How Have the Media Covered Reports that Marines Allegedly Killed Iraqi Civilians in Haditha?

The following is a transcription of the June 3, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am troubled by the initial news stories. I am mindful that there is a thorough investigation going on. If in fact the — you know, the laws were broken, there'll be — there will be punishment.


ERIC BURNS, HOST: That was President Bush speaking on Wednesday [May 31] about charges that U.S. Marines killed unarmed Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha last November. Last November, Jim. Time magazine learned of it, apparently, January. It published a story on March 19, and it is still, in my view — well, it certainly isn't being covered like My Lai was covered during the Vietnam War. Why are the media so slow to pick up on a story which, if the media are as opposed to the Iraq war as you believe they are, one would think they'd jump on it?

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: Well, I think the answer is the extreme gravity of the charges makes them reluctant to slander and smear anybody. But the larger point is that this is a legal procedure; this is a criminal investigation. And therefore it has the rhythms of a criminal procedure and a legal procedure, which is it to say it's a strange choice to make, because we're actually fighting a war. And this is the first war I can think of where legal values are superceding military values, as in victory. Which is why we're having so much trouble, because as I have said before, in this media and legal culture, we're having a hard time actually winning a war.

BURNS: Legal in terms of how -- how our soldiers are treated?

PINKERTON: We think this is "LA Law" or "Perry Mason." In fact, it's "Saving Private Ryan."

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I want to make a pick up on a point that Jim makes, which I think is a very good one, on the legal question. The Pentagon is being constrained from putting out anything that would set this in context, or any kind of other opinion on it, because of the legal process.

BURNS: Meaning the media don't have much to report.

THOMAS: Exactly. Well not only that.

BURNS: Is that what you're saying?

THOMAS: ...but, you know, since the war is also being fought in the media, and the terrorists and those on the other side are using the media to their great advantage, the Pentagon is limited because of legal reasons from giving any position on this, because it might mess up the investigation that is ongoing.

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Let's not go overboard about this whole legal process. Let's be honest about this. Time magazine was the engine for this whole investigation. No one in the military was particularly curious about this. In fact, they had already decided that nothing had happened.

BURNS: Well, they are investigating now.

GABLER: Now they are, because of Time magazine. That's the only reason they're investigating. Their investigation began on February 14. In January, Time magazine gave the military materials about the possible, possible, you know, slaughter and cold-blooded murder in Haditha. So, you know, before we talk about how the military really just wanted to step back and let the legal process go, let's say that there wouldn't even be any investigation whatsoever if it weren't Time magazine. And all credit is due to Time magazine for advancing this story.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I also think — I mean, it is true that no charges have been filed. But there have been a number of stories in The Washington Post, The New York Times with senior military officials talking about the forthcoming report, what they've found. There is a criminal investigation going on. And I think that some people on the conservative side of the ledger have been sliming John Murtha and saying that he was going after all our troops — people on this network — Sean Hannity and others — said he was gloating over these charges. If you read what he said on ABC's "This Week", he said this was an isolated incident, and the reason we need to find out is to show that it was an isolated incident. But they're acting — they're blaming the media and John Murtha for something that is a very serious possible crime.

GABLER: Can I just say that I think Jane makes a very important point — that in the days of My Lai, there was no blowback from the right. And now...

THOMAS: Well there was no way to blowback from the right, because there was no right-wing media.

GABLER: You're exactly right.


PINKERTON: Let me give you a name of somebody who I think - who I predict will emerge in this, because I kind of agree with what Neal's saying here. And that is, there's a guy, a Marine captain named James Kimber who was somehow involved in this. Not accused of murdering anybody, but some - just, in the same unit, I think. And he's now saying he's a "political casualty" on this. His career is on the line. He realizes that if this continues, he's done for in terms of advancing in the Marines. And now he's taken this case to San Diego TV.

And I'll just make a prediction — going along the lines of what we're saying here, this is a conservative countermedia that wasn't there 35 years ago, and that they'll be a lot more voices rising up to state their point of view, which they'll then have to get judged legally, and then also in the court of public opinion.

BURNS: Well, speaking about voices rising up, I think this general story of the American soldiers' treatment of Iraqi civilians is going to get a lot bigger. You know, there is another report — more recent than the one of Haditha — the BBC, only, reporting 11 civilians in another town - Ishaqi, I believe it's pronounced — are also guilty of a massacre. "Core warrior values" — that's a quality — are being imparted now by American military officials to their soldiers. So this whole notion, Jane, I think is something that the media are going to get a hold of more than they did before, and we're going to hear more of it than we ever have before.

HALL: Well, I think we are, and let me make what may sound like an opposite point, or a conservative point, which is: We've got what — 130,000 troops over there. I do think that the United States military is held to a higher standard, and I think the media need to put this story in context, however it comes out.

THOMAS: Everytime we see one of these atrocities — and they are, if they're true, atrocities — we never hear much about the atrocities of the other side. Certainly not by name, certainly not the killing of women and children and innocent people on the other side. That is an imbalance.

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