Jamilgate: Michelle's sources can't find Capt. Hussein

Actually, I think they have found him but he’s probably not willing to come clean about being the source for fear of disciplinary action. Pseudonyms are a no-no according to the AP’s own internal procedures, but it may be that he gave them a false name without them knowing or being able to check.

Eric Boehlert revisited this subject yesterday in yet another episode of What Warbloggers Believe. What warbloggers believe, says Eric, is that Iraq is a magical fairyland of sunshine and candy canes where Baghdad police didn’t find 76 bodies in the streets this morning. Or, alternately, that Iraq really is in dire straits but it’s entirely the media’s fault. He’s not clear which he thinks it is, but who cares? Light your torch; it’s strawman time.

Warbloggers, all boosters of the doomed U.S. invasion, have been poring over the AP’s dispatches, feverishly dissecting paragraphs in search of proof for their all-consuming conspiracy theory that biased American journalists, too cowardly to go get the bloody news in Iraq themselves, are relying on local news stringers who have obvious sympathies for insurgents and who actively “spread terrorist propaganda,” according to right-wing blog Little Green Footballs. The result of the AP hoax? Gullible, or “average,” Americans have been duped into believing there is a “civil war” raging in Baghdad today.

See, it’s really the AP’s fault we’re losing the war. (Plus, it’s ignoring all the “good news” from Iraq.)

I don’t believe any of that, but fine. We’re still warming up. Here’s the good stuff.

The warbloggers’ strawman is built around the claim that if the AP hadn’t reported the Burned Alive story, which was no more than a few sentences within a larger here’s-the-carnage-from-Baghdad-today article [Wrong. When the story first hit Drudge, the burning six were the only element in it. — ed.], then Americans would still gladly support the war in Iraq

Chasing the Burned Alive story down a rabbit’s hole, giddy warbloggers deliberately ignore the hundreds of Iraqi civilians who are killed each week, the thousands who are injured, and the tens of thousands who try to flee the disintegrating country. None of that matters. Only Burned Alive matters, as if an AP retraction would change a thing on the ground in Baghdad, where electricity remains scarce, but sectarian death squads roam freely…

[D]espite the hundreds of stories AP files from Iraq each week, and the thousands posted annually since the invasion, warbloggers can only find fault with a single story, yet insist that one is enough to tarnish the AP’s Iraq reporting and all mainstream news reporting from Baghdad.

The “single story” canard is a neat example of Boehlert’s disingenuousness. He’s written two columns about Jamilgate now; there are enough links embedded in both to show he’s done his homework. Which means he knows very well this wasn’t the only story the AP’s used Jamil Hussein for. The actual number, as Michelle notes, exceeds 60. He also knows that the AP originally claimed four mosques were burned and that that claim has since disappeared into the ether without so much as a clarification. Just like he also knows, courtesy of Robert Bateman, that it’s unlikely in the extreme based on Hussein’s location that he’d be a credible witness for the wide variety of attacks sourced to him by the AP. All of which make this story highly dubious, yet none of which Boehlert sees fit to mention anywhere in his piece. Why?

Because he doesn’t care if the story’s bogus or not. He’ll say en passant that he does because he knows, as a journalist and media critic, that he has to. But it’s strictly pro forma. His position seems to be that the story’s true in the Larger Sense, as a microcosm of the brutality in Iraq, even if it’s not, you know, technically true (“as if an AP retraction would change a thing on the ground in Baghdad, where electricity remains scarce, but sectarian death squads roam freely”). In other words, “fake but accurate.” That’s his bottom line here and that’s why it’s dishonest of him and his pals to even pretend to care whether the report’s accurate. As far as they’re concerned, if Jamil Hussein turns out to be real, the story’s true; if he turns out not to be real, the story’s True. They can’t go wrong. Meanwhile the AP, if it’s guilty of bad facts to whatever greater or lesser degree, gets an almost completely free pass.

At the risk of suggesting that I know What Warbloggers Believe better than Eric Boehlert does, let me assure you that we’re not using this story as a fig leaf for the war. There are Shiite death squads roaming hospitals in Iraq — just one of many “bona fide, grim realities on the ground,” as Michelle puts it, but gruesome enough in itself to convey the magnitude of the emergency. No one, or almost no one, is under any illusions about how awful conditions are and how Bush mismanaged the occupation when we had our best chance to get it right. On the contrary, it’s Boehlert who’s using the war as a fig leaf for yet another credible accusation of shoddy, possibly ideologically motivated war journalism. He’d have you believe that to challenge this report is, essentially, to be guilty of historical revisionism, which is not only ironic vis-a-vis the AP but a nifty way of cowing a critic into backing off. It’s more important that Michelle Malkin be wrong, you see, than knowing for sure whether the world’s biggest news agency is passing off crap stories about the most important issue of our time.

Mark my words: unless someone comes up with ironclad proof that the burning six was a premeditated fraud, Boehlert and company will go on doggedly knocking its critics. Never mind Bateman’s warning that “this is not about right-v-left. It is about accuracy and hubris.” Anything they can do to shore up the AP’s credibility here, any argument they can make, they’ll do it, because that’s what this is really about — protecting big media from a credible charge of malfeasance, even though it wouldn’t mean much in the grander scheme of how awful things are in Iraq. Watch and see.

Oh, and Eric? Re: this?

Note to Malkin: You might want to re-read this recent quote from ABC’s man-in-Baghdad, Dan Harris: “I said to my driver casually the other day, ‘If I get out of this car, take off my flak jacket or get rid of all my security and walk down the street, how long would I last?’ He said, ‘Four or five seconds.’ “

She knows.

Update: Here’s a surprise. Boehlert singled out See-Dubya for criticism by name — and then misrepresented what he wrote.