Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Where Are the Stories? Where Are the Bloggers? U.S. Cash Fuels Human Trade by Cam Simpson and Aamer Madhani

In Sunday's Chicago Tribune were two articles by Cam Simpson and Aamer Madhani about the exploitation of foreign workers in Iraq by subcontractors working for Halliburton. Halliburton, as many remember, is paid tons of money by the U.S. government to provide meals, housing, housecleaning, fuel, and other support services for U.S. military forces in Iraq. To get non-Iraqi labor to reduce the possibility of terrorist infiltration, Halliburton turns to local subcontractors who use Middle East brokers in contact with South Asia labor recruiters. The recruiters often take money from both the brokers and from the desperate laborers who want good paying jobs. The laborers are often told they are going to work in Jordanian hotels for good pay, when they in fact end up in compounds in Iraq for poor pay. The subcontractors confiscate their passports and may only pay them at the end of the contract, making it impossible for the laborers to flee. Halliburton and the U.S. military do not question the subcontractors, brokers, and recruiters about their practices. This seems to me an important story.

As of Tuesday morning, I do not see any reporting on this story by the New York Times or Washington Post; a search of Google News does not find the article either. One of the articles was an exclusive for the Chicago Tribune, but I would think that such an important story would some how be commented on by the other papers; when I search for Halliburton, I find many stories but not the story about expoited Asian workers. Using Google and Google News, I find plenty of news about Halliburton and Iraq, but again I can not find the article by Cam Simpson nor comments about it. I also do not see anything about the story on CNN, BBC News , National Public Radio, or Reuters.

Finally, using Yahoo News I find the story from the Chicago Tribune itself and a parallel release from the Baltimore Sun. Maybe I should have started with Yahoo News.

I thought I might find more by checking the search engines that search blogs. Using Technorati I found one posting, two using Feedster, and two using Google Blog Search. That is not the buzz I expected for this story. At the LITA Forum ten days ago, Danah Boyd said that bloggers keep the mainstream news organizations honest, reporting what the latter pass up. In this case, most of the bloggers must not even know the story, unless they are Chicago Tribune readers.

Michael Gorman said at the LITA Forum that access to content on the web is poor. Someone else, it may have been Danah Boyd, said Google and Yahoo and other search engines are often blocked from indexing and linking by the sources of exclusive content, such as the news sources. Whatever, everyone seems to agree that information is lost to the readers who are not persistent.

I wonder if this story will be found in next year's Project Censored (The News that Didn't Make the News) annual report. Censored 2006 is already on sale. 2007 seems a long time away.

Cam Simpson and Aamer Madhani. "U.S. Cash Fuels Human Trade." Chicago Tribune. October 9, 2005. Section 1, page 15.

Cam Simpson. "Desperate for Work, Lured into Danger: The Journey of a Dozen Impoverished Men from Nepal to Iraq Reveals the Exploitation Underpinning the American War Effort." Chicago Tribune. October 9, 2005. Section 1, page 1.

Cam Simpson. "Into a War Zone, on a Deadly Road: Worker's Chilling Call Home: 'I am Done for.' " . October 10, 2005. Section 1, page 1.

Update for Wednesday, October 12

As of this morning, the big national newspapers are still not mentioning this story. CNN, NPR, BBC News, and Reuters still have not chosen to report on it either.

My search in Yahoo News found a new article in the Seattle Times from a Los Angeles Times writer about the same subject. I then found the original article. Perhaps I should look west as much as east for news.

Twenty-four hours allowed a little more blog activity. I found two blogs on the topic through Technorati, five (including this posting) through Feedster, and still two through Google Blogsearch. Still, bloggers must be focusing their attention elsewhere.

Update for Saturday, October 15

Through Google News found a new article of the topic from AlterNet, an Internet reporting project from the Independent Media Institute. Two of the Chicago Tribune articles are now posted at CorpWatch (click here also).

Yahoo News shows that several other newspapers are republishing up the Chicago Tribune articles and the Los Angeles Times article.

Blogging activity seems to be increasing. I found more postings through both Techorati and Feedster. Google Blogsearch had fewer entries than the other two. I noticed that plurals did not matter in Feedster searches.


bobbyg said...

Humm. Think the story may have some 'holes' in it? Maybe the entire episode was fabricated?

Mitchell Szczepanczyk said...

Good post. There's an irony to this.

The Chicago Tribune is part of the Tribune company, which -- though it gave coverage to this report -- has been all but mum on the issue of its own systematic violations of FCC media ownership rules.

The Tribune Company has been violating the FCC's Cross-Ownership rule -- which forbids a single company from owning a TV station and a newspaper in a single economic vicinity ("a market").

As I type this, The Tribune Company is violating this rule in New York City, Los Angeles, south Florida, and Hartford, Connecticut. The Tribune even got nailed in court earlier this year for their contempt of the law.

That's one reason why the Tribune was lobbying hard to change this rule about two years ago as part of a controversial FCC media ownership rule review -- they were breaking the law at least four times over nationwide, and it was cheaper to lobby like mad to change the law rather than obey it.

It didn't work. The ownership rule met up with historically unprecedented popular resistance, which fueled a successful emergency court block on the rules and a subsequent succcessful rejection of the rules in court.

aden said...

There is an audio interview with Cam concerning this article on tradio21 and on Terry Gross' Fresh Air