Journos debate… the impact of a pair of shoes

Via the South Asian Journalists Association network

FROM : Salil Tripathi

Dear Raja,

Thanks. This reporter did not speak truth to power; he acted as an activist, a combatant, using physical force against an individual. He brought shame to the profession of journalism, even though he may have acted all right from an activist/protester standpoint.

Reporting on a war means reporting on a war. You report what you see, hear and can verify; if you are restricted from seeing, or hearing, disclose that to your readers/viewers. You don’t interpret data unless you are a commentator; you get others to corroborate the story you think is getting advanced. Reporting on a war does not mean taking up weapons and fighting for a side. You are welcome to do that, but then don’t disguise yourself as a reporter.

Embedded journalism is bad, but no journalism is worse. If readers/viewers are told that what they’re seeing is controlled, then the reporter has done his/her duty. Iraq’s
pre-occupation government was frequently interviewed by the media. That press officer who was later known as Comical Ali as a regular part of the broadcasts. What you call Iraq’s resistance movement is seen by many Iraqis as a bunch of fundamentalist militants, many of them not Iraqis, whose target is hardly the “occupation force” but ordinary Iraqi civilians.

Journalists are not supposed to throw shoes at anybody. They are supposed to ask tough questions. The one who hurls a projectile in a press conference has usually lost the verbal argument.

I agree that the reporter’s protest will go down history as an act of protest – but please, don’t besmirch the memory of non-violent actions like the Boston Tea Party and the Salt Satyagraha, by equating this violent action with what Gandhi and the New Englanders did. Yes, it may be in line with the way Shiv Sainiks among Hindus and intifadaists among Palestinians might act. But this act was by no way Gandhian. Please. — Salil/London

On Tue, Dec 16, 2008 at 4:25 AM, raja swamy wrote:

Does loyalty to the profession absolve a journalist of the responsibility to speak truth to power? The comments on this forum seem to suggest exactly that. However, I would like to know what exactly “profession” means when it comes to reporting on war and occupation (and I reject the fantastic views of the professional soldier (and happy pro-occupation denier of occupation, that all is hunky dory in occupied Iraq)). Is embedded journalism “professional?” Is reporting word for word the pronouncements of the aggressor country’s administration WITHOUT once getting the views of the Iraqi government (pre-occupation), the resistance movement (post-occupation), the critiques from
around the planet about this disastrous and genocidal war of neocolonial occupation, professional?

What I am confounded by is the cavalier attitude of some like Bhaskar Dasgupta towards the life of Muntadar al Zaidi. Is this how a journalism list engages with the question of imminent physical harm to a journalist who did no more than throw shoes at an aggressor who launched missiles, bombs and what not murdering more than a million people and maiming scores? Shouldn’t SAJA be leading the
call to defend the Al Zaidi’s life? Instead we get the blinkered view that the occupation has made such acts possible and as such there is nothing to worry about except perhaps the damage done to something these geniuses determine to be the “profession.”

It this sycophantic practice of siding with the powerful and making excuses for genocide that is being propounded as the “profession” by some SAJA’ers. As a South Asian, I am ashamed by these comments and would like to reiterate that Al Zaidi’s action represents a genuine response by a
genuine journalist – who hasn’t forgotten that the most fundamental obligation of a journalist is to stand up to the powerful, and that he did. This incident will go down in history books as one of the greatest acts of protest, alongside the Boston tea party, the Salt satyagraha, and the Palestinian Intifada.

Bravo Muntadar al Zaidi! Wish there are millions of journalists like you!


From: Tejinder Singh

Very appropriate Chinki. The reporter did not go in there as a freeman but as a accreditated journalist which most commenting here are forgetting. An accreditated journalist gets rights to ask
but also has duties. Those of us who sit on Councils to negotiate with govt institutions to decide terms and conditions of such procedures, know what harm those Shoes have done to the profession. Some of us are so close to leaders, we can punch or slap them so is that what our duty is?

Tejinder Singh
Brussels, Belgium
Sent via BlackBerry offered by Proximus
Tejinder Singh +32 473 677 985 Editor-in-Chief, New Europe, the European Weekly, Brussels
EU Correspondent, APM News (Formerly part of Reuters), Paris
Member, Council, Association de la Presse Internationale/ International Press Association, Brussels
Life Member, South Asian Journalists Association,NYC

From: “Chinki Sinha”

of course it mars the trip because it is not about “liberators” as John uses it here but about the deep
anguish and hurt and disappointment of iraq’s people who first suffered under saddam and now suffer the loss of dignity under the current occupation. it is not about the freedom of expression because the reporter, who hurled the shoes at Bush during the press conference, was arrested on
unspecified charges. You also have to look at the specifics of the conference which was celebrating the US occupation of Iraq as one of the most successful in the history of United States military efforts. Freedom is not about hurling shoes at others. It is about peace and human rights and not fearing about getting killed ever moment …Chinki Sinha, Principal Correspondent, Indian Express, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi,

On Mon, Dec 15, 2008 at 7:49 PM, John Laxmi :

In a blatant case of bias, the Associated Press says the incident in Baghdad “mars” Bush’s farewell tour, instead of celebrating it! Could a reporter (or anyone else for that matter) have expressed his dissent in this manner (or any other) during Saddam Hussein’s regime? Shouldn’t we applaud both the reporter for his free expression and the Liberators who made it possible? — Regards, John Laxmi, NJ

Bush’s Iraq-Afghan Farewell Tour Marred by Dissent
Published: December 15, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — President George W. Bush wrapped up a whirlwind trip to two war zones Monday that in many ways was a victory lap without a clear victory. A signature event occurred when an Iraqi reporter hurled two shoes at Bush, an incident the president called ”a bizarre moment.”

Bush visited the Iraqi capital just 37 days before he hands the war off to his successor, Barack Obama, who has pledged to end it. The president wanted to highlight a drop in violence and to celebrate a recent U.S.-Iraq security agreement, which calls for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.

”The war is not over,” Bush said, but ”it is decisively on its way to being won.”

Bush then traveled to Afghanistan where he spoke to U.S. soldiers and Marines at a hangar on the tarmac at Bagram Air Base. The rally for over a thousand military personnel took place in the dark, cold pre-dawn hours. Bush was greeted by loud cheers from the troops.

”Afghanistan is a dramatically different country than it was eight years ago,” he said. ”We are making hopeful gains.”

But the president’s message on progress in the region was having trouble competing with the videotaped image of the angry Iraqi who hurled his shoes at Bush in a near-miss, shouting in Arabic, ”This is your farewell kiss, you dog!” The reporter was later identified as Muntadar
al-Zeidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadia television, an Iraqi-owned station based in Cairo, Egypt.

In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt. Iraqis whacked a statue of Saddam with their shoes after U.S. Marines toppled it to the ground following the 2003 invasion.

Bush told reporters later that he didn’t think ”you can take one guy throwing shoes and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq. You can try to do that if you want but I don’t think that would be accurate.”

Reaction in Iraq was swift but mixed, with some condemning the act and others applauding it. Television news stations throughout Iraq repeatedly showed footage of the incident, and newspapers carried headline stories.

In Baghdad’s Shiite slum of Sadr City, supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for protests against Bush and demanded the release of the reporter. Thousands took to the streets Monday, chanting, ”Bush, Bush, listen well: Two shoes on your head.”

Talking to a small group of reporters after the incident, Bush said, ”I didn’t know what the guy said, but I saw his sole.” He told the reporters that ”you were more concerned than I was. I was watching your faces.”

”I’m pretty good at ducking, as most of you know,” Bush joked, adding quickly that ”I’m talking about ducking your questions.”

On a more serious note, he said, ”I mean, it was just a bizarre moment, but I’ve had other bizarre moments in the presidency. I remember when Hu Jintao was here. Remember? We had the big event? He’s speaking, and all of a sudden I hear this noise — had no earthly idea what was taking
place, but it was the Falun Gong woman screaming at the top of her lungs (near the ceremony on the White House lawn). It was kind of an odd moment.”

The Iraqi government condemned the act and demanded an on-air apology from Al-Baghdadia television, the Iraqi-owned station that employs Muntadar al-Zeidi.

Several people descended on the man immediately after, wrestling him to the ground, and it took a minute or two for security agents to clear the crowd and start hauling him out. As they dragged him off, he was moaning and screaming as if in pain. Later, a large blood trail could be seen on the carpet where he was dragged out of the room.

He was taken into custody and reportedly was being held for questioning by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s guards and is being tested for alcohol and drugs.

Other Arab journalists and commentators, fed up with U.S. policy in the Middle East and Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam, echoed al-Zeidi’s sentiments Monday. Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the influential London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, wrote on the newspaper’s Web site that the incident was ”a proper goodbye for a war criminal.”

After a meeting with Hamid Karzai in the capital of Kabul, Bush said he told the president of Afghanistan: ”You can count on the United States. Just like you’ve been able to count on this administration, you’ll be able to count on the next administration as well.”

The mixed reactions to Bush in both countries emphasized the uncertain situations Bush is leaving behind in the region.

In Iraq, nearly 150,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, protecting the fragile democracy. More than 4,209 members of the U.S. military have died and $576 billion has been spent since the war began five years and nine months ago.

In Afghanistan, there are about 31,000 U.S. troops and commanders have called for up to 20,000 more. The fight is especially difficult in southern Afghanistan, a stronghold of the Taliban where violence has risen sharply this year.


Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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