Friday, October 13, 2006

Back to Front

A little while back I mentioned Tom Engelhardt's advice on "Reading the Imperial Press Back to Front"; here's the key TomDispatch passage again, with elucidating example this time:
I've always claimed that, when you read articles in the imperial press, the best way -- and I'm only half-kidding -- is back to front. Your basic front-page stories, as on the TV news, usually don't differ that much from paper to paper. It's when you get toward the ends of pieces that they really get interesting. Maybe because reporters and editors sense that nobody's paying attention but the news junkies, so things get much looser. You find tidbits the reporter's slipped in that just fall outside the frame of the expectable. That's what I go looking for. Sometimes it's like glimpsing coming attractions.

Here are a couple of tidbits I picked up deep in the Times recently.

There was an interesting front-page piece by Sabrina Tavernisi, "As Death Stalks Iraq: Middle Class Exodus Begins." After the jump, pretty deep inside, there's this line: "In all, 312 trash workers have been killed in Baghdad in the past six months." There it is: basic, good reporting that no one's going to notice or pick-up on. And yet it probably tells you just about everything you need to know about life in Baghdad today. Forget the security forces, forget top officials. Three hundred and twelve garbage men slaughtered. Holy Toledo!

That was from May (the Tavernisi anecdote) and June (the Engelhardt interview). Lo and behold, from Today's Papers today we find that the Times has finally moved the perilous calling of Baghdad garbagemen from the back pages to the front page—and updated the ghastly numbers:
BAGHDAD, Oct. 12 — Sabah al-Atia sometimes calls home every 10 minutes when he is working to let his wife know he is still alive. After all, his job is one of the most dangerous in the city.

Mr. Atia is a trash collector.

In a city where a bomb could be lurking beneath any heap of refuse, and where insurgents are willing to kill to prevent them from being discovered, an occupation that pays only a few dollars a day has become one of the deadliest. Most of the 500 municipal workers who have been killed here since 2005 have been trash collectors, said Naeem al-Kaabi, the city’s deputy mayor.

The article describes streets lined with piles of stinking garbage. Is it too late for the Bush boosters to dub them "Freedom Piles"?

I'm not sure, but I'll consider it a hopeful sign that the Times has decided to focus front-page attention on what was once a marginalized fact. What the hell; it's been a rough week, and I could use a hopeful sign just now.

Speaking of the imperial press: Y'know where I would have been last night, if I lived in or near New York? Carousing with fine folks like Jeff Cohen, Barbara Ehrenreich, Lewis Lapham, Tom Tomorrow, and Barry Crimmins at FAIR's 20th Anniversary Party. Here's a belated birthday salute to the fine people of FAIR. Media Matters gets a lot of the attention now (I'm sure the connection to evil overlord George Soros helps), but FAIR has been carrying on the good critical fight against the corporate/conservative media for two decades—and Lord knows how much they did to raise my consciousness during the last decade or so. I wish I could have been there to thank you all in person, FAIR, for all you've done for me and for America—judging by recent ratings (PDF), lots more people are finally listening to what you've been trying to tell them—but a cyberspace "Happy Birthday and Thank You!" will have to do.

And while I'm at it, may I point out that Mikhaela rocks? (Here, too.) (Here, three.)

Stinking piles of freedom on the march!
Let freedom stink!

Wait, I mean...

Let freedom drain!

...Aw, nuts, I don't know what I want freedom to do. I'm kind of like the president that way.
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