Politico Editor Hails Cheap Slander As "Heroic Internet Journalism."

I was intrigued

benpolitico RT @gabrielsnyder: Heroic internet journalism: http://www.collateralmurder.com/ Worth reading WaPo’s original report 1st: http://is.gd/bfW5h

What could Politico’s Ben Smith have found that was so courageous?

Back in the summer of 2007, back when America still had a president that was proud of his nation, US troops were engaged in combat operations in Baghdad against the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr. The fighting was confused, as urban fighting tends to be. From the Washington Post :

BAGHDAD, July 12 — U.S. soldiers in eastern Baghdad clashed with Shiite militiamen on Thursday, leaving at least 11 Iraqis dead and an unknown number injured, including two children hit by shrapnel from a U.S. helicopter attack, according to American soldiers who took part in the mission.

The intensive six-hour operation began at 6 a.m., when 240 U.S. soldiers in 65 Humvees, several Bradley Fighting Vehicles and two Apache attack helicopters descended on the al-Amin neighborhood, along with a dozen Iraqi troops, in response to increasing attacks on American soldiers by members of the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

During the fighting, an Apache helicopter fired bursts of 30mm rounds toward several people who had been directing machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. soldiers. The helicopter also fired on a silver Toyota minivan in the area as several people approached the vehicle, soldiers said.

Two of the civilians killed during the fighting were with the Reuters news service. Photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, were killed in what a preliminary Iraqi police report described as a “random American bombardment,” Reuters reported. The U.S. military said it has opened an investigation into the killings.

What has Ben Smith all gaga is the release of nearly 40 minutes video of uncertain provenance, I say uncertain not because it might be inauthentic but because the hosting website “collateral murder dot com” implies but doesn’t say it was leaked but Reuters has had a long standing FOIA request in for the same video, which shows the incident. A shortened version is below.

The hosting website huffs a lot about analysis and rules of engagement (ROE) and gives the impression that a heinous crime of some sort has been committed, covered up by THE MAN, and now revealed by the valiant Fourth Estate.

If you look at the video you see the two Reuters employees are embedded with a group of armed insurgents. One of the men is carrying a camera and another a cell phone. The gaggle mopes down a deserted street while, unbeknownst to them, they are under observation from at least two AH-64 Apache helicopters. The lead pilot confirms the group is armed (go to 3:30 to pick up the target identification images and audio), asks permission to engage which he receives as 4:50 leaving little more than hair, teeth, and eyeballs scattered on the street.

When viewed in any context, especially in the context of the rules of engagement in force at the time one is at a loss to understand the outrage that we are supposed to be witnessing.

The story is simple. A US news organization, Reuters, sent two of its employees out with the Mahdi Army to get video of American soldiers being killed to better carry out its editorial policy of hooting about US casualties in Iraq as a way of damaging the Bush Administration and to make some money in the process. Things didn’t work out very well for Reuters and their two guys got killed along with a dozen or so Mahdi thugs. Tough luck.

Now on to Ben Smith’s noxious tweet.

First, this is not journalism. In a best case scenario this is indistinguishable from a college kid posting an upskirt video on YouTube. In a worst case scenario, this video was released under FOIA and the site in question has done nothing other than post the fruits of someone else’s labor. Conveniently for us, inconveniently for them, they have also posted the ROE.

If anything the video demonstrates the extremes to which the pilots went to follow the rules of engagement. (Go to 7:40 and watch until about 8:50.)

Smith also tries to give the impression that the initial WaPo story was wrong. If anything, the video demonstrates how accurate their reporting was in this particular instance.

Contrary to what the press seems to want us to think, being a reporter doesn’t give you some kind of a magic shield that keeps you from being killed in a combat zone. Some of the reporters killed in Iraq have simply been stupid. Leaning out of a window, pointing a video camera at a tank is not a particularly good evolutionary strategy.

More to the point, the press in the Iraq War ceased to be chroniclers of events and undertook an active role on the side of the Mahdi Army and the insurgency. McClatchey deliberately skewed its reporting to hurt the war effort. The AP not only used fraudulent sources to report non-existent events but actually embedded its reporters with Mahdi Army hit squads. Some AP stringers have been tried as terrorists in Iraq.

The two men you see killed in the video were as much enemy combatants as the men carrying automatic weapons. They made a decision, ill advised as it turned out, that it would be a real adventure to accompany the Mahdi Army into combat and see some infidels killed.

There is a scandal here. The scandal is that Reuters blithely sent two employees into combat against American troops and got them killed. The scandal is that Reuters has the chutzpah to play the victim when they were the perpetrator of the event. The scandal is that guys like Ben Smith hail posting a YouTube video as “heroic internet journalism” without taking the time to either familiarize themselves with the story or to watch the video. The scandal is that young Americans have their lives put in jeopardy by these… these… whatever… who are so devoid of a sense of shame that they try to make a completely justified, and one might say restrained, use of force in a combat zone into an indictment of the Armed Forces.