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Seven Days

| 24 Comments

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.

24 Comments

There was a time in history that something like this would cause an outrage by the general public, alas, I believe we are so used to the "news" being manipulated or even made up that it just rolls off most peoples backs and is to be expected. I can't speak for everyone, but I take most reports out of Iraq with major grains of salt, especially when a stringer is involved. I trust most bloggers more than I trust the vast majority of the media establishment.

About 4000 Iraqis are being killed each month, many with signs of being tortured. I am not sure of the "critical: importance of this story.
If this story is not true does it mean that all is actually going well in Iraq ?
Today even the new nominee of Defense Secretary admitted that we are not winning in Iraq.
http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/12/05/gates.confirmation/index.html
Iraq is the worst debacle in foreign affairs the USA has ever had.

Great minds. Wretchard has a piece up where he notes that Liberals OWN the MSM, have no interest in providing anything other than ideological fantasies, and will not change.

He cites the late and doomed Israeli effort to rebut all the Lebanese propaganda, fauxtographs, faked / staged stories, etc. ALL the press, media, publishing houses, "concerned committees" etc. have already decided Israel = evil. And that equation will not change even after Ahmadinejad fulfills his fondest wish and finishes what Hitler started.

Here's the trick- Jim is right, nothing is going to change with the MSM. We should certainly keep the pressure on by demanding accountability (and letting the American people see the naked emperor), but we also need to look in house for some answers.

Heroes (i use the term deliberately, though he would object completely) like Bill Roggio have to be trumpeted as much as possible, and that mostly does happen. Guys like him also need to be funded and i strongly encourage everyone to sponsor an independent journalist, whichever one you decide on.

But there are bigger fish to fry. As far as non-MSM journalism goes, I look at the blogosphere as similar to the mouthpiece on a brass instrument. Its the smallest part, but nothing much happens if it doesnt originate there. That needs to change. Fox News has a major inferiority complex despite all the agita it gives the rest of its competitors- they are slowly morphing into what they were meant to react against. Where's that Murdoch money being spent getting Fox reporters over into the streets of Baghdad (and embedded in military units)? Can hardly blame the NYT for that one!

The truth is we on our side of the spectrum have a responsibility to demand great journalism from our news outlets as well, and we cant just let the warbloggers man the front lines! Can't Sean Hannity or Rush sponsor a correspondent overseas? I gotta be honest- as much as they are willing to blast the MSM for not having the balls to put their people in the streets of Baghdad, those guys have the money and the connections to make it happen as well. I know its not their province, but as we keep saying, we're at war. I say its about time we start taking matters in to our own hands instead of just griping about how crappy our opponents do. Are we really acting any different than the contrarian Democrats have in this instance? How about offering some answers of our own, and to hell with the wire services?

It's not just the media, but also CENTCOM unfortunately

[JK: fixed the URL because it was blowing the main page. Folks, it's important to follow instructions above re: embedding URLs so they're live - much politer for other readers, too.]

Belmont Club's Sock Puppets notes that supposed AP source "Capt. Jamil Hussein" doesn't appear to exist.

"Neither the AP nor any other news agency is being asked to rely on the official spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior. But AP may not make up an "official spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior" to suit their taste. "Captain Jamil Hussein" was presented as a credible AP source precisely because he was "official", that is a police officer, which he apparently is not. And it is improper for the AP to invent a man and then name him as a source. No one is obliged to go solely to the AP for "the real news in Iraq"; but whatever one thinks of the AP, no one should be permitted to invent fictitious AP reporters or bureau chiefs and file stories in the wires under their invented names. The issue isn't freedom of speech, it's fraud.

And that's why the story by Steven R. Hurst is so disturbing. It reduces the possibility that "Captain Jamil Hussein" may simply be a unintentional mistake caused by the pressure of deadlines and inadequate fact-checking by harassed staff..."

He follows that up with The Mighty Wurlitzer, which touches on a couple of subjects but focuses on Israel producing satellite footage that clearly shows key MSM coverage of Lebanon to have been a lie. Too little, too late:

"It's a story of too little and too late. The Left had no difficulty in painting a portrait of a New Guernica with digitally altered pictures, fake sources, unsupported accusations, racist charges and whatever else they could think up even as the bombs were falling. Now Israel produces the grainy, real pictures to show that it was the Hezbollah which committed the war crimes. That's a serious accusation supported by serious proof. But how can these low-resolution UAV images compete with the full color, staged photographs of New York Times cameraman Tyler Hicks? No, the IDF has been beaten in the propaganda war and it will be beaten again in the next few months if Lebanon turns hot. Beaten because it did not have the infrastructure -- the "concerned" committees, speakers bureaus, media houses, legal aid shops, international organizations and an army of writers -- to compete with the lie."

But the lie - and the dark goals behind it - have all of those things. They have decided that Israel must die, while domestically people look the other way as Jews are targeted by Muslims and others for violence (which will, of course, be blamed on the Jews sole guaranteed refuge). That line has a rich array of concerned committees, legal aid shops, international organizations, writers, et. al.

With predictable consequences.

Wretchard caps it off with a damn interesting set of thoughts in Blogs which discusses what an improved blogosphere might look like, and also adds this neat tip for y'all:

"The MSM dominance in specialist news is far less complete. Global Voices, a weblog community run by the Harvard Law School, has systematically been hosting or linking to weblogs authored by its contacts in largely obscure Third World locations. Global Voices is often the only primary source of events in places where the MSM has no presence because lack of interest makes it impractical to station correspondents there; and on which even editorial time is deemed wasted unless some war or natural disaster should strike. For many analytical bloggers, Global Voices (and others like it) is the event horizon for "under the horizon" or chronic events in obscure places like Timor or Chad."

Andy,

Yon is dead right. Again - and pay close attention to his Afghanistan prediction.

Here's the live link to make it easier for folks.

Belmont Club's Sock Puppets notes that supposed AP source "Capt. Jamil Hussein" doesn't appear to exist.

I have no idea if the story is true or not (like everyone else) however, I wouldn't at all be surprised to find an Iraqi security force officer using an assumed name when giving stories to the press.

"I have no idea if the story is true or not (like everyone else) however, I wouldn't at all be surprised to find an Iraqi security force officer using an assumed name when giving stories to the press."

In which case its more of an assumed identity, because there are a number of reports over several months quoting Jamil Hussein. Regardless, it is equally reprehensible journalism to allow a source to use a fake name without acknowledging that in the article. CHECK YOUR SOURCES, this isnt advanced journalism here.

Davebo --

Over and over again (more than 20 AP stories) "Jamil Hussein" was the sole source for stories detailing atrocities by Americans or Shia against Sunnis.

Given how CNN and other news organizations suppressed news of Saddam's atrocities and terrorist sheltering, and the ongoing pattern of links to terrorists by most of the News Organizations ...

It's reasonable to assume that "Jamil Hussein" is in fact an Al Qaeda propagandist who's outright falsehoods are repeated by a news media objectively on the side of Al Qaeda.

It's notable that all of "Jamil Hussein's" stories have been unable to be verified or flatly denied by both CENTCOM and troops on the ground. Note btw how Reuters, AP, NYT have had Hamas and Hezbollah and Al Aqsa operatives as reporters in Gaza and the West Bank as well as Lebanon. Reuters even hosted a party for a known Hamas terrorist.

Does not the belief that the media is distorting the picture of Iraq to make it appear that things are worse than they actually are simply break down in light of known facts--e.g. the US Military believes that 150,000 or so foreign troops are necessary--and public testimony from active generals and the Secretary of Defense designee that we are not winning and that our current strategy is not working? What further evidence is required to believe that the situation in Iraq is, as the Iraq Study Group put it in its report, "grave" and "deterioating?"

I am not in a possition to assess the accuracy of any individual press account. However, I am in a position to draw the conclusion that the overall portrayal of the situation in Iraq by the "liberal" media pretty closely matches the official US assessments. I just don't see the media's story as being at odds with the military's and administration's story. Each seems to confirm the other.

Mark- the 'big picture' status of Iraq is one thing... the specific reasons it is that way is quite another. Its equivalent to a doctor examining a patient and diagnosing cancer when it's actually some other disease. The doctor can hardly say- "yeh, but the guy is sick right? No question about that, even he says so". If you diagnose the problem wrong, you will invariably treat it wrong, potentially fatally. If Shiia death squads are really out burning Sunnis up in the streets, that a much different problem than something else. Honestly, its kind of telling that your entire perspective is focuses on the 'political' picture of being able to trumpet that Iraq is f*&*d, without even giving a thought to the idea that why Iraq is f*&*d is the question we are all trying to answer.

Mark Buehner,
I am at a loss as to how you can attribute my "entire perspective" and its "focus" to a short post whose subject is limited to a narrow question. I was merely questioning the premise of the belief that the media is distoring its portrayal of Iraq. That belief presupposes that Iraq is not as bad in reality as the media picture of it. I think there is independent evidence that Iraq is, if fact, as the media generally portrays it. That independent evidence is the actions and analysis of the US governement, which, in general seems to corroborate the media's overall portrayal.

Rest assured, Mark, that this opinion by no means represents the sum total of my thoughts about Iraq, its current condition, how it got there, or what should be done about it. It is merely a reflection of my belief of the facile nature of one particular argument about the US media.

As you rightly point, if "Shiia death squads are really out burning Sunnis up in the streets" would be a different matter than if they weren't. However, I would point out two things. First, the dispute is over a single incident and not a chronic condition. Second, whether or not Shia death squads are burning Sunnis alive is not terribly important IF --and I concede this may be a big if -- you accept that Shia death squads ARE torturing and executing 15 to 50 Sunnis each day in Bagdhad. By not terribly important, I mean, of course, in determining what the situation is and what might be done to prevent it. The manner of gruesome death is less imporant than occurrence of gruesome death. (forgive my poor spelling.)

Mark, fair enough, i shouldnt have pigeon holed your pov like that. Apologies.

"First, the dispute is over a single incident and not a chronic condition."

That is debateable. Mounting evidence suggests that wire reporting from Iraq is chronically compromised.

"Second, whether or not Shia death squads are burning Sunnis alive is not terribly important IF --and I concede this may be a big if -- you accept that Shia death squads ARE torturing and executing 15 to 50 Sunnis each day in Bagdhad"

BUT- that is not necessarilly true either. The story of burning people in the street and torching mosques is a picture of pure anarchy and mayhem unopposed by either the local population or the Iraqi government. That is considerably different than murders which are largely done by ambush or kidnapping. Think of it in different context- 50 people being murdered in NYC would be one thing, people being burned alive in the middle of the street before cheering crowds quite something else.

#11 from mark: "Does not the belief that the media is distorting the picture of Iraq to make it appear that things are worse than they actually are simply break down in light of known facts--e.g. the US Military believes that 150,000 or so foreign troops are necessary--and public testimony from active generals and the Secretary of Defense designee that we are not winning and that our current strategy is not working?"

Yes. But that leaves open the possibility that the contest in Iraq may be going badly in ways other than the mainstream media portrays. That is, there may be distorted and false reporting not "to make it appear that things are worse than they actually are" but in line with prejudices about how they are bad.

#11 from mark: "What further evidence is required to believe that the situation in Iraq is, as the Iraq Study Group put it in its report, "grave" and "deterioating?"

I am not an optimist on this war any more, but reporting may still be biased, lazy and error prone.

Mark Buehner, You are quite right. The AP incident is one of a succession. I should have been clearer. I meant a single instance of burning people alive, not faulty reporting. In other words, and this speaks to your second point, there are not false reports of mayhem & chaos represented by chronic burnings. There was a report of a single instance. It's not as if the AP were making it out to appear commonplance.

Living in NYC (as I do), I must take issue with your feelings that 50 people murdered here a day would not cause a sensation. I believe we are down to an average of less than 2 a day, not bad for a city of 8 million.

But back to the issue at hand. If the Sunnis were simply murdered, I'd tend to agree with you more. That they are tortured with acid and electric drills, to me, puts it all much closer to the burning alive category. I'm still not sure how much of a difference there is between 6 people being burned a live and 6 people being shot after having their faces burned off with acid, or their eyes gouged out with drills. It's all unimaginably horrible to me.

"I'm still not sure how much of a difference there is between 6 people being burned a live and 6 people being shot after having their faces burned off with acid, or their eyes gouged out with drills. It's all unimaginably horrible to me."

The horrificness of the murders isnt the issue- its the context they are committed in. As i said, a drive by shooting or abduction laying in wait is quite different from rounding up people on the streets in full view of government forces and no apparent fear of Americans or anyone else stopping you. It paints an utterly different picture.

mark,

By the same logic, the incorrect reports that Katrina refugees were raping and murdering in the the SuperDome didn't really matter because we know that a hurricane had hit so conditions were bad. Except that by virtue of the incorrect reports, relief was delayed to take unnecessary security precautions and the suffering was prolonged.

The facts matter. People make decisions based on what they beleive the facts are. If the facts are wrong, bad decisions are made.

Now, it's one thing if the facts are reported incorrectly. It's impossible to be right all the time and honest mistakes will be made. It's another thing entirely to be spreading enemy propaganda. If (as seems increasingly likely) the AP are spreading enemy propaganda, how is that remotely defensible?

If this is enemy propaganda, why would they believe these false reports to be to their benefit? If it is to the enemy's benefit and its untrue, how can you say it doesn't matter?

Moreover, now we know that the AP is wilfully misrepresenting their own reporting and wilfully deceiving its viewers.

The obvious next question is why is the AP engaging in these frauds?

I don't think it can be fairly said that I am arguing that facts don't matter. I am arguing two things and I think they should be kept separate, not conflated. I am arguing, one, that the overall picture described by the MSM of Iraq is very much in line with that presented by the US gov't and it's various branches and institutions and I see that as evidence that the media is not distorting the picture. Two, I am arguing that in the one particular instance of alleged falsity under discussion, neither its accuracy nor its falsity would significantly impact the whole picture.

I am neither excusing nor condoning inaccurate or fake reporting. Nor am I claiming this is not an instance of either.

And, Mark, again I would agree with you if this were an instance of broad-daylight mayhem in a context that otherwise excluded broad-daylight mayhem. But, excluding all press reports and relying soley on "official" reports, kidnappings, shootings, executions, etc., etc, under the eyes of militia-infiltrated police units happen frequently. I honestly believe that subtracting this one horrible (if true) story from the whole picture would leave that whole picture very unchanged.

Why the need for a continued curfew? Why the need to rethink strategies in Iraq? Why would Gates claim that we are not winning? Why does McCain think we should increase the # of combat troops. Why does the Study Group use terms like "grave" & "deteriorating" to describe the situation in Iraq? Do not all of these things comport with the overall view.

To make the case that the MSM is distoring the truth about Iraq, I think it would be necessary to make the case that things in Iraq are not as bad as reported. The claim makes no sense otherwise. But all outside, independent evidence suggests that things are as bad as reported.

I also do not see how it is too the enemy's advantage to report things being worse than they are. First of all, our military does not make its decisions based upon press reports. Secondly, which particular enemy does it help? How does it help? Does it help al-Sadr, baathists, al-qaeda, Iran?

Finally, & this is pure speculation: I cannot demonstrate but nonetheless have a gut feeling that the belief that media is distorting the picture is simply a classic case of blaming the messenger.

Mark, if you are right, why did this story make international headlines even before the source contraversy?

The AP is the major contributor for yahoo news pages; I have had a brief dialogue with Yahoo about using the AP, due to their liberal bias; Yahoo's answer was, basically, to promise a change in their format to allow the user to select their own news. This will be some months forthcoming.

I think we need to hold news presenters accountable for what they pass on, even if it is a 'feed'. There are reputable news sources & bloggers that make every attempt for accuracy and balance; they should be utilized over those that would manipulate public perception. Organizations like AP, CNN, and others that practice bias can learn to police themselves; BOTH sides of issues can be presented, visibly, so that people can weigh & balance their perceptions.

With the difficult days ahead for the American people, we need accurate, fact based, balanced news; Lives may be saved by a well informed, voting populace... And if the AP's (and CNN, CBS, etc) of the world can't or won't get it there, we need to leave them behind and focus on the more responsible news sources.

> To make the case that the MSM is distoring the truth about Iraq, I think it would be necessary to make the case that things in Iraq are not as bad as reported.

No.

"as bad" is basically a scalar. It abstracts some details.

For example, there's a huge difference between "10k Union soldiers die, Confederates retreat" and "10k Union soldiers die, Confederates advancing on DC".

A valid point can be made with accurate date. We can't trust arguments or conclusions based on inaccurate data.

Details matter. If MSM is wrong about how things are bad, how do you expect to formulate a policy to do better?

I'm surprised (well, not that surprised) that no-one has mentioned the Iraq Study Group finding that military reports have grossly understated the level of violence in Iraq and that MSM reports have been much more accurate.

As to how the MSM are biased, is there anyone here, having read the MSM reports in say 2004 and 2005 who now thinks they presented an unduly pessimistic picture of the situation?

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