Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 07, 2007

A Sanitized AFRICOM Story

by b real
(lifted from a comment)

There was a widly circulated November 5th Associated Press story on skepticism and distrust greeting AFRICOM:

Skepticism, distrust greet America's new military command in Africa.

The story was heavily reissued again this afternoon under the headline:

Skepticism Greets New US Africa Command

The word "distrust" was dropped and the command is no longer "military". There are other subtle but interesting changes, the most significant of which I've noted below.

Nov 5th version

Africans are concerned the new command is an American attempt to project military might, unnecessarily bringing the global war on terror to their own backyard.

They also wonder whether it is a ruse to protect America's competitive stake in African oil and other resources increasingly sought by rising powers like China and India.

Nov 6th version

Some Africans are concerned the new command could draw the continent deeper into the global war on terrorist groups.

Others wonder if it is meant to protect America's competitive stake in African oil and other resources increasingly sought by rising powers like China and India.

---

.. more below the fold ..

Nov 5th version

Instead, it aims to help Africans "help themselves" through military training programs and support for peacekeeping and humanitarian operations crucial to stability and preventing conflict...

Nov 6th version

Its aim is to help Africans with military training and support peacekeeping and aid operations crucial to stability and the prevention of conflict...

Interesting that they drop the 'helping africans help themselves' slogan. To quote chomsky, from what we say goes [p. 124]

When you conquer somebody and suppress them, you have to have a reason. You can't just say, "I'm a son of a bitch and I want to rob them." You have to say it's for their good, they deserve it, or they actually benefit from it. We're helping them.

---

Nov 5th version

Regional powers including Libya, Nigeria and South Africa have expressed deep reservations, partly because they believe Africom could undermine their authority, analysts said. So far, only Liberia has publicly stated it would host Africom, though even critics like Nigeria welcome the continuation of the American military training programs they say have been beneficial.

Nov 6th version

Regional powers including Libya, Nigeria and South Africa have expressed deep reservations, partly because they believe Africom could undermine their influence, analysts said. So far, only Liberia has publicly stated a willingness to host Africom, though even critics like Nigeria welcome the continuation of the U.S. training programs.

A big difference between "authority" -- as in sovereignty -- as opposed to "influence" and dropping the qualifier on Nigeria's interest in military programs is a bit misleading.

---

Nov 5th version

"Africom is being pitched as a kind of non-kinetic military command," Shillinger said, "and that seems to be an oxymoron."

Nov 6th version

[excised]

AFRICOM --> moron -- obviously someone was offended.

---

Nov 5th version

Other analysts said there has been criticism within the U.S. government itself, notably from State Department officials concerned the authority of diplomats could be confused or usurped.

Nov 6th version

Analysts said there has been criticism of the command within the U.S. government itself, notably from State Department officials.

Remove context for criticism; easier to pretend it doesn't exist ...

---

Nov 5th version

Africom, he said, would "not be taking the lead" in humanitarian operations or U.S. foreign policy. Rather, it would support them by making available a massive military infrastructure that could help both.

Nov 6th version

It will "not be taking the lead" in aid operations or U.S. policy, he said.

After all, whoever thought of soldiers in a combatant command as "humanitarians"? And there goes the reference to military infrastructure, when it implies dependencies.

---

Nov 5th version

Since 2002, about 1,800 American troops have been stationed in Djibouti...

Nov 6th version

Since 2002, about 1,800 American military personnel have been stationed in Djibouti

Some "military personnel" based on your continent is much more benign than "troops".

---

Nov 5th version

The U.S., he said, would work with "African partners to make sure the resources that emanate from the continent are available to the global community."

Nov 6th version

The U.S. wants to work with "African partners to make sure the resources that emanate from the continent are available to the global community," he said.

A change from authoritative stance toward one of influence.

---

Nov 5th version

An internal conflict in Nigeria has sporadically disrupted the local flow of oil there, and offshore platforms throughout the region are little-protected and highly vulnerable because most countries have only tiny navies.

Nov 6th version

Internal conflict in Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer, has sporadically disrupted the flow of its crude, and offshore platforms along the western coast are little-protected because most countries have only small navies.

It wasn't a good idea to make fun of the size of anothers navy and call them "highly vulnerable" when you're trying to appear "helpful" rather than conquering.

This is an interesting rewrite and republishing effort.

Does this happen often or did someone command demand it?

Posted by b on November 7, 2007 at 01:40 AM | Permalink

Comments

Just wait until AFRICOM and $$$ investment really gets rolling. Will open up a whole new playground for the U.S.

Posted by: | Nov 7, 2007 2:04:47 AM | 1

This sort of stuff used to happen between editions of print newspapers, but at least then you had the piece of paper to 'prove' what had been originally said. Of course in those days local politics or business interests were more likely to want a story altered than national news minders. The net has changed all that stories get rewritten with more and more frequency and are also changed for different markets.

This is particularly true of the wire services especially Reuters which has a number of different simultaneous editions carrying the same story each with a different take. Reuters has a english edition, an amerikan edition and a world edition sometimes when I'm trying to source a Reuters story back from my local fishwrap it can get really convuluted especially with reports on incidents in eye-rack.

We know that various spinners, news minders and bullshit artists ahve input into most mainstream media outlets but you will never get them to admit it.

If questioned about the AFRICOM story the outlet is going to claim that it was altering the style to be more inline with the outlet's 'normal' style. They will argue that the initial article was too strident and the changes were of style not of substance.

The saddest thing about this is there probably was no phone call from a shadowy administration agent of influence. Those in senior mainstream media positions know which side their bread is buttered on they don't need to be told, and chances are the article was toned down willingly by some 'good keen man' out for his next leg up the ladder of lies.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Nov 7, 2007 2:27:23 AM | 2

Call it what you may, sure as hell its NOT EDITING - its political fine tuning. Done not in the editing room, but the board room. Done no doubt, for free, as well I suspect as an act of selfless patriotism or sucking ass depending how you view it. Someone must have thrown a hissy fit for them to have changed it after it was (widely) released the first time. Good catch b real.

Posted by: anna missed | Nov 7, 2007 2:33:49 AM | 3


and what does one do about a narrative thats not only failing, but has also proven to be counter-productive. Do they change it or do they try to fine-tune it with clever word-craft.

as Chomsky observes, in order to succeed, it has to boil down to one-line around the word "help". It also has to be believable.

meanwhile theres another narrative. China's. The Chinese never stop telling the Africans that they want to be "equal partners". Thats their one-liner. And their narrative does'nt try to mask the fact that "help" goes both ways.

seems like Africoms planners (as well as editors of major print newspapers and other spinner categories) are stuck in a 16'th century mindset.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Nov 7, 2007 5:36:53 AM | 4

You know to me it reeks of incompetent management in civil service. Briefs are drafted by operatives who have been given the line and the rationale but those drafts need to be vetted higher up the hierarchy prior to public release. It just seems that drafts are being released without adequate vetting and then corrected because senior executives are more into crisis management than crisis aversion.

This is an observation from the perspective of a Federal public servant in Australia. Having said that, if I was an African, I personally would never agree to AFRICOM.

There are also noises to craft an Asia-Pacific forum aka NATO/AFRICOM with India as a key player and I am keeping my fingers crossed that the left in India will scuttle it - they have scuttled the nuclear deal so far - they are too major a player in Federal politics in that country and totally unencumbered with the political-cultural baggage of the cold war - they were on the wrong side in that phony war.

Posted by: sona | Nov 7, 2007 6:18:39 AM | 5

b real, incredible piece of work. Makes one wonder how "history" will be written from now on.

Look at the power of Google (and what their clients will pay them to scan the internet, select and delete), they are the manuscript writers of the current age, whereas the missionaries of the Dark Ages have their manuscripts available in Museums in hard written copy.

There should be serious concern for what's out there in Blogoland and the News media gets saved and recorded?

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Nov 7, 2007 3:17:18 PM | 6

Well done B Real. Makes me think there is a general need for a new news architecture - a wiki-type presentation of the news wherein all edits from the raw copy onwards are tracked and attributed, with the ability to subscribe to particular commentators. Google should take this on.

Posted by: PeeDee | Nov 7, 2007 3:52:09 PM | 7

From my experience having worked in high level media thingies:

This was the work of a desk editor. In an agency like AP or Reuters or NYT there are top editors who don't edit anymore and on each country/area desk editors who 'sanitize' the stuff the reporters/writers put out.

These desk editors were selected for promotion to their position not because of their subject knowledge or good writing, but because of their politicial conformacy with the main editor and his/her bosses.

The desk reporters work 24/7, the desk editor some 6-8 hours per day. That's why some unedited stories slip through sometimes. They usually get "corrected" when the desk editor feels like s/he has show up and give it a thought or when these phone calls from above come in (lots of those ...).

The result is visible above.

The desk editors are lazy and don't want to edit stuff. They demand to have 'clean' reports. Over time the writers/reporters, other than newbies, know what is 'expected' and don't bother to write differently than what is expected. The financial incentives in form of annual gratifications, recommended by their editors, are pushing them into that direction. These folks have to feed their families too.

Don't damn the Internets or Google for this (at least not yet). In the old paper news environment, it was nearly impossible to fetch and expose this issues. There was only one edition and that was edited down on and on .. we now at least have a chance to catch such stuff and it is happening more often than you might think.

Posted by: b | Nov 7, 2007 4:01:39 PM | 8

PeeDee Well done B Real. Yes!

Makes me think there is a general need for a new news architecture - a wiki-type presentation of the news wherein all edits from the raw copy onwards are tracked and attributed, with the ability to subscribe to particular commentators.

Some three or four years ago I proposed a "online versioned news" system to a quite significant media company.

It would have presented the recent news first but allow backtracking the news-gathering and editing process. It would have allowed what b real did here with a lot of work at a click.

Any agency piece or genuine reporting would be exposed to the reader in its evolving states. I argued that this would increase the "believability factor" of such pieces.

The board folks did see some potential comparative advantage in being the first to introduce such, but they discarded the idea because it also would reveal their own 'mistakes'.

BTW: I'd love to have such for the blog here. I write, publish, read, rewrite, republish etc. Sometimes because I screwed up some fact, sometimes because of spelling grammar. Sometimes because it is an occuring event and the factal basis is moving faster than I think or type. I'd love to have this versioned and retrievable.

Google should take this on.

You still believe Google is not a 'significant media company' like the one I worked for?

Posted by: b | Nov 7, 2007 4:25:35 PM | 9

a wiki-type presentation of the news, sorry wikipedia is totally discredited in academic circles.

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Nov 7, 2007 4:55:21 PM | 10


b real thanks for your well crafted work.

Posted by: BenIAM | Nov 7, 2007 8:30:38 PM | 11

found this kinda funny

from an AFP story today
US Africa command chief in talks with African Union

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — The head of the US military's new Africa command (AFRICOM) held talks with African Union (AU) officials Thursday, amid grumblings on the continent over increased US military involvement.

General William Ward met AU Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare at the pan-African body's headquarters in Addis Ababa.

"I came to present my vision of AFRICOM and to listen and understand the traditions of this old institution," Ward said at a press conference.

the AU itself dates all the way back to ... 2001!

its predecessor, the OAU, was founded a long time ago (in 1963), realising attempts by the pan-african mvmt -- conceptualized & initiated from outside of the continent (think du bois, garvey, james, etc) -- since the late 19th century to promote a unified africa.

if ward wants to listen and understand one of "old" institutions in africa, may i suggest he pay attention to african's collective experiences w/ colonialism...

Posted by: b real | Nov 8, 2007 11:26:52 AM | 12

we now at least have a chance to catch such stuff and it is happening more often than you might think.

much appreciated, more than you know. kudos.

Posted by: | Nov 8, 2007 12:55:10 PM | 13

i know i don't say it enough. often i don't even comment , but i do grab these links and pass them on, even highjacking some commentary along the way.

we all have to be vigilant.

Posted by: annie | Nov 8, 2007 12:58:04 PM | 14

No news anywhere is as current and considered as it is here. Thanks especially to Bernhard.

I can't ever add much but I'm here every day, several times a day.

Posted by: beq | Nov 8, 2007 1:29:27 PM | 15

photo in this reuters story today at msnbc, U.S. woos Africans with naval diplomacy, is credited to "Rebecca Blackwell / AP" in one place and "(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)" in another.

yet, in the state department propaganda article from nov. 9, U.S. Ship To Host Multinational Experts off African Coast, the exact same photo is credited to "(U.S. Navy)".

ya see what's going on here, right?

Posted by: b real | Nov 12, 2007 4:56:08 PM | 16

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