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Media Beat

Story pulls media into deep water



The evolving story about the Blackwater private security firm has taken up long-term residence on American front pages. Initially fueled by the anger of Iraqi people and even the outrage expressed by the U.S.-aligned Iraqi government, the evidence that Blackwater employees massacred Iraqi civilians in a recent incident has set off enormous media momentum in the United States.

For years now, private Pentagon contractors have gotten off easy in U.S. mass media. Although billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies have fattened the larded profit margins of Blackwater and other politically connected firms, their regiments of high-paid employees have routinely acted as laws unto themselves.

That may change in the wake of the current scandal, but don’t bet on it. So much going on in Iraq – even, and perhaps especially, when Americans are directly involved – gets virtually no coverage in the mainstream press. Bombs explode in remote areas, launched from high-tech U.S. weaponry, and few who scour the American news pages and broadcasts are any the wiser about the human toll.

With all the media talk about sectarian violence in Iraq, the favorite motif of coverage is the suicide bomb that underscores the conflagration as Iraqi-on- Iraqi violence. Reporters and commentators rarely touch on the fact that the U.S. occupation has been the catalyst for the onset and continuation of the carnage.

The Blackwater scandal pits a dissembling corporate hierarchy and its Bush administration patrons against the emerging evidence. Top officials at Blackwater have gone by the corporate playbook in denying culpability and – evidently – hoping that the whole uproar will blow over.

One of the most unusual aspects of the current media story is that it places the killing of Iraqi civilians front-and-center even though the killers were Americans. This angle is outside the customary media frame that dwells on what Iraqis are doing to each other and presents Americans – whether in military uniform or in contractor mode – as well-meaning heroes or victims of dire circumstances.

How far the Blackwater story will travel remains to be seen. But it would be a shame if it remained within the overall perspective that was voiced by a member of Congress on Oct. 2 during a hearing on Capitol Hill. The legislator expressed concern that Blackwater has been “undermining” the “mission” in Iraq.

Perhaps as a political technique, many in Congress – and quite a few media pundits – have hopped on the anti-Blackwater bandwagon while brandishing that kind of rhetoric. Blackwater, we’re told, is making it more difficult for the U.S. government to succeed in Iraq.

But what is this “mission” that the United States is pursuing in Iraq? To hear many American commentators tell it, the USA is encountering too many obstacles – including some that are selfinflicted, as in the case of Blackwater – along a road that could lead to a successful presence in Iraq. But such fantasies are built on reversion to denial.

Odious as Blackwater has been and continues to be, that profiteering corporation should not be made a scapegoat for what is wrong with the U.S. war effort in Iraq. Finding better poster boys who can be publicized as humanitarians rather than mercenaries cannot change the basic role of gun-toting American personnel in a country that they have no right to occupy.

Countless journalists and politicians have labored audibly to identify whatÇs been going wrong for the United States in Iraq. An endless stream of explanations and condemnations has turned into a cascade of fingerpointing about tactics and procedures.

But unless the deadly arrogance of Blackwater and its financiers in the U.S. government is put into a broader perspective on the U.S. war effort as a whole, the vilification of this firm could distract from the overall matter of American forces in Iraq.

No matter who’s signing their paychecks, the underpaid Ameri- can soldiers and the overpaid Pentagon contractors in Iraq don’t belong there. The current Blackwater scandal should help us to understand the dynamics that routinely set in when occupiers rely on violence to crush homegrown resistance.

©2007 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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