November 30, 2006

A Terminally Flawed Methodology

I've been very fortunate to establish cordial email relationships with what I regard as some of the most "real" reporters of the Iraq war, men who go out and join up with combat units, staying with them, and chronicling their movements. They have been termed "embeds," short for "embedded reporters."

Michael Yon spent nine months with the "Deuce Four" Striker Brigade. Read through his site when you have the time (Get a brief taste here), and you'll have a much better understanding of the American experience in this war.

Pat Dollard spent seven months, and survived two IED blasts, while embedded with the Marines. He's just finished up a documentary series that promises to be raw, and brutal, and if I don't miss my guess, historically important.

I'm presently reading a review copy of We Were One by embedded historian Patrick K. O'Donnell, who was with 1st Platoon of Lima Company, 1st Marine Regiment, when they took on the worst of the fighting in Fallujah.

I've recently talked to USAF airmen just back from their fourth and sixth tours, Army soldiers back from their first and second deployments in Mosul and Ramadi, and via Central Command, interviewed two soldiers (MPs) working with the Iraqi police in Baghdad.

Because of all this contact with folks who actually know firsthand what is going on, I know the media is frequently inaccurate. The single word I've commonly heard from those who have been in Iraq as part of the military regarding MSM reporting is "lies."

Find someone on your own who has been to Iraq. As them if the media is reporting the truth. They'll likely tell you the same thing.

Iraq sucks. All wars suck. But in many respects things are not as bad as the media reports, just as in some cases things are actually worse. Better or worse, the majority of reporting is inaccurate.

The problem with the general manner of Iraq war reporting was summed up quite well by another embed, Michael Fumento:

Would you trust a Hurricane Katrina report datelined "direct from Detroit"? Or coverage of the World Trade Center attack from Chicago? Why then should we believe a Time Magazine investigation of the Haditha killings that was reported not from Haditha but from Baghdad? Or a Los Angeles Times article on a purported Fallujah-like attack on Ramadi reported by four journalists in Baghdad and one in Washington? Yet we do, essentially because we have no choice. A war in a country the size of California is essentially covered from a single city. Plug the name of Iraqi cities other than Baghdad into Google News and you'll find that time and again the reporters are in Iraq’s capital, nowhere near the scene. Capt. David Gramling, public affairs officer for the unit I'm currently embedded with, puts it nicely: "I think it would be pretty hard to report on Baghdad from out here." Welcome to the not-so-brave new world of Iraq war correspondence.

Vietnam was the first war to give us reporting in virtually real time. Iraq is the first to give us virtual reporting. That doesn’t necessarily make it biased against the war; it does make it biased against the truth.

The overwhelming majority of international journalists "reporting" from Iraq have never ventured out of their hotels in the Green Zone, a small area in Baghdad, and yet try to convince us they are reporting facts from around the entire nation. Based upon what, precisely? They are only reporting what stringers—local Iraqi and other Arab reporters, with sectarian, regional, and in some cases suspected insurgency-related biases—tell them.

These Baghdad reporters have no way of knowing if these stringers are reporting facts or are relaying propaganda, if the witnesses quoted are reliable or coached, or if the photos submitted to them are an accurate visual account of the events discussed in a story.

As Fumento notes elsewhere:

The London Independent's Robert Fisk has written of "hotel journalism," while former Washington Post Bureau Chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran has called it "journalism by remote control." More damningly, Maggie O’Kane of the British newspaper The Guardian said: "We no longer know what is going on, but we are pretending we do." Ultimately, they can’t even cover Baghdad yet they pretend they can cover Ramadi.

In short, we aren't questioning all of AP's stories based upon a single story, we are questioning a broken methodology that lead to such a story. There exists in the media’s reporting in Iraq no effective editorial checks at the very root level of reporting, to verify that the most basic elements of the story are indeed factual, much less biased.

This is not just about one questionable story, or even one questionable source.

It's about one often-used and verified questionable source, among many verified questionable sources, including just this partial list for starters:

Lt. Ali Abbas; police Capt. Mohammed Abdel-Ghani; police Brigadier Sarhat Abdul-Qadir; Mosul police Director Gen. Wathiq al-Hamdani; police Lt. Bilal Ali; Ali al-Obaidi, a medic at Ramadi Hospital; police Maj. Firas Gaiti; police Captain Mohammed Ismail; Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the Interior Ministry spokesman (a.k.a. Police Brigadier Abd al-Karim Khalaf, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Brig. Abdel-Karim Khalaf); Mohammed Khayon, a Baghdad police lieutenant; police spokesman Mohammed Kheyoun (a.k.a. Police Lieutenant Mohammed Khayoun); Lt. Thaer Mahmoud, head of a police section responsible for releasing daily death tolls; police Lt. Bilal Ali Majid; police Lt. Ali Muhsin; police 1st Lt. Mutaz Salahhidine (a.k.a. Lieutenant Mutaz Salaheddin); Col. Abbas Mohammed Salman; and policeman Haider Satar.

Again, these men are just a partial list of questionable and potentially false witnesses used to lend an air of credibility to hundreds or thousands of news articles... and these are just from those sources claimed to be within the Iraqi Police and Ministry of Interior.

This is not to mention the dozens or hundreds of other witnesses in thousands of other stories that could have been either influenced in some way, or may be entirely fictitious, and far more difficult to prove false.

The flawed methodology that weakens the essential credibility of the news-gatherig process effects the overwhelming majority of stories printed and broadcast about Iraq each week. This weakness, this inherent and unchecked instability and inability to verify the core facts and actors in the most basic of stories, points out a methodological flaw in the news gathering efforts common to every major news organization reporting in Iraq.

After what was initially a spirited defense, the Associated Press has gone silent about the supposed existence of Police Capt. Jamil Hussein.

No one else seems to be able to find him.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at November 30, 2006 10:56 AM | TrackBack

It's great that you speak to the men and women of the Armed Forces and they all tell you that The Media lies. Interesting though, that there are no dissenters, because actually there are quite a few. Amazingly, quite a few of those dissenters ran for public office as Democrats just recently. So, you give one half of the story and decide that that's the only side that exists.

You ignore Vets for Truth, you ignore all of those who have said the opposite, you slander the reporters who are in Iraq by saying they all stay in their hotels in the Green Zone (a Michelle Malkin talking point - boy, there's a source of credibility), you ignore all the reporters who are going out and getting the story. But, of course, you know better because some people reinforced what you want to believe.

Lets be specific: do you believe that Micheal Ware is lying when he states that the violence on the ground is extreme? Or Richard Engel? Just to name two.

Do you believe Tammy Duckworth was lying when she said that the situation is untenable? Or Paul Hackett? Are all these people lying because, according to you, your sources say they are and the only accurate sources are your sources.

But returning to the AP. You post a list of verified questionable sources. Again, you use as your source for this information Michelle Malkin. Does this information come from a detached third-party? No; it comes from the private public relations firm hired by the US military to make Iraq look better. Not only that, but Malkin does not point to a single story that these verified questionable sources contributed to but declares that there have been thousands.

At the very top of the article you site, it points out that this is an opinion piece. Maybe you should have read that first before using it as your proof. Shabby reporting, obviously, is not relegated just to the so-called "Liberal Media."

Posted by: George Orwell at November 30, 2006 12:07 PM

Talk about being blinded by what you want to see, George.

You accuse me of providing "one half the story," oddly based upon the argument that Democratic veterans ran for Congress, not that the information provided by the media was, in fact accurate.

Your argument, which seems to be based on views of whether or not we are winning the war, is flatly irrelevant; a completely separate issue.

We're talking here about media accuracy, as I clearly stated:

Iraq sucks. All wars suck. But in many respects things are not as bad as the media reports, just as in some cases things are actually worse. Better or worse, the majority of reporting is inaccurate.

I wasn't questioning better or worse, but accurate reporting and a frankly pathetic news-gathering methodology.

Your supporting "evidence" is frankly irrelevant to the argument at hand... though it is highly amusing.

You cite "Vets for Truth," a group that doesn't appear in a quick Google search, unless you are talking about the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (somehow, I doubt you subscribe to their views), or a group of nutjobs call "Veterans for 911 Truth" (which sounds right up yout alley).

Perhaps you meant someone else?

My comments do not in any way conflict with the comments you attribute (without sourcing) to Ware, Engel, or others.

You forget to mention that the opinions expressed by Duckworth, Hackett, etc are—if you have any intention of being honest—only opinions. At that, these opinions are disagreed with by many of their contemporaries. They are hardly—by any measure—facts.

Also, if your reading comprehension were a bit better, you might understand that while that list of questionable sources was indeed reprinted in a Malkin op-ed, she did not create it.

That list was created by the Iraqi IP/MOI, and released via U.S. Central Command. Are you in a position to tell the Iraqi Interior Ministry that you know more about who their employees and officers are than they do?

The issue with you, George, isn't my post, but your own most willful (or perhaps merely ignorant) misreading of things that simply weren't said.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at November 30, 2006 12:49 PM

George, is not an election determined by the majority of the voters; and from the outcome an agenda is established?

Well, the MAJORITY of the returning Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines say the truth of Iraq is not getting out. Are there those who dispute the majority - yes; but it does not change what the majority say. Whether you or I like it, agree with it, or dispute it; the fact remains that the majority of our returning service people belive the MSM is not accurately reporting on Iraq.

For your reference; I work on an active U.S. Army installation where I am in daily contact with Soldiers who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan several times.

Posted by: Old Soldier at November 30, 2006 12:53 PM

We can argue the accuracy of the IP/MOI and CentCom for days on end. Be that as it may, they have their own agendas.

Again, as I have stated a number of times, what is so hard about understanding that you should get your news from more than one source? And how, since you seem to believe reportage is so bad, would you fix the situation?

Your statement that reportage is methodologically flawed makes no sense. How does one collect news in a war zone that's not methodologically flawed? If, for example, you go out every day and speak to Iraqis, you are only providing one sid of the story. If you speak only to the soldiers, again, you are only giving one side of the story. You try to do both, you end up with someone screaming you're only giving one side of the story. That appears to me to be what you are doing on this site. Let's beat up on the AP because they either fabricated a story or they reported a false story. Well, geez, folks, they're in a friggin war zone!

You also don't explain what you mean by accurate. Is it accurate if it agrees with your position? Is it accurate if it agrees with the Administration's position? Your terminally flawed methodology critique isn't one. It's just your opinion that you don't like the way the news is reported.

Reportage is just that; the reporter reports. Sometimes he gets the story wrong, sometimes right. He goes to a place, or someone comes to him, and they tell him a story. He verifies what he can, and then he reports it. Your saying you don't like the reporting doesn't make the reporting any more or less valid. Your complaint is just a way to blame the Media when it reports what you don't want to hear.

The other problem I see is that you're not interested in being as sceptical of what is told to you by the Government (Iraqi or US) or of those that share your same political leanings. Yet when it comes to government (ours, at least), we chose them; we should expect a greater level of integrity from them than from someone whose paid to write a story.


Sorry, you're not a reliable source, and after all, that's what this whole discussion is about. I don't know who you are. I'll take your word for it that the soldiers you have spoken to all agree that the Media do not report the war accurately. But that tells me nothing. Do they tink it's worse; do they think things are better? What do they consider inaccurate? This is much the same problem I have with CY's posts. Complain about accuracy in Media but don't tell us what you mean by that.

Posted by: George Orwell at November 30, 2006 01:23 PM

You also don't explain what you mean by accurate. Is it accurate if it agrees with your position? Is it accurate if it agrees with the Administration's position?

Posted by George Orwell at November 30, 2006 01:23 PM

This goes to reporting the facts and letting us make up our own minds without spin. The "Police Captian" isn't on the payroll and hasn't been produced. The AP could have verified through the MOI he worked for the police before running the story. That is a basic check that should be done before getting egg on your face. Verify your sources.

Posted by: Retired Navy at November 30, 2006 02:55 PM

George, you're pretty nonchalant when it comes to accurate reporting in the media. Me, I like to think that they try their best, but when they do make a mistake, they retract their story. Yesterday, AP defended their story with bluster, calling the allegations ludicrous. Today's attempt is a blatent misdirect. If they would just own up to their mistake, I think they might get a little respect back, but at the moment, it looks like their pride will not allow it.

Posted by: BohicaTwentyTwo at November 30, 2006 02:56 PM

BohicaTwentyTwo, eh?

Obviously an Army Man!!!!!

Posted by: Retired Spy at November 30, 2006 03:08 PM

I, too, would like reporting to be accurate, meaning that as much as can be verified is verified. I think right now, that's what the AP is trying to do. But many have already drawn their conclusions as to whether or not they were or were not accurate (look at CY's phrasing for instance in the original post.)

And, I'm sure the AP doesn't want egg on its face. The question again is why will you give certain institutions the benefit of the doubt no matter what, but when the press does something, certain of us are all over them like white on rice?

Posted by: George Orwell at November 30, 2006 03:09 PM
Again, as I have stated a number of times, what is so hard about understanding that you should get your news from more than one source?

That is precisely the issue at hand, George. No other source will back the AP story. Not one.

And how, since you seem to believe reportage is so bad, would you fix the situation?

Pretty simple, George.

No more anonymous stringer-generated reporting. Have reporters writing stories about Iraq actually go to the locations and events they write about. Basic, freshman level journalism, George. Basic fact collection. Report what they can verify, with a minumum of editorializing, guessing or rumor-mongering.

I'm looking at basic flaws in the information gathering process, basing it on experience on "both sides of the ball," formal university training, and rendering thoughts consistent with those that recently had a highly respected journalism professor wonder if, "the craft I love is being murdered, committing suicide, or both." That same professor sure seems to think I know how good reporting works, George.

It may be my opinion that the reporting process is flawed, but it is an educated one, and one that is echoed by Perlmutter and others who train journalists.

I'm not blaming the media for publishing "information I don't want to here" as you ignorantly opine. I'm telling them to do their jobs professionally, something too many seem to have forgotten.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at November 30, 2006 03:15 PM

You have a very specific bias going in. And that bias appears to me at least to be that you just don't like the AP because they don't write feel good stories about Iraq. Btw, Fumento, whom I don't particularly care for, states in that piece you use as reference that the AP actually sends reporters out into the field. It's in the last paragraph.

And as I pointed out in the first comment here, there are mainstream reporters going out into the streets to do reporting. And as I have also pointed out, there are veterans who say that the media basically gets it right. So what's you're point? That there are reporters hanging around in the Green Zone phoning it in? Duh!

But please quit acting like this is some form of aberrant behavior. There's an old adage; "80% of the work is done by 20% of the people." The reason it's an old adagee is because it's true. Where do you get the idea that the press corp is somehow any different?

Posted by: George Orwell at November 30, 2006 03:46 PM


Trying to change the subject again I see. Like it or not, the tubes were on the banned list. Too bad.


Sorry - but you are a troll. But since you make the claim that the news story published by AP was accurate, let's see the other sources you used to verify that. Just post one credible link. Put up or shut up time.

Posted by: Specter at November 30, 2006 07:45 PM

The subject is truth and accuracy is it not? This administration cannot reasonably argue they've been truthful about Iraq. I will withhold judgement on the real or imagined Capt. Hussein until I hear more from the AP about him but they are not backing down from their story which should tell you something. The Iraqi MOI isn't the first place I would turn to for accuracy either.

Also, since you mentioned it, whether or not those tubes were on some sort of banned list isn't the issue because that is not what Condi said. She said those tubes could only be used for nuclear weapons production. Here is what WP reported:

"...all that United Nations weapons inspectors and US Energy Department experts could conclude was that the tubes were for conventional rockets. "Gas centrifuge experts consulted by the US government said repeatedly for more than a year that the aluminum tubes were not suitable or intended for uranium enrichment."

Is truth and accuracy important to you or is it not? You can't hold the AP to a standard you're not willing to apply to the administration. Their untruthfulness comes with a much higher cost than the loss of credibility.

Posted by: nynick at November 30, 2006 08:48 PM

Yea...yea...yea...we've all heard it "Bush Lied". And truth be told, he must have been smarter than all the democrats, because they believed him. What a bunch of pansies and dimwits, right?

Posted by: Specter at November 30, 2006 09:52 PM

And NY - having been involved in the defense industry - those tubes were way to accurately made for simple rocket tubes. Are you an engineer by chance?

Posted by: Specter at November 30, 2006 09:54 PM

BTW Nick,

You should read pages 87 thru 119 of the Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq (Select Committee on Intelligence: United States Senate). When you read through this you will find that there was a huge argument going on behind the scenes in the IC.

Most agencies - especially the CIA who authored the NIE that the decisions were made on - agreed that the tubes could be used for centrifuges based on the Zippe Gas Centrifuge design. In fact, pre-Gulf War, the Germans were helping Iraq to develop such a centrifuge.

DOE and INR (State Department) both felt that the uses for the tubes were probably other than a nuclear program - most likely for the 81 mm Nasser rocket. DOE and IAEA stated though that a number of factors might lead the IC to believe that the tubes were for nuclear use. Things such as the secrecy of the purchases (front companies, through 3rd party-countries, etc.), the abnormally high price Iraq was willing to pay for each tube, the extremely high tolerances, the anodizing (although there was a lot of argument about that), the fact that the tubes were a high-priority for Hussein himself, and other factors. Only INR said that the tubes were definitely not for nuclear production.

Given the state of the IC at the time (which remember had been gutted by budget cuts), and the predisposition to believe that Iraq was in the process of reconstituting it's nuclear program (you know this - see Clinton and all the other pols that made speeches through the mid to late 80's and right into Bush II), the CIA version of the likelihood won out and was what was included in the NIE.

So again we come to the information that was presented to Bush II and his staff. They saw centrifuge parts. That is what they were told. Do you think that the President goes out and fact checks what his intelligence experts (and we must use that term loosely here) tell him? Or as an executive, does he accept what he is told and then make decisions based on that?

All the hindsight in the world doesn't change the fact of what information was available to begin with. It wasn't a lie, it is what they were told by their experts.

Have you ever read the document? Or the NIE? If not, you should. Then we can have a more informed discussion.

Posted by: Specter at November 30, 2006 10:33 PM

”Sorry, you're not a reliable source, and after all, that's what this whole discussion is about. I don't know who you are.”

So, did you follow my link to do any ‘fact checking’ that might bear on who I am? …or was it just easier to write a disclaimer?

”I'll take your word for it that the soldiers you have spoken to all agree that the Media do not report the war accurately. But that tells me nothing. Do they tink it's worse; do they think things are better? What do they consider inaccurate?”

I believe I wrote, ”the majority of returning Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and marines say the truth of Iraq is not getting out,” which bears upon the accuracy of MSM reporting topic. Whether they think Iraq is better or worse than reported is not relative to this discussion. (However a bit of deductive logic should give you some answers.)

”Let's beat up on the AP because they either fabricated a story or they reported a false story. Well, geez, folks, they're in a friggin war zone!”

Were these ‘reporters’ sent to a “friggin war zone” with absolutely no choice? If they accept a paycheck they owe their employer accurate reporting, not contrived or third-hand hearsay ‘reportage.’

Posted by: Old Soldier at December 1, 2006 07:15 AM

”Let's beat up on the AP because they either fabricated a story or they reported a false story. Well, geez, folks, they're in a friggin war zone!”

I'd also like to add, does being in a war zone give liscense to being incorrect in their reporting? I would think it would be the other way around, ensuring the facts are correct.

Posted by: Retired Navy at December 1, 2006 09:19 AM

The next person that attempts to drag the acts of either poltical party in America into this post about media reporting practices will be banned.

Shocking as it may be to the way some think, "blame Bush!" is not a valid answer nor a valid excuse for every action on this planet.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at December 1, 2006 09:42 AM

George just couldn't let go of his BDS. I wonder how people that doggedly obsessed with seeing every act in the world through the same tiny viewpoint can actually go through life thinking that they are capable of seeing a larger picture. It's not just a variation on the blind man trying to describe an elephant; it's a blind man who touched one part of an elephant and then tries to describe how every other animal or plant on this earth must be in some way related to an elephant.

It's mindblowingly myopic, if you really let yourself think about just how distorting that kind of thought process can be.

Oh, well. Bye, George.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at December 1, 2006 11:09 AM

Good riddance. I heard a line recently and I have been waiting for the right time to use it. "If all you have is a hammer, eventually everything starts looking like a nail" I think it suits the BDS addled George Orwell accurately. He can't seem to see any issue without finding a way to tie it back to "the administration." Its like a sick game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Posted by: BohicaTwentyTwo at December 1, 2006 01:58 PM

First of all, before we go any further, I think we all need to remember that journalists — like our servicemen and women — are putting their lives on the line to give us the news. I know you think they're a group of namby-pamby college grads that don't go to the places they report on, but remember that this war has been the most deadly war for journalists in American history. In fact, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 78 reporters have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the majority of these journalists were not killed in their Green Zone hotels.

Unlike the majority of the bloggers from the left and the right who write about the Iraq War from the comfort of their living rooms, reporters in Iraq have put themselves in the middle of the violence and face very real, life-threatening dangers every day. Of course, critique what they do because we all want fair, non-biased journalism, but do so with respect. In particular, don't make blanket statements saying that all the stories coming out of Iraq are "lies." Sure, mistakes have been made by journalists in Iraq, but condemning the whole lot for the mistakes of a few is as offensive as condemning the entire U.S. military when one rouge solider kills innocent civilians.

On another note, I have a connection with a Washington Post writer who spent six weeks in Iraq reporting on the war. When he came back from reporting in Iraq, he said that the situation there had been worse than even the darkest news reports he had read. Oh yeah, he also did a lot of his own reporting.

Posted by: David at December 2, 2006 12:29 AM