January 02, 2007
Gone in 60 Stories
On December 5 of this year, I wrote a blog post entitled 60 Billion Minutes, where I wrote:
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.
In the weeks since that date, the Associated Press has maintained that the stories they originally reported on November 24-25 of burning mosques and burning men is true, even though almost every single factual claim made in the account has been disputed. The AP maintains this position today, even after the Iraqi Interior Ministry Officially stated that the AP's source, Captain Jamil Hussein, simply didn't exist, and that no one by that name ever worked at the two police stations where AP said he did.
To all of this, Associated Press Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll stated:
Some of AP's critics question the existence of police Capt. Jamil Hussein, who was one (but not the only) source to tell us about the burning.
These critics cite a U.S. military officer and an Iraqi official who first said Hussein is not an authorized spokesman and later said he is not on their list of Interior Ministry employees. It's worth noting that such lists are relatively recent creations of the fledgling Iraqi government.
By contrast, Hussein is well known to AP. We first met him, in uniform, in a police station, some two years ago. We have talked with him a number of times since then and he has been a reliable source of accurate information on a variety of events in Baghdad.
No one - not a single person - raised questions about Hussein's accuracy or his very existence in all that time. Those questions were raised only after he was quoted by name describing a terrible attack in a neighborhood that U.S. and Iraqi forces have struggled to make safe.
That last paragraph printed above has bothered me since I first read it. Executive Editor Carroll, you see, is absolutely correct.
No one raised questions about Hussein's accuracy or his very existence for a span of run of stories starting on April 24 until his late November unmasking as a probable specter; a remarkable run that Curt at Flopping Aces pegged at 61 stories. This run as a named source doesn't begin to account for any stories he may have contributed anonymously as "an Iraqi Police Captain" or "according to Iraqi Police" over his two-year relationship with AP.
And so it was more than a month after Hussein was compromised that I did what the Associated Press editorial process should have been doing the entire time: I began attempting to fact-check the claims made by Jamil Hussein. I took the list of 61 AP stories citing Hussein, opened my web browser to Google.com, and went to work.
In eight hours over three days last week, I tracked down online examples of the first 40 of 61 Associated Press stories citing Jamil Hussein, as replicated in news outlets and even official government press offices around the world. I then took keywords, dates, and phrases from the paragraphs citing Hussein, and attempted to find corroborating accounts from other news organizations.
I am by no means perfectly suited to do the work here that needs to be done. I lack access to LexisNexis, a powerful popular subscription-based searchable archive of periodicals such as newspapers, and I'm not about to pay for their AlaCarte service, where reading this single blog post would cost you $3. Nor do I speak any of the languages of the Middle East in which one might encounter variations of these stories, meaning I am limited to searching English-only content. That said, I did the very best I could with a limited set of skills and tools. The detailed results of my search are here. Knowing what I now know, I don't think that the editorial processes of the Associated Press even put forth that paltry effort.
Put bluntly, a search for other news agency accounts of the events described by Jamil Hussein seems to indicate that most of these events simply do not exist anywhere else except in AP reporting. I was completely unable to find a definitive corroborating account of any of Jamil Hussein's accounts, anywhere.
That I was unable to find corroborating accounts for some stories is quite understandable; even in non-war-torn countries some news organizations have access to some stories denied others, as reporting assets and sources are not evenly distributed. Most of the AP dispatches using Jamil Hussein as a source were simply not that big in the wider and often larger chaos of the bloody sectarian conflict whirling through Baghdad; a gunbattle killing two suicide bombers, or even a non-fatal car-bombing is something that has sadly become far too common in many parts of Iraq, and Baghdad in particular. That other news agencies don't account for every single attack of this kind is not surprising-though it should be somewhat suspect when in 40 straight stories, not a single one of your competitors captured the same event. Not one. At that point, some sort of editorial oversight should have kicked in, should it not?
And yet, in 40 AP stories checked, only in two instances covering a total of four stories did I run into anything approaching possible corroboration.
On May 10, AP reporter Thomas Wagner included in a dispatch the assassination of an Iraqi Defense Ministry Press Office employee:
In Baghdad, suspected insurgents riding in two BMWs assassinated a Defense Ministry press office employee as he drove to work at about 8:15 a.m., police said.
One of the BMWs stopped to block the car of Mohammed Musab Talal al-Amari, a Shiite, said police Capt. Jamil Hussein. Three men got out of the other BMW and opened fire in the residential neighborhood of Bayaa, killing al-Amari and wounding an Iraqi pedestrian, Hussein said.
The Defense Ministry controls Iraq's military.
A truism about people: they become involved in things that they can relate to. Journalists in a combat zone are acutely aware that becoming a casualty is a significant possibility, and so when someone in the business gets injured, people take notice. For example, Nabil al-Dulaimi is hardly a household name in the United States, but when this radio news editor was killed in an ambush near his home by gunmen on December 5, more than a dozen English language news accounts mentioned his death.
While Mohammed Musab Talal al-Amari was a Defense Ministry Press Office employee and as such perhaps not a recognized journalist, wouldn't you think that someone other than Jamil Hussein would mention his passing?
To date, we simply don't know if this account was correct. While AP mentioned al-Amari's assassination three times, no other news agency has covered his murder to the best I have been able to determine. The only thing close to corroboration that I have been able to determine so far is the recollection of a CPATT source that a Ministry of Defense Press Office official did die in May. I will have to probably wait several more weeks to get further information.
Likewise, AP had an apparent exclusive on the murder of Iraqi Police Captain Amir Kamil on Tuesday, June 10.
Elsewhere in the capital, police Captain Amir Kamil, who provided security for the Yarmouk hospital, was shot to death on Tuesday at a bus station, Captain Jamil Hussein said.
According to AP source Jamil Hussein, Kamil provided security for Yarmouk Hospital. Even in bloody Baghdad, the deaths of rank-and-file officers warrants notice by the various news services, so why isn't there any corresponding coverage from other news organizations of the assassination of a police captain? Once again, no other news agency reports this death, and I may have to wait for weeks to get word from Iraqi officials.
Over the course of the first 40 stories in which he provided apparently uncorroborated information, it seems that the Associated Press could have easily questioned how reliable of a source Iraqi Police Captain Jamil Hussein might be before they were backed into the corner of having to defend the apparently fictional captain, the apparently fictional five dozen news accounts he fed them, and the eventual and righteous questioning of their basic journalistic methodologies that allowed something so wrong to run for so long.
And so, as Associated Press Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll noted previously:
No one - not a single person - raised questions about Hussein's accuracy or his very existence in all that time.
This includes the reporters, editors, and officers of an apparently unreliable and unrepentant Associated Press.
Update: We also learned last night from former CNN head honcho Eason Jordan of IraqSlogger that:
In statements, the AP insists Captain Hussein is real, insists he has been known to the AP and others for years, and insists the immolation episode occurred based on multiple eyewitnesses.
But efforts by two governments, several news organizations, and bloggers have failed to produce such evidence or proof that there is a Captain Jamil Hussein. The AP cannot or will not produce him or convincing evidence of his existence.
It is striking that no one has been able to find a family member, friend, or colleague of Captain Hussein. Nor has the AP told us who in the AP's ranks has actually spoken with Captain Hussein. Nor has the AP quoted Captain Hussein once since the story of the disputed episode.
Therefore, in the absence of clear and compelling evidence to corroborate the AP's exclusive story and Captain Hussein's existence, we must conclude for now that the AP's reporting in this case was flawed.
To make matters worse, Captain Jamil Hussein was a key named source in more than 60 AP stories on at least 25 supposed violent incidents over eight months.
Until this controversy is resolved, every one of those AP reports is tainted.
Update: Over at Pajamas Media, Richard Miniter brings some mostly constructive criticism of the assumptions I've made in writing this post. I'm not sure I agree with his conclusions completely, but he is certainly dead-on when it comes to why this matters.
01/04/07 Update: A source has provided me with a translation of this Arabic account, one of several verifying the death of MOD PAO Mohammed Musaab Talal al-Amari, killed on May 10. Why did you click the link? You don't speak Arabic any better than I do. We now have one of the 40 stories I inquired about corroborated by other news agencies.
Posted by Confederate Yankee at January 2, 2007 11:32 AM
Excellent work Bob. Let me be the first one to congratulate you on your Zombietiming of the AP Capt Jamil Hussein story.
I question AP's Ethics, as they made that available by asking how anyone dare question them.
Happy, Healthy and prosperous New Year, Bob.
Outstanding work, as usual.
Beginning in 2007, I have adopted a new resolution for wire services and other Ministry of Media reports...it's phony until proven otherwise.
If they want our trust back, they will have to get it the old fashioned way...they have to eeeeeaaaaarn it.
If you or another blogger wants funds to pay for Lexis searches, just point us to the tip jar. Information may want to be free, but sometimes we need to pay for it.
Damned fine police work, as is often said on many other fictional works. AP, as with all "news services" is in business to generate money; sadly, it's often a simple matter to generate counterfeit news for the real thing.
MediaBistro.com, a blog/resource site for writers and media professionals, has negotiated a deal with Nexis/Lexis. Full access for $59/month. You must be a member of mediabistro's site, which is cheap. The site's editorial content is free to members and nonmembers alike.
I'm not affiliated with mediabistro, just passing this along.
Well, the AP has put the stall, hinder and delay on ...closing their eyes as tightly as they possibly can and wishing and hoping and wishing and hoping...that this would just simply all go away.
My apologies to Dean Smith as he passes along his wins record to Bobby Knight and his four corners strategy to the Dark Knight (AP).
Apparently Kathleen Carroll couldn't be bothered with ATTEMPTING to come up with even remotely intelligible alibis and excuses. Instead she spits out the following:
Essentially...Jamil Hussein is well known to us. He works in a very rough area and therefore we don't want to produce him, because that would be very dangerous for him. (Apparently, it would be unwise and unsafe to have him found)
Um....so, um Kathleen...you gave us his name, where he works and his rank. How would he be in greater danger again...if you produced him?
And, are you the ONLY news agency with access to this police station? And him? How did you manage that?
And, not to press this point too finely...BUT YOUR STORY ON THE MOSQUES THAT YOU GOT FROM HIM...it's garbage. It has not held up to even modest scrutiny. Forget Jamil for a moment, what's the follow-up on the DETAILS you gave for that story?
And, your obfuscation has gotten people to do a little MORE digging (not less, as your fretfully hoped for)...what do you say about NOBODY backing up ANY of your stories for which Jamil is the main source?
Listen, you arrogant, smug, pedantic prig...you OWE the public an explanation. It's not up to you to decide that you already have been "truthy enough".
You and your pal Wagner are stonewalling and we're sorry...but, your act has worn thin. Your story smells of dead fish. Your alibis and excuses are even worse.
So if Jamil Hussein doesn't exist, then all the stories about fighting and violence in Iraq must be lies, too. That's a relief!
How would we know if all the stories are lies...if the lemmings and parrots aren't interested enough in the truth to care?
Of course, it doesn't matter if it's a little true, somewhat true, kinda true...because if you recite from the playbook and sing from the hymnal...then "WE BELIEVE" sloganeering is good enough.
Why bother with sources at all? After all, it's simply the MESSAGE that's important...not the truth.
We need to get the leftist MORAL of the story, even if it's a fairy tale...instead of news.
Aesop's fables, brought to you by Mother Goose.
Basically, the Ministry of Media and their lemming/parrot followers have the following directive:
"Here's a story, here's the moral...become a World Populist and live happily ever after. We should all live like Stepford Consumers, become vegetarians and fret fitfully about climate change of one degree over 300 years."
Thanks, but I think perhaps actually USING our brains might be better suited for those of us who aren't sitting on them. But thanks for playing.
I happen to have access to LexisNexis. Searching over a five-year period, the term "Amir Kamil" comes up in four articles. Three of these sources are from British news agencies and address the topic of college enrollment. The Amir Kamil cited there is not a police captain, but an 18 year-old trying to get an International Baccalaureate Diploma at North Wales college. An Iraqi police captain by that name appears only under a search of all news wire services, and is found in a single story published June 20, 2006 by the AP.
Similarly, I ran a search for "Talal al-Amari," "Mohammed al-Amari," and "Mohammed Musab al-Amari," thinking that different news sources may have edited his name. Searching for "Talal al-Amari," I got twelve hits, all from the AP and all seeming to be the same article. Searching for "Mohammed al-Amari" I actually found mention of an Iraqi doctor by that name, also in an AP article, but nothing else in regards to Iraq. The search for "Mohammed Musab al-Amari" came up empty. Still, we cannot discount the possibility of alternative spellings.
If you read these stories in sequence as they supposedely had to happen, then it seems that Jamil Hussien is more knowledgable than Bagdad Bob without the title. After reading the first 10 stories you automatically assume he is the main source for all stories in the region. There should be several ways to find out if he is real.But it would be hard to corroberate since I beleive most news sources rely on Ap. and Rueters as did most foreign news agencies when Walter Duranty spewed his lies and was the main source that was beleived in another time and place. Good Luck....
So that's an average of 7.5 stories a month from Hussein, but now that somebody has questioned his existence, he's vanished off the face of the earth and has been featured in exactly none.
This is a farce.
Morbo has nailed it. If Jamal is real, why isn't he trying to clear himself? Why isn't he *still* reporting news stories? The AP is stone cold busted and they know it.
Let's all together face it -- the AP is manufacturing "news" for those who want to believe that Iraq is quagmire.
Hang in there Hed...your wishes and hopes may come true...and pigs could fly...and Rove will be indicted in just 24-business hours. Keep hope alive....
Thanks for the hard work, CY. You know, there's another question here. There are a number of "elite" news organizations with offices in Baghdad. None of them chose to do their own original reporting on any these 40 stories? Not one? Possible, I suppose, but I wonder if they did look into at least some and they couldn't confirm them, so they didn't run with them, ahem. Just wondering.
Sooooo, if Capt. Jamil Hussein was in fact a propaganda byline for AP ... who do they "have" over there at Reuters, the BBC, and etc.?
I have to admit.
As a liberal, it's reassuring to know how much time and energy is being wasted in right blogistan obsessing over shit like this.
No one in America remembers that story. Yet how many thousands of hours have y'all spent pounding your keyboards in rage?
Keep it up. It keeps the rest of us safe from what you might do if you were slightly more imaginative.
"nobody in Timeshare America cares". Boy, isn't that the truth.
Oops. I forgot. Leftists don't care about the truth. They only care about the message.
Good parrots. Now back in the cage.
Great work -- but you need to get a Lexis-Nexis sub. I have been able to dig out a couple of interesting tidbits:
1) It appears that a number of staffing changes have been made at the AP Baghdad bureau since the elevation of Kim Gamel on Dec. 11 (as reported on your blog).
---Notably, Sinan Salaheddin, whose byline graced several of the disputed reports, has not written or contributed to a story since Dec. 14; previously, he was contributing several stories a week. (Note: Salaheddin is also the name of the province that contains Tikrit & Samarra, and Iraqi names often refer to place of origin).
---Sameer N. Yacoub's nearly daily contributions come to a cold stop on Dec. 18. Yacoub and Salaheddin appear to have the largest number of stories featuring "Capt. Jamil Hussein."
---Additionally, Thomas Wagner appears to have been reassigned to London at the same time. Wagner authored the original story on the good captain.
---On the other hand, several of the other correspondents linked to Jamil-gate are still actively filing stories.
2) "Jamil Hussein" makes an appearance as an ER doctor at Yarmouk Hospital (!) in a May 6, 2005 Knight Ridder (not AP) article by Gaiutra Bahadur and Yasser Salihee. The context is similar to the subsequent appearance of "Capt. Jamil Hussein." Quote:
"Because things are getting worse day by day, I suggested we open a branch for Yarmouk Hospital near the recruiting centers," said Jamil Hussein, an emergency room doctor treating the wounded.
"I've been working day and night since the announcement of the new government," he said. "We're still receiving dead civilians and military people despite that day."
3) As you note, "Capt." Jamil Hussein makes his first appearance on Monday, Apr. 24, 2006. I find it interesting that this is a mere two days after Maliki was sworn in as Prime Minister. The car bombing that "Jamil" described was part of a series of 7 car bombings in one day. It might be interesting to link the Jamil-gate stories not only to their explicit content, but also to their immediate context.
Anyone who works in a university or is a university student in the UK can have free access to LexisNexis - and lots of other high-octane information databases through their university library, which can give them the ATHENS password they need. For personal research purposes, of course. Commercial use is not permitted.
I'm sure there is some similar arrangement in the USA.
for a list of the data services available free through the ATHENS gateway
I presume you will now delete all this questioning in lieu of today's acknowledgement by the Iraq Interior Ministry that, in fact, Jamil Gholiaem Hussein does exist, and is an officer assigned to the Khadra police station. However you will be happy to learn that he has also now been arrested for talking to the media, and probably will be executed by some faction or another. So much for instilling democracy there, eh? (source: www.editorandpublisher.com)
My questions from my posts above remain WHOLLY AND ABSOLUTELY unchanged.
Moreover, if the answer was this simple, why did it take over a month to produce it?
And...I have printed both Ace of Spades and Michelle's posting of this item...it didn't come from any drek rag blog.
Since leftists start as overwrought, too tightly wound base points, it comes as no surprise that "execution" for "talking to the AP" would bubble up in the froth.
He's not going to be executed by anyone, but I sure do hope somebody gets to the bottom of the phony stories he was "sourcing"...which, after all...is the point of all the scrutiny.
You know...that silly, little inconvenient thing...called the truth.
Oops. I forgot. Leftists are only interested in "the message"...they don't give a damn about the truth.
How deep into media conspiracyland are you really willing to go before you give up on this foolishness? You are now implying that all the rest of the media sat by complicitly while the AP made up stories from a fake source (who is now known to be real), because they are all in one big conspiracy to make it look like things are going poorly in Iraq. Your primary argument has been that Jamil Hussein was a fake source and didn't exist. That was your main point. Now you know he exists, so you go on to other arguments. You are worse than Bush creating new reasons for the war whenever his old one is found to be bogus. Be better than Bush. Admit you did a terrible thing here. You are so mad about Iraq going sour, that you go after a news organization that has the balls to try and tell the truth. And this guy Jamil Hussein might pay a heavy price for your silly folly. All he did was tell people what is happening. Grow up. You know the war isn't worth fighting for, or you'd be there now, right?
Let's see all the reporters ID him... one by one.
BTW, you may also want to check if the source did time in Gitmo or was previously arrested or APs accounts payable (or reporters slush money for sources).
This smacks of Hez PR tactics.
Doubting that middle name as well.