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Voxblogoli 2006.1: Michael Ware Unplugged

Tuesday, March 28, 2006  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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Radioblogger has posted the transcript of my interview with Time Magazine Baghdad bureau chief Michael Ware.

It has already prompted an avalanche of e-mails and a number of blogosphere posts. I will link posts the urls of which are e-mailed to me at hugh@hughhewitt.com. Please type in the subject line: Vox Blogoli on Ware.

Among the more provocative of Ware’s comments:

HH: But I do think that that distinction between Islamists and insurgents has been well understood, and for a very long time. And I’d look for you to tell me when were you misled about that. But more importantly, going to the Islamists, about whom…you’ll agree with me, they’re evil. Won’t you, Michael?

MW: Well, I certainly…I mean, one has to be careful that as the Islamic army of Iraq reminded just last week on Al Jazeera, the insurgent groups study very closely everything that we hear, say and write. And given that we’re within their grasp, one always must be diplomatic. Suffice to say, it’s very hard to relate to the goals or tactics that the hard-line Islamists employ.

and

HH: Michael Ware, what is the difference between what you’ve been doing, especially with the jihadists, though to a certain extent with the insurgents as well, and say a World War II-era reporter making numerous trips to the German side to talk with the Nazis, and then coming back and being ambivalent about reporting on the Nazis, or being candid about the Nazis.

MW: Well, I mean, I think we’re talking about very markedly different experiences. I mean, for example, during World War II, there was very clearly delineated front lines that simply were not crossed in a fashion like that. It wasn’t a guerilla war. It wasn’t an insurgency that’s fought amongst the mix of a civilian population. So that simply wasn’t able to be done. Plus, there was also a very great understanding about the nature of German expansionism, and German nationalism. Hitler had very much outlined his intentions for a decade before the war. So I don’t think there was any great mystery there. There was no great unknown to the extent that there is here, that people just don’t know what this war is really about. And getting to the bottom of that is extremely difficult, and requires you sifting through any number of filters that all of these players want to throw at you.

HH: But as you said at the beginning, the jihadis consider this to be one battlefield of a vast war. And the jihadis…

MW: Yeah, as does the West. Exactly.

HH: And the jihadis are very prolific in their statements from Osama through Zawahiri down to Zarqawi. So we really know what they’re about. Given that you’re arguing geography is the reason you do this, I want to go back to the nature of actually doing it, and whether or not if, in fact, in World War II, someone had been offered in Portugal an assistance from the Abwehr to go back and forth to Germany to visit various Nazi encampments or policies, would that have been acceptable in World War II, Michael Ware?

MW: Well, I think the values would be different back then. But let’s think about it. What would be the value of doing that? I mean, imagine, okay, we know what we know about the German regime, or the Nazi party. We are inundated with their propaganda. We’re listening to their chatter. We’re getting their side of the story. Could you imagine having an objective view, go in and come out, and say this is what is really looks like? this is what it really feels like? This is what people in their quiet moments behind closed doors will actually tell you. Now imagine the value of that.

HH: So you would have encouraged such reporting, had it been possible in World War II?

MW: Well, I don’t know. I wasn’t around in World War II, so I’m not sure I’m really in a position to determine. All I can talk to about are the circumstances that have presented themselves to me, and the wars I’ve found myself in.

and

HH: Because we talked about this on CNN. Do you think Iraq is better off today, just…than it was under Saddam? Do you think that…

MW: Well, I was never here under Saddam. My period during Saddam’s regime was in the Kurdish North, where with U.S. air cover, they’ve forged their own autonomous sanctuaries. So I never lived under Saddam, and I can only imagine what the horrors were like, and what the restrictions were like. All I can tell you that life here right now is extraordinarily difficult, and there’s a lot of killing going on, and there’s a lot of deprivation going on, and to be able to compare that to something I never saw is a bit difficult for me.

HH: Well, do you think the Russian people were better under Krushchev than they were under Stalin? Neither of us saw Kruschev or Stalin, but both of us…

MW: Yeah, I wouldn’t have a clue, you know?

HH: You wouldn’t have a clue? Really?

MW: No, not really. I mean, Stalin was the beast of all beasts, but you know, I’m not a student of Russian modern history, nor of the Cold War, on where the broad brush strokes…and I certainly don’t hold myself out as expert enough to be able to comment on something like that. All I can tell you about is what I see, and what I experience. And what I know is the reality on the grounds here. Now was a vicious dictatorship removed? Absolutely. On a human rights basis, it has to have been a good thing. However, as the result of which, we’ve let a horrific genie out of the bottle, where 50 or 60 people are showing up dead every morning from an undeclared civil war that even the American ambassador now acknowledges is killing more people than the insurgency. Now that’s something that was not here before, yet is here now. So I mean, it’s an entirely different problem set that I really don’t think can be competently compared like that. It’s not that simple.

There’s a great deal more, of course, and others find other segments troubling for different reasons.

There is also this exchange which references an important story on Zarqawi’s operations in Iraq prior to the invasion, which I cannot find and which none of my listeners seem to be able to find:

HH: My last question. Zarqawi.

MW: Yeah.

HH: He was there before the war began. He had come back and forth to Afghanistan. In your dealings with the insurgents, had they dealt with him prior to the war?

MW: No. I did uncover some documents, however, that referred to his presence, here in some form. Now it seemed to be covert and unofficial, and one can only guess. However, I did receive a document written by one of his right hand men, a man who was killed in 2004 by a U.S. JDAM in his vehicle, who wrote an after action report of the first battle of Fallujah, in the course of which he said well, you know, Abu bil-Bloggs (phonetic spelling) was killed at this point. You know Abu bil-Bloggs. He was the one who saw Zarqawi in Baghdad before the war.

HH: Did you publish that?

MW: Yeah.

HH: In Time Magazine.

MW: Yeah.

HH: Oh, that’s interesting. I missed that one. I have to go back and find that.

Please let me know if you find this article that Ware assured me appeared in Time.

Now to the symposium questions:

Is Michael Ware doing a good job as a journalist? Is he helping or hurting the effort to pacify Iraq and help it towards stable democracy? Should Time recall him? Should there be a time limit on all journalists in a theater of conflict like Iraq?

There is no doubting the man’s courage and his relentless commitment to the stories he pursues, but the interview raises questions at the heart of journalism’s crisis.

Commentators:

TheRealUglyAmerican
Democracy Project
One Destination
LGF
ImmodestProposals
AlwaysJason
JustaWoman
OurKitchenTable
Cockalorum
The Asylum
View from a Height

And one e-mail –the exception to the rule of “no e-mails”– from Hal, who is aiding the program daily:

“THE OLD MEDIA AND IRAQI WAR REPORTAGE — LOFTY STANDARDS OR AGENDA JOURNALISM? – THEY REPORT — WE DERIDE”

During the week of Mar 20, 2006, Nationally Syndicated Talk Show Host, Best Selling Author and Conservative Bon Vivant, Hugh Hewitt appeared several times on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper” television show, where he had some lively verbal exchanges with other guests on the topic of the Iraqi war coverage.

Perhaps the most pointed and vivacious of these exchanges were with Michael Ware, Time’s Baghdad/Iraq Bureau Chief and widely celebrated war correspondent.

Mr. Ware is NOT one of the legions of “razor cut and blow dry” journalists who are, shades of “Desert Storm”, bravely reporting the war from the besieged balconies and roofs of 4- or 5-star hotels in Dubai, Kuwait, Amman, etc. — thereby heroically subjecting themselves to the intemperate dangers of a bad piece of melon in the hotel dining room or even, God Forfend!, an awful slip on a scented soap bar in the hotel’s spa whirlpool.

No, Mr.Ware is, as contemporary war correspondents go, the “real deal”, he’s been down in “the mud and the blood”, he’s “humped” (soldier’s slang for “been along on combat operations”) with the full range of The World’s Best — The Barrel Chested Defenders of Freedom and Liberators of the Oppressed; known more commonly as Rangers, Seals, Green Beret, Delta, et al.

On Tuesday, March 28, 2006 – Mr. Hewitt, decided to go “mano a mano” with Mr. Ware on his weekday radio show, broadcast nationally on the Salem Radio Network.

Mr.’s Hewitt and Ware slugged it out for over an hour. It was a wonderfully civil and enlightening exchange by two skilled wordsmiths, at the top of their profession and on their individual games.

The topic essentially was (in my own poor words), “Why does the Mainstream Media’s Iraqi war coverage suck so bad?”

Why Indeed?

Well, by way of example, here just two of the exchanges (the “naughty bits” BOLDED by moi) between them, for the rest you absolutely should go www.radioblogger.com — you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cancel your subscriptions to Time Magazine and their Fellow Travelers, such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, et al.

Hugh Hewitt: Because we talked about this on CNN. Do you think Iraq is better off today, just…than it was under Saddam? Do you think that…

Michael Ware: Well, I was never here under Saddam. My period during Saddam’s regime was in the Kurdish North, where with U.S. air cover, they’ve forged their own autonomous sanctuaries. So I never lived under Saddam, and I can only imagine what the horrors were like, and what the restrictions were like. All I can tell you that life here right now is extraordinarily difficult, and there’s a lot of killing going on, and there’s a lot of deprivation going on, and to be able to compare that to something I never saw is a bit difficult for me.

HH: Well, do you think the Russian people were better under Krushchev than they were under Stalin? Neither of us saw Kruschev or Stalin, but both of us…

MW: Yeah, I wouldn’t have a clue, you know?

HH: You wouldn’t have a clue? Really?

MW: No, not really. I mean, Stalin was the beast of all beasts, but you know, I’m not a student of Russian modern history, nor of the Cold War, on where the broad brush strokes…and I certainly don’t hold myself out as expert enough to be able to comment on something like that. All I can tell you about is what I see, and what I experience. And what I know is the reality on the grounds here. Now was a vicious dictatorship removed? Absolutely. On a human rights basis, it has to have been a good thing. However, as the result of which, we’ve let a horrific genie out of the bottle, where 50 or 60 people are showing up dead every morning from an undeclared civil war that even the American ambassador now acknowledges is killing more people than the insurgency. Now that’s something that was not here before, yet is here now. So I mean, it’s an entirely different problem set that I really don’t think can be competently compared like that. It’s not that simple.

If that exchange doesn’t give you at least broad hint as to the origins and sources of the suckitude in Iraqi War Coverage, try this exchange.

HH: Michael Ware, what is the difference between what you’ve been doing, especially with the jihadists, though to a certain extent with the insurgents as well, and say a World War II-era reporter making numerous trips to the German side to talk with the Nazis, and then coming back and being ambivalent about reporting on the Nazis, or being candid about the Nazis.

MW: Well, I mean, I think we’re talking about very markedly different experiences. I mean, for example, during World War II, there was very clearly delineated front lines that simply were not crossed in a fashion like that. It wasn’t a guerilla war. It wasn’t an insurgency that’s fought amongst the mix of a civilian population. So that simply wasn’t able to be done. Plus, there was also a very great understanding about the nature of German expansionism, and German nationalism. Hitler had very much outlined his intentions for a decade before the war. So I don’t think there was any great mystery there. There was no great unknown to the extent that there is here, that people just don’t know what this war is really about. And getting to the bottom of that is extremely difficult, and requires you sifting through any number of filters that all of these players want to throw at you.

At this point, I would say that any reasonable and reasonably-educated, average person, has to question either Mr. Ware’s candor, or his education.

With the possible exception of the odd, old Soviet Commissar or KGB officer (and precious few of them I suspect), it would be very hard to find any college educated Westerner that ISN’T VERY DAMN CLEAR on the difference between Krushchev and Stalin. Oh, let alone any Russian of the right age or education.

But, should Mr. Ware’s education truly be lacking in this respect, a quick phone call, say to some reputable “primary sources” such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin (YES! he’s still alive(?)) or Vladimir Putin, or even Mr. Ware’s fellow author-journalists, Aleksander Solzenitsyn or Natan Sharansky, should provide him with all the information he needs to fix this curious hole in his education.

Mr. Ware could then follow up that phone call with a reading of award-winning historian (and noted former devout Communist) Robert Conquest’s “Stalin: Breaker of Nations” or his “Great Terror: A Reassessment”.

ACTION ITEM: Anyone reading this who cares enough, might think to send a copy of these books, to Mr. Michael Ware, Care of Time Magazine, or maybe you can drop them on some other media and political stars, who seem very unclear on the same distinction, such as: Madeleine Albright, David Gregory, Helen Thomas, Edward Wong, John Kerry and Paul Krugman, in order to help their deficient educations.

For me, the 2nd exchange above was the most illuminating, and, I believe, goes directly to the point of why the Iraqi war coverage is so very, very, very bad.

Mr. Ware’s weasley refusal to compare his “even handed” coverage of the Baathist terrorist/murders and the Al-Qaeda terrorist/murderers, with the Nazi terrorist/murders or Communist terrorist/murderers, under the brittle and shopworn excuse, “So that simply wasn’t able to be done” is poor verbal gruel indeed for a celebrated journalist, who makes a handsome living crafting words.

For a war correspondent, celebrated or not, to be unclear on the differences between the various types of “killing”, is like a fisherman being unclear on the types of fish he catches. And it has just as peculiar a smell as two-day old, unidentified fish.

It seems pretty damn simple, probably too simple for someone as well-educated and worldly as Mr. Ware.

However, I humbly offer for the easement of Mr. Ware’s personal moral and historical confusion, the following (simple) definitions: “Good Killing” occurs when “Bad People”, simply defined as those who; murder, rape, rob, brutalize, victimize and otherwise oppress innocent people, are themselves killed or otherwise stopped from doing those “Bad Things”.

“Bad Killing” occurs when “Bad People” do various “Bad Things”, to innocent people without let or hindrance.

AHH, you say, “Isn’t that culturalist? Aren’t we just projecting our cultural values on societies that need to embrace their OWN cultural heritage?”

Well, if their own “cultural heritage” is; murder, rape, robbery, torture and oppression, my suspicion is that the vast majority of the helpless victims would take all the “projection of foreign values” they can get. And as quickly as possible.

Further, Mr. Ware seems to have no problem decrying the various crimes against humanity; such as slavery, murder, torture and oppression, when done by historical figures such as Stalin or Hitler.

But, when the exact same (well-documented — by people living within a few feet of Mr. Ware’s Baghdad residence) acts of horror and brutality are done by a Saddam or Uday or Zarqawi or the nameless legions of Baathist terrorist/murders or Al-Qaeda terrorist/murders…

…Well, to imaginatively reapply Mr. Ware’s very own words more directly than he was willing to do, “Yeah, I wouldn’t have a clue, you know?

Yeah, we DO know. And MORE of us are finding out every day.

In closing, allow me to further help Mr. Ware and his fellow journalists, who seem so “confused”, by further expanding some basic definitions, that most people would expect professional journalists to know by heart.

The “Good Guys” are the ones building and rebuilding; schools, hospitals, mosques, oil pipelines and refineries, and universities…

..and the “Bad Guys” are the ones blowing all that up and murdering innocent civilians.

See how easy that was? Even a college-educated journalist should be able to figure it out.

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