If you haven't seen the 1992 movie "Sneakers," starring Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier and Dan Aykroyd as "Mother," then I encourage you to add it to your Netflix queue or pick it up at Blockbuster.
Sneakers came to mind because there's a scene where Robert Redford's character goes into an office building to meet with two government agents. When he later discovers that the agents aren't really agents, he goes back to that building to discover it has been abandoned for weeks and is scheduled for demolition.
I bring this up because the Associated Press reported Nov. 24 that six Sunni Muslims were taken out in the street after afternoon prayers, doused with kerosene and set ablaze. The Iraqi government and the U.S. military in Iraq say they have found no evidence that such an incident ever occured.
The AP report rests largely on a police Capt. Jamil Hussein.
Problem: The Iraqi government says it doesn't employ anyone by that name.
The AP responds that they've been to his office a number of times. He wears a uniform and they stand by the story.
Sound like "Sneakers"?
Just about everything Everything about the way the Associated Press has dealt with this is troubling.
First, it's readily apparent that their reporter(s) in this case are locals and almost certainly don't have the journalistic credentials that any American newspaper would require of a cub reporter. Of course, that doesn't mean they're dishonest -- Janet Cooke and Stephen Glass (among others) had the necessary credentials.
Second, this statement from the Associated Press executive editor Kathleen Carroll should be enough to get her fired, seriously.
At the end of the day, we have AP journalists with reporting and images from the actual neighborhood versus official spokesmen saying the story cannot be true because it is damaging and because one of the sources is not on a list of people approved to talk to the press. Good reporting relies on more than government-approved sources.
We stand behind our reporting.
This is a strawman. It's so blatantly dishonest, that if it appeared in a news article, the AP would have to run a correction (OK, maybe not the AP, but a reputable news organization would have to run a correction). The official spokesmen are not denying the story because it is "damaging." Honestly, if that was the standard, then they'd be denying a ton of reporting that's coming out of Iraq. The fact of the matter is that they confirm the vast majority of these attacks on civilians, the fact that they can't confirm this one would tend to make a rational person rethink their reporting.
It's also not that Capt. Jamil Hussein isn't on the approved list of sources -- it's that he's not on the government payroll. If this "police captain" isn't getting paid by the Iraqi government, then who is paying his salary?
Which brings us to...
You can click the link above for the legal definition, but I'm referring to the latin words themselves: "you have the body." The Associated Press has the body. They know where this Capt. Jamil Hussein is -- bring him to the green zone and walk him right up to the Iraqi and U.S. spokesmen, because they apparently can't find the guy.
If that's unworkable (yeah, right) then where are the half-dozen burned corpses? They have funerals in Iraq -- the Associated Press has distributed pictures of them -- then where is the coverage of the funerals of these victims?
I'm sorry to say that there is a very strong likelihood that the AP can do neither of these things -- because this event didn't happen.
Journalism. Wound. Self-inflicted.