News columnist scores a coup

Report on Baghdad anti-terrorism rally one more Iraq item ignored by others

by David Kopel

Dec. 20, 2003, Rocky Mountain News

Woody Allen once remarked, "Half of life is just showing up." So give the Rocky Mountain Newscredit for beating almost every American newspaper by covering an important Baghdad event which the other papers ignored.

The Wednesday before Saddam Hussein was captured, Iraqis held an anti- terrorism demonstration and parade in Baghdad. They denounced not only the Baathist terrorists still waging war, but also the Arab media for taking bribes from Saddam Hussein and for continuing bias against Iraqi freedom. Newscolumnist Bill Johnson was on assignment in Iraq, and reported the event in a few paragraphs in his December 11 column.

Johnson's column put the Newsahead of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Denver Post,and other papers which inexplicably refused to give the demonstration the slightest mention.

Johnson pegged the crowd size at "hundreds of men," which did appear to be the size as the demonstrators began to assemble. Agence France Press and Reuters, however, estimated the total crowd as "thousands," while Al-Jazeera said it was 10,000.

More Iraq news that the Denver papers missed: As reported by The New York Timeson Dec. 1, Bush administration officials have said that international inspectors discovered documents detailing how Saddam Hussein paid North Korea $10 million in exchange for help in building long-range missiles to attack American and allied targets. The North Koreans took the money, but never delivered. Surely this story is important for Americans trying to decide how much of a long-term threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States, so it is surprising that neither the Newsnor the Postprinted the Timesstory.

A trendy new restaurant in Cherry Creek is named Mao, after the guy who murdered about 35 million people, invaded and ethnically cleansed Tibet and helped kill 33,000 American soldiers during the Korean War. The affiliated nightclub is called Bad Mao, and the menus are styled after Mao's Little Red Book.

Mao has been publicized with seven mentions this year by Newslifestyle, dining, and society writers, and eight mentions in the Post.

The Post,to its credit, addressed the issue of the restaurant's name in a full-length article on Dec. 4, which provided a variety of views, including the restaurant owner's claim that "I'm making Mao look like Buddha, which is a total contradiction. This is political humor." The Newschimed in with a short and critical editorial a week later.

I suspect that if a restaurant owner tried some political humor by making Der Führer look like Jesus Christ, and offered menus that looked like Mein Kampf, the newspaper gossip columnists might not create a buzz about all the exciting meals being served at Hitler. International socialists who murder Asians still get better press than national socialists who murder Europeans.

I guess there must be some people at the Newswho don't read my column. On Nov. 22, I wrote about the factoids of exaggerated numbers of people living on the streets in Denver. Then, on Dec. 13, the News' Extra! feature announced that there are "6,885 people living on the streets in the Denver area." The cited source for this statistic was the "Metro Denver Homeless Initiative survey."

It's hard to believe that whoever wrote that line read the cited survey. The survey, which was taken in January 2003, is available on the Web site of the Colorado Department of Human Services. What the survey really said was that there were 6,885 people who "had a need for emergency shelter and services."

Did the survey report that all 6,885 of these persons were "living on the streets," as the Newsasserted? In response to the question, "Where are you staying now?" 620 people said they were staying on the streets, and 263 said they were camping out or sleeping in a car.

The rest of the people whom the Newsclaimed were "living on the streets" were actually (in descending order) staying with family or friends, staying in an emergency shelter, living in a hotel or motel, or in a domestic violence shelter.

The October elections in Switzerland were won by the People's Party, a new nationalist party which is skeptical about surrendering Swiss independence to the European Union, and which wants to crack down on illegal immigration. Last week, the party's leader, industrialist Christopher Blocher, became a cabinet minister.

If you read only the News,you wouldn't even know that Switzerland had an election, or that the nation took a major turn to the right. The Postcovered Blocher's recent rise with a pair of stories which offered an excellent contrast between good journalism and character assassination. A Dec. 7 Associated Press article announced that "Blocher's critics maintain he's a right-wing extremist and a covert anti-Semite." The AP did not cite any person who actually made such an accusation.

A New York Timesstory by Alan Cowell ran in the Postfive days later, and put Blocher's rise in the context of Swiss concerns about loss of their national identity, and the failure of traditional parties to address those concerns. The Timesquoted a leading Jewish lawyer in Switzerland, who explained that Blocher was a "Swiss-chauvinist" but "he's no anti-Semite."

Anti-Semitism in Europe is a huge problem, which is generally underreported by the American press; the AP doesn't help when it hurls unsubstantiated charges at innocent people, or when it invents a linkage between nationalism and anti-Semitism.

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