Separating Hyperbole From Horror In Iraq

December 4th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Separating Hyperbole From Horror In Iraq

New York Times
December 4, 2006
Pg. C4

By Tom Zeller Jr.
Over the course of last week, an Associated Press article — one subsequently challenged by the military — in which six Sunni worshipers were reportedly doused in kerosene and burned alive by Shiite attackers, became the worst kind of totem.
For bloggers who believe that the media has been drawing false pictures of mayhem in Iraq, the insistence of the American military and Iraqi officials that the burning incident appeared to be a mere rumor was proof that their suspicions were correct.
“Getting the News From the Enemy” was how the Flopping Aces blog ( tracked the developing face-off between the military and A.P.
Iraq’s interior ministry wielded the article like a bludgeon and used it as an opportunity to create a press monitoring unit that suggested, in no uncertain terms, that reporters in Baghdad should come to its press officers for “real, true news.” A ministry spokesman promised “legal action” — whatever that might mean — against journalists who publish information the agency deemed wrong.
That may seem patently absurd. But in a country where most of the on-street, in-neighborhood reporting for Western news organizations is done by native Iraqis — working at great personal risk — the threat of “legal action” may reverberate with tones more menacing, and more damaging to a free press, than they seem at first blush.
Then there was The Associated Press itself, which by Friday had come to view the continued scrutiny of its article as evidence that everyone — the military, the blogosphere, even other media outlets tracking the back-and-forth — was either agenda-driven, insolent, or both, but not legitimately curious.
The international editor of the A.P., John Daniszewski, said in a statement Tuesday that the military’s questioning of the original sourcing on the article was “frankly ludicrous and hints at a certain level of desperation to dispute or suppress the facts of the incident in question.”
Mr. Daniszewski added that A.P. was nonetheless re-reporting the incident, and the agency had sent its reporters back to the Hurriyah neighborhood of Baghdad, where they found several additional witnesses who not only corroborated the original report, but gave exhaustive details of a day of bedlam, for a second article that hit the wires Tuesday afternoon. The initial report came out Friday, Nov. 24.
The second article included recollections of the hour — between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m. — and of militiamen using rocket-propelled grenade launchers to blast open the front of a mosque; of six men being dragged out, blindfolded, handcuffed and lined in the street; and of a 1.3-gallon canister being used to douse the men with kerosene. They were then set ablaze, The Associated Press’s witnesses recalled, allowed to writhe and suffer, and then ultimately shot, once each, in the head. Residents said they buried the bodies after a prolonged gun battle with the attackers.
For all of the grisly detail, a spokesman for the Iraq interior ministry, Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, continued on Thursday to call the incident a rumor.
“We dispatched our forces to the area where the rumor claimed the burning took place and found nothing,” he said.
Meanwhile, little in the way of fallout over the event itself has been detected — no outcry, no heated, televised denunciations from Sunni clerics and politicians — as might be expected from what The Associated Press itself called “one of the most horrific alleged attacks of Iraq’s sectarian war.”
And so questions lingered and the blogs raged on.
The executive editor of The Associated Press, Kathleen Carroll, in a meeting in her office Friday afternoon, explained that the agency had already done all it could to respond to the uncertainties by vigorously re-reporting the article, and suggested that to engage these questions — to continue to write about them — merely fueled a mad blog rabble that would never be satisfied.
That is one way of looking at it. And there are certainly much larger issues to consider in Iraq.
As The Associated Press reminded everyone in September, the Pentagon is not without its own public relations agenda. It awarded a $12 million, two-year contract to the Lincoln Group, a public relations firm in Washington, to keep tabs on English and Arabic media sources and produce “public-relations-type products” for American forces in Iraq, A.P. reported. This is the same company that was found last year to be buying positive coverage in Iraqi newspapers as part of an American military operation.
There are also important questions that can be raised about the steps taken by Iraq’s interior ministry to control reporting on the streets, to steer journalists toward “official” channels of information, and to threaten those who seek independent sources.
And finally, as horrible as the alleged events in Hurriyah were, caches of dumped dead bodies are turning up in neighborhoods almost weekly, car bombs rip through markets and waiting lines and the death toll for American soldiers is approaching 3,000. No one is disputing those accounts.
But then, that may be partly the point. It is important to find out if this really happened in order to separate the hyperbole from the merely horrible in Iraq, so that the horrible will still have meaning. Otherwise it will all become din.
It is also true that the institution conducting America’s multibillion gamble in Iraq — the military — says that this standout of atrocities never happened, while a venerable, trusted news agency has twice interviewed witnesses who said, in extensive, vivid detail, that it did.
That is not just a curiosity. It is a limbo that leaves Hurriyah open for use as a political plaything, to confirm deep-seated beliefs about the media, or to give Iraqi ministers rhetorical fuel to threaten reporters.
Whatever the agenda of the bloggers most interested in debunking the article, it somehow seems important to figure out why this incident — in the face of all the killings in Iraq — remains in such dispute.
December 5th, 2006  
Its about time someone reigned these bastards in. Freedom of the press is NOT the freedom to spread manure. And not to put too fine a point on it but in times of war the freedom of the press should be actively curtailed as it was in WWII. "In times of war the laws are silent"

Journalists are trained to verify their reporting to be sure it is vetted fact and not rumor or wild speculation. I blame in part the "live" cable network pressure to be "first with the worst" and the rest I lay at the feet of journalism and its complete lack of honor and credibility.

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