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February 4, 2003

Moral Clarity Watch: While rallying support at home for war on Iraq, Fox News is forking over thousands of dollars a day to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Via Jeremy Scahill on iraqjournal.org, here’s the scoop:
Here are the bare minimums for journalists operating in Baghdad:
    $100/day fee per journalist, cameraperson, technical staff etc.
    $150/day fee for permission to use a satellite telephone (which the journalists have to provide themselves)
    $50-100/day for a mandatory government escort
    $50-100/day for a car and driver (some networks have a fleet of vehicles)
    $75/day for a room at the Al Rashid Hotel
That’s already $500 and that doesn’t include the thousands of dollars daily for each direct live satellite feed for TV networks. Nor does it include the bribes and “tips” shelled out left and right. Nor does it include the money handed over at border crossings and the airport. The networks don’t like to talk about how much they actually spend, but one veteran of the media scene here estimated the cost for a major TV network at about $100,000 a month. Others say that is a low estimate. Almost all of this cash (except a few “tips” here and there) goes directly to the Iraqi government. Once you add up the bill for the TV networks alone, we’re talking perhaps millions of dollars in revenue a month for the government.

There is a joke here that the major media outlets are now competing with oil smuggling as the number one money-maker for the Iraqi government. It is particularly ironic that while Rupert Murdoch’s “troops” from FOX News Network rally for the war, dismissing antiwar activists as dupes of the Iraqi regime, the “network America trusts” is paying “Saddam” (as they refer to Iraq) hand over fist tens of thousands of dollars every month.

“Ironic” might be one word for it. Another might be, what was it? Oh yes. “Icky.” [01:24 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Moral Clarity Watch::

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 02:20 PM:

Am I remembering correctly that William Randolph Hearst started the Spanish-American War to sell papers, or some such?

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 04:40 PM:

Yep, that's the story about Hearst. See also the novel "Scoop!", and a lot of other stuff about the venality of the media.

It's one reason why the drift of the BBC into commercial broadcasting is a bit of a worry. It's still only small-scale, but if they really start getting ratings-driven...

And since the World Service is funded by the UK goverment...

Who can you trust?

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 04:49 PM:

At the moment, I'm working on a long-overdue manuscript that is about various aspects of 20th Century Zimbabwean history. To do this work, I had to pay fees to the University of Zimbabwe and a governmental body that approves research clearance. I paid customs fees while living there for eight months. I paid fees of various kinds to other governmental bodies for necessary papers and permissions. I paid fees to the National Archives of Zimbabwe for duplication of papers and photographs.

My research is likely to be highly critical in a number of ways of the contemporary government. Am I a hypocrite? Should I have refused to pay the fees so as to have clean hands, and therefore not have done my research, and therefore have not been critical of the government in my writing--therefore cancelling out the reason for my refusal to pay the fees in the first place?

I agree that Fox's braying and chest-thumping makes them vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy, but it's a charge that has to be made carefully. Anybody who wants to cover Iraq is going to find themselves in the same boat as Fox; if we demand that no one pay fees to the Iraqi government in order to have clean hands, we've effectively demanded that no journalist or traveller go to Iraq.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 04:56 PM:

I've done historical research, so I can imagine what Timothy Burke was doing in Zimbabwe. I don't watch television news, so tell me - exactly what is Fox accomplishing by planting its newscasters on the streets of Baghdad that they couldn't do from home? Tell us that the people of Iraq support Hussein?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 05:06 PM:

Let's not go overboard. I'm not saying news organizations shouldn't be in Baghdad. I am saying that it feels odd to be decried as an objectively pro-Iraq dupe by people who are busy giving grocery bags full of money to Saddam Hussein.

Although Simon Shoedecker does raise a question worth exploring.

John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 06:07 PM:

SCOOP, I would note, is by Evelyn Waugh, who was what was called a satirist before the concept became obsolete.

Without attempting here to judge the Murdoch empire -- as they are fond of saying, you can look at their actions and make up your own mind -- there seems no sensible reason why they should not be up-front about these payments.

"This is what Iraq demands for us to operate there. We spend this much on things we are told are official, and this much on pure corruption. This, by comparison, is what we pay, above actual operating costs, to work in [insert name of favored nation -- let's say China, just at random -- here]. A complete comparison chart is on our website."

If the Iraqis threw them out for saying this, it would make their point at least as strongly as the tactics they are presently using.

jesse ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 06:31 PM:

One of the aforementioned posters being my professor, I feel a bit strange jumping in on this, but here goes:

I think this has more to do with the pro-war's crowd demand of an insane ideological purity among the anti-war crowd than anything else. Saddam doesn't want America to go to war with him. Many Americans don't want America to go to war with Iraq. By virtue of Glennuendo (the first bloggerish place I saw this sentiment), this makes anti-war Americans culpable and supportive (at least in part) for Iraq's actions.

I think the irony speaks more to Fox's "braying and chest-thumping" than their pragmatic actions to gain news coverage - if those who oppose preemptive military action against Iraq are objectively pro-Saddam, why, then, are those who funnel thousands of dollars into Saddam's coffers not objectively supporting Saddam, at the very least? I happen to believe neither of these things.

I like cheeseburgers, and so might Ted Bundy, but my patronizing of McDonalds is not supporting serial killing.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 07:15 PM:

The Gulf War made CNNs fortunes. Fox management may be thinking along similar lines, but it only works if there's a war.

Tangentially, in the early hours of 1/1/00, I happened to be at the same New Year's Eve party as Peter Arnett. Once I'd had enough champagne to get up my courage, I asked him how the bombing of Bagdad during the Gulf War had compared to the various millenial fireworks displays we'd seen on big screen TVs earlier in the evening. He replied that the bombs were not optimized for light but for their destuctive power, so that one felt them more than saw them. I thought that was very interesting because we feel like we know what it was like, but even the parts of the Gulf War we think we know weren't like that. What even he was experiencing was not what we received through the TV. At the end of the conversation, he raised his glass and said, jokingly, he hoped that the new millenium would bombs that made prettier lights in the sky.

Perhaps Fox would like a say in the direction of munitions research, too.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 08:51 PM:

You know, there's an interesting shift in values operating here with even the liberal part of the spectrum. When you go to Bagdad, it's "graft, corruption and bribes." If you go to Mexico City it's "Gringo Tax." Why is one so more horrible than the other?

It's fairly well known that the restaurants in Venice have two menus, one with cheaper prices for the locals, another with higher ones for the day-trippers. And even in the US, if you go to the Dickens or Ren Fair, there's a discount for performers.

I'm probably the first person to compare Iraq to the Ren Faire, but good lord, if you have rich tourists coming in for entertainment, you take them for what you can. And even then, $75 a day for a hotel room still sounds like a bargain.

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 10:23 PM:

How does this compare with what every news organization has to pay to operate in China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Zimbabwe or anywhere else without a tradition of media independence? Or what any other news organization - American or not - has to pay to operate in Iraq?

This is a cheap shot, taken out of context. Here's some context.

BTW, your "remember info?" checkbox still doesn't work.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 10:47 PM:

I guess Yehudit didn't read my previous post in this comment thread.

For what it's worth, the "remember info?" checkbox doesn't work for me, either. I'm hoping it gets ironed out in the next rev of MT.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2003, 12:25 AM:

Yes, but "$75/day for a room at the Al Rashid Hotel." That's a pretty fine room rate, and we didn't even have Ben Yalow negotiate it downwards.

I see a Worldcon bid coming.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2003, 07:14 AM:

The room rate is fine. It's items like the 150/day permission to use the SAT phone that Yalow wouldn't have stood for.

But seriously, when that kind of money is changing hands, both sides have their motivation which bears exploration. Treating it like it was analogous to, say, my relationship with ConEd, isn't appropriate.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2003, 03:02 PM:

Yehudit is also engaging in a common, though annoying and dishonest, rheotircal trope: You may think one thing, but some unnamed other person who I've decided shares your political views (whether he really does or not) thinks this other thing (which I'm going to descrbe as conflicting with your thing, whether it really does or not), so I'm going to hand you the burden of reconciling the two views.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2003, 05:44 PM:

On a similar topic regard moral clarity and our new treasury secretay, Arianna Huffington is very amusing:

There's No Business Like Snow Business

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2003, 07:00 PM:

"Yehudit is also engaging in a common, though annoying and dishonest, rheotircal trope:"

Posting an article which describes in detail how Saddam controls access of all foreign reporters in Iraq is a dishonest rhetorical trope? Gee, I thought it was providing some facts that would give some context for Fox's behavior.

Avram is engaging in a common, though annoying and dishonest, rheotircal trope of refusing to admit new facts by accusing the provider of said facts of some obscure post-modernist literary convention.

May I propose a corollary to Godwin's Law, that the first person who uses the word "trope" in an argument loses?

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2003, 07:38 PM:

I owe Yehudit an apology for being sloppy. I'm sorry about that accusation; it was Kevin Andrew Murphy's post (about the "interesting shift in values") I was thinking about, and I somehow got mixed up looking at the author line.

Ken Layne ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2003, 01:37 AM:

It's the same in any conflict zone. I've been hit for these "fees" all over Central Europe, the Balkans and Central America. At least once -- in Slovakia -- I got to charge journalists for advice, tips and hooker introductions. It's capitalism, and I don't mind it, but you should never ever believe a teevee, radio or print journalist is anything but a high-end adventure tourist.

John Thullen ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2003, 09:43 AM:

"Reports from Baghdad today indicate a money trail
linking Donald Rumsfeld's gift from the Reagan administration to Saddam Hussein in the early 1980s of the seed stock for weapons of mass destruction, the use of those weapons against U.S. serviceman in Gulf War II, and alleged payments by FOX news to Saddam Hussein for reporting access during the war. Sources told this reporter that the Fox payments financed the launching of WMD against the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces."

That's it from here, and please stayed tuned to FOX, always fair, balanced, wordy, and morally clear.