December 08, 2006
The AP Goes Truthy. Will the Left Stay Silent?
Looking back from the future, we may one day determine that a macabre but seemingly straightforward story of Iraqi sectarian violence was the beginning of the end of credibility for the world's largest news organization.
Six burned alive in Iraq
The Associated Press
BAGHDAD, IRAQ -Revenge-seeking militiamen seized six Sunnis as they left Friday prayers and burned them alive with kerosene in a savage new twist to the brutality shaking the Iraqi capital a day after suspected Sunni insurgents killed 215 people in Baghdad's main Shiite district.
Iraqi soldiers at a nearby army post failed to intervene in Friday's assault by suspected members of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia or subsequent attacks that killed at least 19 other Sunnis, including women and children, in the same neighborhood, the volatile Hurriyah district in northwest Baghdad, said police Capt. Jamil Hussein.
Most of the thousands of dead bodies that have been found dumped across Baghdad and other cities in central Iraq in recent months have been of victims who were tortured and then shot to death, according to police. The suspected militia killers often have used electric drills on their captives' bodies before killing them. The bodies are frequently decapitated.
But burning victims alive introduced a new method of brutality that was likely to be reciprocated by the other sect as the Shiites and Sunnis continue killing one another in unprecedented numbers. The gruesome attack, which came despite a curfew in Baghdad, capped a day in which at least 87 people were killed or found dead in sectarian violence across Iraq.
In Hurriyah, the rampaging militiamen also burned and blew up four mosques and torched several homes in the district, Hussein said.
Residents of the troubled district claim the Mahdi Army has begun kidnapping and holding Sunni hostages to use in ritual slaughter at the funerals of Shiite victims of Baghdad's raging sectarian war.
Such claims cannot be verified but speak to the deep fear that grips Baghdad, where retaliation has become a part of daily life.
President Jalal Talabani emerged from lengthy meetings with other Iraqi leaders late Friday and said the defense minister, Abdul-Qader al-Obaidi, indicated that the Hurriyah neighborhood had been quiet throughout the day.
But Imad al-Hasimi, a Sunni elder in Hurriyah, confirmed Hussein's account of the immolations. He told Al-Arabiya television he saw people who were drenched in kerosene and then set afire, burning to death before his eyes.
Two workers at Kazamiyah Hospital also confirmed that bodies from the clashes and immolation had been taken to the morgue at their facility.
They refused to be identified by name, saying they feared retribution.
And the Association of Muslim Scholars, the most influential Sunni organization in Iraq, said even more victims were burned to death in attacks on the four mosques. It claimed a total of 18 people had died in an inferno at the al-Muhaimin mosque.
This story first began emerging late on November 24, with the version of the story printed above being published on November 25.
Thanks to some investigative started by Curt of Flopping Aces into the many apparent discrepancies in the story, we now know for a fact that significant portions of this story are categorically false, and that other details are highly suspect.
We know that four mosques were not burned nor blown up as the AP story alleges. We know that only one mosque was burned, and the extent of that damage was relatively minor. We know that Imad al-Hasimi, the Sunni leader cited in the original story, has recanted his earlier statements. We also know there is no record of burned bodies being taken the Kazamiyah Hospital, or anywhere else, for that matter. They've simply never been produced.
We also know that the star witness for the Associated Press in this story, Iraqi Police Capt. Jamil Hussein, has never existed.
The Iraqi Police and Interior ministry have confirmed that no person by the name of Jamil Hussein is an Iraqi policeman or even an interior ministry employee, much less an officer cleared to speak with the media as a named source. Further investigation has determined that this incorporeal captain has been a named source for the Associated Press (and apparently no other news organization) in no fewer than 61 stories over the past year.
The false captain is just one of more than a dozen sources the Associated Press claims are official Iraqi police or interior ministry spokesmen that the Iraqi government cannot verify exist, meaning that potentially hundreds of Associated Press stories may be suspect.
As I wrote three days ago:
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. they 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-official 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.
You would think that the possibility of such widespread fraud would bring forth all bloggers hoping to call into question what appears to be a terminally flawed methodology of news gathering. Instead, the cry for the Associated Press to produce Jamil Hussein, to examine their stringer-based reporting methods, and launch an impartial investigation into how things could have gone so horribly wrong, has been almost exclusively an endeavor from the center-right blogosphere and conservative-leaning media outlets.
Surely, I thought, not just conservatives desire facts and accuracy in the reporting from the world's largest media organization. These stories, if inaccurate, impact all of us, regardless of political persuasion.
Hoping that the silence in this matter from top liberal bloggers was the silence of simply not knowing—which was the excuse they claimed as an unhinged (and now fugitive) liberal professor by the name of Deb Frisch stalked Jeff Goldstein's family—I wrote a pair of them with which I've corresponded in the past.
Two days ago, I sent the following email to a prominent liberal blogger:
XXXXXX, I'm sure by now you've heard about what some are dubbing "Jamilgate," the almost certainly false AP report of six Sunnis being doused in kerosene and burned alive in a Baghdad slum. You are also probably aware that one of the two named sources in the story is Iraqi Police Capt. Jamil Hussein, and that after a thorough internal investigation, the Iraqi interior ministry now states categorically that no such person exists as an Iraqi police captain. That alone would be only a minor story if the AP would issue a retraction, but it turns out that the Associated Press has used Jamil Hussein as a source 61 times, and that they are unwilling to accept that Hussein is a fraud... even though they seem unable to find him now. Clearly, we're now dealing with a coverup. Why should you care (other than the traffic-driving reporting of what could be the biggest scandal in modern journalism history)? I suspect that there is an inclination among bloggers on the left to view this as a partisan issue, as it seems to pit conservative bloggers and the military against the world's largest news organization. XXXXXX, I'm hoping that you will see that there are indeed some much larger issues at play here. Quite simply, this is right versus wrong, truth versus fiction, ethical behavior versus unethical behavior. The Associated Press is using stringer-based reporting with no checks or balances for accuracy, and even when caught with its hand in the proverbial cookie jar, it has no interest at all in correcting their flawed methodology, or issuing retractions for the 61 stories where they cited a fraud as a source. They are issuing forth broken news, and don't care if its broken. Shouldn't we all be screaming bloody murder? I've read your work on occasion, know the reputation you have on your side of the ball. I'm hoping that you can help take this out of the realm of right/left, and get other left of center bloggers, writers, and activists involved in a basic demand for the AP to issue retractions, admit they were conned, and fix a flawed methodolgy that allowed for this long-running fraud to occur. Right, left or center, as pundits, we're only as good as the news we get to work from, and if the AP and other news organizations feel they can get away with "faith-based" reporting of world events using fictional sources, and feel they will not have to pay a penalty for that betray of trust, we all suffer as a result. I'd really appreciate the help, so thanks for considering this.
Thus far, she has not yet responded. She may be otherwise indisposed, and so I've "X"'d out her name just in case she simply hasn't had a chance to get back in touch with me. Surely, she wants the media to be honest in it's reporting, not just merely sounding out what she wants to hear.
Several hours ago, I also contacted the founder of a fairly popular liberal group blog that I've corresponded with off and on for a while. I wrote:
Just a quick question: how come nobody on your side of the aisle seems interested in the false sources story raised by the "burning six" story? Is it seen as a right wing + military thing against the media?
The evidence is compelling that the lead named source in this story, Captain Jamil Hussein, who has been a source for the Associated Press in 61 stories, has simply never existed. He's completely faked, and is either a fictionalized construct shared among many AP reporters, or more likely, is an insurgent that conned the AP into thinking he was a legitimate source. In any event, we know he doesn't legitimately exist (the Iraqi police have officially confirmed this), and that 61 AP stories are now suspect. We also know that more than a dozen other sources that the AP has used are also suspect (the Iriaqi interior ministry has confirmed none of these men are on their payroll), including three men cited as policemen in AP stories today.
We are legitimately looking at the largest systemic compromise of a news organization in world history, with hundreds or thousands of stories potentially compromised, and nobody on the left seems to care.
We know why most of the media is silent - they get their news from AP, and don't want to bite the hand that feeds them unless forced - but I'm frankly amazed that the only center-left commentary I've seen on this is a newshounds post attacking those who exposed of Hussein as a fake.
This is perhaps the blogosphere's greatest chance to expose a dishonest and slip-shot reporting methodology and force the media to be more accountable and honest in their reporting. Why do you think your contemporaries won't engage? Isn't this something we should all be hammering on a bipartisan basis?
Granted, he's only had a few hours to respond, but he's usually pretty quick about such things. Maybe he, too, is otherwise indisposed.
So far, the only moderately popular liberal blog I've been able to see even address this story in any way at all has been this one mentioned in the email above, and they only mentioned it in the bizarre context of using it to attack Brit Hume. They didn't seem too concerned—actually not concerned at all—that the AP might be feeding us all suspect news.
Curt diligently reports again this morning that the Associated Press continues to publish stories citing Iraqi police officers that the Iraqi government has already identified as suspected fakes, without even acknowledging that the Iraqi government says they have no record of these men working for them.
Surely the "reality-based" community cares when the world's preeminent news organization is suspected of publishing insurgent propaganda as news.
I'm sure now that they know about the Associated Press and its scandalous behavior, that these liberal, truth-seeking bloggers will act by calling for an impartial investigation into the AP’s reporting methods to ensure that the Associated Press is delivering accurate, factual information to the rest of the world. After all, honesty in the media matters, and if we want to know the true state of the nation, we'll have to rely on more than a talking points memo and suspect news reports. We need news organizations we can trust to deliver facts, not suspected propaganda from a bunch of crooks and liars peddling lies while posing as policemen. No, we need facts to make sure we aren't raising a hullabaloo based on false information.
When confronted with such strong evidence that they're being fed lies, such ethical people will fight to be given the facts, not spin.
If they don't, then they'll be frauds too... won't they?