July 11, 2007

Laws, Sausages and Journalism

A little bit of cross-referencing reveals that the photographer "Talal" mentioned in Michael Yon's dispatch Second Chances is Associated Press photojournalist Talal Mohammed.

In "Second Chances," Yon recounts:

To see what the AP might have by way of reliable, mainstream, news resources, on the morning of 07 July, I asked Talal, an Associated Press stringer in Baqubah, if he had heard about the Al Hamari murders, and our conversation went something like this:
“Yes,” answered Talal.

"How many had been killed?" I asked.

"35," answered Talal. Not "about 35", but precisely 35.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"A medic at the Baqubah hospital told me,” Talal said.

“What was the medic’s name?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” answered Talal.

“You didn’t ask?”

“No,” he said. Talal said a doctor told him the same thing, but that he did not know the doctor’s name. He had not asked. Besides which, Talal said, the doctor and the medic were afraid to give their names.

“How were the people killed?” I asked.

“They were shot,” answered Talal as he motioned shooting with a pistol.

“Did you tell someone at AP headquarters in Baghdad?” I asked.

“Yes,” answered Talal.

“Who did you tell?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” answered Talal.

The International Herald Tribune on July 10 makes it clear that Talal's account—an account in which he didn't know the medic or doctor he cited, and didn't bother to ask their names—was received by someone at AP in Baghdad, who felt quite comfortable running the account, not matter how vaguely sourced:

The fight underlines the struggle in Diyala Province, where militants believed to be from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia have reportedly left mass graves of victims in areas under their hold.


Soldiers have found whole streets and buildings wired with explosives, bomb and weapons factories and prisons run by extremists - and, Iraqi officials say, the bodies of 35 people slain by militants and dumped in a village on the outskirts of Baquba.

Michael Yon's solid documentation—the units involved, their commander's names, the exact GPS coordinates of the site, video, and still photographs of the bodies, and a face-to-face meeting between Yon and AP reporter Robert Reid—and we get al Qaeda "reportedly" left mass graves.

In the second graph, through the magic of the AP's Baghdad Bureau, a nameless medic and fearful anonymous doctor are now, "Iraqi officials."

Otto von Bismarck was once credited with stating, "To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making."

As we gain a greater understanding of how one vague, phoned-in account after another is squeezed into an Associated Press casing and squirted across the wires, we're forced to face the reality that like sausages, many of the "facts" in an Associated Press story are those we'd never swallow for a second if we knew what went into them.

Update: What do you know... it only took a week-long blogswarm, but AP finally published on the massacre documented by Michael Yon.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at July 11, 2007 12:59 AM

But no mention of the children that were found in those graves, beheaded.

Posted by: lauraw at July 11, 2007 12:37 PM

At what point are we allowed to say that the media are literally enemy propagandists? Why is this being allowed to continue? At what point can something concrete be done about it?

Posted by: Sam at July 11, 2007 12:43 PM

What's with the 6 bodies then morphing to 35 later in the article?

Posted by: Purple Avenger at July 11, 2007 12:54 PM

"To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making."

Yup and you get mad cow disease and the patriot act.

Posted by: vinnie at July 11, 2007 01:23 PM

I noted the same warping of the story to give credence to their stringer- witout proper source- and downplay key points of Yon's story. They are far from turning off their terrorist-supporting news filtering.

Simple goal: Bush must fail and be blamed for that failure (thus the rush to cause catastrophe before the elections). Letting the terrorist win and millions of Iraqis to suffer and die is OK, as long Bush is the loser.

Posted by: Mike O at July 11, 2007 01:27 PM

Mike O:


Posted by: Tully at July 11, 2007 02:08 PM

Did I say something wrong?

Posted by: locomotivebreath1901 at July 11, 2007 03:22 PM

Freedom of the Press has become a combination hunting permit and license to lie, cheat and steal the honor of good men and women and hide the faults of those that are dishonorable.

It needs to stop. If it does not of their own shame and realization of their malfeasances, the honest citizens of this Nation will stop them in the only way that they understand.


Since our government won't do anything about it, cutting their profits might.

But if that does not work, there are Americans that will go a few steps further, and no one will like that.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Posted by: Papa Ray at July 11, 2007 06:36 PM

As a former AP newsperson (15+ years), the deterioration of the AP's product makes me ill. The AP used to concentrate on the facts; Analysis and opinions were clearly labeled. However, under the new administration of Tom Curley, there seems little question that standards for verification have fallen sharply and the emphasis on facts over opinion has all but disappeared. The anti-Bush (and anti-US) tenor of AP reporting these days is appalling and makes me embarrassed for my former employers and some of the people I used to work with, who know better.

Posted by: DonK at July 11, 2007 10:33 PM

Hold on Papa Ray, S&P is on the case. NYTimes Co. bond rating demoted to one step above "junk".

Posted by: Uncle Ralph at July 11, 2007 11:55 PM