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NPR and The Assassin Look, or News From Alternate Earth

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[Cross-posted at NPR Team Check]

Here's a little thought experiment:

Remember those Freedom Fightin' Contras from the 1980s - you know, the ones who killed and tortured tens of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians and were organized out of the Reagan White House by Col. Oliver North (and other assorted criminals such as John Negroponte, Dick Cheney, and our current "bipartisan" Secretary of War, Robert Gates!)? Imagine, for a moment, that a team of assassins assumed to be working for the current Nicaraguan government murdered Oliver North while he was staying at a hotel in Mexico City. Just consider that if, as the story broke, the government of Nicaragua refused to confirm or deny involvement in the killing, even though a majority of Nicaraguans believed their government committed the murder, and were actually celebrating and joking about the assassination. Now, is there anywhere but an alternative universe where NPR would run the following story (keep in mind that - except for the words in bold and italics - what follows is an exact transcript of an NPR aired on Thursday's ATC):

From NPR news, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

The murder of Oliver North, a key figure in the Contra war against Nicaragua in Mexico City last month is causing diplomatic trouble for Nicaragua. Mexico City's police chief now says 26 people carrying forged European and Australian passports were involved in the plot, and he says he is 99 percent certain Nicaragua was responsible.

The E.U. has strongly condemned the use of those stolen IDs.

Nicaragua maintains official silence on the killing. Some Nicaraguan analysts are calling it a botched operation because the assassins left behind too many clues.

But it's a different story among many ordinary Nicaraguans who say they are proud of the assassins for eliminating a man held responsible for assisting in the systematic killing and torture of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians in 1989.

Sheera Frenkel reports from Managua.

Frenkel : Nicaraguan Daniel Zamora was caught unaware when Nicaragua's Channel 2 News informed him he had been named as a suspected assassin of Contra organizer, Oliver North.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Frenkel : His first response was to laugh. Great for me, I guess, he said. Then, the presenter asked if he was scared.

Zamora: (Through Translator) Actually, no. I guess I should have been scared, but they've managed to take out another terrorist, so it's better.

FRENKEL: Nicaraguan officials have refused to confirm or deny involvement in North's death. But across Nicaragua, news of the assassination has been met with a wink, a nod and new found pride in Nicaragua's spy agency.

Juan Cardona owns a bakery in Managua. For the past week, he's greeted his customers with jokes over the North assassination.

Cardona (Bakery Owner): (Through Translator) Listen, we're fulfilling the fantasies of many countries all over the world who want to do this but don't have the means. We have the means. It's a great thing, so we'll laugh at this and just move on.

Frenkel: He shrugs off international anger over the killing and the growing number of accusatory fingers pointed at Nicaragua.

Yesterday, Mexico City police released additional information about suspects involved in North's death. Ten of the 26 suspected assassins share names with Nicaraguans, a coincidence Mexico City police say is simply too great to be ignored.

Nicaragua is a small country where everyone knows everyone, says Cardona, so the operation could have been carried out by your neighbor, friend or customer.

In Nicaragua's left-wing daily, Barricada, education correspondent Miguel Lopez proudly wrote about being mistaken for one of the Mexico City assassins. Lopez said he even received phone calls from friends asking why he hadn't bought them cigarettes from the duty-free in Mexico. And in a small health food store in Managua, 37-year-old Jorge Rivera had been mistaken by a number of customers for an uncanny resemblance he bears to one of the alleged assassins.

He's not one of them, he says, but he's still proud of the work they did.

Rivera: (Through Translator) Every terrorist that is eliminated, we are happy about, we give our blessings. Who took him out? We don't know. But, of course, we have an interest in this man no longer being alive.

Frenkel: While some Nicaraguans have criticized their government for its alleged involvement in the killing, most have only taken issue with the supposed trail of evidence the assassins left in their wake.

Mexico City's advanced surveillance cameras caught what they say were the killers in various parts of the city, and airport immigration officials matched names and passport numbers to the images.

Britain, Ireland, Germany, France and Australia are investigating claims that false passports from their countries were used by killers to enter the country. And at least some of the Nicaraguans whose names appear on the suspect list are not happy about it.

Speaking to Nicaraguan TV last night, Jacobo Ruiz said he could not have been more surprised to see his name on the list of alleged assassins.

Ruiz: (Through Translator) They took our passport numbers without asking. It's a shock. We have no idea what kind of problems this will create.

Frenkel: Still, most Nicaraguans found time to joke as they pored over the photos of the 26 suspects. Fourteen of them were wearing glasses with thick frames And, according to Nicaraguan radio, that style is now being requested across the country. They're calling it "The Assassin Look."

For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel in Managua.

It's worth noting that NPR also featured Sheera Frenkel's racist, anti-Arab rubbish when she embedded with Israeli vigilantes last October.

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