the event, this debate put on by Reuters, Lietenant Colonel Steve Boylan, the former chief military spokesperson in Iraq, was also questioned about the military’s use of the so-called information operations. This was his explanation.
LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: What is information operations? What first comes to mind? I would submit that most would automatically think of deceit and probably more in the lines of psychological operations. It’s interesting that information operations is still trying to be figured out within the military and definitely within the public and the media on what it really means and what all it encompasses. There is no information operations campaign against the American public or to the American public or in the American public, and this kind of goes back to the question about paying Iraqi newspapers for stories to be printed.
Well, to the best of my knowledge, all the stories are true. They did focus on the more — the positive aspects of what was happening.
PANELIST: Good news.
LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: Well, yeah. I don’t want to use the term “good news.” Progress. See, I still won’t use it, because the — if you want to call it the “adversity” was being covered extremely well. When that story broke, I was just leaving Iraq. I can argue either side of the story on that one, for or against, because if that’s the only way you can get the other side of the coin to be published, then why not? Many people call it advertising, if it wasn’t being done by the military.
QUESTION: What about propaganda?
LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: Propaganda is — is propaganda true or false?
PANELIST: Propaganda is part of war.
GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: I mean, one of the things that, you know, the U.S. government were always pointing out is the kind of the vibrant Iraqi press. How do they expect the Iraqis now on the streets to believe any good, positive story that is genuinely written by an Iraqi journalist? See, I’m not dismissing the act of good stories. But the problem is when there is such a kind of — this grave thing that’s happening now in Iraq, how can you — and in such a politicized way — how do you expect journalists, Iraqi journalists, decent Iraqi journalists to go into the streets and write a positive story. Everybody would be pointing at them, saying, 'Oh, you've been paid by the kind of Pentagon, the American army,’ and all these things. So, yes, you maybe managed to get like some positive stories, but you inflicted such damage on the young Iraqi press. I don’t see how they will recover from it. It’s a deja vu from the days of Saddam. Yes, Saddam, we can argue, he was trying do the same thing, was trying to put advertisement in the press.
LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: Well, my understanding also, which I don’t think has been widely reported, and I wish I had some statistics to give you, most of the stories that were, quote, “paid for” never got published.
PANELIST: You win some, you lose some.
PANELIST: As a taxpayer, I’m outraged by that.
PANELIST: Yeah, exactly.
LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: So, you know, the —
PANELIST: That’s a good story.
LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: Yeah, well. And that — you know, the paying for stories doesn’t happen only — and I’m not going to — I’ve been in other countries where their own host country governments, businesses pay journalists to cover what they’re doing. I’m not saying it’s an accepted practice. I know there’s a lot of focus on it right now with the Lincoln Group and the military’s participation in that. But it all goes back down to a lot of it is — some of the startup publications that were in Iraq, they could not have started without some assistance, because it does take money, it takes equipment, it takes people, other resources to run a newspaper.
AMY GOODMAN: Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan, the former chief military spokesperson in Iraq also responding to my question about the so-called information operations or the planting of stories that the Pentagon has done in the Iraqi press, with freelance Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. We’ll get response from Robert Fisk, veteran war correspondent, in a minute.