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August 23, 2005

Failure to Note Failure in Iraq

Jessica Azulay co-wrote this blog entry.

The only thing more chaotic than the events that amounted to a constitutional crisis in Iraq yesterday was today's coverage of what should have been reported as a veritable coup, albeit by the majority of Iraq's existing interim leadership.

Rarely does such an obvious debacle receive such a strange array of whitewashes. Even before Condoleeza Rice released the State Department's official spinning of the events (more on that later), the corporate US media was scrambling to find ways to portray the failure of Iraq's national assembly to approve a draft of the constitution as a narrow success, snatched from the jaws of defeat.

A number of serious myths are making the rounds of the mainstream press, virtually without serious comment. Here are the big ones:

  • MYTH: The National Assembly has met the (new) deadline
  • MYTH: A draft constitution has been approved by the committee charged with drawing it up
  • MYTH: The drafting process has been democratic and participatory

The Los Angeles Times produced a story that was carried widely today was the flagship violator. Its headline announced, "Iraqis Barely Hit Constitutional Deadline." In fact, the deadline itself was unconstitutional, if the same, US-installed document that empowers Iraqi lawmakers is to be considered the arbiter of "constitutional."

Worse still, they did not hit it by any sensible definition of the term "hit." Though you wouldn't know it from reading almost any of the corporate media, the midnight deadline was not the point at which the constitutional committee was to have submitted a draft for the Assembly to vote on. In fact, it was the point by which the Assembly was to have approved a draft constitution by a majority vote so that it could be submitted to the Iraqi public.

But most Assembly members never even saw the draft, and they disbanded without voting on it. Instead, members of the constitution-drawing committee unilaterally empowered themselves to take another 3 days to work out remaining differences among the dominant parties and cajole Sunni lawmakers to support a final draft.

The LA Times story's lead is just as egregious as its headline, proclaiming:

Shiite and Kurdish politicians beat a midnight deadline Monday and submitted a draft constitution to Iraq's National Assembly, but lawmakers postponed voting on the document for three days in a final bid to gain the support of skeptical Sunni Arab leaders.

The "lawmakers" who "postponed" the vote, as far we can determine, include only the chairman and the speaker of the Assembly. No one else, by all accounts, so much as muttered a yay or nay on the Assembly chamber floor, though behind the scenes is where the real "extension" obviously took place.

The first time the Assembly voted to grant itself an extension on approving a constitution, it was "illegal." This time, there wasn’t even a democratic vote. It was just announced to Iraq’s representative body that it was to be so. End of story.

In light of these facts, statements made today by Secretary Rice seem all the more absurd:

In a statesmanlike decision, the men and women of the Assembly have decided to use the next three days to continue reaching out to build the broadest national consensus for Iraq’s new Constitution.

Spin is when you take facts and make them seem to convey one message or another, or reinforce one view or another. The above is what is known as a lie.

As we reported in our article today on this issue, the Iraqi Assembly is currently on very legally questionable ground and by a literal interpretation of the law under which it was created, it should be dissolved. Instead, some members of the government are choosing to make up the rules as they go along, something the majority of corporate media outlets have failed to point out or explore. So much for a watchdog press.

The only reason to submit a draft that is not complete is to pretend you are meeting a deadline when you are not. If yet another draft might come along, or if the Assembly is not permitted to vote on what has been submitted, then what is the value of stating the draft was on time? When we give journalists a deadline and they file a half-written manuscript five minutes early, we don't look at that as a draft that was submitted on time, especially if we've already given them an extension.

The grand notion that the process of hammering out a draft constitution has been a democratic and participatory one is something even the mainstream media are having trouble fully conveying. Still, they found no shortage of analysts to say that all the mess and disagreement was proof of democracy at work in Iraq. Some coverage of yesterday's political catastrophe managed to point out that the negotiation room doors were shut even to some of the committee members, even as US Ambassador Khalilzad participated heavily.

But Secretary Rice opted to paint a picture that bears no resemblance to reality:

The process by which Iraqis have reached this point is historic and in the best tradition of democracy.

One cannot help but question Sec. Rice's definition of "democracy" if the disgrace of the last week in Iraq is in its best tradition. It would be difficult to imagine a statement farther from the truth.

Nevertheless, corporate media reporters dove on Rice's analysis and reported it as just another valid assessment. No matter how big the lie or how absurd the analysis, the administration viewpoint is incorporated at any cost. 

We are not advocating or validating the Transitional Administrative Law -- the "Interim Constitution" that Paul Bremer left behind when he left Iraq over a year ago. That was a far less democratically derived document than even the current partial draft, to be sure.

But the corporate media outlets have been validating that document for months and months, and in fact praising its purported achievements, such as the January's elections. So it seems odd that when a relative handful of lawmakers runs amok and decides to start rewriting or just plain ignoring the mandates of that document, the results should be reported as further successes.


Benjamin Melançon: Enough Failure, and They Won't Be Mainstream

Don't sell The NewStandard short, Brian and Jessica! For posts like this to remain accurate over time, use more temporally-reliable terms such as establishment media instead of mainstream media. After all, except for television, radio, and -- oh, all right -- print and a good chunk of the Internet as well, New York Times' and LA Times' claim to mainstream status is pretty tenuous. Most people don't read them, and a lot of people who do don't like them. The NewStandard is the publication best set to replace them and others in the establishment media-- they'll still be around, sure, and they'll still be the establishment and NewStandard will still be the independent alternative-- but they won't be mainstream, and you will be.

After all, isn't there a push to promote the tar out of TNS, and an e-mail for people interested in helping to contact? Well look at that: e-mail "buzz," at, to be a volunteer to help spread the word.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.