Hard News by Russell Brown


The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines actuality as "reality; realism", or, in plural, "existing conditions".

This, said the communications manager of the Arab satellite channel al-Jazeera, Jihad Ali Ballout, to Paul Holmes last night, is the essence of al-Jazeera's job.

Ballout was on New Zealand television because al-Jazeera picked up and screened Iraqi television's pictures of dead and captured US troops. And he wasn't apologising:

"It reflects exactly what's happening on the ground," he told Holmes. "I think it's incumbent on us to reflect facts as actualities."

He repeated the point later in the brief interview, but tripped and conflated the two words as "factualities", which is, in some ways, a better word.

The interview left a strong impression of an organisation that is at the very frontline of news, one which grapples with misinformation from all sides. The pictures from Iraqi TV were brutal, but, now more than ever, al-Jazeera operates in a brutal part of the world. Loftier Arab minds dismiss it as sensationalist, but sensation makes people watch.

(If you want to see this interview, you can get around NZoom's scripting bumf by copying the following URL and pasting it into Real Player: )

If nothing else, the furore forced CNN and its western rivals to make some genuine editorial decisions: CNN showed some of the pictures, presaged with a good deal of mumbling about why it was doing so. And, after showing indentifiable close-ups of surrendering Iraqi soldiers all weekend, its presenters suddenly started explaining why, in accordance with the Geneva Convention, it could only show long shots of the unfortunate Iraqis. It was almost funny.

But the pattern remains: it is the Arab media that gets the (literally) killer pictures and the American media that nobbles itself. Even the fantastical official Iraqi channel is strangely compelling when it breaks into the rest of the world's war coverage: last night's looping scene in which an excitable host interviewed the peasants who had apparently brought down a $US14 million Apache helicopter verged on satire.

Meanwhile, not being embedded appears to be a very dangerous status for war correspondents. British ITN journalist Terry Lloyd was killed by "friendly fire", and not Iraqi bullets as originally reported. I sincerely hope this doesn't become a trend.

No actual chemical weapons at the captured chemical weapons plant, it seems.

Slate looks at the Washington Post and New York Times stories on disgruntled CIA staff, alleging they were pressured by the White House to distort the truth on Iraq.

Salon talks to General Wesley Clark, the boring CNN analyst who thinks Bush bungled the case for war and who might just seek the Democratic presidential candidacy.

Jim Lobe at AlterNet reckons one faction of the White House hawks was deeply relieved when the "decapitation" attack failed. Only total war will do, apparently.

Back home in Dubya's home state of Texas, two brave gay men are challenging the actions of state police in bursting into their bedroom to arrest them for having sex. And Texas' ludicrous "homosexual conduct" law isn't some ancient holdover - it was passed in 1973. Hey, Denis Dutton and all the other self-declared defenders of modernism, plurality and secular values, where the hell are you on this one? Is this what we're fighting for?

You can still get a taxi from Jordan to Baghdad - but it'll cost ya.

And, finally, John Paul Hansen chips in with the happy news that Google and Blogger have created a fully protocol-compliant mirror of Salam Pax's Baghdad blog, Where's Raed?

NB: Earlier today this post contained a link to an ABC radio transcript covering the death of ABC camerman Paul Moran, which I misread (it said his death was "followed by" a friendly fire incident not "followed" a friendly fire incident). Just to make it clear: it was a suicide bombing.