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Foreign Correspondents

The CENTCOM press briefings provide a window into how foreign journalists view America, and how all journalists view themselves. It's not a pretty picture.

5:20 AM, Apr 2, 2003 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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IF THERE IS ANYTHING that can be said to be "enjoyable" about this war, it must surely be the delights of the CENTCOM 7:00 a.m. press briefings. Handled mostly by the able Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, they shed little light on the actual progress of the war, but give a clear look into the minds of the press.

Surprisingly, the questions from the American press have been quite good. Reporters from U.S. news outlets typically ask factual questions, such as how many men are in the Fedayeen or where Iraqi chem suits were manufactured.

The foreign press seem less interested in facts and more interested in, well, see for yourself:

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Kevin Dunn of Britain's ITV News: General, going back to the friendly fire incident in which a British soldier was killed, his colleagues have said or found it inconceivable that the pilot of the A-10 was unable to identify the British armor, and he is said to have made not just one, but two passes over the column. In fact, they described his actions as being that of a cowboy. What do you say to the family of the dead soldier?

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An unidentified reporter from China's Hsinhua News Agency: General, as we know, 47 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) British military personnel have been confirmed here since the war began and there are no prisoners (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Some American reports say if coalition casualties exceed 150, that's one more than the Gulf War in 1991, the U.S. government will face a big problem. Could you just comment about that?

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Kathy Shin (ph) of Hong Kong's Phoenix Satellite TV: On the second day of the operation, the coalition declared they have Umm Qasr secure. But a statement got (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by the Iraqi information minister and with the pictures they have been showing us at the briefing indicates the coalition only targeted precisely on the military infrastructure. But Iraqi and also--Iraqi, as a matter of fact, Iraqi health minister said that the coalition have killed many of their civilians. So could you tell me who is telling the truth here and is this war all about image building?

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Augusta Policinski (ph) of Polish Weekly: Do you receive information about increasing movement of antiwar protesters around the world? Does the information change your decisions, influence your decisions?

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James Forlong of Sky News: Do you accept, given the footage that we saw today of the hearts-and-minds operations going on, the immense damage to that that incurs when incidents such as this checkpoint shooting take place? And do you also accept that a contributory factor to that may be that U.S. forces on the ground simply don't have enough experience of this sort of policing operation within an area like this?

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Abella Safin (ph) of WTV (ph): When you show us these impressive satellite footage and video clips, you probably want us to believe that (A) your bombs are accurate; (B) you do not target civilians. If it is really the case, I'm just wondering how can you explain the deaths of between 500 to 700 civilian Iraqis and injuring many more thousands? And how do you find this consistent with Geneva Conventions? And when you used those villagers to carry out weapons and munitions outside the house in order to destroy it, how moral do you find this?

These journalists aren't interested in finding out what's going on so much as browbeating the United States. I don't know how representative the sample is, but from the crowd of scribes assembled in Doha, it looks like we've got a planet full of Helen Thomases on our hands.

And those questions are some of the more respectable ones. At the March 26 briefing, one foreign correspondent proclaimed/asked: "This war talks about humanity a lot, and according to a Russian radio station that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter, Elizabeth, is on her way to Baghdad to join an antiwar group who use themselves as human shields to defend further aggression from coalition. What do you have to say to the innocent civilian people who are willing to risk their own lives in a hope to stop this war?"

A few moments later, another foreign journo--leaning on junk science so discredited that even the U.N. thinks it's bunk--asked: "General, how much of your weaponry uses depleted uranium? And what are your concerns about the effects of that on Iraqi civilians?"

On the one hand, it's frightening to realize that the global media operate on a professional level roughly equivalent to a bad college paper. But on the other hand, it's a little bit liberating: After all, with press like this, no wonder the rest of the world hates us--America really is besieged by a vast, left-wing conspiracy.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe the fourth estate's pomposity and ignorance is structural and not political. After all, the most revealing question asked so far in Doha was from a superstar American journalist: