Friday, June 02, 2006

Sources?

Stemming from our discussion about news coverage of the war, our friend Derek noted a post at the New Republic's blog. I understand that Derek linked it for the line about the mainstream media, but that post is so audacious in its effort to be deliberately misleading that it would make the most ardent propagandist blush. Leave that aside for now, because it did link a LA Times article on Haditha that brings to mind a larger issue with journalistic practices.

Again, none of us knows what happened at Haditha, and let me echo the calls of many others to wait and see what happens in the investigation before we convict anyone. If the American Marines did what they are accused of doing, they should be court martialed and punished accordingly.

With that in mind, three of our largest newspapers have presented graphic accounts of the the alleged incidents from reporters who remain anonymous. The recent NY Times description of the alleged atrocities comes from "an Iraqi writer and historian who was recruited by The New York Times to travel to Haditha and interview survivors and witnesses of what military officials have said appear to be unjustified killings of two dozen Iraqis by marines.... The name of the Iraqi who conducted the interviews for The Times is being withheld for his own safety, because insurgents often make a target of Iraqis deemed collaborators." The Washington Post account comes from what "witnesses told [an unnamed] Washington Post special correspondent in Haditha this week." The LA Times article linked above begins with the assertion that "This account of the Nov. 19 killings comes from witness and survivor interviews conducted by Iraqi reporters for The Times in Baghdad and Haditha. The reporter who traveled to Haditha cannot be named for security reasons."

Time and again the insurgents in Iraq have shown that they are adept at using and manipulating the media, and yet none of these major newspapers see the need to reveal their sources so they can be checked. This is especially troubling in this case, since apparently the source for all of the initial reports was a reporter who has been jailed more than once for his suspicious ties to the insurgency and a doctor who has made repeated claims about American atrocities at the behest of a radical organization that opposes the entire coalition effort in Iraq.

Again, I'm not taking a position on whether or not the Marines committed these atrocities as they have been reported. However, as a historian I have seen how often multiple versions of an event can be traced to a single source. Many times, and for a variety of reasons, that single source either is completely wrong or misses a large chunk of the story. Just something to keep in mind when it comes to how media of all sorts reports stories.

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For more on the media coverage of the the Haditha affair, see here. For a comparison of news from the larger established media with blogs and other sources, see here, here, and here, for example.

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