We have received a message from the Washington Post’s man in Baghdad, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, regarding Ambassador Bremer’s farewell address. It’s a long message, but of sufficient interest and importance that I’m simply posting the message in its entirety below:
For those of you who have been interested in the subject of why The Washington Post reported that U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer did not deliver a “farewell address” before departing Iraq on June 28, let me provide some detail and context. I am The Post’s bureau chief in Baghdad and the author of the article in question.
First off, The Post published a correction on July 9. It reads: “An article June 29 on the departure from Iraq of U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer stated that Bremer did not deliver a farewell address to the Iraqi people. Although he did not deliver prepared remarks to an audience on the day he left, a U.S.-funded television station in Iraq broadcast remarks he had taped two days earlier, his spokesman said.”
What happened here? According to Dan Senor, Bremer’s spokesman, with whom I spoke on July 8, Bremer taped a brief address on June 26 that would be broadcast on Al-Iraqiya, the U.S.-funded television station in Iraq, upon his departure. Senor called it an “address for the Iraqi people.” I asked Senor for a transcript of the address, but he has not yet sent me one. Similar requests to two other press officers with the former Coalition Provisional Authority have gone unanswered.
Unlike most other addresses given by Bremer during his tenure as CPA administrator, there was no notice provided to Western print journalists indicating that a speech would be broadcast. There also was no transcript of the address sent out later in the day, as was typical for the CPA to do after Bremer’s speeches. (There may have been a CPA media advisory provided to television networks specifying satellite feed information for the broadcast, but I have not been able to obtain a copy of that advisory.)
When asked about why there was no general advisory, Senor told me: “It wasn’t a big announcement. It wasn’t for the Western press. It was not a policy speech.”
The broadcast was not widely known within the CPA. Two press officers I spoke with that day did not mention it. Other CPA officials I talked to said they had no knowledge of Bremer delivering a farewell address.
Our office in Baghdad does monitor television broadcasts, but we generally pay little attention to Iraqiya because it does not have continuous news coverage. We have stopped keeping one of our three televisions permanently tuned to the station because it broadcasts children’s’ shows and other non-news programming during most workdays.
It is impossible to know how many Iraqis saw Bremer’s remarks. Iraqiya is watched my many Iraqis, but many others tune into Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and other Arab satellite news channels. I understand Jazeera may have broadcast some of the remarks but I have not been able to verify that. Needless to say, the speech was not resonating among the score of people my Iraqi translators talked to that day to gauge public reaction to the handover. Most people wanted to discuss the speech made by the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi. Nobody said anything about seeing Bremer on television.
I know some people have noted that CNN’s domestic service and Fox News broadcast at least part of the address. I was watching CNN International (the version available in Iraq) throughout the day and did not see thespeech. I certainly could have missed it if it was broadcast just once. But I can safely say that the address certainly was not given much prominence on CNN International in the hours after the initial broadcast on Iraqiya.
Whether Bremer’s taped address should be deemed a farewell speech is something I will leave to others to debate. It was not spoken on the day political authority was transferred, nor was it delivered before an audience. Obviously there were security and scheduling concerns that factored into that decision. Had I known about his televised remarks, however, I would not have written that he did not deliver a farewell address. I even would have quoted what he said. According to a transcript of Bremer’s remarks that were broadcast on CNN’s domestic service, he said:
“I leave Iraq gladdened by what has been accomplished and confident that your future is full of hope. A piece of my heart will always remain here in the beautiful land between the two rivers with its fertile valleys, it’s majestic mountains and its wonderful people.” That’s good stuff and I certainly would have included it in one of the two stories I wrote that day.
The bottom line here is that I did not know anything about the taped remarks when I wrote that Bremer did not deliver a farewell address. Knowing what I now do, thanks in part to media watchdog bloggers, The Post has corrected the record. It’s too bad, though, that the CPA did not do a better job in informing the Western and Arab press about the broadcast. Had we all known about it, I’m sure Bremer’s comments would have received wider exposure inside Iraq and beyond.
UPDATE: Reader E.J. Boysen translates: “It’s not my fault. That’s somebody else’s job. It’s time to move on.”
DEACON adds: Mr. Chandrasekaran has provided a solid explanation for why the Washington Post failed to report that Bremer made farewell remarks. However, he has not satisfactorily explained why the Post falsely reported that Bremer did not make such remarks. Thus, we are free to conclude, as I do, that the false report is probably attributable to an inclination to cast Bremer, and the U.S. effort in Iraq, in a bad light.