Wednesday, October 10, 2007

US media: asleep at the wheel on Burma

The Burmese junta garnered at least one favorable headline out of the US media today: "Myanmar Reaches out to Dissident" proclaimed the NY Times. I suppose that headline wouldn't have sounded quite so lame if the paper did not persist in calling Burma by the name given to it by the junta.

If only the main problem with the US media's recent coverage of Burma was as superficial as what name it gives to Burma. Where is the reporting? Most of the probing reports coming out of Burma lately have been spearheaded by the British papers. Pick up a US paper and you find scarcely a hint of the deeply troubling reports coming out of Burma. No, the provocative reports don't come from "eminently quotable sources" -- i.e. junta officials -- they are based on stories told by monks, fugitive military men, and scared people on the streets -- none of whom will give their name to a newspaper for fear of reprisal.

Frankly, there are too many of these anecdotal reports for there not to be a genuine story here. The Sunday Times even acknowledged so much yesterday.

The NY Times thinks it is reporting the news when it parlays the junta's latest press release, and crowns it off with a sucky headline like "Myanmar Reaches out to Dissident." If any NY Times editors are reading Jotman tonight, FYI here's the story:
  • medical care denied to injured protestors. (SMH and Sunday Times)
  • secret cremations in Rangoon last week. (Sunday Times)
  • various reports continue to surface that monks were massacred. (see here)
The context that lends a sense of dire urgency to these reports is the fact that Burmese are reported being round-up, arrested, and sent to God Knows Where.

I think Americans should be allowed to read such reports in the New York Times -- even if they have not yet been proven. Why? Because the people of Burma may be in a race against the clock. The lives of thousands of imprisoned protestors may be on the line. Moreover, the reports on which these allegation are based speak of a junta that is not merely brutal, but on par with the Nazis.

If any one of these allegations holds, your whole view of the Burmese regime inexorably shifts.

The Wayne Madsen Report is suggesting the US news media may be trying to sanitize the news out of Burma so Chevron and the oil companies can get back to business ("Corporate media, kow-towing to Chevron, which has interests in Burma, downplaying massacre") When I first read that, I thought: well that's a stretch. Personally, I'm weary of conspiracy theories; my tendency here is to believe the US media is out of touch, with too few correspondents on the ground.

But on second thought . . . It seems to me one can make a certain kind of pragmatic argument in favor of doing business with a brutal dictator -- especially if China is already in on the act, but doing business with a Nazi is a different matter entirely.

Think about it: not only did the Burmese junta order its troops to open fire on peaceful monks and protestors, but it also may have ordered and enforced the denial of medical care to the injured. What kind of brutal dictatorship issues the second order? And if this second command was issued to Burma's hospitals, is it such a stretch to believe General Hla Win just might have been speaking the truth when he said orders had been given to round up and massacre monks?

Yes Chevron, you do have a problem. And New York Times: considering the actual situation on the ground in Burma, your headline was not merely lame, it was offensive.

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