Accuracy in Media

Bloggers have done some tremendous things, such as helping expose Dan Rather’s phony Bush National Guard documents and the manipulation of Middle East photos during the Israel-Hezbollah war. But because of the perceived pressure to be first with a comment or opinion, in order to attract the attention of the Big Media, there can be a tendency not to wait for all the facts to come in and subject them to a rational analysis. Those who are “first” with a claim garner more recognition and are perceived to be “up to the minute” with the latest news. But the Jamil Hussein case gives us second thoughts about the importance and significance of blogs.

Except for occasional blog entries on the AIM sister site, I do not blog. As someone trained in journalism, in terms of who, what when, where, why and how, I also have to look at “so what?” That is why I favor news analysis and editorializing. It is important to separate a quick news judgment from a rational but sometimes slow process of collecting facts and evidence. My position has been vindicated by the revelation that a mysterious source for the Associated Press, the aforementioned Jamil Hussein, under fire for making questionable statements about human rights atrocities in Iraq, turns out to be a living and breathing human being.

For weeks, conservative bloggers had been suggesting that the source, Jamil Hussein, did not really exist, although he had been quoted in many different AP stories. I hesitated to write about the case because I thought there was too much confusion in too many of the reports about the controversy. Plus, it’s hard to judge the validity of a particular source or story in Iraq from the Washington, D.C. area. But AP has now run a story saying that the Iraqi Interior Ministry has acknowledged his existence. While bloggers are acknowledging that it looks like he exists, they are pointing out that it’s not necessarily the case that one of his most sensational stories fed to AP about people being burned and killed in Iraq was true.

The bloggers deserve credit for forcing Hussein to emerge from the shadows, if he does in fact show his face (I still have not seen a photo of him). It may turn out that his burning story is bogus, but that will be hard to prove, unless he now admits―under threat of arrest by the Iraqi government for talking to the press ―that he made it all up. Obviously, AP should have been more diligent about identifying and producing him for independent review. So the wire service bears much of the responsibility for this wild goose chase.

But the focus on this one individual misses the larger picture―that the U.S. is losing the information war at home and abroad. Even if the victims in this case were not burned alive, plenty of people are being killed in Iraq. The issue is how the media are using the real carnage in Iraq to undermine the war effort. AP is a significant player in the global propaganda war, but it is peanuts compared to Al-Jazeera, whose specialty is using graphic images of war to make America look bad in the Arab world, or CNN, which has aired terrorist-supplied film footage of snipers shooting U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

It just so happens that one of the notable bloggers in the Jamil Hussein controversy is the disgraced former CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan. He declared that he wanted to get to the bottom of the controversy and was willing to arrange and finance a trip to Iraq to discover the real facts. But this is the same guy who resigned from CNN after he couldn’t back up his charges that the U.S. military deliberately attacked and killed journalists in Iraq. Jordan is also the one who admitted that CNN had routinely suppressed stories of gruesome atrocities in Iraq in order to maintain access to the Saddam Hussein regime and protect news personnel. That makes what AP allegedly did in the Jamil Hussein case look mild by comparison.

What qualifies Jordan as an expert? If you examine his website, you quickly discover that he now runs a “war zone-focused media company” called Praedict and that his blog is one of its products. It is said to “provide customized, up-to-the-minute news, intelligence, and safety tips to those in harm’s way and their employers.” Robert Pelton, Praedict’s co-founder and president, describes the firm as a “private intelligence service.” No clients are listed.

Praedict’s Advisory Board includes billionaire leftist Ted Turner and former Democratic presidential candidate General Wesley Clark. One web page shows Jordan with various foreign leaders, including the former Prime Minister of Israel and Yasser Arafat, as well as with rock star Bono and Ted Turner. There are no pictures of him with Saddam, and his bio conveniently ignores the fact that he was forced to resign from CNN. It does mention that he has appeared on Al-Jazeera.

It was Jordan, while insisting that the U.S. military had deliberately targeted journalists for death in Iraq, who went to the defense of Al-Jazeera, saying that one of its correspondents had been imprisoned by U.S. forces, made to eat his shoes, and derided as “Al-Jazeera boy.” The New York Sun could find no evidence to back up this sensational claim.

Unfortunately, things haven’t changed for the better at CNN since Jordan left. The channel has apologized to Senator Barack Obama for running the graphic, “Where is Obama?,” in front of a picture of Osama bin Laden, but it defends airing that terrorist-supplied film footage of American soldiers in Iraq being murdered. This is far more objectionable than AP using a questionable source.

Indeed, Jordan’s comeback itself is a questionable event. He has the right, of course, to make money by peddling his “expertise” on Iraq. But it is troubling that conservative bloggers should suddenly find him credible on the subject of maintaining journalism standards and finding the truth. I would advise those bloggers considering joining him on a subsidized trip to Iraq, for the purpose of ascertaining the truth about Jamil Hussein, to find out where the money is coming from. I wouldn’t rule out Ted Turner providing some of the largesse. After all, he’s not on Jordan’s board for nothing.

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