“Disposed To Believe The Worst”
Jeffrey Schuster revisits the looting of the Iraq National Museum in the days following the fall of Saddam Hussein, and how foreign journalists grabbed misinformation fed them by “museum officials” – Baath party appointees – without skepticism or verification, and ran with it.
By the end of the day on Saturday, April 12, then, the major outlines of the story had been set by the journalists in Baghdad. According to the officials who had been located and interviewed on the museum grounds, most if not all of the collection had been removed by looting Iraqis. Again, according to a handful of Iraqis on the grounds, the American forces, who could have prevented this catastrophe, did nothing. Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, Paul McGeough, who linked the museum story to his wider anti-war stance, did not hesitate to cast the first stone. “After witnessing three weeks of attacks on Baghdad and almost a week of looting – especially of the Iraq National Museum,” he writes, “questions about where the criminality lies become blurred.”
The numbers of artifacts lost inflated as one report followed another, and academics joined the chorus. The “170,000” items of antiquity lost from the undefended museum were worth “billions of dollars”. It was an “act of violence against humanity”, “a tragedy that has no parallel in world history”. No latitude was given to a US military occupied with battling the murderous Saddam Fedayeen – the “no war for oil” chorus rewrote the pages of their songbooks. The charge that “lives are more important than oil” was replaced with “pottery is more important than lives”.
Some reporters, like McGeough, used the situation to take a cheap-shot at the US administration. Others, like Burns, were simply “disposed to believe the worst.” And still others were unable or unwilling to fact-check some of the basic points of the story, the most crucial being the figure of 170,000 coming from Nabhal Amin, a former official who was not privy to all of the procedures that had been implemented over the preceding months to safeguard Iraq’s antiquities. The academics, however, probably come off with the largest stain on their reputations. That members of a professional class who swear by the tenets of critical thinking and the presentation of evidence at every turn would be the first ones to accuse the US military without waiting for a proper investigation tells us a lot about the state of current political discourse in academia. There were few apologies and when they did come they were uttered through clenched teeth.
Via the German blog, Medienkritik.