September 17, 2006

Snubbed Again

NYT Article on Iraq’s Rogue Cops Fails to Mention Steven Vincent

By David Paulin

In the old Soviet Union, leaders who fell into disfavor with the Stalinist government invariably had their images air brushed out of official photos.

And out of history.

Something similar is going on at The New York Times in respect to Steven Vincent, the only American journalist to have been murdered in Iraq.

The latest example may be found today in the Times' lead story, “Iraq Stumbling in Bid to Purge Its Rogue Police.” The article focuses on the problem of Shiite militiamen and criminals who are “entrenched throughout Iraq’s police and internal security forces.”

In an astonishing omission, however, the 2,300-plus word piece fails to mention Vincent – even though there would have been ample reasons to do so. Vincent, after all, was a New Yorker; he had lived with his wife, Lisa Ramaci, in the East Village. Moreover, he was one of the first journalists to report on the issue of police corruption in Iraq. He wrote about it just over one year ago in an Op-Ed in The Times.

On top of that, Vincent’s killers probably were rogue police who may have been retaliating for that Op-Ed, published just two days before his murder on Aug. 2, 2005. Vincent and his translator, Nour Itais, were abducted off a street in the southern port city of Basra by what witnesses said may have been a rogue police unit.

In short, Vincent is inseparable from this story. Yet the article fails to mention him. How come?

Certainly it's not some unintentional oversight. After all, lead co-author Edward Wong was the reporter who wrote his paper’s story on Vincent’s murder. On Aug. 3, 2005, Wong wrote:

“An American journalist from New York who was writing about the rise of conservative Shiite Islam and the corruption of the Iraqi police was abducted and shot to death Tuesday evening in the southern port city of Basra, American and Iraqi officials said today. The reporter's interpreter was also shot and is hospitalized in serious condition.”

And Wong made sure to note the role that Vincent’s Op-Ed may have played in his death:

“On Sunday, The New York Times printed an article on its op-ed pages that Mr. Vincent had written about the British military in Basra, in which he sharply criticized the British for allowing religious Shiite parties and clerics to take control of Basra and populate the security forces with their followers.

"He wrote that a police lieutenant had confirmed for him that a few fellow officers were carrying out assassinations of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, apparently in revenge for the oppression of the Shiites under his rule.

'"He told me that there is even a sort of 'death car': a white Toyota Mark II that glides through the city streets, carrying off-duty police officers in the pay of extremist religious groups to their next assignment," Mr. Vincent wrote."

The Times has snubbed Vincent previously. Just ask his widow. Recently, Ramaci had a letter to the editor in The Times, complaining that an Op-Ed published on Sept. 6, "Iraq's Endangered Journalists,” overlooked her husband's death.

You can be sure Times’ Op-Ed editors scrutinized every word of that Op-Ed. Yet Ali Fadhil, an Iraqi physician-turned journalist, wrote something that was obviously false: “As dangerous as Iraq is for foreign reporters, they at least have the advantage of being considered untouchable by the Iraqi police and security forces.”

What about Vincent?

Ramaci told me in a recent e-mail that she felt the slights had to do with the fact that Vincent was a freelancer -- not worthy of any respect from The Times. No matter that he left behind an impressive body of work, published in places like National Review and FrontPage Magazine, not to mention a wonderful book, “In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq.”

Of course, the types of magazines for which Vincnet wrote tend not to espouse political views that are popular at The Times.

One of Vincent’s strengths was that he, unlike Times staffers, moved freely about Iraq without bodyguards. He provided a unique perspective, one that was not filtered through a prism of daily suicide bombings or “mounting casualties.”

On the other hand, most mainstream reporting out of Iraq has relied heavily on Iraqi stringers. Many have little journalism training, and their loyalties are open to question.

“The Western news media could not function in Iraq without the dedication of Iraqi journalists,” wrote Fadhil in the Op-Ed piece that raised Ramaci’s ire. “Many of the biggest stories were either written by Iraqis or reported by them.”

The Times has snubbed Vincnet on other occasions. Last March, Ramaci noted, the paper ran a big series about the ongoing problems with the Iraqi police and security forces, yet Steven’s name was never mentioned. And in an earlier article, the paper even misspelled Steven’s first name, she noted.

The reporters and editors at The Times, of course, are not Stalinists. But many seem to have a mentality that shares attributes of the extreme left and right -- attributes now found in the post-modern fascism of multiculturalism and political correctness. One of those attributes is a sense of elitism. Mavericks like Vincent are square pegs who don't fit anywhere into the world according to The New York Times.

No wonder that increasing numbers of people read The Times not for its news -- but for its spin. Vincent was a writer for the New Media, however, not the old. The Times may forget him. His devoted readers will not.

UPDATE: Steven Vincent was one of two freelance journalists honored in 2006 with the Fifth Annual Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism. Vincent was recognized posthumously for his work revealing the existence of police death squads in Iraq. Vincent’s widow, Lisa Ramaci, will receive the award and a $5,000 prize during ceremonies in London. The Kesher Talk blog has more here and here.

Also, see my earlier article about Steven Vincent, "Soldier With a Pen."

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