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Big Lizards: Jamil, We Hardly Knew Ye

By mmguestblogger  •  January 12, 2007 09:30 PM

Under no circumstances should anybody even imagine, even for a nanosecond entertain the notion, that this post is by our dearest Michelle (who is either in Iraq or in next-door Okinawa, as I understand it, but I’ve never been either place, so what do I know?) Rather, this post is by Dafydd of Big Lizards fame (or infamy)… and don’t you ever forget it.


Patterico says he “just doesn’t get it,” referring to AP’s ever taller tale of Jamil Hussein Ghdaab Gulaim Ghdaab Redacted.

Specifically, he objects to the conclusion that AP knew “Jamil Hussein” was a pseudonym:

UPDATE: Let me make clear what I’m confused about. Everyone is running around screeching that the AP knowingly used a pseudonym.

What is the proof?

The problem is that Patterico — being a first-rate trial lawyer (prosecutor) — tends to think like a lawyer… which is extremely useful in his chosen profession (and is probably one reason why he chose that profession in the first place), but which can lead to unnecessary demands. Specifically, I believe Patterico is waiting for actual evidence — some AP reporter testifying that they knew it was a nom de guerre — that will never materialize, for obvious reasons. In this case, we can get farther by just being logical about the question.

What are the possible cases?

  1. There really is a Police Captain Jamil Hussein — under that name — working at the Khadra police station in Iraq, and he was AP’s source, just as they claimed;
  2. There is a human working at the Khadra station who was AP’s source, but his name is not Jamil Hussein, and he may or may not be a police captain;
  3. Or else AP had no source at all at Khadra, and who cares whether someone named Jamil incidentally works at there?

I think that even if Eric Boehlert himself read this post, carefully sounding each word out, he would have to agree this covers all bases: either AP has a source at Khadra or not; and if they did, either he was named Jamil Hussein or not. So let’s go through them. Under which of these circumstances is AP acting honorably?

Let’s take the easiest cases first:

Case 1: Jamil Hussein (under that name) works at Khadra and was AP’s source

This would be the best-case scenario for AP (and for Eric Boehlert and others of his ilk). Alas for them, it seems very unlikely at this point: so far, the only news agency which has reported that Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said that “Police Captain Jamil Hussein” worked at Khadra police station — thus ever so slightly vindicating AP — was (drum roll) AP itself!

This is like shooting craps in the street: the dice roll down the gutter-drain; so you climb down to check, and you announce from the sewer than you made your point and won all the money.

Even if true, as Patterico himself has pointed out a number of times, this still would not be evidence either for AP’s “burning Sunnis” claim or its “burning mosques” claim. But so far, AP cannot even surmount the “existence” hurdle… other than by shouting up from the sewer that they made their point.

Case 3: The AP simply had no source at all at Khadra

We already covered this possibility (puckishly) over at Big Lizards, in our post Solvalogging: Jamil Hussein… Baghdad’s Own Lieutenant Kijé. Visit, read, return (wash, rinse, repeat).

For the elite media to make up sources out of whole cloth is not common, but it’s not unheard of either.

Now we get to the more interesting case…

Finally, case 2: AP has a source at Khadra, but his name is not Jamil Hussein

This is the case that Patterico implicitly assumes to be the only plausible alternative to case 1 (though I still haven’t entirely given up on the “Lieutenant Kijé” scenario!) There are two possible “subcases” here, which is the llama on whose horns Patterico sticks:

  1. Steven Hurst and his editors at AP were aware that their source’s name was not Jamil Hussein

If this is the case, then AP was complicit in passing along a false name to the Ministry of the Interior, causing them to erroneously (in this scenario) report that the source did not work at the Khadra police station. At the very least, this is devious practice.

Did AP just forget that “Jamil Hussein” was actually “Mohammed Achmed al-Fruitbat?” Was the purpose to make the MOI look foolish, forcing them to make a statement then correct it later? Or did they not give the real name because there is a problem with the source, and they didn’t want anyone looking too carefully?

If the reason for the pseudonym was entirely honorable — Hurst worried about death threats against the man — then why not simply say “said a souce who would only speak on condition that we not name him, due to fear of reprisals”? That would have been honest. Thus, I think we can rule out this honorable reason; and all remaining reasons are disreputable and dishonorable.

  1. Steven Hurst and his editors at AP were completely unaware that their source had given them a nom de guerre

If anything, this is even worse for AP than sub-scenario (a) above. If Hurst and his editors were blissfully unaware that their source was giving them a false name — then that can only mean they did not even make a minimalist check on his veracity… not even so much as verifying his identity!

What does this mean? Basically, that anyone can call up an AP reporter in Iraq, claim to be a police captain with a story to tell… and that story — propaganda — will wind up in an AP war dispatch without the slightest checking. Rumor central — and a lovely example of the big-box media’s “multiple layers of editing” in action.

And of course, if they couldn’t even bother to verify “Jamil Hussein’s” name, why trouble to verify any other piece of the 62 stories he told them? The source could have said that Dick Cheney personally few to Baghdad and shot some kids, just for fun… and AP would have run with it that evening.

Bottom line

Thus, of all the possibilities, the only one that means AP acted honorably, responsibly, and professionally is case 1, where there really, really is a police captain, stationed at Khadra and actually named Jamil Hussein, and that this fellow was actually a source for the Associated Press.

Under any other scenario — a source for AP at Khadra but who isn’t named Jamil Hussein, or even no source whatsoever — AP has acted despicably, dishonorably, and has forfeited whatever shreds of trust remained in news consumers after 87,339 Iraq horror stories that turned out to be complete fabrications… and it doesn’t make a lick of difference whether they knew he wasn’t named Jamil Hussein but taunted us with the name anyway, or whether they were so incompetent (or venal) that they deliberately did not even inquire into the matter.

So far, AP has been completely unable to demonstrate that case 1 is true; the closest they have come is to assert, themselves, that the MOI verified it — only to see that assertion itself disputed.

What’s not to understand?

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