In a column published last night, Eric Boehlert does an excellent job of showing why David Brock's Media Matters should be regarded as the alimentary canal of punditry; on one end it's good at regurgitation, and on the other, the finalized product is consistently something better flushed.
In Michelle Malkin fiddles while Baghdad burns, Boehlert dishonestly addresses the continuing Associated Press scandal surrounding the "Burning Six" story that emerged from the Sunni enclave of Hurriyah in Baghdad on November 24.
Synthesize the various versions of the story, and you will have a horrific story of how Shia gunmen attacked while the Iraqi police and military stood by, without interfering, as four mosques were destroyed and as many as 18 people were killed, including six Sunni men pulled from a mosque and burned alive after being doused with kerosene. Only the arrival of American military units brought an end to the carnage.
But here's the problem... there is little to no evidence that any of these events took place.
Contrary to the AP's reporting, the Ahbab al-Mustafa, Nidaa Allah, al-Muhaimin and al-Qaqaqa mosques were never blown up. There is no evidence uncovered that a single soul, much less 18, were burned in an "inferno" at the al-Muhaimin mosque. In fact, soldiers from the 6th Iraqi Army Division found al-Muhaimin completely undamaged.
There is no evidence whatsoever that six men were pulled from a mosque under attack, doused in kerosene, set on fire, and then only shot once they quit moving.
Only the Nidaa Allah suffered minor fire damage from a Molotov cocktail, and no injuries were reported. The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Defense were apparently unable to discover any other physical evidence of any attacks in Hurriyah as the Associated Press, and only the Associated Press, claimed. Further, U.S. soldiers never intervened in Hurriyah on November 24.
The entirety of the Associated Press’ reporting on these alleged events relies on the testimony of two named sources and a handful of anonymous sources. Of those two sources, Sunni Imad al-Hashimi recanted his story after being interviewed by the Defense Ministry, leaving just one named source upon which the Associated Press was hanging its credibility, Iraqi Police Captain Jamil Hussein.
As we now know, the Iraqi Interior Ministry has now gone on the record, declaring that they have no record of anyone by the name of Jamil Hussein employed as an Iraqi policeman, at any rank. They also disputed the records of more than a dozen other AP sources that claimed to be part of the Iraqi police for which they had no records.
Further research indicated that Jamil Hussein was often on hand to report Shia on Sunni violence, and that Hussein had been used as a source for the Associated Press and no other news outlet, 61 times since April 24.
Boehlert, of course, is unsurprisingly disinterested as to why the Associated Press runs a story claiming the destruction of four mosques, the deaths of 18 people (six of them by immolation), or the allegations that Shiite military and police units allowed the attacks to take place. He quite purposefully leaves out the fact that all of the AP's sources were anonymous, other than the one that recanted, and the other that was exposed as long-running fraud.
Like the AP, Eric Boehlert seems far more interested in protecting a narrative and attacking the messengers, than seeking to discover how the AP's reporting could have been so horribly compromised.
He attacks "warbloggers," explicitly (and falsely) stating that those citizen journalists interested in getting to the bottom of this and other questionable instance of reporting blame the press "squarely" for the state of the war, a preposterous claim he does not even attempt to prove.
Few, if any, highly-regarded bloggers hold that opinion. Bad pre-war planning and post-invasion implementation of the same are widely acknowledged for much of the problems on the ground in Iraq, as are undisputed facts that al Qaeda, Syria, and Iran have contributed to the violence.
What Boehlert would like to gloss over (as it suits his narrative and that of the organization he writes for) are the very real structural problems with the stringer-based systems of reporting in Iraq.
In Iraq, the overwhelming majority of foreign journalists never leave the relative safety of Baghdad's Green Zone. Most newsgathering done in Iraq is compiled by Iraqi journalists, which in and of itself is to be expected. Iraqis know their country, their communities their language and their politics far more intimately than any Western reporter is ever likely to achieve. From that perspective, it would make little sense to rely primarily on Borat-like foreign reporters to cover what is going on inside the country.
But even though Iraqi reporters are the logical best choice to cover Iraqi events, the Associated Press and other wire services must be cognizant of the fact that just like the fellow Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds in their fractious society, reporters and their sources will also have regional, sectarian and tribal biases.
Because of this, all news organizations, especially the largest news organizations such as the Associated Press and Reuters, have an obligation to their readers to provide a robust set of editorial checks and balances to verify that the reporters they use and the sources they quote are supported by factual evidence.
As we now know, at least the final stories of the almost certainly fictitious Captain Jamil Hussein have no supporting physical evidence. Even repeated trips to the Hurriyah neighborhood have been unable to extricate the Associated Press from this mess of their own making. There are no destroyed mosques. There are no bodies.
Characteristically dishonest in his claims, Boehlert claims that bloggers are engaging in "wide-ranging conspiracy theories and silencing skeptical voices."
The truth of the matter is precisely the opposite; we're asking for more skeptical voices, more layers of fact-checking and editorial professionalism that seemingly have disappeared once wire service reporters join what Michael Fumento and other combat journalists from all sides of the political spectrum have derided as the "Baghdad Brigade."
If the Associated Press had a working system of checks and balances to do background checks on their reporters, they might not be in the embarrassing position of having one of their Iraqi stringers in prison after he was captured in a weapons cache with a terrorist commander, coated in explosives.
If the Associated Press had a working system of checks and balances to verify their sources, they might not have been listening to a false Iraqi policeman for two years, and more than a dozen other "policemen" that the Iraqi Interior Ministry says does not work for them (NOTE: The AP still uses these same named suspect policemen as sources to this very day).
If the Associated Press had a working system of editorial fact-checking, the lack of physical evidence alone should have precluded the burning mosques/burning men claims from ever having run. Hunkered down for in the Green Zone, the isolated fortress mindset infecting the media has led to reporting where allegations, not facts, are enough reason to run a story written by men and women who have never seen the subject matter on which they report.
Pure and simple, it is "faith-based" reporting.
It is because of this kind of absentee journalism that wave after wave of combat veterans return home from Iraq and Afghanistan claiming that the media is consistently misrepresenting what is going on in Iraq. Not necessarily better or worse, but just plain wrong. It's hardly surprising. You wouldn't expect a reporter in Boise to effectively cover a bank robbery in Raleigh, so why would you expect a reporter in a Baghdad hotel to accurately reporter events in Ramadi?
The problems of reporting in Iraq are based on flawed news-gathering processes and methodologies, questionable vetting of reporters and sources, and continued poor editorial oversight. The Associated Press responds to these problems exposed by Jamilgate by promoting those involved.
Boehlert shows he is far more interested in choking down typical Media Matters talking points and excreting arrogance mixed with contempt than engaging in any honest attempt to identify and fix obvious flaws in a broken system of reporting that lead to false reporting such as that evidence in Jamilgate. Apparently, "truthiness" is close enough for his purposes.
His mentor must be proud.
Update: Michelle piles on. Apparently Boelhert got even more wrong than I realized:
He is such an idiot that he doesn't even read the link that he includes to bolster his ridiculous charge.
I am the one who called a fellow conservative blogger to task for irresponsibly reporting that anonymous Republican sources had accused a Democrat staffer in Harry Reid's office of being the source. If he had bothered to follow his own links, this clown would know that. Or maybe he did and it doesn't matter. He's got a narrative to protect.
Boehlert charges that "[W]arbloggers aren't interested in an honest, factual debate about a single instance of journalistic accountability."
Like he would know anything about honest, factual debates and journalistic accountability?
Ouch. That's gonna leave a mark.Cross-posted at Confederate Yankee.