By: Joe Strupp
Linda Foley, national president of The Newspaper Guild, drew criticism Thursday from some conservatives for comments she made last Friday about the killing of journalists in Iraq. Foley said, among other things, that she was outraged by “the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq. I think it’s just a scandal.”
Last month, Foley sent a letter to President Bush criticizing the U.S. investigation into the deaths of journalists in Iraq.
The backlash became so severe Thursday that staffers at Guild headquarters in Washington, D.C., stopped answering the phone because of abusive phone calls and “people screaming at us,” Foley said. Instead, callers were required to leave messages on voice mail and await a return call.
“We don’t want people to be subjected to that kind of abuse,” Foley said, adding that the angry calls began early Thursday. “It is annoying, but it isn’t deterring us from doing what we have to do.”
The calls were apparently in reaction to comments Foley made during a panel discussion at the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis on May 13. There she offered a lengthy commentary on corporate ownership of media, and she refuted certain criticism of journalists. During that session, she also briefly discussed deaths of journalists covering the war.
Foley’s comments, which she says have been distorted, have drawn the ire of several conservative news organizations, including NewsMax.com, The Washington Times, and Sinclair Broadcasting, charging that she accused the U.S. forces of deliberately targeting journalists.
According to a video of the session available on the conference’s Web site, her only comments on this specific subject were:
“Journalists are not just being targeted verbally or politically. They are also being targeted for real in places like Iraq. And what outrages me as a representative of journalists is that there’s not more outrage about the number and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq. I think it’s just a scandal.”
“It’s not just U.S. journalists either, by the way. They target and kill journalists from other countries, particularly Arab countries, at news services like Al Jazeera, for example. They actually target them and blow up their studios, with impunity. This is all part of the culture that it is OK to blame the individual journalists, and it just takes the heat off of these media conglomerates that are part of the problem.”
A NewsMax.com story charged that Foley had accused U.S. soldiers of “committing atrocities without offering any evidence to back the charge up.” Mark Hyman, a Sinclair commentator, called her comments “irresponsible” and “horrible allegations.” Several critics immediately compared her criticism to the case of Eason Jordan, the former CNN executive who resigned after suggesting that the U.S. military may have targeted some journalists in Iraq.
Foley told E&P Thursday that her words were taken out of context by critics and said her original intent was to discuss how journalists are often scapegoated for their coverage. “This was almost an aside,” she said. “But it is true that hundreds of journalists are killed around the world, and many have been killed in Iraq.”
When asked if she believed U.S. troops had targeted journalists in Iraq, she said, “I was careful of not saying troops, I said U.S. military. Could I have said it differently? There are 100 different ways of saying this, but I’m not sure they would have appeased the right.”
She did point out that those who bombed the Al Jazeera studios in Baghdad in 2003 had the coordinates of the television station, “because Al Jazeera had given it to them and they bombed the hell out of the station. They bombed it knowing it was the Al Jazeera station. Absent any independent inquiry that tells the world otherwise, that is what I believe.”
Her comments at the conference followed the letter she sent last month to President Bush criticizing the U.S. investigation into the deaths of journalists in Iraq, including several during an attack on the Palestine Hotel in 2003.
In that attack, two journalists — one from Spain and the other from Ukraine — were killed. She also noted the bombing of the Al Jazeera office the same day, in which a reporter died. “Neither of these attacks has been independently investigated nor have the deaths been properly explained to the satisfaction of the victims’ families, their friends and their colleagues,” the letter said, in part.