It's been seven days since my post 'AP "Calls" Flopping Aces' on the controversy about the truthfulness of the AP report that six Iraqis has been burned alive when their mosque was attacked.
The AP story was sourced by Iraqi stringers who cite an Iraqi police captain that no one can find, and AP hasn't produced. Their response has been 'trust us, we're trained professionals...and pull up your pants! (cf Dennis Leary)'.
Personally, I doubt the story - not because it's not possible, but because no other media organization has been able to produce more than vague rumors about it, and it was such a heinous crime that it would have pushed all other talk among Iraqis aside. And it didn't. Hot Air cites a NT Times reporter in Iraq:
Hi Tom, You ask me about what our own reporting shows about this incident. When we first heard of the event on Nov. 24, through the A.P. story and a man named Imad al-Hashemi talking about it on television, we had our Iraqi reporters make calls to people in the Hurriya neighborhood. Because of the curfew that day, everything had to be done by phone. We reached several people who told us about the mosque attacks, but said they had heard nothing of Sunni worshippers being burned alive. Any big news event travels quickly by word of mouth through Baghdad, aided by the enormous proliferation of cell phones here. Such an incident would have been so abominable that a great many of the residents in Hurriya, as well as in other Sunni Arab districts, would have been in an uproar over it. Hard-line Sunni Arab organizations such as the Muslim Scholars Association or the Iraqi Islamic Party would almost certainly have appeared on television that day or the next to denounce this specific incident. Iraqi clerics and politicians are not shy about doing this. Yet, as far as I know, there was no widespread talk of the incident. So I mentioned it only in passing in my report. Best, Ed Wong
But more than that, it's kind of a defining moment in terms of press accountability. Are they accountable when challenged? So fat, the AP is saying "no".
Mark Tapscott, over at the Examiner (disclosure: he's the guy who buys my columns there) has a piece up today on "How to end AP's "60 Minutes Moment" on Iraqi Sources". It's worth a read.
It's time for AP to take the same sort of approach to resolve the Captain Jamil Hussein controversy. But there is one big difference between the present issue and the Dan Rather/"60 Minutes" ordeal - AP provides news to virtually every daily newspaper in America. AP is a cornerstone of the mainstream media. If AP's credibility is harmed, every news organization that uses its products also suffers.
Thus, AP should ask the American Society of Newspaper Editors to oversee the appointment and conduct of an independent panel of respected journalists and outside evidentiary experts to determine the truth behind Captain Jamil Hussein and all other sources similarly in doubt.
Transparency, accountability, a willingness to admit error. The media expects that from those it deals with. Can it play by the same rules?
Bill Roggio is back in Iraq, and has some interesting first-hand anecdotes about the military and the media.
While waiting to manifest on the flight to Fallujah, CNN played a news segment of President Bush announcing there would be no "graceful exit" from Iraq, and that we'd stay until the mission was complete. Two sergeants in the room cheered. Loudly. They then scoffed at the reports from Baghdad, and jeered the balcony reporting.
In nearly every conversation, the soldiers, Marines and contractors expressed they were upset with the coverage of the war in Iraq in general, and the public perception of the daily situation on the ground. The felt the media was there to sensationalize the news, and several stated some reporters were only interested in "blood and guts." They freely admitted the obstacles in front of them in Iraq. Most recognized that while we are winning the war on the battlefield, albeit with difficulties in some areas, we are losing the information war. They felt the media had abandoned them.
In talking about Iraq, war opponents are frustrated by the war supporters' insistence that things in Iraq are better than those reported. I understand their frustration. But it's difficult for me - given the constant menu of bad news about reporting that's presented to me - to embrace a common view of what's going on over there.
The media owes us better. They will give it to us, or they will fail. A good start would be ending the stonewall on this one issue.