Tuesday, August 15

Collateral Damage: The Associated Press Defends "Green Helmet"

The Associated Press (AP), and its foreign correspondent Kathy Gannon, are standing by their man, and more importantly to them, standing by Gannon's reporting from Qana, Lebanon, where last month, Lebanese "veteran civil defense worker" Salam Daher and his crew shamelessly exploited dead bodies for the press in the hours following an Israeli airstrike. Gannon and the AP are now on the defensive, with Gannon recently writing a profile of Daher, known to the blogosphere as "Green Helmet." Gannon's profile of Green Helmet was later adapted by the AP as a Flash slideshow with narration by AP reporter Lauren Froyer.

Both Gannon and AP have reason to be concerned by the possibility of collateral damage to their own reputations as a result of the intensive bombardment the legacy media reporting on the Israel-Hizballah war has recently been subjected to in the blogosphere.

As first reported on Little Green Footballs, the revelation that a Lebanese photographer, Adnan Hajj, working for AP's rival news agency, Reuters, had improperly (read ineptly) "enhanced" a couple of his photos with Adobe Photoshop software prompted Reuters to recall over 900 of the photographer's photos, and got Hajj his pinkslip. Reuters had little invested in Hajj, and so could cut him loose without much fuss, but the LGF lizards that helped bring down CBS's Dan Rather and his phony Texas National Guard memos have caught the scent of another, wider, scandal.

Much has been learned concerning the events at Qana since August 2nd when I first noted my suspicions on LGF, and now the role of Salam Daher, the green helmeted man at the center of the coverage, is becoming apparent. Yet AP continues to avoid answering the difficult questions about Kathy Gannon's reporting, and why she apparently chose to overlook Daher's behavior, in favor of reporting his message.

Once again, here are some questions unanswered (and avoided thus far) by AP:

1.) AP's Kathy Gannon, the same reporter whose recent profile of Salam Daher forms the basis for this Flash slideshow narrated by AP's Lauren Frayer, filed a contemporaneous report from Qana in which she reported quotes from someone Gannon described as a "veteran civil defense worker" from Tyre named "Abu Shadi Jradi," who, based upon what we know about Salam Daher, sounds very much like the same individual.

Is Green Helmet, now called Salam Daher, the same person as "Abu Shadi Jradi"?

(Identifying "Abu Shadi Jradi" as Green Helmet is important because...)

2.) Mark MacKinnon, correspondent in Lebanon for the Toronto Globe and Mail, filed a story from Tyre that was published online on July 26 (link requires registration) in which he quoted extensively from a man identified as "Abu Shadi" who was described as "a mortician at the government hospital in the city" of Tyre, who told MacKinnon that

[h]e's processed 100 bodies -- many of them grotesquely mangled and burned -- and on his pickup runs has been forced to leave behind many more that he can't recover from cars and destroyed buildings.

"It's much more [than the official count]," he says. "There are many trapped under the rubble. The death toll will reach 1,000."

Abu Shadi showed MacKinnon a refrigerated truck of decaying corpses described thus:

Mr. Shadi was standing in front of a refrigeration truck that was packed with 20 bodies, days after he helped bury 74 bodies in a mass grave. When he opened the door to show the black body bags haphazardly piled on top of each other, a staggering stench came out, despite the refrigeration.

Abu Shadi went on to make such inflammatory statements as this:

"The last two days have been the worst. Yesterday and the day before, the bodies that came in were completely burned. Charred. It was a shipment of burned bodies."

and this

Of the dead he's seen, Mr. Shadi says, "maybe 3 per cent" were men. The rest were women and children. "They're [the Israelis are] not targeting fighters."

Is MacKinnon's "Abu Shadi" the mortician from Tyre, the same individual AP's Kathy Gannon interviewed as a "veteran civil defense worker" named "Abu Shadi Jradi"?

3.) Qatar's Al Jazeera television aired an interview in Arabic with Green Helmet, whom they identified as "Abdel Qader". In that footage, Green Helmet's interview is interrupted when a stretcher carrying another corpse rounds the corner of a building at the bottom of the hill. Both Green Helmet and the al Jazeera correspondent jerk their heads around to look, and almost simultaneously, the al Jazeera cameraman does a "panic zoom" past them to get a closeup of the stretcher. Two press photographers are shown hovering around the stretcher as it's being carried uphill. The stretcher bearers then stop briefly, and set the stretcher down on the ground so the body can be more easily photographed, before resuming their climb. This footage established, among other things, that Green Helmet uses at least one other name in talking to the press, and that the scene in Qana was set for the benefit of the press getting pictures of the dead bodies.

Journalists who were on the scene that day, like AP's Kathy Gannon, had to know that corpses were being displayed and exploited for the benefit of the press, yet in her earlier article she only briefly alludes to this staging

The arm of a child slipped from beneath the dirty gray blanket that covered him. On the same stretcher, toes painted with bright red polish peeked out. A rescue worker lifted the blanket to show two shattered children who were curled up looking asleep except for the thick dried blood at their noses.

and in her profile of Salam Daher she tries to defend the practice:

To many in the West, such photographs are surprising; but they are not unusual in the Middle East, where grief and drama are often intertwined, and that can include displaying of bodies.

Bloggers have accused rescue workers and volunteers of showing off victims for the media. The Lebanese make no apologies for wanting the world to see the civilian suffering in the Israeli onslaught aimed at uprooting Hezbollah.

If posing with the corpses doesn't seem like a big deal to Gannon, and, as the longtime AP foreign correspondent writes, it's "not unusual in the Middle East," perhaps it's because Gannon's original story from Qana is unreservedly the message of Green Helmet himself, with passages like this from her lede paragraph

Abu Shadi Jradi pulled bodies out of wreckage for hours _ two toddler girls wearing tiny gold earrings, a small boy whose pale blue pacifier still hung from his neck. Somewhere in the middle, Jradi slumped beneath a tree and wept.

"There are so many children, so many children," the veteran civil defense worker said Sunday, barely able to get out the words.

(More later about the blue pacifier that figured so poignantly in images from Qana and Gannon's report...)

and this

One body was wrapped in a child's bed sheet covered with Raggedy Ann and Andy figures.

and this

On Sunday, rescue workers dripped with sweat in the blistering heat as they pored through the wreckage, tossing out a baby carriage and moving hunks of concrete and brick.

and this

From his hospital bed in Tyre, Mohammed Ali Shalhoub said that from their graves, his wife and children "were all saying God bless Sheik Hassan Nasrallah," the Hezbollah leader.

In Qana, resident Mohammed Ismail waved at seven dead lined up on the ground, saying President Bush "laughs when they ask him about the dead bodies."

Gannon's article sounds like the message of MacKinnon's "Abu Shadi," doesn't it? "They're not targeting fighters," says Abu Shadi. Here, look at these bodies!

(This becomes even more clear and grotesque in view of the next question...)

4.) The German television network Nordeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) aired video of "veteran civil defense worker" Green Helmet directing the "rescue effort" at Qana in an even more literal sense. In the video, Green Helmet is shown instructing the cameras to keep rolling, and later the body of a boy is shown being removed from the ambulance that it had earlier been placed in and the head propped up so that the cameras can get a better look. Green Helmet is clearly interested in more than just getting the bodies out of the rubble, and his role is more than just as a "veteran civil defense worker." Like the stretcherbearers in the Al Jazeera video (who were presumably under his direction), Green Helmet has no problem exploiting the bodies of the dead for the benefit of an eager press. It's his job, and as the photos from 1996 show, he's been doing it for years.

5.) Disgraced Reuters photographer Adnan Hajj took one of the most poignant shots from Qana, that of the dust-caked body of an infant, held aloft for display to the press by none other than Salam "Green Helmet" Daher. This is the child Kathy Gannon described as "a small boy whose pale blue pacifier still hung from his neck." But the curious thing about that pacifier is, it was not dirty at all, despite being clipped to the dusty body. The reason? It was apparently added later, as earlier photos from the scene allegedly show. Nor were the clothes of the "rescue workers" including Salam "Green Helmet" Daher himself noticably dirty, despite their reportedly digging through the rubble for hours. This poor baby boy, reportedly named Abbas Hashem, whose body was exhibited for the media by Daher, is about the only person shown at Qana that looked to have any dirt on them at all. Kathy Gannon was there to see the pale blue pacifier on this child's body, but evidently missed the part where someone clipped it on him for added pathos. Gannon described the veteran civil defense worker from Tyre, "Abu Shadi Jradi," as having been digging in the rubble for hours, but if Abu Shadi Jradi was covered with dust from his excavation efforts, we certainly haven't seen it in the photographs from Qana.

6.) Suppose it didn't require hours of digging to uncover these corpses in Qana, then where did they come from? Did the mortician from Tyre, Abu Shadi, who Toronto Globe and Mail reporter Mark MacKinnon spoke to beside his refrigerated truck piled high with decaying bodies supply some or all of them? MacKinnon's interview with Tyre mortician Abu Shadi was published July 26th, a few days before Kathy Gannon's July 30th report filed from Qana, in which she talked with "veteran civil defense worker" from Tyre, Abu Shadi Jradi. One photojournalist in Lebanon, Bryan Denton, has even publicly alleged that bodies are being dug up for propaganda photos in some instances. We don't know yet whether Abu Shadi is Abu Shadi Jradi, or whether Abu Shadi Jradi is Salam Daher, who also goes by the name Abdel Qader when speaking to Al Jazeera reporters. We do know that AP's Kathy Gannon was on the scene, with an opportunity to report on the truth of Salam "Green Helmet" Daher's choreography of the news from Qana, but she evidently didn't notice, or didn't want to notice, anything out of the ordinary.

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