AP and Bloggers Face Off on Flaming Sunnis

Tom Zeller has a detailed look at a recent flap between bloggers and the mainstream press over an AP story about six Sunni worshipers who were allegedly “doused in kerosene and burned alive by Shiite attackers.” Curt at Flopping Aces, cited by Zeller as blogger engaged in the controversy, has a lengthy reply. Patrick “Patterico” Frey and Newsbuster Al Brown weigh in as well.

While the blogosphere catapulted to national attention with its ability to “fact check their ass,” getting major scalps on its wall along the way, doing so is very difficult indeed in international reporting, especially that which takes place in a war zone. When a “venerable, trusted news agency” reports on an incident amidst that allegedly takes place in an environment of chaos and vicious reprisals, the mere fact that they are not naming names or that some actors assert that the reports are bogus is not necessarily dispositive.

Still, there is one central issue in dispute here: The reliability of the single, named source upon which AP built its initial story, an Iraqi police captain named Jamil Hussein. The Iraqi authorities have asserted that no such person exists and AP has provided no rebuttal on that score. It may be that “Jamil Hussein” is a fake name assumed by a real live policeman to protect his family’s safety. Then again, it may be that AP correspondent Qais al-Bashir simply invents stories out of whole cloth, as SeeDubya and others have documented.

Given that AP has had numerous problems with international stringers in recent months, one would think they would turn over ever stone to answer these questions. Plenty of once-venerable, once-trusted institutions have lost their credibility with repeated violations of their trust.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ed says:

    What I find troubling is that the blogosphere (and CENTCOM) is taking as fact and hanging their reputation on, solely the word of the Iraqi Govt. spokesman.

    With the fine example of ‘Baghdad Bob’ as a precedent and the multiple reports of Ministry of the Interior death squads, is there any reason to believe that the MOI spokesman’s denials of the incident and the existance of the AP’s source is credible? Or at least more credible than the AP’s reports?

    I’m not ready to take a side on this without more evidence.

  2. madmatt says:

    so why is that so many right wing blogs excoriate the iraqis as little more than barbarians are suddenly so willing to dismiss all there previous allegations and blame the ap? More covering for the administration who won’t even abide by the dictionary definition of civil war?

  3. Steven Plunk says:

    Madmatt should look into this story a little more. It’s not so much AP’s relying on one source but the fact that they really came down on those who would even dare to question the reliability of the source and question AP’s judgement on running the story.

    Facts are needed and facts are not being provided. Can’t hardly cover for the administration with no facts available. And how would asking for facts be covering them anyway?

  4. madmatt says:

    hey steve, the ap seems to have several follow up witnesses as well as the original source…whose word are you taking that it didn’t happen…some chubby white guy in his basement in des moines?

  5. Steven Plunk says:

    Madmatt,

    I would suggest reading Tom Zeller’s report in the NY Times. There is controversy surrounding this report and asking questions would be good thing. The AP’s response to those questioners is suspicious in itself.

    So the Iraqi military says it can’t be confirmed, the US military says it can’t be confirmed, the leading Sunni clerics are not speaking of the incident, and the AP has reports from a few Sunni locals who have already buried the bodies before they could be examined.

    So we still don’t know what happened.

    As for the chubby white guy in the basement, who cares. If I use my noggin I can see where this story is incomplete at best.