Saturday, December 16, 2006

I can't let this stand 
Eric Boehlert writes a reprehensible screed for Media Matters, in which he adroitly avoids addressing the substantial questions surrounding Chief Hussein's identity and proceeds to slime and slander, well, everyone in sight who is not satisfied with the AP's ducking of the issue:

By inflating the disputed incident into a monumentally important press story, warbloggers, who have excitedly pounded the story for weeks, convinced themselves that blame for the United States' emerging defeat in Iraq lay squarely at the feet of the press. Specifically, warbloggers claim that American journalists, too cowardly to go get the news themselves, are relying on local Iraqi news stringers who have obvious sympathies for terrorists and who purposefully push propaganda into the news stream -- the way Hussein did with the Burned Alive story -- to create the illusion of turmoil. Warbloggers, who have virtually no serious journalism experience among them, announced that what's coming out of Iraq today is not news at all, but simply terrorist press releases -- "a pack of lies" -- regurgitated by reporters (or "traitors") who want to see the insurgents succeed.

I don't know what special skills those with 'journalism experience' are supposed to have that any decent and industrious officer who's got experience as a report of survey or Class A or B accident investigation officer wouldn't have developed many times over himself. But let's just speak of journalism experience.

To take me as one example - I worked as a reporter for a major, household name media company, and wrote scores of articles for a magazine with a circulation of between 800,000 and a million. Yes, my beat was business and investing, rather than military affairs. Nevertheless, if we're going to compare journalism bona fides, I'm sure my audience - and the truly excellent quality of my editors who patiently taught me my trade, mostly by their example (and I can't thank you enough, Richard, Maggie, Adam, and John!) compares more than favorably to Mr. Boehlert.

But more relevantly, I am also quite confident that I can easily outreport the knucklehead who somehow transmogrified a single molotov cocktail toss on a mosque into several mosques having burnt down - a colossal gaffe of Stephen Glassian proportions which all by itself should have devastated the credibility of the reporter as soon as every mosque he claimed was destroyed was found standing, with only minor damage to the entry way on one of them.

In other words, I have more reporting experience - if that is something he consideres relevant, than most of AP's local stringers.

Even more on pointe, I can report the shoes off of the idiot AP editor who can see that - AND fail to produce Jamil Hussein - and be too f*cking blind to realize that "Houston, we have a problem."

Furthermore, I can outshoeleather any bozo who makes dumbass statements like the following:

But warbloggers aren't interested in an honest, factual debate about a single instance of journalistic accountability. And they're not really interested in the specifics of the Burned Alive story. They're interested in wide-ranging conspiracy theories and silencing skeptical voices.

Two questions, kiddo:

Who, precisely, is trying to "silence" a skeptical voice, here? Be specific. Name names. Give me the 'who, what, when, where, and why,' like a good reporter. If it's not too tall an order for you.

Here's a hint: You might take your meds long enough to consider that in this case, it's the milbloggers and Malkin who are the skeptics -- not the AP's defenders (not that anyone has mounted a rational defense of the AP yet; everyone I've seen supportive of the AP's position thus far has come up with nothing but a series of straw men (e.g., silencing skeptical voices, which no one is really doing), red herrings (e.g., they did it in the Lebanon story, too, which is true, but not relevant and does not address Hussein's identity), and ad hominem attacks against the milbloggers and others calling the AP's reportage into question (e.g. too many to list).

Boehlert, whose grasp of critical thinking is, shall we say, tangental to its essence, at best, manages to commit all three logical fallacies within a few short sentences.


People with critical reasoning skills this slovenly shouldn't be casting aspersions on the reporting and source assessment skills of serious observers.

Which leads us to the second question:

Just who is Jamil Hussein?

Boehlert doesn't even attempt to address the elephant in the room.

Who is he, Boehlert?

Because if he can't be substantiated, then everything in Boehlert's argument falls apart, because the milbloggers, no matter how distant they are from the battlefield, and no matter how powerful their air conditioners, will have been proven correct.

So far, Boehlert, it ain't looking good for you.

It should be noted that Malkin's breathless excitement over the AP story nearly matches the enthusiasm she used to spread online smears about the press in the spring of 2005 during the Terri Schiavo right-to-die controversy.

Wow. That's the biggest, fattest red herring I've seen flying through the blogosphere in ages. This guy's reasoning skills are seriously nonlinear.

Back to the question at hand, Boehlert...who is Jamil Hussein?


To watch warbloggers taunt journalists for being cowards is also unsettling. Curt at Flopping Aces wrote: "If the reporters would leave their comfy hotel rooms and actually go out and survey the scenes themselves then I am sure we would get a completely different picture." Honestly, is there any irony sharper than members of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists, blogging comfortably from their air-conditioned stateside offices while obsessively googling AP dispatches in search of phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that don't meet the right-wing standard of excellence, lecturing on-the-ground news reporters about the need to witness the Iraq conflict up close? (Here's the Crooks and Liar video of neocon columnist Mark Steyn pretty much calling reporters sissies for being "hunkered down" in the Green Zone and not reporting that "most of the schools in Iraq are open, most of the hospitals in Iraq are open.")

Boehlert's got his head up his ass.

I was critical of reportage from Iraq and felt quite comfortable saying it while I was earning a combat infantry badge in Ramadi, Iraq. It was obvious. And it was quite a sore spot for a lot of guys who were there who didn't have the time or skills to write about it, or the intense interest in media affairs that I had as a media professional on hiatus.

Here's an example of what I was writing then:

Dear Chainsmoking, Unwitting Stooges,

So how come we can get mortared several times a week out here and it never makes the news, but the pogues in the green zone can catch three measly mortar rounds and I get my Dad emailing me asking why the Baghdad Press corps is covering it like it’s the second Tet Offensive?

Well, Christ on a crotch-rocket, I don’t have an answer for him!

And if it’s big enough to warrant a live network news spot, then why are the reporters standing outside without Kevlars and flak jackets, and illuminating themselves with TV lights? How dumb is that?

Sure, it’s news. But shouldn’t producers and editors be bringing that news into perspective? It takes two knuckleheads to set up and fire a mortar. If I looked different and spoke Arabic, I could go downtown right now with 100 dollars US and probably come back with a 61mm mortar tube and several rounds of ammo within 3 hours, easily.

So two knuckleheads, 100 bucks, and you have an International Media Event.

Why? Because the Baghdad green zone has a Chili’s restaurant and you can get booze there and get easy stories without having to venture a mile from your hotel rooms.

I know you guys hate it when you get manipulated by the spin doctors at the Pentagon, the brokerage houses, or wherever else your beats take you. Doesn’t it bother you when you get led around by the nose by two assholes with a destructive hobby and a truck?

Since when does a 30 second ad spot on Fox News cost 100 bucks?

You guys have GOT to get out more!

Around the time I wrote that, I was watching my buddies come through the aid station with some grievous wounds on a regular basis. I helped evac some of them. And I was spending hours a day on the roads of the Anbar province, leading scheduled convoys, waking up every day I had a mission knowing very well it might be my last sunrise.

(I remember relating to my grandfather, who flew in B-17s and B-24s over Europe for the 94th Bomb Group, 8th Army Air Force, in 1943 and 1944, and himself a veteran of the awful Regensburg-Schweinfurt shuttle mission.)

There were many, many people who spent far more time outside the gate than I did. I was not exceptional. But if Boehlert wants to dismiss me as a 'member of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists,' then I invite him to do so to my face.

I'm sure a number of other milbloggers - themselves combat vets who saw far more action than I did - can understand the sentiment.

The notion is demented, but given their wild online rants, I don't think it's out of bounds to suggest that warbloggers want journalists to venture into exceedingly dangerous sections of Iraq because warbloggers want journalists to get killed.

Jeebus, what a muddle-head. The notion is demented, but I don't think it's out of bounds to suggest that Boehlert wants milbloggers to get killed.

There is exactly the same level of evidence for both claims. The difference: I'm making the suggestion in irony. Boehlert's dumb enough to really believe it. What a slanderous boob.

And for the final laugh-line:

It's odd that warbloggers have expended an enormous amount of time and energy trying to pick apart a single source from a single, relatively brief AP dispatch, arguing that the misleading information in that article somehow calls into question all of the Iraq reporting, yet warbloggers have been relatively silent about the recent string of book-length critiques of the war. I'm thinking in particular about Thomas Ricks' excellent book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (Penguin Press, July 2006), which, in its first 100 pages, tells readers all they need to know about the botched war. Warbloggers either don't read books, or are so completely overwhelmed by the definitive evidence produced in a book like Fiasco, which relies heavily on sources from within the U.S. military to paint its convincing picture of Bush administration incompetence, that warbloggers simply have no choice but to turn away and focus their attention on evil AP stringers.

Perhaps mister journalism experience needs to brush-up on his computer-assisted reporting skills, because
I addressed Rick's abortion of a book, Fiasco, at some length here.

Hint: We have Technorati now, genius. Look into it.


Splash, out


Jason, here is where I wonder what can we do to really get our message heard in the appropriate places? An online fisking with raw lanuage will help us to feel good but it probably won't get brought up in the appropirate circles?

I, too, have some journalism bona fides, having actually earned a journalism degree that included a year of law and history, and have worked and been published elsewhere, though not nearly as much as you. It was my experience as a beat reporter that started turning me from liberal to conservative as I saw the shortcuts and arrogance of my fellow reporters.

When I read some of these statements that are coming out about the seriousness of their credentials verses the complete lack of skill of bloggers, all I can think about is their own ignorance. Starting out I firmly believed reporters should have special shield laws, be officially credentialed by a board equivalent to licensure that would allow them access to those shield laws. A few years of actual education and I saw how foolish I was and how much censorship and press freedom would be enabled by such regulatons and laws.

Now to read these "professionals" with historically built-in readership, I cringe, even wince on occasion. They are in the same mental space I was before I was actually trained and educated.

So what will it take for someone as clear-headed and conversant as yourself and others of our ilk to be calmly and rationally heard by these people and by the country in general? Any ideas? Can we get on the podium of moderated debates?
If you ask me both sides are acting quite childish with the story. Seems to me the only question that matters is, Who the AP reporter is? That's it, all the rest, mud slinging back and fourth add nothing to the story or the real problems associated with reporting from Iraq.

All of a sudden it a left-right tug of words, who can smear who with what irrelevant set of facts. Yet no one seem interested in the truth. The fact that the area in question, that town in north Baghdad is the scene of a vicious ethnic cleansing campaign seems to have fallen off the map while they argue over one event, that's becoming more and more irrelevant every day that goes by.
By the time they finish fighting over if someone did see what, hundreds more people are dying or losing their homes, and no one is paying the least bit of attention.
but madtom how do we know it's as you say if they can't get this one incedent reported accurately? what other things are they botching? I'm not saying it couldn't be happening, I'm just saying that this greatly calls into question their trustworthiness.
Excellent rebuttal, Jason.


"Yet no one seem interested in the truth."

Well, I am, and I'd venture that Jason and a good many other people are. But here's something that interests me as well, and it is of much broader scope than this specific incident.

It's the attitude, by the reflexive defenders of the AP now, and of journalists in analogous situations in the past, well-put by the President in Peter Benchley's Q Clearance:

"It's true, that's the important thing. Facts don't matter, 'slong as they support the truth."

Not that anyone asked, but I'm a scientist. We do research, and when we're certain of our results we publish them, so it's not altogether unrelated. Now, the mindset in which I was inculcated was this: If you make a claim, be prepared to show supporting evidence.

If, after publishing, you can no longer be sure of a reported result--and occasionally this happens to the best and most honest; some piece of evidence no longer holds up, let's say--you put out a retraction. You don't have to say the result was wrong, just that you can no longer be certain that it's correct.

You don't brazen it out. If your results were called into question by another researcher, you don't cite that researcher's pattern of hostility toward you, because even if true it's beside the point. You answer the damn question: Can you still prove your claim?

It doesn't matter whether it's just one minor point among many proven ones; it doesn't matter whether you turn out, later on, to have been correct. If you can't substantiate your results when challenged, then the results are useless, and why should anyone believe you ever again?

If you stand by them without proof, you are selling out your credibility. You are abandoning the mantle of professional, and mixing fiction into a product you're selling as nonfiction.

What's offensive to me is that some of the media's supposed defenders seem to think that's OK under the right circumstances. Whereas I, by holding them to a standard I'd fire any grad student of mine for abrogating, am presumptively out to get them.

[Sorry, Jason. End of rant.]
"this greatly calls into question their trustworthiness"

I would say, that's a healthy attitude to have towards any news you read. I can't tell you with any certainty what went down that day, there are ambiguities, no doubt.

Somehow I don't thing the controlled experiment of the scientific method applies to Iraq.

All I can say is that I have seen further reporting from that area that would lead me too not disbelieve that it could have happen.

"Somehow I don't thing the controlled experiment of the scientific method applies to Iraq."

Fair enough, but I'm not talking about controlled experiments, I'm talking about being able to back up claims such that a disinterested observer would believe them, and I'm talking about having the integrity to admit it whenever they can no longer do so.

Some in the media, feeling beleagured, can't seem to get that they'd be strengthened, not weakened, by doing so.
Ok, I'm not a journalist or a scientist. I'm just a techie.

But if I run 61 primary data processing operations (which is, I believe the number of AP articles 'sourced' to the specified "Jamil Hussein"), and all the sudden, I find that I can't validate the accuracy of the process used, then literally all of those 61 processes are of questionable validity, and if you've in my shoes & have half a brain, you're busy sweating blood working to create an alternate method to verify those results, one way or the other. Even if it's bad news, our clients have got to know ASAP, because they've made decisions based on that data.

That's the way it works in the real world. And either the Associated Press output (articles, in this case) isn't "real world", or they better get with it ASAP.

A point that Mr. Eric Boehlert seems to miss is that bloggers come to this with their own real world experiences in the marketplace, and at least in my case (and I'm assuming that I'm not unique), is that we are responsible for the business/marketplace product we put out there with our jobs, and when there are questions and/or concerns, well, we better get answers and/or deal with the problems. That's what exists for us. Why should the rules be different for the Associated Press?

To me, this Associated Press situation with what looks to be the extensive use of an unverifiable source is no different that the backdating of stock options by corporations, or any other type of issue where an unverifiable source is being relied upon.
"Honestly, is there any irony sharper than members of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists, blogging comfortably from their air-conditioned stateside offices..."

...Cough!...Bill Roggio!...Cough!
There may be a break in the case, a claim that the cop in question has been found. I would rather they had found the reporter, but maybe we may get more information.

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