How NPR Avoids and Distracts
On Friday I was staying late at work and before leaving heard this promising start to a story on All Things Considered:
"This week, we've been reading a vivid narrative in the New York Times by the journalist David Rohde. He was held captive for seven months by the Taliban. He was moved frequently from house to house all over remote parts of Pakistan. And one detail in this story made us particularly curious."
Holy cow! I thought, NPR is going to allude to the three rather stunning observations contained in Rohde's articles which Glenn Greenwald so aptly wrote about a few days ago:
- The actions of the US in killing countless civilians (especially Muslims) in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine have "galvanized the Taliban."
- The US practice of holding detainees in abusive conditions "for years without being charged" has also has strengthened the Taliban.
- How much more humane Rohde was treated by his captors compared to the treatment meted out to similarly innocent captives at the hands of US military and intelligence agencies. As Rohde notes, his captives gave him bottled water, let him walk outside, and "never beat me."
In my head I was already composing the positive post I'd put up on this blog about NPR taking on this obvious - but still controversial - angle.
Alas, I couldn't have been more wrong. What was that "one detail" which made the collective "us" at NPR so curious?
"Rhode got a letter from his wife through the International Red Cross. How in the world did the Red Cross deliver him a letter when no one knew where he was? Well, the online magazine Slate found out for its "Explainer" column. Here's Andy Bowers with the answer."
Granted, the operations of the Red Cross in trying to contact hostages is pretty interesting - as The Guardian noted way back in 2004 (and MSNBC) and McClatchy detailed in 2008. And it's not a closed issue as this 2009 Newsweek article on ghost detainees reveals. Seems like those stories never gained much traction for the journalists at NPR news.
Interestingly, another Red Cross angle found its way into a Greenwald analysis today - Netanyahu's declaration that hiding prisoners from the Red Cross is a war crime (!?). Could there be two more polar opposite attitudes revealed by comparing Greenwald's work to NPR's? In one the focus is on the hypocrisy of those in power and the ways in which their deceit and misdeeds make the world more violent and dangerous for all of us. In the other, there is a perverse effort to focus on the most trivial and distracting details - even when such details are painfully ironic.