The L.A. Times has a news analysis today of the aftermath of a Samarra mosque bombing, which has unleashed sectarian violence in Iraq. The news analysis continues the paper’s trend of portraying the current violence as a signal of an all-but inevitable civil war, rather than as the deliberate result of a strategy concocted by terrorists, possibly from Al Qaeda.
The linchpin of the paper’s portrayal of the current violence is to downplay (or not even mention) the fact that the U.S. Government believes that the bombing may be the work of Al Qaeda terrorists. For example, today’s news analysis describes the bombing suspects, not as “terrorists” or “Al Qaeda” or “Zarqawi,” but rather as simply “Sunnis”:
The surge of sectarian fighting after a Shiite Muslim shrine was bombed last week has dealt a hard blow to hopes for creating a functioning Iraqi state.
Instead of laboring to create a well-run economy or a democracy, Iraqi and American resources are being diverted to stave off a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis, who are suspected in the bombing.
While we still don’t definitively know who is behind the bombing, it’s clear that Al Qaeda operatives are among those “suspected” of involvement in the bombing. A search for Samarra and “Al Qaeda” on Google News reveals over 1,150 results. If you click through the stories returned in the search, you will see countless references to the fact that Al Qaeda generally, and Zarqawi specifically, are suspected of having been behind the bombing.
If you’re going to talk about who is “suspected” of having perpetrated the bombing, how’s about letting readers know that the suspects include Al Qaeda??
Knowing that Al Qaeda is suspected to be behind the attacks provides critical context for the current violence in Iraq, which could be portrayed as either the beginning of an inevitable civil war, or a momentary outbreak of violence spurred by a terrorist (possibly Al Qaeda) attack. It’s clear that the editors prefer the former explanation.
Today’s news analysis makes this clear:
The outlines of a future Iraq are emerging: a nation where power is scattered among clerics turned warlords; control over schools, hospitals, railroads and roads is divided along sectarian lines; graft and corruption subvert good governance; and foreign powers exert influence only over a weak central government.
. . . .
Doomsayers long have warned that Iraq was turning into a failed state like Somalia or Taliban-run Afghanistan, a regional black hole. It’s far too early to write Iraq off as a quagmire, analysts say, but the threat of contagious and continuous instability — like in Lebanon — looms.
But if Al Qaeda was behind the attack, we’re not necessarily looking at a drawn-out civil war. Ironically, The Times recently ran an editorial that recognized this fact, and underlined the significance of the possibility that Al Qaeda might have been behind the attack:
IT WOULD BE ODDLY REASSURING if Al Qaeda were behind Wednesday’s hideous bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra. That would leave a shard of hope that civil war in Iraq might still be averted.
Loyal Times readers must have been puzzled by the reference to Al Qaeda, since when the editorial ran, the paper’s news pages had not even hinted to readers that this was a possibility. A Google search for the terms “Samarra” and “Al Qaeda” and “Los Angeles Times” reveals only two results: an irrelevant Mother Jones article, and the L.A. Times editorial.
As I noted yesterday, as far as I can tell, the paper’s news division has not published a single news story that clearly says that Al Qaeda is suspected to be behind the attacks. Instead, there has been one news story (which ran after the publicaton of the editorial) that waited until the final paragraphs to mention the suspected involvement of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, without explaining that Zarqawi is a senior Al Qaeda operative.
Ironically, the generally anti-American Reuters news service has done a much better job of providing critical context for the bombing and ensuing violence. A February 22 Reuters article focused on the fact that the bombing was deliberately designed to draw Iraq into sectarian strife:
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader in Iraq, has claimed responsibility for many of the suicide bombings that have inflicted mass casualties on Shi’ites in a bid to trigger sectarian civil war.
On February 23, a Reuters piece titled Bush: Iraq shrine attack aimed at fueling strife said in the second paragraph:
Bush told reporters he understood the anger at the suspected al Qaeda bomb attack that destroyed the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of Shi’ite Islam’s holiest shrines.
On February 24, a Reuters article stated in its second and third paragraphs that:
[Condoleezza] Rice blamed al Qaeda for the bombing which ignited Iraqi sectarian violence that has left 200 people dead in Baghdad alone over the past three days. She acknowledged the violence posed a threat to Iraq’s political process and took small comfort from the limited achievements of her latest trip.
She suggested that al Qaeda planted the explosives, which on Wednesday blew up an important Shi’ite mosque in the Iraqi town of Samarra and sparked a spate of vicious attacks against clerics, mosques and ordinary people.
And just today, a Reuters piece states:
Western nations condemned the attack, and Washington suggested the al Qaeda network could have been trying to stir up sectarian bloodshed through the bombing.
All of these pieces ran in the Washington Post. The L.A. Times has access to Reuters copy (though the editors have a habit of removing portions that favor the U.S. Government position). Why haven’t these stories or stories like them appeared in the L.A. Times?
The fact that Washington insiders suspect Al Qaeda is news. If they don’t have a strong basis for their suspicions, that’s news too. But this information needs to be reported. The Washington Post and Reuters are doing it. The Los Angeles Times isn’t.
P.S. Yes, my searches used the evil Google search engine. Unfortunately, it is still the default resource for searches like this. Just don’t click on their ads!
P.P.S. Folks like croche who think that I am placing great significance in a high number of hits for two search terms on Google don’t understand what I’m saying. My point is twofold: 1) I used Google to “show my work” in backing up my assertion that The Times had not mentioned Al Qaeda in connection with the bombing, and 2) a news search reveals plenty of sources that did — which is why I encouraged readers to click through on some of the results. The point is not how many results there were — coneheads can easily manipulate data like that. The point is that there are plenty of results that you can actually click on and see that the story links Al Qaeda and the Samarra bombing.
That explanation is for you boneheads out there. Everyone else already understood this.