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Burning Six update: The AP responds (to USA Today);

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By thisistwitchy  •  November 28, 2006 04:58 PM

***scroll for updates…(fyi, my gmail is still down. if you are trying to reach me, use this temporary address: malkinblog-at-yahoo.com)…see below for AP tinfoil hat editorializing…plus, read Mary Katharine Ham’s very useful reconstruction of how the AP story moved and evolved on the wires…***

***940pm Eastern update. This is really dishonest. Yahoo! is now featuring AP’s newly embellished account of the Burning Six update with a photo of bodies:

yahoocap.jpg

Are those bodies the bodies of the dead, burned Sunnis? No. If you bother to click through, this is the caption on the photo of dead Shia:

Iraqis burry (sic) one of Sadr City’s bombings’ victims, at a cemetery in the holy city of Najaf, central Iraq. Dozens were feared dead in Iraq as militias launched apparent revenge attacks on Sunni mosques in Baghdad in the wake of the deadliest string of bombings against a Shiite neighborhood since the war began in 2003.(AFP/Qassem Zein)

Really. Something. Else.

***

My e-mail box is acting up, so I don’t know if the AP has sent me anything, but USA Today is now reporting that the AP is standing by its story of the burning six Sunnis:

The Associated Press is standing by its report that six Sunni men were burned to death in Baghdad Friday by Shiites, even though U.S. military officials have accused the wire service of relying on a source who “is not who he claimed he was,” an Iraqi police captain.

Military officials also say they cannot confirm that the incident took place and have asked AP to retract or correct the story, which was repeated by media around the world and cited as a grim example of Shiites taking revenge for a deadly bombing that killed more than 200 people a day before.

“The attempt to question the existence of the known police officer who spoke to the AP is frankly ludicrous and hints at a certain level of desperation to dispute or suppress the facts of the incident in question,” AP International Editor John Daniszewski said in a statement e-mailed to On Deadline this afternoon.

He added that “we have conducted a thorough review of the sourcing and reporting involved and plan to move a more detailed report about the entire incident soon, with greater detail provided by multiple eye witnesses.”

“The police captain cited in our story has long been known to the AP reporters,” Daniszewski wrote.

“The AP stands by its story.”

But a U.S. military spokesman has told the AP in a letter that “neither we nor Baghdad Police had any reports of such an incident … and could find no one to corroborate the story.”

“Unless you have a credible source to corroborate the story of the people being burned alive, we respectfully request that AP issue a retraction, or a correction at a minimum,” Navy Lt. Michael Dean, the spokesman, wrote to the AP on Monday.

Here’s AP’s statement posted by USA Today’s Mark Memmott:

Daniszewski’s statement today:

The Associated Press denounces unfounded attacks on its story about six Sunni worshipers burned to death outside their mosque on Friday, November 24. The attempt to question the existence of the known police officer who spoke to the AP is frankly ludicrous and hints at a certain level of desperation to dispute or suppress the facts of the incident in question.

AP reporters who have been working in Iraq throughout the conflict learned of the mosque incident through witnesses and neighborhood residents and corroborated it with a named police spokesmen and also through hospital and morgue workers.

We have conducted a thorough review of the sourcing and reporting involved and plan to move a more detailed report about the entire incident soon, with greater detail provided by multiple eye witnesses. Several of those witnesses spoke to AP on the condition that their names would not be used because they fear reprisals.

The police captain cited in our story has long been known to the AP reporters and has been interviewed in his office and by telephone on several occasions during the past two years.

He is an officer at the police station in Yarmouk, with a record of reliability and truthfulness. His full name is Jamil Gholaiem Hussein.

The AP stands by its story.

Stay tuned…

Brian Montopoli at the CBS News blog weighs in:

The press has an incentive to report on the sensational, which is why a reporter might put some degree of trust in a dubious source. But it also needs to maintain its credibility, and it’s not in the AP’s interest to run stories it does not believe to be true. News organizations do sometimes get this stuff wrong, and they should be held to account when they do. But most of the time they get it right, which is no small feat when covering a war. It’s important, when looking at a situation like this, to take a step back and try to look objectively at all the facts, even the ones that don’t fit our preconceived notions. The blogs deserve credit for raising this issue. Now it’s time to get to the bottom of it.

Update: This is getting interesting. Posted at 4:52pm Eastern at USA Today…

Witnesses detail immolation attack on six Sunnis in Baghdad last week

By Steven R. Hurst, Associated Press
BAGHDAD — The attack on the small Mustafa Sunni mosque began as worshippers were finishing Friday midday prayers. About 50 unarmed men, many in black uniforms and some wearing ski masks, walked through the district chanting “We are the Mahdi Army, shield of the Shiites.”

Fifteen minutes later, two white pickups, a black BMW and a black Opel drove up to the marchers. The suspected Shiite militiamen took automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers from the vehicles. They then blasted open the front of the mosque, dragged six worshippers outside, doused them with kerosene and set them on fire.

This account of one of the most horrific alleged attacks of Iraq’s sectarian war emerged Tuesday in separate interviews with residents of a Sunni enclave in the largely Shiite Hurriyah district of Baghdad.

The Associated Press first reported on Friday’s incident that evening, based on the account of police Capt. Jamil Hussein and Imad al-Hashimi, a Sunni elder in Hurriyah, who told Al-Arabiya television he saw people who were soaked in kerosene, then set afire, burning before his eyes.

AP Television News also took video of the Mustafa mosque showing a large portion of the front wall around the door blown away. The interior of the mosque appeared to be badly damaged and there were signs of fire.

However, the U.S. military said in a letter to the AP late Monday, three days after the incident, that it had checked with the Iraqi Interior Ministry and was told that no one by the name of Jamil Hussein works for the ministry or as a Baghdad police officer. Lt. Michael B. Dean, a public affairs officer of the U.S. Navy Multi-National Corps-Iraq Joint Operations Center, signed the letter, a text of which was published subsequently on several Internet blogs. The letter also reiterated an earlier statement from the U.S. military that it had been unable to confirm the report of immolation…

…The U.S. military said that neither police nor coalition forces had reports of such an incident.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry later said that al-Hashimi, the Sunni elder in Hurriyah, had recanted his account of the attack after being visited by a representative of the defense minister…

…Seeking further information about Friday’s attack, an AP reporter contacted Hussein for a third time about the incident to confirm there was no error. The captain has been a regular source of police information for two years and had been visited by the AP reporter in his office at the police station on several occasions. The captain, who gave his full name as Jamil Gholaiem Hussein, said six people were indeed set on fire.

On Tuesday, two AP reporters also went back to the Hurriyah neighborhood around the Mustafa mosque and found three witnesses who independently gave accounts of the attack. Others in the neighborhood said they were afraid to talk about what happened.

Those who would talk said the assault began about 2:15 p.m., and they believed the attackers were from the Mahdi Army militia loyal to radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He and the Shiite militia are deeply rooted in and control the Sadr City enclave in northeastern Baghdad where suspected Sunni insurgents attacked with a series of car bombs and mortar shells, killing at least 215 people a day before.

The witnesses refused to allow the use of their names because they feared retribution either from the original attackers or the police, whose ranks are infiltrated by Mahdi Army members or its associated death squads.

Two of the witnesses — a 45-year-old bookshop owner and a 48-year-old neighborhood grocery owner — gave nearly identical accounts of what happened. A third, a physician, said he saw the attack on the mosque from his home, saw it burning and heard people in the streets screaming that people had been set on fire. All three men are Sunni Muslims…

Update: 5:55pm Eastern. My gmail is still flaky, but I was able to access it just now and still haven’t received anything from AP. It will be interesting to see if MNF-I will be able to interview Jamil Gholaiem Hussein and the other witnesses quoted by the AP.

Also interesting: AP’s attitude toward those trying to verify its sources. “Frankly ludicrous,” says Daniszewski.

Finally, notice no mention from AP of the long list of problematic Iraqi Police/Ministry of Interior spokesmen quoted by the AP and others that the military says it cannot verify as legitimate employees of the IP/MOI published at Flopping Aces:

* police Lt. Ali Abbas
* police Capt. Mohammed Abdel-Ghani.
* Police Brigadier Sarhat Abdul-Qadir
* Mosul police Director Gen. Wathiq al-Hamdani
* police Lt. Bilal Ali
* Ali al-Obaidi, a medic at Ramadi Hospital, police Maj. Firas Gaiti said.
* Police Captain Mohammed Ismail
* Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the Interior Ministry spokesman (a.k.a. Police Brigadier Abd al-Karim Khalaf, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Brig. Abdel-Karim Khalaf)
* Mohammed Khayon, a Baghdad police lieutenant
* police spokesman Mohammed Kheyoun. (a.k.a. Police Lieutenant Mohammed Khayoun)
* Lt. Thaer Mahmoud, head of a police section responsible for releasing daily death tolls
* police Lt. Bilal Ali Majid said
* police Lt. Ali Muhsin.
* police 1st. Lt. Mutaz Salahhidine. (a.k.a. Lieutenant Mutaz Salaheddin)
* Col. Abbas Mohammed Salman policeman Haider Satar

9:25pm Eastern update: I put the kids to bed and gave the AP’s new account of the Burning Six incident a closer read and a few very odd paragraphs stuck out that I hadn’t highlighted in the above excerpt. Look:

The AP received no comment Friday when it first asked the U.S. military for information. It then carried portions of a U.S. military statement Saturday that said the U.S. had been unable to confirm media reports that six Sunni civilians were allegedly dragged out of Friday prayers and burned to death. The U.S. military said that neither police nor coalition forces had reports of such an incident.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry later said that al-Hashimi, the Sunni elder in Hurriyah, had recanted his account of the attack after being visited by a representative of the defense minister.

The dispute comes at a time when the military is taking a more active role in dealing with the media.

The AP reported on Sept. 26 that a Washington-based firm, the Lincoln Group, had won a two-year contract to monitor reporting on the Iraq conflict in English-language and Arabic media outlets.

That contract succeeded one held by another Washington firm, The Rendon Group. Controversy had arisen around the Lincoln Group in 2005 when it was disclosed that it was part of a U.S. military operation to pay Iraqi newspapers to run positive stories about U.S. military activities.

What the hell does this have to do with anything? Are they insinuating that independent blogs have been in touch with this Lincoln Group thing? What is the proof of that? Are they insinuating that Curt at Flopping Aces (and all the bloggers that followed up) didn’t independently come up with questions about the AP’s Burning Six Sunnis report and other reports using sources called into question by the military?

If AP isn’t making such insinuations, why was the reference included in the story?

***

John Hinderaker:

I have infinitely more faith in the U.S. military than in the Associated Press, but that doesn’t mean the military is always right or the AP always wrong. It seems that the AP believes it is in a strong position. I’m tempted to say that one institution or the other must emerge from this affair with its credibility damaged. But perhaps it’s just as likely that the facts will remain unresolved, lost in what sometimes seems like an epistemological fog. Or maybe it’s just a fog of bad reporting.

***

Previous:

Real news vs. fake news in Iraq
The media fog of war
The Associated (with terrorists) Press strikes again
Bilal Hussein’s congresswoman
AP runs to the Washington Post
AP stands for Advocacy Press
AP vs. the “so-called blogosphere”
Associated Press and the Bilal Hussein case
Where is Bilal Hussein?

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