AP to bloggers: Stop maligning our stringers, chickenhawks

Another volley from Kathleen Carroll, the executive editor. Last Friday, according to Times writer Tom Zeller, she told reporters it would be the height of foolishness to continue to engage the “mad blog rabble” (Zeller’s words). And yet, here we are.

First things first. Where’s Waldo?

[Jamil] 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…

As careful followers of the Iraq story know well, various militias have been accused of operating within the Interior Ministry, which controls the police and has long worked to suppress news of death-squad activity in its ranks. (This is the same ministry that questioned Capt. Hussein’s existence and last week announced plans to take legal action against journalists who report news that creates the impression that security in Iraq is bad, “when the facts are totally different.”)

She’s all but accusing the MOI spokesman who challenged them of being a Sadrist tool, which I guess means we’re unwittingly doing the bidding of the Mahdi Army by extension. The AP’s been accused of doing the bidding of terrorists itself, of course, and in case not so unwittingly. So, touche. But here’s an idea: instead of issuing these snide Friday broadsides, produce Jamil Hussein. Snap a few photos and put them on the wire. Or, if that would endanger him, arrange a meeting between him and someone from MOI. Or, if that would endanger him, between him and the Centcom press director. If Hussein feels safe enough to have himself identified by name, rank, and precinct in AP news reports, he should be willing to chat with an American officer for 20 minutes. It’s exceedingly strange and suspect that the AP has available to it hard evidence that would explode its critics charges, yet so far as we know it’s made no attempt to produce that evidence. Not once have they offered to supply anyone with concrete proof of Hussein’s existence. Why not?

She goes on:

The Iraqi journalists who work for the AP are smart, dedicated and incredibly courageous to go into the streets every day, talking to their countrymen and trying to capture a portrait of their home in a historic and tumultuous period…

Questioning their integrity and work ethic is simply offensive.

It’s awfully easy to take pot shots from the safety of a computer keyboard thousands of miles from the chaos of Baghdad.

She’s right. It’s much harder to take pot shots from Baghdad, which is where Times reporter Ed Wong was when he told Zeller there’d been no uproar locally over any kerosene incident — a highly unusual reaction to an event that, er, incendiary. The Times also called some local residents who confirmed there’d been an attack on the mosque but had heard nothing about anyone being burned alive. Does Carroll know that, I wonder? I wouldn’t blame her, if not: the Times has been conspicuously quiet about it. How convenient, though, that instead of having to answer charges from another esteemed media outlet that the incident never took place, she gets to act indignant and slough it off as the product of chickenhawk bloggers’ feverish media-bashing.

As for her assertion that it’s offensive to question the integrity of Iraqi stringers, I wonder if there were any AP “photojournalists” at Chiyeh in Lebanon this summer when bodies were, allegedly, literally being dug up to give the Hezbollah sympathizers from the local bureaus better shots for their propaganda. Funny how that story never got picked up by the AP, even though it was covered on right-wing blogs and has been sourced to a known American photographer posting at a respected forum for professional journalists. Funny too how Carroll understands that the sectarian loyalties of Iraqi government officials might render their motives suspect, yet it escapes her realm of possibility that AP stringers might be moved by the same passion. The Iraqi government, the Iraqi army — universally acknowledged to be crippled by religious partisanship. The Iraqi press corps, though? Pristine. To suggest otherwise is downright offensive.

That’s as much time as I’m going to waste on this on a Friday night. The pity of it is, I’m not unsympathetic to the AP’s predicament here. They have a bunch of anonymous sources who independently corroborate each other and they have a very good reason for not wanting to reveal those sources’ names. There’s not a lot more they could do to substantiate that the incident occurred short of digging up the bodies, which is probably impossible. But to say it’s out of bounds to question the stringers is absurd. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.


Update: I forgot to link this op-ed by Robert Bateman that’s been making the rounds. An AP article about No Gun Ri used a bogus source; Bateman called them on it; they blew him off without another word. But then, that’s what he gets for being “offensive.”