Tom Zeller Jr., who keeps tabs on politics and the Internet, brings up questions Monday regarding the validity of the Associated Press' reporting on an apparent atrocity in "Separating Hyperbole from Horror in Iraq." But he leaves off a vital one he asked on his blog days ago: "Just Who Is Capt. Jamil Hussein?"
"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 (floppingaces.net) 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."
Yet Zeller leaves out the burning issue: The credibility and even identity of Capt. Jamil Hussein, the AP's alleged source for the story. Interestingly, on November 30 Zeller devoted an entire entry on his NYT blog "The Lede" to just that issue, asking bluntly in the headline, "So Just Who Is Capt. Jamil Hussein?
Zeller reported on his blog: "At the center of things is one police Capt. Jamil Hussein. Mr. Hussein was the primary source in an Associated Press wire-dispatch last Friday reporting that Shiite militiamen had 'grabbed six Sunnis as they left Friday worship services, doused them with kerosene and burned them alive near Iraqi soldiers who did not intervene.'" He concluded by repeating the headline query: "The military, meanwhile, seems to suggest that Mr. Hussein is not a police officer, nor a civil servant in the employ of any Iraqi agency. So who IS Mr. Hussein?"
Stephen Spruiell at National Review Online's Media http://media.nationalreview.com/post/?q=YmI0MmFjNzg5MzA0MDUyZGIzNzdjMmNkMWY5YzZhZmM Blog notes Zeller "takes a lot of digs at conservative bloggers. But as Allah points out, Zeller fails to mention that the NYT's own reporting on the story casts doubt on the AP's version."
Allah at HotAir finds Zeller's piece in the paper even more offensive: "Which part is most offensive? The vaguely puzzled, 'fake but accurate' overtones of that last paragraph? The aspersion cast on the military's credibility vis-a-vis a news outlet that employs jihadi paparazzo Bilal Hussein? The indignation at the thought of Iraqi stringers feeling cowed by the government into slanting their coverage without a glimmer of awareness that they might already be slanting it the other way out of sectarian fear or sympathy? Or the fact that he glosses over the real worry here, that a 'venerable, trusted news agency' might have committed fraud, to fret about people failing to distinguish real news from fake - and then acts defensive and disingenuous when a group of (conservative) bloggers try to make that very distinction?"