December 05, 2006

60 Billion Minutes

Mark Tapscott of the Washington Examiner weighs in on how the Associated Press can extricate themselves from the Jamil Hussein/burning men story in Iraq. Sound familiar?

What AP appears not to grasp is that the most serious questions about its credibility are already in the minds of millions of people, thanks in part to the bloggers, but also to the few mainstream media organizations that have covered the growing controversy.

What is most puzzling about the AP reaction is its failure to do the one thing that would instantly put the critics in their place - produce Capt. Jamil Hussein. If he is in fact an Iraqi police captain, it is impossible to understand why he cannot be produced and his credentials verified.

"Captain Jamil Hussein" is but one of 14 Iraqi-sounding names of sources quoted by AP that U.S. military officials say cannot be verified as credible sources.

Produce Jamil Hussein. Brilliant!

By this point, the Associated Press has almost assuredly tried to contact Jamil Hussein to come on camera, in uniform, in his police office to prove that he does in fact exist, thereby shutting down this gathering storm.

Just as assuredly, the present silence from the Associated Press on the matter indicates that they have likely failed to produce their source for over 60 news stories.

To give you an idea of the scale of this apparent fraud, consider the case of veteran freelance photojournalist Adnan Hajj from earlier this year.

Hajj was exposed for tampering with a photo from the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, where he added dense smoke to a picture to make an Israeli bombing seem more intense than it actually was. Shortly thereafter, another manipulated photo was uncovered, and other photos came under intense scrutiny. Reuters, who had worked with Hajj for over a decade, responded by disassociating itself from him (effectively firing him) and removing all 920 photos he had for sale.

Hajj was just one reporter, caught manipulating images that most would agree over-dramatized and mis-characterized events, but images that would not have been significant news on their own if they had been real.

The story that brought into question the existence of Jamil Hussein is a much larger scandal in the making.

The allegation that six men were pulled from a Sunni mosque (one of four Sunni mosques the original story claimed were burned and blown up) by Shiite militants and then burned alive is a horrific story on multiple levels, one that media cited as a key example of how brutal sectarian violence in Iraq had come. And yet, there was an in a problem; a lack of evidence that any of the violence claimed actually took place.

Not a single one of the four mosques claimed blown up in the AP story actually were. Only one mosque could be verified to have any fire damage, and the minor damage confirmed by the Iraqi government to one mosque was consistent with unverified Shiite militia accounts that a molotov cocktail had been thrown into the building and quickly extinguished. There is zero evidence that a mosque door was blown open by an RPG as the Associated Press claimed. There is no physical evidence that six men were pulled into the street by militiamen, doused in kerosene, set on fire, and then shot in the head.

There is no physical evidence of burning men, nor bullet-scarred streets where anonymous eyewitnesses claimed the men were shot in the head once they had quit moving. There are no bodies, and no graves. There are only two named sources, one of which has recanted his story. The other named source for the AP story? Iraqi Police Captain Jamil Hussein.

Unlike Adnan Hajj who only manipulated comparatively minor photo elements and who might have gone unnoticed were it not for sharp-eyed bloggers, this AP story was immediately carried and reprinted around the world as fact. We now know that the events described may have been entirely fictionalized as part of an insurgent propaganda campaign, one foisted upon a complacent news organization with very few checks and balances for accuracy on their stringer-based reporting methods.

We also know that Jamil Hussein has consistently been a source for at least 60 news stories over two years, and that Jamil Hussein is just one of many apparently fake sources that has driven Associated Press reporting in Iraq.

This presents us with the unsettling possibility that the Associated Press has no idea how much of the news it has reported out of Iraq since the 2003 invasion is in fact real, and how much they reported was propaganda. The failure of accountability here is potentially of epic proportions.

When producer Mary Mapes and anchor Dan Rather ran faked Texas Air National Guard records on 60 Minutes, it was undoubtedly the largest news media scandal of 2004, and yet, it was an isolated scandal, identified within hours, affecting one network and one show in particular.

This developing Associated Press implosion may go back as far as two years, affecting as many as 60 stories from just this one allegedly fake policeman alone. And Jamil Hussein is just one of more than a dozen potentially fake Iraqi policemen used in news reports the AP disseminates around the world. This does not begin to attempt to account for non-offical sources which the AP will have an even harder time substantiating. Quite literally, almost all AP reporting from Iraq not verified from reporters of other news organizations is now suspect, and with good reason.

Instead of affecting one show on one network watched by 14 million viewers as Rathergate did, "Jamilgate" means the Associated Press may have been delivering news of questionable accuracy to one billion people a day for two years or more. In this evolving instance of faux journalism, "60 Minutes" is now potentially 60 billion false impressions, or more.

A principled, professional news organization owes its consumers the truth. To date, the Associated Press, as voiced by comments from officers international editor John Daniszewski and executive editor Kathleen Carroll, has refused to address the rampant inconsistencies in the "burning men" story, produce physical evidence proving their allegations, or produce star source Iraqi Police Captain Jamil Hussein. Arrogantly, they attack the messenger (both U.S military and Iraqi government sources and bloggers), and insist we must believe them, even though they give us no compelling reason to do so, and many reasons to doubt them.

They have not proved their claims with facts, nor produced the police captain they have cited as a source on multiple stories over two years.

Their continuing failure to substantiate their story with evidence runs directly counter to these stated principles:

For more than a century and a half, men and women of The Associated Press have had the privilege of bringing truth to the world. They have gone to great lengths, overcome great obstacles – and, too often, made great and horrific sacrifices – to ensure that the news was reported quickly, accurately and honestly. Our efforts have been rewarded with trust: More people in more places get their news from the AP than from any other source.

In the 21st century, that news is transmitted in more ways than ever before – in print, on the air and on the Web, with words, images, graphics, sounds and video. But always and in all media, we insist on the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior when we gather and deliver the news.

That means we abhor inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions. It means we will not knowingly introduce false information into material intended for publication or broadcast; nor will we alter photo or image content. Quotations must be accurate, and precise.

It means we always strive to identify all the sources of our information, shielding them with anonymity only when they insist upon it and when they provide vital information – not opinion or speculation; when there is no other way to obtain that information; and when we know the source is knowledgeable and reliable.

The Associated Press is guilty of using a terminally flawed newsgathering methodology that makes their news organization an easy target for those desiring to insert of propaganda as news. What's worse is that their leadership clearly doesn't care.

The leaders of the Associated Press seem to have little interest in living up to their own stated values and principles, and in doing so, have betrayed that essential trust that they must have to survive.

Noted photojournalism expert, author, and professor David Permutter of the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications at the University of Kansas noted during the height of the journalistic controversies of the Israeli-Hezbollah war in Lebanon:

The Israeli-Hezbollah war has left many dead bodies, ruined towns, and wobbling politicians in its wake, but the media historian of the future may also count as one more victim the profession of photojournalism. In twenty years of researching and teaching about the art and trade and doing photo-documentary work, I have never witnessed or heard of such a wave of attacks on the people who take news pictures and on the basic premise that nonfiction news photo- and videography is possible.

I'm not sure, however, if the craft I love is being murdered, committing suicide, or both.

The wounds, in this case, are assuredly self-inflicted.

Update: As if to underscore that point (via Instapundit):

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.

During each conversation, I was left in the awkward situation of having to explain that while, yes, I am wearing a press badge, I'm not 'one of them.' I used descriptions like 'independent journalist' or 'blogger' in an attempt to separate myself from the pack.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at December 5, 2006 12:08 PM | TrackBack

Captured documents and questioning of prisoners have all indicated the terrorists were planning to 'use' the media to their advantage. It is now clear that the ASSociated (with terrorists) Press went for the bait full steam ahead. They're only source of news from Iraq in now that which they are fed by the terrorists.

No one can or should ever again depend on the AP for the truth about anything. It is either deliberate lies or laziness, Take your choice but the truth is not in them anymore.

Posted by: Scrapiron at December 5, 2006 01:26 PM

Well, it was bound to happen.

McNews has arrived.

Over 1 billion ill served.

Welcome to the new fast food news services. You can order off the combined menu from AP, Reuters, BBC, CNN or the NYTimes. (you can order from ABC, CBS, NBC...but is usually just warmed over news from yesterday)

You can't order any facts or truth...but if you want a whopper or two to go, they are happy to serve them up. You want lies with that?

Half-baked conspiracy theories are a favorite. If you are in a rush, the cutn'run "blue state chicken" can be had usually in the first week in November.

Occasionally, the McFib sandwich is brought back as a regional delicacy.

As a giveaway this week, McNews is offering a poster and small CD of the Captain and Jamil's favorite hits. "Fraud Will Keep Us Together" and the ode to Green Helmet Guy and his repeating staging of phony fauxtography events "Do That to Them One More Time" digitally remixed.

McNews, when you can't get it right, get it fast.

Posted by: cfbleachers at December 5, 2006 02:25 PM

I blame the stringers, but everyone is responsible. I believe the local reporters have their own personal adgendas and are probably in collusion with the enemy. However, I think you will see that the bureau reporters and editors know what is going on. How many times have you seen severely slanted articles get published, only to have the wording changed minutes later. I am still in shock that yesterday, one of AP's articles by Qais Al-Bashir described Anbar Province as "where many of Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgent groups are based and where many U.S. Marines die in battles with the militants." It was up for about an hour like then, when it was suddenly changed to say that Anbar was "roughly the size of North Carolina." I think that this is an example of an editor trying to tame down a horrifically biased article written by a local Iraqi, sympathetic to the insurgency. Think of the articles that we DON'T see.

Posted by: BohicaTwentyTwo at December 5, 2006 02:41 PM

The responsibility for this fraud lays squarely upon the shoulders of the owners of the media, who are more concerned with profit than truth. They'll print anything that people will buy. And the greater their readership, the more they can charge for ads. Their sole responsibility is to the bottom line. Profit before principle.

Posted by: USAR65 at December 5, 2006 03:49 PM


While I do not doubt that profit is the greatest concern of media owners, destroying the credibility of their brand through misinformation is not the way. And I suspect that many know this fact (certainly the LA Times is quickly becoming aware of that little nugget of truth).

Like Hollywood's insistence on producing unpopular and unprofitable movies and blacklisting potentially popular--but not politically correct--screenplays, there is more going on here than the simple profit motive.

I don't think that the AP intentionally transmitted terrorist propaganda as much as it embraced that same propaganda (and the mysterious "Captain") uncritically because the terrorist narrative matched the narratives believed and promulgated by AP.

Posted by: iconoclast at December 5, 2006 06:33 PM

I understand the profit before principle motive, I truly do. And some very good people believe that it's all about money.

But, IF that was true...then one would think that at least SOME of the stories coming from the organizations....would be targeting a broader market.

Why is it that ONLY leftist agenda items get placed and ALL the distortions and lies are uncovered with a leftist tilt????

I no longer believe an ounce of the argument that the Ministry of Media is motivated by greed. The NYTimes and the network news broadcasts have been steadily LOSING market share, due to their dogma inspired leftist leanings. (and their vicious mendacity against America and to a lesser extent, Israel)

Motivations of pure profit would suggest that they would tell ANY story, with ANY long as it brought in dollars.

This is not true at all. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. They will abandon their shareholders interests to advance the interests of leftist dogma...and they will freely abandon any semblance of journalistic integrity (now, an oxymoron) because they believe the ends justify the means.

Posted by: cfbleachers at December 5, 2006 06:34 PM

You bring up a good point. Has anybody seen Mary Mapes and Capt. Jamil Hussein in the same room together?

Posted by: GeorgiaBoy at December 5, 2006 07:03 PM

AP's failure to produce Jamil Hussein indicates they're hunkered down in the bunker hoping this will blow over.

If they could have they would have, to give the despised bloggers a black eye.

Too bad AP is a co-op, if they'd been a publicly traded company I would have shorted their stock when this first broke. Its not going away, and their rep is going to be in tatters when its over because of the denial approach they've chosen.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at December 5, 2006 08:38 PM

Since the AP is a not for profit coop with oversight provided by 22 (!) members of the board, it is highly unlikely that we will see any sort of retraction. What is the downside of ignoring bloggers and the weak investigation of a few MSM reporters? Limited to none, of course. No stockholders to answer to, just a few concerned publishers out of the 1,500 that own the coop. Who can be readily ignored as well. And with such a huge board, little will be driven from the top down as well.

So ignore the small furor and the executives keep their positions, the board members are not embarrassed, and (most importantly) the narrative remains the same flawed storyline.

OTOH, if the AP were to admit that its stories were false and enemy propaganda and that for the last two years 1,500 newspapers had been publishing those false stories then all sorts of hell would break loose. Executives would get reprimanded and/or fired. Board members charged with oversight would be embarrassed at the least. Owner newspapers would be forced to print retractions that would call into doubt their breathless repetition of the "we are losing, Iraq was a mistake, Bushitler, etc." narrative.

Even worse, from AP's point of view, would be the next natural question once the misreporting from Iraq was admitted. Just how endemic is the methodology at the AP that allowed for enemy propaganda to be published on the front pages of USA's newspapers? Just how deep does the rot go? Do stringers from China? Russia? Venezuela? report uncorroborated stories that are uncritically accepted? And how far back does this rot go?

So without any effective outside pressure (public opinion doesn't really count, since this is truly an inside baseball kind of scandal), I cannot imagine seeing the AP executives actually admitting to this sort of malfeasance.

Posted by: iconoclast at December 6, 2006 11:11 AM

I saw Marvin Kalb (a big lib journalism expert)give a speech at the D.C. Press Club on C-Span last week. During Q+A, Mr. Kalb admonished anyone in the audience who would place internet/blog journalism on the same level as mainstream media journalism. His case in point was the recent AP flap over the "six sunnis on fire" story. He said that he would take the word of the AP over any internet journalist everytime, no questions asked.

I found that to be an interesting position for such an accomplished journalist to take.

Posted by: Brian at December 8, 2006 01:35 PM

In the face of fresh criticism from the New York Post, AP has responded again, huffing and puffing at anyone who would dare question their probity.

It adds up to the same thing as before, with extra vituperation: "How dare you question us, you pajamahadin? We've sent Top Men in to confirm the story! It's a dangerous area, and we're the only ones who've gone there! No one who's gone there questions the story!" (That latter claim, BTW, is completely false.)

What the AP response doesn't do: Produce Jamil Hussein. Provide a single verifiable source for the story. Address the fact that other components of the story have been shown to be completely false (no four mosques involved). Name ANY of the "journalists" whom AP claims later confirmed the story. Provide ANY evidence at all that the alleged incident ever occured, other than additional unnamed and anonymous sources to bolster the Incredible Invisible Jamil Hussein.

Amount of evidence provided by AP to date: Their unsupported word, an invisible and unfindable police captain who cannot even be shown to exist, and a large raft of snotty ad hominem for anyone who questions it. That's it.

Posted by: Tully at December 8, 2006 03:09 PM

I do not see the big deal, there is a hell of a lot more violence going on in Iraq that just the burning of 5 or 6 sunnis, how about the dozens that turn up dead everyday with holes drilled with electric drills in the back of their heads ??, the favorite method of Iranian revolutionary guards in the Interior ministry ??, there were more than 3,000 iraquies dead last month in Baghdad alone, what about the rest of the country ???, these people are savages, pure and simple, they are not like us, they do not think like us, they do not act like us, so this bloody iraq mess is a useles and worthless expenditure of money and lives.
my 2 cents

Posted by: jacaver at December 8, 2006 08:22 PM

Is it sloppy, unprofessional journalism? Na, they have an agenda to propagate. Making up a few stories to advance one’s world view seems to be acceptable these days in journalism. AP just got caught. Guess is sloppy, unprofessional journalism after all.

Posted by: Jivari at December 9, 2006 02:57 AM