News: Good, Bad, And Fake

I’ve got to do a longer response to John Quiggin’s post tagging us as the “last holdout of good news” on Iraq, and belittling the discussion of Beauchamp’s articles in TNR. But I’ve got no time so I want to get something up quickly.

John says:

For the wingers, this is a continuous pattern. Before this, there was a flap about a report that failures by contractors were resulting in troops in the field not getting adequate food. Before that, it was the Jamil Hussein case, a months-long brawl with AP arising from a report by a stringer about attacks on mosques. Before that, it was reports from Lebanon of ambulances being hit by Israeli fire. And so on.[fn1] There’s too much of this to try and give comprehensive coverage, and I’m not interested in debating the details, but a search on Instapundit will usually get you started.

Well, yeah. Jamil Hussein turned out to be a cop stationed very far from the incidents he reported – the biggest of which (mosque attacks) was kinda disproved; The ambulances were pretty clearly not hit by Israeli fire; and the media management by Hezbollah was shown pretty clearly to be stage-managed, if not Photoshopped…so yeah, there have been some “issues” with the “truthiness” of the media reports. And yeah, our side does kind of sound like whiners because we always are complaining about it and pointing it out. But that’s the nature of criticism, isn’t it?

Internally, we stopped doing Good News not for macro reasons – because we no longer believe things are better than reported (although not nearly as good as we’d hope) in Iraq – but for micro reasons; Joe has stepped back from actively managing the blog and recruiting contributors (note that we no longer do Sufi Wisdom, either), and I’m working my butt off at work, leading a complicated grown-up life, and trying to start a PAC, among other things. But John’s right – this is something that’s worth some emphasis.

And it’s worth it because we’re in a fun-house mirror world in which we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq because (among other reasons) we don’t have the resources or commitment to stick it out; we don’t have the resources or commitment to stick it out because it seems so damn difficult and the outcomes seem so negative; and it seems so difficult and the outcomes so negative because – I’ll claim, and others who have first-hand experience claim – the reporting on and thus public perception of the war has been so filtered by the ‘chattering classes’ that we have a distorted view of the intensity and prevalence of the horrible things that are truly happening there.

So that lens matters, and when major idea-planting media outlets, like the Nation and The New Republic run stories that spin madly to show the moral rot of our troops – caused by the moral rot of the war – I don’t see an effort to report the truth, I see an effort to shape public opinion. And I am happy to see what I can do to counter that shaping.

But we need to get Good News started again, and I’d love to find someone who’s willing to dig through the news and put something up every other week. Because if you talk to folks on the ground over there, there is some good news.

Oh, wait – even the NYT is starting to notice.

49 thoughts on “News: Good, Bad, And Fake”

  1. _”Oh, wait – even the NYT is starting to notice.”_

    More than notice, Michale O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack are serious policy wonks from the Brookings Institute- ie, not natural friends of the Bush administration:

    _”As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.”_

    Its tough to dismiss this analysis as rose colored glass hyperoptimism.

    Reports coming back from Iraq across the board seem to be positive on the surge. The political end is much drearier, and once again we can blame a disconnect between our (remarkably successful) work by the military and (generally god awful) work by the civilian liasons with the Iraqi government. This has been an amazing stupid way to run an occupation- even one bad Bremer is better in principle than splitting the responsibility in two.

    I’d be curious to see what Patreous could do if he was handed total authority in dealing with Iraq, and hence took the reigns in getting some progress out of the Iraqi government. There just seems to be this Alice in Wonderland element to the Green Zone dwellers (US and Iraqi). I think the infusion of people who are out walking Haifa Street and Ramadi instill a little reality. Patraeous could paint a very good picture of what these parlimentarians (assumedly short) lives could look like without the protection of the Green Zone around them. That kind of sly diplomacy is certainly more effective than the state department soothing that gets tossed back and accused of being American manipulation.

  2. John Quiggin’s essay can certainly be read and appreciated, but I’m not sure it can be engaged. The man’s quite angry, and prone to gratuitous and repeated insults. Most (though not all) of Crooked Timber’s commenters follow those leads.

    Here’s Quiggin explaining why people to his right have criticized “Shock Troops”:

    bq. The Beauchamp case fits the general pattern pretty well. First, the wingers claimed that the Diary was a fabrication and that “Scott Thomas” was the creation of a writer who’d never been near Iraq. Then, when it became evident he was a real person, they rolled out the slime machine to discredit him. Then they engaged in amateur forensics to discredit particular items in his account (acres of screen space have been devoted to the question of whether the driver of a Bradley fighting vehicle can run over a dog). Then they got to the central point – true or false, material like this is bad for the cause and shouldn’t be printed.

    bq. …As I said, I’m not interested in, and won’t debate, the details of these stories. The main question is: How anyone could imagine that this kind of exercise can have any value?

    The points that would be worth making in rebuttal are all quite obvious by this point. Most have been said in C.T.’s comments (e.g. 5, 6, 12, 13, 38, 39, 43, 46), often to scornful response.

    Political commentary as an exercise in the power and psychology issues that the critic brings to the table. Aside from a few commenters, I don’t see much interest in the merits of competing claims of factuality or truthfulness, as they concern the pieces that Beauchamp published in TNR.

  3. Quiggin is invincibly ignorant on this issue, and citing Jamil Hussein as an example of good reporting smeared by evil wingers shows how clueless he is.

    Jesus Christ could wade all the way out into the fever swamps and play the William Tell Overture on Quiggin’s head with a clue stick, and it would do no good at all. Narrative is a complete substitute for intelligence.

  4. ‘ll claim, and others who have first-hand experience claim – the reporting on and thus public perception of the war has been so filtered by the ‘chattering classes’ that we have a distorted view of the intensity and prevalence of the horrible things that are truly happening there.

    And I will claim that the public perception of the war is based upon the acknowledged facts that the people who are prosecuting the war feel that, 4 years down the road, it is necessary to INCREASE the number of combat troops in order to provide suffiient security so that Iraqi politicians have “enough breathing room” to find a political solution to the situation.

    However the media may portray the war, it is the military’s portrayal–based upon a request for more troops to quell violence–that determines most people’s opinions about the war.

    Surely, the media portray must bear some semblence of reality or else the US wouldn’t have felt the need to surge.

  5. AL,

    I’m just curious about that last line. The New York Times has called for withdrawal from Iraq. The article is by O’Hanlon and Pollack whom, as far as I know, are not associated with the New York Times.

    And before we get all warm and fuzzy about their Op Ed claiming things are getting so much better in Iraq, shouldn’t we, you know, question their claims sort of like we spend days questioning the claims of some anonymous soldier on TNR?

    There’s a relatively easy way to do so, coincidentally (and hysterically) provided by O’Hanlon himself.

    He’s the principle author of Brookings Iraq Index the latest of which was released a mear 4 days ago.

    In the article the authors claim “civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began”.

    Care to square that claim with the data O’Hanlon offered a mear 4 days ago? (Hint, see page 13 of the Index).

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for skepticism of the press. If we’d had more of it in 2002/03, we might not be in this mess.

    But to assume the “facts” offered in this Op Ed are indeed facts, even when it’s incredibly easy to determine this seems a bit odd to me.

    Especially considering skepticism of Beachamp who’s claims, unlike O’Hanlon’s, are totally irrelevant to the overall picture of Iraq.

  6. _”And before we get all warm and fuzzy about their Op Ed claiming things are getting so much better in Iraq, shouldn’t we, you know, question their claims sort of like we spend days questioning the claims of some anonymous soldier on TNR?”_

    Absolutely! And with these two, it is entirely possible to do that because they have names and faces and a track record. it the anonymous source that you have to be careful with. Anything nonverifiable is to be treated with extreme caution.

  7. This al-Jazeera “article”:http://www.iraqupdates.com/p_articles.php/article/20078 may be referring to the same statistics that O’Hanlon and Pollack were citing:

    bq. Six weeks after the deployment of 28,000 additional troops was complete, the US military says it has seen a dramatic drop in US troop deaths in July and the death rate for Iraqi civilians is also down.

    bq. [snip]

    bq. Overall violence is also down, with the Iraqi police saying the number of civilian deaths decreased by 36 per cent, from an estimated high of 1,900 in May to 1,342 in June.

    (The raw civilian death numbers are much lower than the numbers in the Brookings report.)

  8. My occasional foray, once more into the breach.

    At any rate, the perception from this corner:

    a. The point of Quiggin’s article is that this STRING of making mountains out of molehills that the authoritarians and neo-cons have, regarding the media and Iraq, have a typical track.

    a. Some negative story on Iraq catches the ire of the Iraq war supports.
    b. Wild accusations ensue – does Jamil Hussein actually exist? Is “Scot Thomas” even in the Army?
    c. The initial wild accusations prove false – and then the accusers start up with some other “proof” that the media is reporting badly. “Hussein was stationed far from the scene”, etc.

    So ONE small segment of a story, ends up being a bit off, or, perhaps not off at all. (Not getting into the weeds, because that again, is a distraction.(

    But again – mountain out of a molehill, not at all proving the “media badly reporting Iraq”.

    d. At the same time, the pro-occupation bloggers, of course, purposely avoid huge stories – such as the total lack of political progress – that are much more important, and which tell the reality on the ground. (For example, celebrating the iraqi win in soccer today, while ignoring the fact that the main athlete thinks the US should get out “today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow”.

    e. And of course, the FURY of the pro-occupation bloggers, posting and reposting on these stories which essentially have fairly trivial “mis-reporting”, while PERHAPS mentioning in passing, once, the endless and endless mis-statements of the Bush administration – Gonzales, or ideological apparatchiks withholding surgeon general reports, or the politicization of Justice, are also similar, and purposeful distortions – (like what supposedy the fury of the pro-occupation bloggers are against, in terms of the media’s reporting distortions in Iraq).

    See SLAVERY (or forced workers) regarding building the U.S. embassy? Crickets.

    But that’s okay, right?

    “And it’s worth it because we’re in a fun-house mirror world in which we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq because (among other reasons) we don’t have the resources or commitment to stick it out; we don’t have the resources or commitment to stick it out because it seems so damn difficult and the outcomes seem so negative; and it seems so difficult and the outcomes so negative because – I’ll claim, and others who have first-hand experience claim – the reporting on and thus public perception of the war has been so filtered by the ‘chattering classes’ that we have a distorted view of the intensity and prevalence of the horrible things that are truly happening there.”

    I like how you slip in there “among other reasons”. Gets you out of quite the jam. “among other reasons”, could be, you don’t invade a country that isn’t invading you (as an example). You don’t spend 1 trillion dollars, getting pulled into the briar patch, and handing Al Queda a huge gift, in terms of recruiting jihadists. You don’t mislead the country with “WMD’s”, when clearly WMD’s were not a causus belli – yet you pretend hey are.

    You don’t get your soldiers into a position, where they are forced to go back 4, 5 times, and can’t get out of the service, when they’ve put in their time.

    And morally, having put in their time, can you really say that a soldier “should” stay in, when doing their time? At that point, a civilian should be as on the hook to going to Iraq, as any soldier whose time and contract has been honorably fulfilled by the soldier.

    (there actually is a youtube question on this. for youtube debate. A current soldier on stop-loss asks why, since his contract is up, why he, as opposed to any other citizen, should be more on the hook for going to Iraq, as any other citizen. He asks, “is that fair?”)

    the thing is though, the last thing we get from the pro-occupation forces is engaging these questions.

  9. #4 from mark: “Surely, the media portray must bear some semblence of reality or else the US wouldn’t have felt the need to surge.”

    That doesn’t follow. The mainstream media’s narrative on Iraq could be politically correct lies from start to finish, and the reality could be much better, about as bad in completely different ways, or worse, because the things that make our situation so bad don’t fit into a narrative of American aggression and Iraqi victim-hood.

  10. Let’s take the Jamil Hussein case as an example. It started with a report of four mosques being burned, where the military said they only knew of one. After months of dispute what was established?
    (1) AP and everybody else uses Iraqi stringers, because most places in Iraq are too dangerous for non-Iraqi reporters
    (2) The stringers rely heavily on second-hand reports/rumours because following standard newsgathering procedures (for example, going to the site and interviewing witnesses) are too dangerous to follow
    (3) Definitively confirming or refuting any individual report is virtually impossible, for the same reasons as in (1) and (2).

    At the end of all this, AP stood by their original reports, the bloggers stood by theirs. The sole factual point resolved (the existence of the stringer) went to AP. In the meantime, so many mosques had been destroyed (not to mention thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of Coalition troops killed and wounded) as to make the original dispute over whether four or one were destroyed on one day utterly irrelevant.

  11. In the meantime, so many mosques had been destroyed (not to mention thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of Coalition troops killed and wounded) as to make the original dispute over whether four or one were destroyed on one day utterly irrelevant.

    Ahhh…just like the Rather ANG memos–fake but “accurate.”

    So that’s OK…

  12. Mr. Quiggin said,

    bq. I’m not interested in, and won’t debate, the details of these stories. The main question is: How anyone could imagine that this kind of exercise can have any value?

    Followed by the points made in #13, above.

    Here are a few links that show why I think that such a summary of the Jamil Hussein story is partly correct (Quiggin’s points 1 and 2), partly incomplete or misleading (“virtually impossible” in point 3; that “the sole factual point resolved went to AP”).

    Wingnut (a favorite term) “Patterico”:http://patterico.com/2007/01/05/kaus-sums-it-up/ offers a quick lookback on 1/5/07, near the end of the controversy.

    Wingnut (an oft-repeated description) “Cassandra”:http://www.villainouscompany.com/vcblog/archives/2007/01/missing_the_poi.html gives a recap from the same date, and suggests:

    bq. Why does this matter? Simple. Because there have been a string of stories lately in the media regarding suspicious or anonymous sources who proved to have dubious loyalties, or even to have provided information that was deliberately false and which was not carefully checked by media management before it went to print. The accuracy and unbiased nature of the news we are reading has been questioned, and yet when quite legitimate questions are raised regarding news stories, the media, rather than investigating and issuing retractions where warranted, stonewall, lie, and accuse their questioners of having an “agenda”.

    Wingnut (perhaps tiresome about here) Curt with “a detailed 1/15/07 summary”:http://www.floppingaces.net/2007/01/13/the-latest-greatest-on-jamil-h/#more as he sees it.

    So there may be issues worth exploring in the Beauchamp/TNR case similar to those aired in the Hussein/AP matter.

    * How factual are the specific incidents being presented in print?

    * What is the level of editorial due diligence, and is it correctly understood by readers?

    * If/when a media institution makes a mistake, does it issue a correction, or is it unwilling/unable to do so?

    Revisiting the Jamil Hussein story also brings to mind this quote from Mark Moyar “(via TigerHawk)”:http://tigerhawk.blogspot.com/2007/02/note-on-subversion-of-press-in-war.html

    bq. Halberstam and Sheehan relied heavily on information from Pham Xuan An; Halberstam considered An to be their best source on the South Vietnamese officer corps because of his supposed contacts among the officers. The newsmen’s reliance on Pham Xuan An goes a long way toward explaining why the press kept reporting dissatisfaction among the officers in 1963 that did not actually exist.

  13. More generally, they don’t pay me enough to comment or blog in the style that Mr. Quiggin prefers at Crooked Timber.

    I try to limit my remarks to things I think other readers might find interesting. With time scarcity, that usually means trying to offer links or insights on smaller matters. Has the punditry scarcity gotten so severe that all of us must do-our-duty and step into the breach, declaiming on every Issue of the Day?

    The implicit (or not so implicit) tone of “only a Knave or a Fool would disagree with me” and “I already know what you angry extremist dissembling wingnut Rovebots are really thinking” isn’t as much of an inspiration to dialog as it might first appear.

    Maybe some day I’ll write an essay on why I was so wrong about the war in 2003 in agreeing with people like Kenneth Pollack. (Trusting an incompetent ideologue visionary like Bush was part of the problem, but hardly all of it.) Maybe I’ll write another essay on what I can dimly grasp as the way forward. If I can make them incisive enough to be worthwhile for others to read. In the meantime, what Mr. Quiggin and his pals have to say means less to me than they might wish. Or perhaps it’s less about effect than a matter of self-expression among friends. Either way.

  14. _”In the meantime, so many mosques had been destroyed (not to mention thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of Coalition troops killed and wounded) as to make the original dispute over whether four or one were destroyed on one day utterly irrelevant.”_

    Please cite. Which mosques have been destroyed where. US forces have iron clad rules of engagement that they are not to in any way interfere with a mosque unless they are being actively fire upon from one.

  15. Dave Blue,

    “The mainstream media’s narrative on Iraq could be politically correct lies from start to finish, and the reality could be much better, about as bad in completely different ways, or worse, because the things that make our situation so bad don’t fit into a narrative of American aggression and Iraqi victim-hood.”

    Yeah, sure. Could be. Could be I dreamed the whole thing, too. But there’s not much evidence in support of any possibility but one. The complaint is that the MSM focuses on the violence, creating a false picture of Iraq, and thus the support for the war goes down. There’s an insinuation that this portrayal is not only false but deliberately so, IN ORDER to shape public opinion on the war. This set of beliefs requires an initial belief that the US public are a bunch of unthinking, gulible sheep, all to willing to be led by nose by an anti-war media.

    I am arguing that the public’s increasingly negative perception of the war is based upon prolonged US involvement. And that the MSM’s reporting of violence is in line with US miltarty & US policy-makers assessment, which is that the amount of violence in Iraq is so great that it is prevent political reconcilliation and that the first priority—-4+ years after the downfall of the regime—is to use an increase in US combat troops to reduce the violence. To me, this argues that the media portrayal is in line with that of policy-makers. It also argues to me that public perception is driven by reality not a false narrative.

  16. bq. In the meantime, so many mosques had been destroyed (not to mention thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of Coalition troops killed and wounded) as to make the original dispute over whether four or one were destroyed on one day utterly irrelevant.

    _Ahhh…just like the Rather ANG memos–fake but “accurate.”_

    Let’s see. It’s too dangerous for foreign journalists to check stories themselves so they rely on iraqi stringers. It’s too dangerous for iraqi stringers to check stories themselves so they rely on rumors. Nobody can establish whether it was 1 mosque destroyed that day or 4 because nobody can check. The military *could* check things like that but it isn’t their job. They might occasionally dispute things out of ignorance — “We didn’t get reports of four mosques destroyed today, only one” which might mean the reliable reports by our own military haven’t been fully collated yet, or the unreliable reports from the iraqi military haven’t filtered to us yet, or maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe the rumors were confused and got the wrong names on the mosques, maybe it was one mosque with four names or maybe it was 6 mosques with the wrong four names.

    The take-home lesson from this is that things in iraq are so bad that we can’t tell how bad they are. Things are so bad that all our information is fundamentally unreliable, except for the censored information about how well our troops think they’re doing.

    And so the reports from people like Michael Totten are worth extra weight. Americans who aren’t particularly censored, who say what they see. What I’ve gotten from Tottens latest reports are:

    1. The US military has taken up the security work that it mostly refused to do in 2003.

    2. In the places where we do security, we can keep most iraqis inside their houses at night, and we can disperse militia groups that try to maneuver at night. We can reduce the amount of vehicle traffic at night, which makes it harder for militias (and everybody else) to move supplies.

    3. In the places where we provide security we cannot keep people from being killed for talking to us. That is, we cannot provide security.

    4. There is a recent news report that since we don’t have enough troops to do enough security ourselves, and we don’t have enough reliable iraqi troops to do enough security, we are arming militias and local neighborhood-watch people to do their own security.

    The bottom line: Things in iraq are so bad we can’t get reliable information to find out how bad they are.

  17. Which begs the question- if an independant with a camera is getting more information than anybody else in the entire gigantic media empire, what is going on?

    Of course its dangerous to be in Iraq- but embedding with a military unit or in the green zone is no more dangerous than any other Hot Zone. Yet its rarely and sporadically happening.

    Was it dangerous to report from Vietnam? In WW2?

    I happen to think big journalism doesnt have much incentive to go looking for stories in Iraq. They seem to have a fine gentleman’s agreement that if they all just report the same warmed over crap nobody can tell they arent actually investigating anything.

  18. #18 from mark: “I am arguing that the public’s increasingly negative perception of the war is based upon prolonged US involvement.”

    If that’s all you’re arguing, we have little to argue about.

  19. Amac,

    It seems odd that O’Hanlon would ignore his own figures though.

    AL, I’m curious on when you have pegged the “start” of the surge.

  20. I think Davebo brings up a good point, which leads me to another thought. What metrics should we be conentrating on, and what is a realistic expectation?

    The problem with prognosticating is that we just dont know how and which tangible, quantifiable effects of the surge will ultimately affect the more nebulous goals thats are ultimately important- IE the Iraqis getting their act together militarilly and politically.

    Will, say, cutting civilians bombing and casualties by X percent lead to Y percent more IA and IP forces deploying effectively? Its certainly not going to be a linear function- but are we talking about a ‘critical mass’ scenario where suddenly a city or province just ‘gets it’?

    Even more difficult- how will any of this affect the political atmosphere. There could well be a negative correlation- ie the more secure Iraq becomes the less incentive the politicians have to cut deals. This vacation nonsense does not bode well.

    We have to ask whether any security and societal gains can ever be expected to hold (much less be self sufficient) without a political solution. Lebanon is a pretty good example, years of relative peace may only be disguising a very tenuous ceasefire. And how can we get to that solution in Iraq when the current crop of leaders seem entirely self-interested and uninterested in progressing?

    Personally i feel we need to grab the Iraqi Government by the proverbial ear, and leverage our insurance of their personal security if necessary. Heck, chain the doors of parliment shut if you have to. Will that make us look like manipulative occupiers? Yes. But i dont know that anything we do doesnt make us look like that, so we might as well get something out of it.

    Better yet I think we need to guarantee a new round of elections by years end. These guys seem to be motivated by their personal power or at best their cliques power- risking losing that by not producing for the Iraqi people may be effective.

  21. Mark, I like the idea of throwing the iraqi parliament out of the Green Zone.

    Ideally we’d tell them it’s their idea and let them announce it. They move out of the Green Zone and set up someplace else with all-iraqi security.

    It would give a big boost to their credibility in iraq, if they had their own security and weren’t under our guns.

    Also, if they survived any reasonable time they’d have lost one major incentive for not telling us to go away. When they’re in the Green Zone and it looks like they’ll die without us, it’s hard for them to declare us not welcome. But if they *do* survive without us then that reasoning doesn’t apply.

  22. Since the CT post was, after all, about Beauchamp, commenter Richard Aubrey weighed in on the subject with a novel point of view “#69)”:http://crookedtimber.org/2007/07/29/one-endless-rathergate/#comment-206011

    [Beauchamp]is a soldier trained on our latest gear. So he says things like a Brad can cut a dog in half. There’s room in the helmet for a body part. You might have to change a tire in a river of sewage.

    He knows better. The Brad can smash a dog, but not cut it in half… There is no room in a helmet for a body part. The tires are run-flat…

    He knows this. He could have made up stuff not easily refuted. Like the body part worn on the harness. Using a baited fishing line with a hook from the Brad to catch dogs. [sic — or “monkeys/”:http://www.slate.com/id/2159189/ ] An Iraqi woman with the mutilated face…

    But he didn’t. He wrote things which he could presume TNR would not notice were wrong, nor their readers. But, in the fashion of time bombs, could not fail to explode when out in the wider world.

    And they did not fail.

    The thing that intrigues me is that the guy didn’t have to do what he did. He deliberately chose to write about things which he knew were false, that anybody with a clue would know were false, but that would slide through TNR. Giving TNR a bad name.

    It is curious. Scott Thomas Beauchamp majored in Creative Writing before enlisting, so it seems safe to speculate that he knew what he was doing, when it came to writing. Along the same lines, why choose the pseudonym… Scott Thomas?

  23. I never liked the idea of the Green Zone to begin with- and i _hated_ the fact that we moved into all of Saddams old palaces within hours of arriving in Iraq. That was a public relations debacle that i still dont understand. Almost as bad as reopening Abu Ghraib under new ownership. Its so appallingly dumb i cant comprehend how no-one in the chain of command apparently held up their hand to mention it.

    I wouldnt even kick the Iraqis out, i’d just withdraw our forces to our huge new embassy and whatever firebases we need. Or at least that would be what i threatened to do. Moreover whereever these fellas are vacationing i’d make sure there were no US forces available for their protection. Though i suspect many if not most will be out of the country.

  24. I’ll tell ya what else is shocking about our pathetic diplomacy with the Iraqi government- we dont have a mouthpiece working inside the government. This is hardball. Now i’m not suggesting coopting or coercing anyone, but there must be some small faction that would be happy to get on the mic and say what we are thinking. Somebody that could use a little clout and maybe occasional photo ops (and enjoy US military protection obviously, its a dangerous job).

    There ought to be somebody screaming bloody murder about the suffering of the Iraqi people while their politicians vacation. Somebody besides us.

  25. _Beauchamp is a soldier trained on our latest gear. So he says things like a Brad can cut a dog in half. There’s room in the helmet for a body part. You might have to change a tire in a river of sewage._

    I haven’t read the original article, since I have no interest in subscribing to NR and I haven’t looked for a copyright-infringing copy online. So I was surprised when someone copied the passage about the graveyard, and it made no mention of the soldier with the skullplate on his head wearing a helmet. He talked like the bone was visible.

    Did it really say he was wearing a helmet? I could easily imagine that he wasn’t, and that all the critics assumed that no soldier in iraq would be stupid enough not to.

    If these guys were a mediocre unit put in a mostly-safe place — where they were out of the way but they might possibly do some good if things spill over to them — and they’d had no combat and no casualties, I can easily imagine one of them leaving his helmet off while digging in the heat. And if there wasn’t somebody on the spot who’d call him down for wearing human bones on his head, there wouldn’t be somebody who’d call him down for taking his helmet off either.

    Are there low-morale units in iraq? I’d expect so. There are a few everywhere else, right? And if there’s a unit with a bunch of guys nobody else wants, wouldn’t it make sense Beauchamp would be there?

    I still don’t see how you cut a dog in half with a Bradley, though. Or a Stryker. Or a HumV. Or a jeep. Maybe a great big one-horse sleigh? Is there any military vehicle that would cut a dead dog in half if the dog happened to be lying in front of it? I haven’t seen what Beauchamp said, but what people repeat doesn’t sound right for *anything*.

  26. JT – that was the problem that a lot of us had as soon as we read it – if we had any familiarity with the military or Iraq at all…it just didn’t “sound right for anything.”

    A.L.

  27. Quiggen:

    At the end of all this, AP stood by their original reports, the bloggers stood by theirs. The sole factual point resolved (the existence of the stringer) went to AP. In the meantime, so many mosques had been destroyed (not to mention thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of Coalition troops killed and wounded) as to make the original dispute over whether four or one were destroyed on one day utterly irrelevant.

    Well, the AP report did not say that X number of mosques had been destroyed – fill in your own number since the actual one is “utterly irrelevant”. The original AP report described a specific incident in which four mosques in Hurriyah was attacked and six people were burned to death in front of one of them. Later reports reduced the number of destroyed mosques from four to one (but who cares, right?):

    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 pickup trucks, 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.

    Now the AP video of this incident has never been produced, and the specific identification of the mosque as the Mustafa mosque was dropped from later AP reports, fudging the incident further. No other witnesses (AP claims there were others, but they’re afraid to talk) and the only named witness is not talking to anybody. In short, no one can substantiate whether this event happened at all.

    Now you’re ready to proclaim victory for the AP, on the basis that Jamil Hussein is a real person. That’s good enough for you. Obviously you are not a journalist, but neither are you qualified to lecture others on how to be a media critic.

    You left a few things out of your summary. Like the part where AP editor Kathleen Carroll called the people who were questioning the incident “rabble”. That’s the way your side has been playing the game.

  28. Glen, when you put it this way, the story is at least sort of testable.

    Iraq is too dangerous to send people on the ground to find out which stories are true. But you could look at satellite images of the Hurriyah district. If you can’t find four buildings that look like they could be mosques and are badly damaged, then the story is false.

    If you count the visibly-damaged buildings in Hurriyah and report how many there are, you’ve done something useful. This is data we can use. Better yet, also count the undamaged buildings. Maybe mark each, so next month you can do it again. If the number of undamaged buildings goes up, that’s a sign of progress. People in Hurriyah are building and rebuilding. If the number of undamaged buildings goes down, that’s a sign of failure. Things are getting blown up faster than they’re getting reconstructed.

    Since visible damage is somewhat subjective, you could post your markups and anybody who disagreed could do the work themselves and compare, provided they cared about the disagreement enough to do the work.

    I’ll be very interested to see your results.

  29. Interesting. On the one hand, the point that the general situation in Iraq is so terrible as to make disputes over minor points in a single story irrelevant is dismissed with “fake but accurate”.

    On the other hand, the point that this is a huge waste of effort if all you are concerned with is minor points a single news item is rejected because such items are indicative of a pervasive MSM bias.

  30. > Interesting

    Multiple people write in, thus different points of view. Not so odd, really: filter out the commenters crying “wingnut” (etc.) and you’ll see the same thing happening in the thread at Crooked Timber that A.L. referenced.

  31. J Thomas –

    “Michele Malkin and Bryan Preston went to Hurriyah”:http://www.nypost.com/seven/01212007/postopinion/opedcolumnists/destroyed___not_opedcolumnists_michelle_malkin.htm?page=0. None of the mosques are destroyed. The Mustafa mosque does not have the front blown off as the AP story describes.

    Note the very specific description in the AP story: “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.”

    An editor reading this ought to have asked exactly who saw this, especially if the editor had seen the AP television footage of the mosque – which no one else has seen. Captain Jamil Hussein of course could not have seen it, unless he was on hand with a contingent of Iraqi police who did nothing. As I said in the earlier thread, details are supposed to matter to journalists. Journalists are not supposed to assume that something happened just because it fits their perception of something that might happen, or resembles other things that are known to have happened.

    Journalists are also not supposed to assume that their readers will believe everything they write without question, even though there are many who are obviously determined to do exactly that.

  32. John, the issue of course is whether the situation is in fact “so terrible as to be unrecoverable” or is simply difficult and painful. If you assert one as an axiom, the answer is contained in the assumptions, isn’t it?

    In the absence of a quantifiable metric to use, we use subjective measures, and when we use those we have the right to look at the value of those subjective assessments.

    I did a post on this a while ago — on gang violence in Los Angeles — I think I’ll copy it and move it up here.

    A.L.

  33. And furthermore …

    Quiggen:

    First, the wingers claimed that the Diary was a fabrication and that “Scott Thomas” was the creation of a writer who’d never been near Iraq.

    This is not true, either. Greyhawk of the Mudville Gazette concluded early on that “Thomas” was a soldier stationed in Iraq. Ace of Spades and Hot Air concurred. “The Weekly Standard article by Michael Goldfarb”:http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/013/889yghpf.asp?pg=1 that got the ball rolling admitted the possibility that Thomas might be soldier, and even telling the truth, and asked bloggers to evaluate his claims. Which they have been doing, apace.

    That’s what’s been going on outside of the air-tight confines of the fabled “reality-based community”.

  34. _Michele Malkin and Bryan Preston went to Hurriyah._

    And you believe them. You *believe* them.

    Whyever would you believe anything they say, any more than the mass media?

    Sheesh.

    Look, the mass media are probably doing a very bad job. There’s no particular reason to believe anything they say, beyond things like face-to-face interviews. If they say that an iraqi official or a US military officer made some particular claim, then the person they interviewed probably made that claim.

    But then a couple of bloggers go to iraq with their minds already made up, airtight, and they get shown around, and they don’t know the territory. They would have no idea whawt they were looking at. They might as well stay home and look at pictures. They could, like, look at a picture of one side of the outside of a mosque and say “See, there’s no fire damage there” and skip the expense and hardship and waste of US military resources.

  35. J Thomas –

    I’m not going to call Michelle Malkin a liar just because you assume that she’s one, and AP could easily refute her by showing the film footage they claim to have taken of the mosque.

    Which, once again, they haven’t shown to anybody.

    Malkin speculated on her blog that Jamil Hussein might not be a real person. When it was established that he was, she acknowledged the fact on her blog and apologized. That makes the score Malkin 1, AP Absolute F–king Zero. Some people acknowledge mistakes and some people cover them with ad hominem attacks; guess which I’m more likely to believe?

  36. _Greyhawk of the Mudville Gazette concluded early on that “Thomas” was a soldier stationed in Iraq. Ace of Spades and Hot Air concurred. The Weekly Standard article by Michael Goldfarb that got the ball rolling admitted the possibility that Thomas might be soldier, and even telling the truth, and asked bloggers to evaluate his claims. Which they have been doing, apace._

    I guess what gave me the impression that a lot of wingers thought that he’d never been to iraq was that they kept pointing out items that they said meant he knew nothing about what it was like in iraq.

    Like, he’d have known that if you call something a “chow hall” nobody will know what you mean, and nobody ever takes off his helmet, and Bradleys never ever swerve even to avoid an IED inside a dead dog and even if he could swerve he couldn’t see a dog that was close enough to hit, and if he’d ever been in iraq he’d have known whether the woman was military or contractor — when you look at somebody who’s sitting at a table eating a cheeseburger, if you see their weapons you know they’re military because every soldier in iraq is always armed. If you can’t see their gun it means they don’t have one and they’re a contractor. And nobody in iraq ever gets the chance to do anything without at least a sergeant standing over him making sure he doesn’t goof off or insult somebody or swerve his Bradley.

    What possible point was there to all that, if not to prove he didn’t know what it was like in iraq? Everybody who’s been to iraq knows what it’s like, and it’s all the same everywhere in iraq. All the real soldiers knew what it was like and “Thomas” didn’t.

  37. Michele Malkin and Bryan Preston went to Hurriyah.

    #38 from J Thomas at 1:45 am on Aug 01, 2007

    “And you believe them. You believe them.”

    I do.

  38. _Malkin speculated on her blog that Jamil Hussein might not be a real person. When it was established that he was, she acknowledged the fact on her blog and apologized._

    Glen, I don’t see that it’s really established that Jamil Hussein is a real person. Or rather, there may be multiple people with that birth name but no particular reason to think any of them filed the reports in question.

    It took weeks before the iraqi government displayed somebody with that name. That’s plenty of time to find somebody to bribe, or somebody who’d set it up in exchange for mass-media goodwill.

    As for Malkin’s ability to understand what she sees in iraq, here’s a story about my uncle. He had a farm, and he took out a loan, and some bank examiners came to the farm to look at the land and the cattle. So he drove them out and showed them some cattle, and then he took a different route and showed them the same spot with the same cattle from a different direction, and then a third direction and a fourth direction. And they were satisfied. They couldn’t tell the difference. I get the impression this is common, I read about somebody else doing the same thing and using almost the same words to describe it.

    Malkin as a quick visitor to iraq is like the banker on the farm. She doesn’t know how to get places and she doesn’t know what she’s looking at when she gets there. She’s completely dependent on the military public information guys to tell her what she sees. How is this better than depending on those guys in the first place? They can publish pictures and put labels on them, and she can look at the pictures on the internet far far easier than she can go to iraq and take pictures of whatever they tell her to take pictures of.

  39. J Thomas;

    What possible point was there to all that, if not to prove he didn’t know what it was like in iraq?

    It’s entirely possible for Beauchamp to be in the Army and be clueless about the Bradley, and it’s entirely possible that he spun yarns just because he didn’t give a crap and didn’t think anybody would catch him at it – a la Stephen Glass.

    To know the real reason you’d have to ask Beauchamp. You can’t e-mail him but you could leave a comment at his blog. I wouldn’t count on an answer because he has has been back-pedaling like a mad man, claiming that he never intended his diaries to be taken the way that they were – which, I think any fair reader would conclude, is another fat lie.

    Besides, by now he probably has a legal counsel who is telling him to shut the hell up.

  40. J Thomas, your talking points are all over the place.

    It is unfortunately common for blog disputes–like cocktail party arguments–to become more about the contentiousness, and less about the points themselves that are being discussed.

    It might be helpful if the focus was placed on our adversaries’ stronger arguments, rather than their weaker ones.

    You, and Quiggen, have pointed out that in both the Jamil Hussein case and the Scott Thomas case, some right-wing bloggers seized on the notion that Hussein/Thomas did not exist

    That is true–some did.

    That was always a weak argument, to the extent that the corrolary would go, if they are proven wrong and Hussein/Thomas does exist, then any concerns have necessarily been invalidated.

    Sensible skeptics would never subscribe to such a corrolary, because it’s dumb.

    To recap (e.g. for Hussein see the links in #15 supra), the major concerns are:

    * Are the facts as they are being presented both true (i.e. factual, not fictitious) and in context?

    * Have the reports been vetted to an appropriate standard (e.g. the standard claimed by AP or TNR)?

    * If the facts turn out to have been incorrectly reported and/or the vetting turns out to have been deficient, will the organization (AP/TNR)transparently correct the record for its readers?

    These didn’t (and still don’t) seem like particularly unreasonable questions. Ernie Pyle reported in a war zone, too, and his dispatches seem amenable to such inquiries. Which is not at all to expect him, or the AP, or TNR’s diarists, to get things wholly right, all the time. “Good faith effort” and “due diligence” mean what they seem to mean.

    However, it seems there’s great fun to be had in rooting discussions in terms of wingnuts, slimy rightwingers, Crazy 27% Bedrock, faith clingers, denialists, wingers, etc. The right side of the spectrum has their pet monikers, too.

    I don’t know that it’s altogether persuasive. At least to those not already in the choir.

  41. * Are the facts as they are being presented both true (i.e. factual, not fictitious) and in context?

    Very hard to tell.

    * Have the reports been vetted to an appropriate standard (e.g. the standard claimed by AP or TNR)?

    Probably not. About the mosques, there aren’t any reliable sources particularly at short notice. The US military information guys have proved quite unreliable, and there’s no good reason to trustthe iraqi stringers. What do you do to vet stories?

    What would TNR have done to vet Thomas’s story? Ask one of his buddies whether it’s true? If he says yes but then says no later when he sees how much trouble he can get in, what does that tell them? He said yes the first time, how was TNR supposed to know he’d fold under pressure? I guess they could avoid controversy by letting his unit commander censor the story.

    * If the facts turn out to have been incorrectly reported and/or the vetting turns out to have been deficient, will the organization (AP/TNR)transparently correct the record for its readers?

    It’s usually hard to tell whether the facts were incorrectly reported. They may tell that the story has insufficient support, but still not be able to estimate whether it’s false. I think the honest approach would be to report that the story has not really been disproven or discredited, but still it has not got sufficient evidence for it, either. Report for essentially every story coming out of iraq that iraq is too dangerous to find out whether the story is true or not.

  42. _That was always a weak argument, to the extent that the corrolary would go, if they are proven wrong and Hussein/Thomas does exist, then any concerns have necessarily been invalidated._

    You mean, like showing that Rather’s document was faked meant that Bush really did fulfill his minimal military obligations?

    Rationally, if the guy exists that only settles any concerns whether he exists. Even if he didn’t exist he could make truthful reports. And either way his reports might not be good. If his detractors put 80% of their effort into showing he didn’t exist and then he did, the other 20% is still unsettled. It was a bad use of 80% of their effort, but they didn’t know that ahead of time.

  43. J Thomas,

    In your last two posts, w’ve moved into Monty Python’s Argument Clinic country. You’re all over the map, copying my statements and then riffing about what you imagine (?) I am actually saying.

    I’ll make one comment and then leave the rest for other readers’ eye-rolling or applause, as the case may be.

    > What would TNR have done to vet Thomas’s story?

    Good question, and not rhetorical. They get to decide what their vetting standards are, e.g. what “due diligence” means, for their magazine. I didn’t advise Foer (or AP’s editors) to pompously huff and puff about “rigorous fact checking” and to immediately advance the argument that anyone who dared question their procedures or transparency was perforce part of an evil cabal. “We have the finest vetting procedures in the land! We stand by our story 110%! We’re completely transparent, everyone admires our rigorous fact checking! And no, you’ll get no more information than that!”

    There are obvious steps Foer could have taken–a good part of the criticism TNR has suffered is because they fairly obviously didn’t. I won’t re-type them here; you can look them up. One of the milbloggers (“Ace” IIRC) pointed out that these magazines don’t have the budget or the inclination to do lots of fact checking, which seems right to me: Foer would then have had to have said, “Well, we try, but it’s a Diarist piece and no, it’s not fact checked, it seemed okay to us editors, and interesting, so we ran it, and now that it turns out to be non-factual in many places, we withdraw it and apologize.”

    Which is likely what TNR is going to end up being forced to do, gracelessly, anyway.

    AP could have taken a similar path with the Jamil Hussein story. Like TNR, they preferred to double down, and there are enough people who will take them at their word that they probably count it a victory.

  44. AMac, I didn’t think I was discrediting your comments in my last two replies. I was _replying_ to them. If you start out assuming that there are two sides here, and you’re on one side while I’m on the other, and anything I say has to be intended to disagree with something you say, then it will seem like I’m all over the map and not making good rebuttals.

    So for example I agree with you that it would be extremely difficult for TNR to do good fact-checking on Beauchamp’s diary, and it was a mistake for them to claim they did.

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