I have been critical of Eason Jordan in the past and will continue to be, but I have to agree with his assessment of the AP’s reaction to the Jamil Hussein story.
If an Iraqi police captain by the name of Jamil Hussein exists, there is no convincing evidence of it – and that means the Associated Press has a journalistic scandal on its hands that will fester until the AP deals with it properly.
This controversy and the AP’s handling of it call into question the credibility, integrity, and smarts of one of the world’s biggest, most influential, most respected news organizations, the New York-based Associated Press.
The back story: On November 24, the AP quoted Iraqi Police Captain Jamil Hussein as the source of a sensational AP story that began this way:
“Militiamen grabbed six Sunnis as they left Friday worship services, doused them with kerosene and burned them alive as Iraqi soldiers stood by.”
It was a horrific report that was an AP exclusive – a story picked up and reported by news outlets across the U.S. and the world.
The U.S. military and Iraqi officials were quick to call the story baseless, saying there was no evidence that six Sunnis were burned to death in Hurriya and that there was no record of an Iraqi police captain named Jamil Hussein. The U.S. military and the Iraqi government demanded the AP retract the story and explain itself.
In the absence of irrefutable evidence that Captain Hussein exists and that the original AP report was accurate, bloggers and a few mainstream media journalists kept plugging away in an effort to get to the truth about whether there is a Captain Hussein and whether six Sunnis were burned alive that day.
Five weeks after the disputed episode, key questions remain unanswered, but what is clear is the AP has botched its handling of this controversy – and it’s not going away until the AP deals with it forthrightly and transparently.
To make matters worse, Captain Jamil Hussein was a key named source in more than 60 AP stories on at least 25 supposed violent incidents over eight months.
Until this controversy is resolved, every one of those AP reports is tainted.Jordan says the U.S. military was quick to question the “Burning Six” story, but did not remind readers that what prompted them to do so was the work of Curt at Flopping Aces who contacted Centcom with questions about Hussein. This is one of those stories bloggers were instrumental in uncovering and bloggers remain the only ones really pushing hard to get at the truth of this and other suspicious sources used in Iraq and other news coverage. If Jamil Hussein is a valid source, preferably a living, breathing one, the AP should be bending over backward to provide evidence to put this to controversy to rest. The fact that they haven’t does incredible damage to their credibility. (Thanks to Kim for pointing me to the Jordan post.)
Update: Bob Owens has done some incredible work on this story (some of which I have linked previously). Here is his most recent post on the AP’s sixty plus suspect stories including a reference to Jordan’s post. (Update: this series of posts from Bob Owens is worth bookmarking. He has done a lot of work compiling quite a bit of information and none of it makes the AP look any better.)
Update II: Bruce Kesler has an excellent post on this. Read it all.
So there. That’s responsible journalism in the 21st century; hands over the ears and “lalala, I can’t hear you! Just read what we write and shut the hell up.”
Read the posts in their entirety. Allah and the Anchoress both have much more to say on this (and other) subjects.
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