Habeas corpus

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on January 3, 2007

It's a little bit like having Paris Hilton call Lindsay Lohan a slut. The old schoolyard taunt of "it takes one to know one" comes to mind.

Former CNN executive Eason Jordan -- last seen leaving that organization after alleging, without any evidence to back him up, that U.S. troops were targeting journalists in Iraq for assassination -- has started a Web site called IraqSlogger.com. One of his first serious journalistic crusades has been to try verify the existence of Police Capt. Jamil Hussein. Hussein is an Associated Press source whom the Iraqi government says does not exist. Hussein also has a habit of reporting Shia-on-Sunni atrocities that may or may not have actually happened.

For more background on this story, you can check out this post from last year.

On Monday, Jordan posted a report that says he is unable to find evidence that Hussein exists.

IraqSlogger's probe into the case is inconclusive, with conflicting and unconfirmed information regarding whether there's a Captain Hussein and whether the reported immolation happened.

Inquiries by others point to there being no Captain Jamil Hussein, although there is no proof of that.

While proof might yet surface to substantiate the AP's story - there is circumstantial but unreliable evidence in that regard - conclusive evidence has not yet materialized.

The AP has steadfastly refused to answer questions about this episode from IraqSlogger and other news outlets and bloggers.

In statements, the AP insists Captain Hussein is real, insists he has been known to the AP and others for years, and insists the immolation episode occurred based on multiple eyewitnesses.

But efforts by two governments, several news organizations, and bloggers have failed to produce such evidence or proof that there is a Captain Jamil Hussein. The AP cannot or will not produce him or convincing evidence of his existence.

It is striking that no one has been able to find a family member, friend, or colleague of Captain Hussein. Nor has the AP told us who in the AP's ranks has actually spoken with Captain Hussein. Nor has the AP quoted Captain Hussein once since the story of the disputed episode.

That final sentence may be as close as an admission of falsity that we get from the AP. The AP, as Curt over at Flopping Aces has noted, is more and more reticent to put any names to any sources for its Iraq reporting.

Of course, this, like the New York Times abortion issue below, is a serious blow to journalistic credibility. The AP may feel that it can ignore these calls to produce evidence of Jamil Hussein's existence because they're coming from bloggers and not their "customers," American newspapers. However, in the new media world this may not be possible -- just ask Eason Jordan.

AP Executive editor (who should be fired) Kathleen Carroll made the following comments to Editor & Publisher in regards to this case:

Kathleen Carroll, AP executive editor, told E&P today that she had not read Jordan's latest item, posted Monday, and likely would not. But she stood by the news organization's previous statements backing the existence of an Iraqi police captain, Jamail Hussein.

"I've been pretty public about what we have done to get to the crux of the criticism we have gotten about it," she added. When asked about critics' demands that AP produce Hussein to prove his existence, she said "that area [where he works] has pretty much been ethnically cleansed, it is a nasty place and continues to be."

Carroll said that Hussein "is a guy we’ve talked to for years," adding that "we don’t have anything new to say about it, nothing new to add."

Kathleen, they're all ethnic Arabs, any "cleansing" that's been going on has been sectarian, not ethnic. Second, do you really care so little about the reputation of your product that you'll just wave off what, from your position, are vicious slanders? If I was a reporter and someone had accused me of making up a source -- a source that I named in print for crying out loud -- I'd bust my butt to clear my name.

But then again, I was an honest reporter. [You snarks can just hold your "honest lawyer"-type jokes.] Someone with something to hide would act ... well, exactly the way you're acting!

There's someone I feel sorry for here, and it's Linda Wagner, the AP director of media relations and public affairs.

Linda Wagner, AP's director of media relations and public affairs, said she had just seen Jordan's post, but did not expect to have more to say about it. She said "it would be highly unusual for any news organization to provide sources on the demands of critics."

When asked about the fact that no other major news outlet appears to have been using Hussein as a source, Wagner said, "whether he might be used as an anonymous source by someone else, I don’t know." She added that having a source that is not used by others may not be unusual in a war zone.

Let's start with the last part first. You're kidding me that your Capt. Jamil Hussein would let the Associated Press use his name but ask for anonymity from Reuters or Agence France Presse?

Let's also look at that last claim in light of the six torched Iraqis story -- the AP was the only news agency that reported that story. It's a great (from an amoral pure news value/journalistic standpoint) story, then why wouldn't every reporter in Iraq be trying to track down Jamil Hussein to report it too? In fact, this guy seems to be a great source for news tips, if I were in Iraq I'd make sure to put his name in my Rolodex.

Finally, Ms. Wagner's first claim: "it would be highly unusual for any news organization to provide sources on the demands of critics." This would certainly be true if the source were anonymous. Mr. Hussein isn't. Second, it's usually pretty darn easy for any member of the public who's interested to determine if someone named in a news story exists. Try it yourself, pick any story in today's paper in your hometown and pick out the name of someone who's quoted. It is very easy to determine if someone by that name exists using the Internet, the phone book or any variety of public records.

What is highly unusual is to read a quoted by someone in a position of civil authority -- a police captain at a specific police station no less -- and not be able to find any evidence that the guy exists. That is what is unusual, and that is why the AP needs to produce the body.

I take no delight in bashing the media like this. I'd love to spend time a lot of time on my site praising good journalism. I never got into this business because of a desire to tear it down.

I feel like that proverbial voice in the wilderness crying out for fair, balanced, open and honest reporting.

Is anyone listening?

0 comments on “Habeas corpus”

  1. No, nobody is listening. This won't make the news until some paper sues the AP for fraud. They are selling fiction as fact, and the customers (papers) are colluding with them.

    It would be interesting if some state Attorney General went after them.

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