The Associated Press lost Iraq?

››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

December 12 brought news that Associated Press Television News cameraman Aswan Ahmed Lutfallah was killed in Mosul while filming a gun battle between police and insurgents. Considering the daily wave of killings that washes ashore in Iraq, there wasn't much reason for Lutfallah's slaying to be especially newsworthy to the general public, given the fact that 129 journalists and their support staff have been killed in Iraq since 2003. The same low-level interest seemed to hold true for right-wing warbloggers, who uniformly ignored the news of the cameraman's murder.

December 12 brought news that Associated Press Television News cameraman Aswan Ahmed Lutfallah was killed in Mosul while filming a gun battle between police and insurgents. Considering the daily wave of killings that washes ashore in Iraq, there wasn't much reason for Lutfallah's slaying to be especially newsworthy to the general public, given the fact that 129 journalists and their support staff have been killed in Iraq since 2003. The same low-level interest seemed to hold true for right-wing warbloggers, who uniformly ignored the news of the cameraman's murder.

Except for the fact that Lutfallah worked for the AP and, over the last three weeks, warbloggers like Michelle Malkin and sites such as Power Line, Wizbang, Confederate Yankee, and Flopping Aces have been in high dudgeon, eviscerating the global wire service for producing allegedly pro-terrorist reporting from Iraq. Warbloggers, all boosters of the doomed U.S. invasion, have been poring over the AP's dispatches, feverishly dissecting paragraphs in search of proof for their all-consuming conspiracy theory that biased American journalists, too cowardly to go get the bloody news in Iraq themselves, are relying on local news stringers who have obvious sympathies for insurgents and who actively "spread terrorist propaganda," according to right-wing blog Little Green Footballs. The result of the AP hoax? Gullible, or "average," Americans have been duped into believing there is a "civil war" raging in Baghdad today.

According to the warbloggers, Iraqi insurgents like the AP; they have friendly contacts with the AP; and they use the AP as a conduit to advance their propaganda war. Indeed, insurgents badly want for the AP to broadcast images and write stories about bloodshed in order to create the illusion of chaos in Iraq.

See, it's really the AP's fault we're losing the war. (Plus, it's ignoring all the "good news" from Iraq.) For warbloggers who have been chronically wrong about Iraq for nearly 50 straight months, the AP conspiracy theory represents a cure-all so important that Malkin herself has vowed to travel to Iraq to wander around the bombed-out streets of Baghdad in order to prove her AP allegations. (More on that later.)

Warbloggers are obsessed with all things AP, or the "Associated (with terrorists) Press," as Malkin subtly calls it. Which brings us back to news of Lutfallah's death and the odd silence that emanated from the warblogs -- and by odd, I mean, wildly hypocritical, because the silence sprang from the fact that the circumstances of Lutfallah's murder didn't fit the warbloggers' ideological script. Namely, that Lutfallah was executed by insurgents, which completely undermined the warbloggers' theory that the AP enjoys close ties to terrorists.

According to warblogger logic, the insurgents should have made sure Lutfallah got the best film of the gun fight with police; in fact, insurgents might have even tipped him off that a battle was going to take place. That's how the drill is supposed to work. Yet insurgents in Mosul, after seeing the AP cameraman filming and then identifying him, approached the father of two and emptied five bullets into his body, took his equipment, cell phone, and press ID. They shot him like a dog in the street.

So much for the AP and insurgents working in concert.

You can be sure that if Lutfallah had been killed by Iraqi police during the gun battle and warbloggers in any way could have portrayed him as an enemy, they would have howled about Lutfallah's death for days, smearing his name with all sorts of terrorist innuendos and demanding that the AP explain itself. But when word came that an AP journalist had been executed by Iraqi insurgents, the warbloggers knew to keep quiet.

Of course, for anybody who's paid even passing attention to events in Iraq, the killing of Lutfallah was, sadly, not unique. Insurgents for years have targeted journalists for kidnappings, beheadings, and assassinations. As CNN international correspondent Michael Ware recently noted, "In terms of the insurgency, [journalists] are seen as legitimate targets: part of the problem, not the solution."

Specifically, insurgents have often targeted local Iraqi journalists working for Western-friendly news outlets for execution; the same Iraqi journalists warbloggers insist have such chummy relationships with Baghdad terrorists. Consider:

  • Amjad Hameed, the head of programming for the U.S.-backed Al-Iraqiya TV, was murdered by insurgent gunmen on his way to work, March 11, 2006.
  • Munsuf Abdallah al-Khaldi, an anchor for Baghdad TV, was assassinated in his car, March 7, 2006.
  • Adnan al-Bayati, a producer working for the Italian television station TG3, was murdered by three gunmen in his home, July 23, 2005.
  • Fakher Haider, a reporter for The New York Times, was abducted from his home and executed with a single bullet to the head, September 19, 2005.
  • Karam Hussein, a photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency, was killed by gunmen in front of his home, October 14, 2004.
  • Duraid Isa Mohammed, a producer for CNN, was killed in a car ambush, January 27, 2004.

Something doesn't add up here, and I assume it's something warbloggers don't want to address, as they cling to their anti-press fantasy to explain the Iraq debacle. Namely, if insurgents view journalists as their allies -- weapons in their sophisticated propaganda war against the United States -- then why are insurgents killing journalists at an alarming rate? The entire premise of the warblogger theory makes no sense.

With no facts to back up their allegations, warbloggers instead lean heavily on name-calling in their never-ending attempt to libel and smear journalists. "The Western press is negligently or carelessly (I'm not ready to believe knowingly) passing along terrorist propaganda disguised as news," announced warblogger SeeDubya at The Junkyard Blog. Talk about hubris -- stateside warbloggers claim they have a better handle on what's happening in Iraq than reporters who are actually there.

The warbloggers' deliberate and daily condemnation of wartime correspondents as being cowardly, unethical, and un-American is likely unprecedented in American history, as the dwindling number of Bush defenders online try desperately to pin the blame for Iraq on the media. (But not even war cheerleader and neocon columnist David Brooks is buying that line.)

Warbloggers, stressing their contempt for the First Amendment -- "The government needs to slap down the press," urged The Anchoress -- would prefer that information about the war in Iraq be disseminated only by the United States military, despite the fact the bipartisan Iraq Study Group just concluded that for years the U.S. military wildly underreported violence inside Iraq. But that's the version of history the warbloggers want Americans to embrace.

Obsessing over Jamil Hussein

Actually, there is another possible reason why the AP-hating warbloggers were silent regarding Lutfallah's murder -- they were all too busy obsessing over the hugely important story of Jamil Hussein.

In a November 24 dispatch, the AP, quoting Iraqi police Capt. Jamil Hussein, reported that Shiite militiamen had "grabbed six Sunnis as they left Friday worship services, doused them with kerosene and burned them alive near Iraqi soldiers who did not intervene." Warbloggers were skeptical of the chilling report, in part because no other news organizations could confirm the horrific event. The U.S. Central Command's communications machine then jumped in, issuing a statement that it could not corroborate the killings and that Hussein was not a Baghdad police captain, and even if he were, somebody of his rank was not authorized to speak to the press. Central Command then filed an official complaint with the AP and demanded a retraction. Warbloggers declared that the AP had concocted Hussein -- a "fake policeman."

The AP has stood by its story though, and the disputed, he said/she said facts didn't budge much for three weeks. Rather than being content with a possible sharp-eyed press catch and holding the AP accountable for questionable sourcing in an isolated incident, warbloggers, in need of a much larger scapegoat, franticly inflated the Burned Alive story, insisting questions about a single dispatch could negate years' worth of reporting from Iraq. That if Jamil Hussein were confirmed to be a fraud that would somehow mean Baghdad is not being ripped apart by a civil war, and reporters would be revealed for the "traitors" that they are.

The warbloggers' strawman is built around the claim that if the AP hadn't reported the Burned Alive story, which was no more than a few sentences within a larger here's-the-carnage-from-Baghdad-today article, then Americans would still gladly support the war in Iraq. That it was somehow the contested Burned Alive story that swung public opinion on Iraq, not the three years' worth of bad news.

Chasing the Burned Alive story down a rabbit's hole, giddy warbloggers deliberately ignore the hundreds of Iraqi civilians who are killed each week, the thousands who are injured, and the tens of thousands who try to flee the disintegrating country. None of that matters. Only Burned Alive matters, as if an AP retraction would change a thing on the ground in Baghdad, where electricity remains scarce, but sectarian death squads roam freely.

The story reached such a Holy Grail status that Malkin announced her plans to parachute into Baghdad and gumshoe the story herself. Note to Malkin: You might want to re-read this recent quote from ABC's man-in-Baghdad, Dan Harris: "I said to my driver casually the other day, 'If I get out of this car, take off my flak jacket or get rid of all my security and walk down the street, how long would I last?' He said, 'Four or five seconds.' "

Unfortunately, given her widely read blog and her platform as a Fox News analyst, Malkin has influenced a new generation of right-wing press critics, who sloppily draw all sorts of dark and dishonest conclusions about the press. The phenomenon has been rampant during the Hussein controversy.

Here's one small example. Warblogger Curt at Flopping Aces raised doubts about a December 12 AP dispatch, which reported that 66 Iraqis had been killed by an insurgency car bomb in downtown Baghdad. The number of dead was probably inflated, according to Curt at Flopping Aces, given the "prior reporting history by the AP." Specifically, the warblogger questioned the report because it was written by the two AP journalists who had previously quoted Jamil Hussein, the "fake policeman," which meant "anything printed by these two" was possible fiction. [Emphasis added.]

Slight problem: Central Command quickly confirmed that a car bomb on December 12 did kill 66 people in Baghdad, which matched what AP had reported. So much for that round of media gotcha. In fact, the awkward swing-and-miss simply highlighted the glaring fact that despite the hundreds of stories AP files from Iraq each week, and the thousands posted annually since the invasion, warbloggers can only find fault with a single story, yet insist that one is enough to tarnish the AP's Iraq reporting and all mainstream news reporting from Baghdad.

It's not going to work. If warbloggers want to prove that cowardly American journalists are being duped by local Iraqi stringers pushing a terrorist agenda, or that the AP is guilty of chronically manufacturing bad news, they are going to have to do more than flush out Jamil Hussein.

As for Aswan Ahmed Lutfallah, the AP cameraman shot dead by insurgents in Mosul, he's of no use to warbloggers -- he doesn't fit their press-bashing script.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Person
Michelle Malkin
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