No. 177, June 6-12, 2002

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Under the nuclear shadow

By Arundhati Roy

This week as diplomats’ families and tourists quickly disappeared from India, journalists from Europe and America arrived in droves. Most of them stay at the Imperial Hotel in Delhi. Many of them call me. Why are you still here, they ask, why haven’t you left the city? Isn’t nuclear war a real possibility? It is, but where shall I go? If I go away and everything and every- one, every friend, every tree, every home, every dog, squirrel and bird that I have known and loved is incinerated, how shall I live on? Who shall I love, and who will love me back? Which society will welcome me and allow me to be the hooligan I am, here, at home?

We’ve decided we’re all staying. We’ve huddled together, we realize how much we love each other and we think what a shame it would be to die now. Life’s normal, only because the macabre has become normal. While we wait for rain, for football, for justice, on TV the old generals and the eager boy anchors talk of first strike and second strike capability, as though they’re discussing a family board game. My friends and I discuss Prophecy, the film of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the dead bodies choking the river, the living stripped of their skin and hair, we remember especially the man who just melted into the steps of the building and we imagine ourselves like that, as stains on staircases.

My husband’s writing a book about trees. He has a section on how figs are pollinated, each fig by its own specialized fig wasp. There are nearly 1,000 different species of fig wasps. All the fig wasps will be nuked, and my husband and his book.

A dear friend, who is an activist in the anti-dam movement in the Narmanda Valley, is on indefinite hunger strike. Today is the twelfth day of her fast. She and the others fasting with her are weakening quickly. They are protesting because the government is bulldozing schools, felling forests, uprooting handpumps, forcing people from their villages. What an act of faith and hope. But to a government comfortable with the notion of a wasted world, what’s a wasted valley?

Terrorists have the power to trigger a nuclear war. Non-violence is treated with contempt. Displacement, dispossession, starvation, poverty, disease, these are all just funny comic strip items now. Meanwhile, emissaries of the coalition against terror come and go, preaching restraint. Tony Blair arrives to preach peace — and on the side, to sell weapons to both India and Pakistan. The last question every visiting journalist always asks me: “Are you writing another book?”

That question mocks me. Another book? Right now when it looks as though all the music, the art, the architecture, the literature, the whole of human civilization means nothing to the monsters who run the world. What kind of book should I write? For now, just for now, for just a while pointlessness is my biggest enemy. That’s what nuclear bombs do, whether they’re used or not. They violate everything that is humane, they alter the meaning of life.

Why do we tolerate them? Why do we tolerate the men who use nuclear weapons to blackmail the entire human race?

Source: Observer (UK)

MEDIA WATCH

New York Times: same problem, different answers

On May 7, the New York Times published an editor’s note about the paper’s coverage of a large pro-Israel demonstration on May 6. The Times had accompanied the story with a front-page photo of a small group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the foreground, despite the fact that they were a small minority of those present. As the Times put it, “the effect was disproportionate. In fairness the total picture presentation should have better reflected The Times’ reporting on the scope of the event, including the disparity in the turnouts.”

This is a commendable principle— or rather it would be, if the Times used it in every case.

In a similar incident a few months ago, the Times severely underestimated the crowd size of anti-war demonstrations in Washington, DC — “a few hundred” was the count in their Sept. 29 article, versus the police estimate of 7,000. The following day, the only photograph of the second day of protests was of a lone counter-demonstrator holding a sign that read “Osama thanks fellow cowards for your support.”

At the time, FAIR and hundreds of media activists wrote to the Times protesting the photo choice and poor reporting of the march’s size. The paper’s response was less than positive. Senior editor Bill Borders sent out emails accusing FAIR of spreading misinformation, saying, “I don’t know why they did this; you might want to ask them.”

The Times did upgrade their crowd estimate in the Final Edition of the Sept. 29 paper, but they never ran a correction informing the readers of the earlier editions that it had misinformed them about the crowd size. And the paper never acknowledged in an editor’s note that it was misleading to represent a march of thousands with a photograph of a single counter-demonstrator.

After seeing how the Times handled the problem with the May 6 story on the pro-Israel march, FAIR wrote to the paper inquiring about the different treatment these two very similar errors received — one was prominently corrected, while in the earlier case the paper responded by attacking FAIR for pointing it out.

The Times’ only response to the letter was an angry phone call from Borders to FAIR. Complaining that FAIR chose to dig up such an “old” story, he repeatedly asserted that FAIR’s claim that the Times had miscounted the protesters was a “lie,” since the final edition of the paper was changed to more accurately reflect the actual crowd size. Of course, the Times often prints corrections to stories that were amended in later editions, so that readers will be aware of an error in an edition of the paper they may have read. Borders added that FAIR’s work “over the years” has been based on lies, but he declined to elaborate on the charge.

Interestingly, Borders actually agreed that the photo choice at the anti-war demonstration had been an error: “We covered it wrong,” said Borders. Nonetheless, Borders was so hostile to FAIR’s inquiries that he at one point suggested that the staffer he was speaking with “get a job at Macy’s.”

The New York Times returned to the issue of the pro-Israel march in a May 23 article by Felicity Barringer about threats of boycotts by supporters of Israel against several newspapers, including the Times. “Critics of the Times dispatched hundreds of e-mail messages and angry commentary earlier this month when it published a front-page photograph of the Salute to Israel parade in Manhattan that showed a small group of pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators in the foreground and pro-Israeli marchers and their supporters in the background,” Barringer reported. Given the disparity in the size of the marches, she reported, this raised the question of whether the Times was “straining to create a sense of equivalence.”

There certainly does not seem to be any sense of equivalence at the Times when the exact same complaint, conveyed in both cases by hundreds of email messages, is treated so disparately.

Source: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)

 

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