The Associated Press: Disinformation and Semantics

You probably heard about the the six Sunni Arabs who were dragged from Friday prayers and burned to death last week. It was all over the news as some of the mainstream news sources decided to start calling the conflict in Iraq a “Civil War.” But now, it is looking less and less like an actual event, and more like a fabrication.

This week, bloggers are exposing another huge scandal of the mainstream press. It turns out that The Associated Press has been reporting news from Iraq based on individuals pretending to be Iraqi police officers.

The story of the six Sunis being burned to death was based on information from some locals and an Iraqi policeman identified as Captain Jamil Hussein.

But Capt. Jamil Hussein is not a police captain. He isn’t even a police officer. He isn’t even an employee of the Ministry of Interior. He is a propagandist posing as a police captain to feed disinformation to the International and American media with the objective of influencing popular opinion.

Propagandist Hussein has been the source for at least 10 different stories about Iraq published by The Associated Press since April 2006.

And he isn’t the only one. Another propagandist posing as a police lieutenant in a different police station, named Maithem Abdul Razzaq, has been the source for at least 11 other stories published by the AP since the beginning of April.

The way I understand it, the press had been informed previously, in unambiguous terms by the Ministry of the Interior, that no one below the office of Chief was authorized to be an Iraqi Police spokesperson.

Back in August, I wrote about the Reuter’s Photoshopping scandal, which has since been dubbed Fauxtography, as well as other instances of propaganda being distributed through mainstream media.

As I said then, we all innocently repeat falsehoods from whichever side we tend to believe. But the mainstream press should at very least openly exhibit the unreliability of their sources and be a lot more hesitant to publish sensationalist stories without first confirming them through more reliable sources, and reporting, for instance that neither the official Iraqi police nor the U.S. military are able to corroborate the information. Of course, now that the unreliability of their sources has been revealed by bloggers, they will go and subtly edit the previous stories on their websites to correct the problem quietly, without drawing attention to it. But the correction will do little to mitigate the blaring original headline which may have already entered into the cultural consciousness as “fact.”

I have no doubt that there are a lot of people dying in Iraq and that things are not going well. But under these circumstances it is impossible to know what is really happening out there.

On my way to work this morning I listened to a portion of NPR’s Diane Rehm show as she was interviewing former U.S. President Jimmy Carter [Listen to it: Windows Media]. When asked about whether it is right to call the conflict in Iraq a “Civil War,” he responded (according to my own transcript):

“I think the semantics, only that, they don’t have any substance. I think that some of the major news media decided this week that from now on their correspondents are going to refer to it as a “civil war.” But you know, compared to other civil wars with which I, at the Carter Center, have been intimately associated, this is not a civil war yet. We have devoted a good deal of our time for the last twenty years trying to resolve the civil war, for instance, in Southern Sudan. Two-million people have died. And we just finished helping hold the first democratic election in history for the republic of Congo. Four-million people have died there in the last eight years. So compared to those so-called civil wars, this is not a civil war. But I don’t think there is any doubt that it is civil strife. And I think it is just a matter of the news media deciding that this is what we’re going to call it. As a short-hand expression I don’t think it has any substance.”

Semantics are playing such a huge role in this war, and it is easy for perceptions sewn disingenuously to become reality. Often the legacy media seem complicit with the enemy within that particular theatre.

UPDATE: The AP responds :

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.
…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. The AP stands by its story.

-AP International Editor John Daniszewski

The more detailed report is available here .

It will be interesting to see how this goes. The military still insists that the source is not a police officer, but the AP is sure that he is. Perhaps I am wrong about the AP in this case. Hopefully we’ll figure it out in the next few days.

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