Paranoia and Skepticism

A note from a friend:

“Sounds paranoid, but has any news outlet checked this out?

[Text at that link:] “There are several postings on message boards

suggesting that the digital watermarks on the Berg and Abu Ghraib

videos are exactly the same. While at this point we have no concrete

confirmation of this, it would fit with other examples of how the Berg

execution and Abu Ghraib torture scenes are very similar. The

contention is that Berg was killed by the US military as a staged

psy-op to distract attention from the torture scandal, an execution

blamed on ‘CIArabs’.”

My response:

“Give me a fucking break. Honestly. The first conspiracy theories about this were floating around on the Web within 24 hours of the Berg news being reported. I’m sorry, I take this as a sign of our spreading sick credulity, in the same category with the reports that all the Jews working in the World Trade Center were told not to come to work on 9/11 (sounds paranoid! but did anyone in the media REALLY check it out thoroughly???). ”

Should the media be skeptical and inquisitive? Of course — much, much more so than they generally hves been in the whole Iraq affair, especially at the outset. And yeah, of course, rumors should be checked out. But take a look at the link, and you find not a rumor, but an urban legend: People posting that they’ve seen messages on the Net about video watermarks, about anonymous experts at Kodak who’ve analyzed the Berg and Abu Ghraib videos, and how the whole thing is going to break on national news “tonite” (at some unspecified point in the past). Do I have a knee-jerk tendency to reject this kind of rumor-mongering? I do, and I often have to check that to see that I’m not reacting out of pure defensiveness or unwillingness to believe unpalatable truths. On the other hand, I wish people were a little less willing to believe whatever some “authority” says on the topic of the day, whether it’s Colin Powell talking about the mobile bioweapons labs in Iraq or some doofus pushing his Nick Berg conspiracy theories online.

I think the damage in focusing on nutso rumors, like the ones about the Kodak experts and the digital video watermarking, is that real aspects of the events that led to the Berg murder are overshadowed or ignored. For instance, it’s clear that Berg was in custody and had contact with U.S. agents, officials, and troops. How about a full accounting of those contacts, a real timeline, so we can get an idea of how he managed to fall into the hands of his captors? (Yeah, I believe some bad Iraqis who don’t like us killed him, not some CIA types doing “psy-ops”; if for no other reason, I believe that because the CIA hasn’t managed to get a single thing right in Iraq that we know about, and I find it hard to believe their first successful operation was cutting off this kid’s head.) If we get that accounting, then we’d have a picture of U.S. officials’ real culpability in what happened to Nick Berg.

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