Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Fig You

[posted by Callimachus]

Reader, were we the only two people in our camp who didn't dive into the Jamil Hussein story, which alleged the Associated Press used a non-existent Baghdad police captain as a source for some of the more horrific stories they report from Iraq?

I wouldn't put it past them, but this one didn't seem like the smoking gun some made it out to be. For one, Arabic names can be transliterated into English many ways. There were other explanations, such as protective pseudonyms (which, however, the AP ought to acknowledge in this case).

I was working the wire that night, and I saw the AP story come over the transom with the six burned-alive Sunnis featured prominently in the lede. The New York Times story that night, however, contained essentially the same information but made no mention of the burned six.

That rang an alarm bell for me, since typically the NYT would not omit such a dramatic (and negative) tidbit from its reporting. Even if it was an AP exclusive, and the Times could not independently verify it, the Times typically would swallow its pride and print the narrative, attributing it to AP (or Reuters, or whoever was the source).

But the fact that they passed it up entirely, making no mention of it even as an unconfirmed report, really raised a red flag for me. Someday I'd like to know how that decision of omission was made on 42nd Street. I ended up running the Times Iraq story that day instead of the AP's.

I suppose one of the lessons here is how unusual it is for the supposedly competing Big Names of the legacy media to take a different tack on an Iraq story.

However, one of my favorite chunks of fallout from the flap is this, in which Allah, certainly one of the more ferocious defenders of the American effort in Iraq, pushes back against the prevailing lie on the anti-war side that people who still want America and Iraq to succeed are blind to the current state of the country.

At the risk of suggesting that I know What Warbloggers Believe better than Eric Boehlert does, let me assure you that we’re not using this story as a fig leaf for the war. There are Shiite death squads roaming hospitals in Iraq — just one of many “bona fide, grim realities on the ground,” as Michelle puts it, but gruesome enough in itself to convey the magnitude of the emergency. No one, or almost no one, is under any illusions about how awful conditions are and how Bush mismanaged the occupation when we had our best chance to get it right. On the contrary, it’s Boehlert who’s using the war as a fig leaf for yet another credible accusation of shoddy, possibly ideologically motivated war journalism. He’d have you believe that to challenge this report is, essentially, to be guilty of historical revisionism, which is not only ironic vis-a-vis the AP but a nifty way of cowing a critic into backing off. It’s more important that Michelle Malkin be wrong, you see, than knowing for sure whether the world’s biggest news agency is passing off crap stories about the most important issue of our time.

True dat, as the kids say. You know, as a journalist, I can be sued by a convicted mass murderer for libel if I misidentify him in a headline as a mass murderer and chicken thief. The ethics and practice of my profession matter, and were deemed important enough to safeguard by no less than the Founders of America. Independent of whether Iraq is a mess, and whose fault that is. They matter to me, and they ought to matter to you, because even if you don't tune in, the guy in the next voting booth does.