Jay Tea at Wizbang has prompted me finally to do something I should have done a week-and-a-half ago — to thank Wavemaker (former state rep Peter Morin) for having EaBoClipper, Jay Tea and myself to talk to his blogging/politics class at Tufts. Lots of fun — terrific, probing, and unexpected questions from the class and Peter … and that's not even to mention the pizza, the NH doughnuts (courtesy of Jay Tea) and the super-nifty and thoughtful door prizes. (These are really awesome — thanks Peter.)
Jay accurately recounts an exchange we had towards the beginning of class. Jay was recounting the Most Glorious Scalp-History (Dan Rather, et al) of the right-wing blogosphere. He ran down the Jamil Hussein/Burned Alive saga, about which I frankly knew little. (To make a long story short: In late 2006, right-wing bloggers such as Michelle Malkin questioned the existence of AP's source in a story on atrocities in Baghdad, and the extent of the atrocities reported.)
But I find the emphasis on refuting one event in the context of a massive catastrophe to be akin to fiddling while people burn. So while Jay was speaking, I was rude, and snapped —
[Charley:] “are you saying that atrocities aren't happening over there?”
[Jay:] I answered so quickly that I didn't even realize what I'd said: “if there are so many, why do people have to make them up?”
That off-the-cuff response has been rattling around in the back of my mind, collecting debris and detritus, until it snowballed into a full-blown thesis:
When did “fake but accurate” become an accepted standard? Especially in politics?
Damn good question. And maybe it's because people don't see what's in front of their faces.
I don't remember precisely, but I don't recall Jay mentioning — then or in his present post — that contrary to Malkin et al, Jamil Hussein was indeed found to exist. Michelle Malkin apologized for her assertion that he didn't exist. Furthermore, it should have been obvious to anyone that Hussein was clearly was putting himself in danger by talking to the AP. [Update: Media Matters has an excruciatingly thorough rundown of the whole episode.]
Why would Jay not mention this — particularly in discussing the need for accuracy and accountability in media?
It's funny … Jay writes eloquently
Far too many people have far too much invested in their chosen fables.
Indeed. Would that the immense energy, smarts, and talent of the right-wing blogs had taken on any part of the thoroughgoing dishonesty of the Bush administration's run-up and prosecution of the war. Who knows, maybe we wouldn't be there. Maybe the war would have been run better. Maybe their guy wouldn't have 28% approval ratings.
I'm glad to have inspired such a heartfelt post in praise of such noble ideals. It's just damned ironic to hear a cheerleader for the “greatest strategic disaster in American history” deliver us a
lecture meditation about “chosen fables.”
…that you thanked Peter. That was rude.
p>Considerably ruder than your interrupting me, which I didn’t find rude in the least.
p>I thought I did touch on those details — I certainly intended to. If you read Malkin’s correction, it simply states that there is a “Captain Jamil Hussein” with the Baghdad police.
p>At no point has he acknowledged to be THE Captain Jamil Hussein who gave the AP all those stories, nor has anyone tried to defend the numerous stories the AP attributed to him that proved to be false.
p>What I suspect happened is that us “righties” (although I didn’t have anything to do with it personally) started seeing the holes in those accounts, and started digging. The AP stonewalled, and they kept digging. More and more of his stories simply failed to check out, and finding him grew tougher and tougher — especially in the face of the AP’s absolute refusal to be more transparent — until someone finally got fed up and said “I don’t think this guy even exists.” When nobody contradicted THAT, it kept snowballing until finally the Iraqi government finally noticed that there was, indeed, a “Captain Jamil Hussein.”
p>But as I said, all the attention was immediately thrown on the “the whole thing was made up, even up to the source” angle, and no one was interested in actually looking at the AP reports that cited Jamil Hussein and seeing just how accurate they were.
p>The Media Matters article is an exemplar of this — all the whining about “see? There IS a guy, and he WAS talking to the press!,” and not one single word on what triggered the whole matter — why did the AP keep using this guy as a single source for stories of atrocities that he had no reliable way of knowing about, could not be verified by alternate means, and in several cases were readily disproven by the most casual form of fact-checking?
p>Yes, some righty bloggers (and I don’t recall if I was one of them, but I certainly would have had I written about it) did oversteer their headlights in prematurely proclaiming that Jamil Hussein did not exist. But everything short of that has been pretty well established, and should not fall by the wayside because of that one slight over-reach.
Main Page Editor
p>(Yes, Charley, you got me to register so I could post this comment. It was annoying, but I did it anyway.)
Malkin and others should have been Dan Rathered out of whatever paid gigs they have. What stupidity.
That’s right, Farnkoff, we dug in and got one guy who was apparently using his office to spread terrorist propaganda. I happen to think that’s worthwhile — as opposed to simply ignoring him.
p>And as far as the over-reach… as I explained, the AP — with their staunch refusal to say anything, until they backed down adn said that they WERE using a pseudonym for a source, in direct contravention with their own rules — was what led to that “one accusation too far.”
p>I gotta tell ya, if you’re willing to say that “Jamil Hussein doesn’t exist” was too far, does that mean that all the other allegations leading up to that — that the AP’s story sourced to him were bogus, the AP was lying about whether or not he was a pseudonym, that almost all his stories were hoaxes — then it’s still damning as hell.
I will stipulate that there doubtless is a “fog of war” effect, in which either side wants to manipulate the press.
p>However, the subsequent arrest of Hussein plainly shows how sources can be intimidated. Gee whiz, a warblogger with a gigantic ideological axe to grind (or a “chosen fable”, if you will) “couldn’t find” anyone else to risk his/her life and security to contradict the Iraqi authorities or the US military? Isn’t that the damnedest! If it’s AP versus Michelle Malkin’s say-so … it’s not close for me. Sorry.
p>The larger point, of course, is that event was just one atrocity in a huge fabric of atrocities that have continued unabated for years in Baghdad, a fact that no one can possibly deny. The whole debate is not some abstract discussion about journalistic integrity in the fog of war; the warbloggers’ enthusiasm for this case only makes sense in the context of spinning the alleged success of the military mission writ large. That’s what matters to them. Indeed, Malkin’s “mission” can be seen as part of an ongoing attempt to intimidate the press into reporting what warbloggers want to hear.
p>Well, gosh, that cat’s out of the bag. And so, Jay et al want very badly to define the scope of the discussion quite narrowly and specifically, because in the larger context of mission success — on any level, humanitarian, political, or security — they don’t come out looking too good. Even if Jay were right — and I strongly doubt that he is — this is arguing about a hairline scratch on a car that’s already been through the crusher.
but I think you should move to Iraq to continue your noble efforts