Here We Go Again
Originally uploaded by Chanders.
Just as the lefty blogosphere begins to crank up its dissection of mainstream media reporting on the Iran-Iraqi insurgency connection, along comes a Baghdad briefing that looks to set a new gold standard when it comes to the dodgy use of anonymous sources.
Some back story first: as Glen Greenwald noted yesterday, both the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post (along with the AP) have recently published well-researched stories casting doubt on some of the more hyperbolic Pentagon claims about Iran's meddling in Iraq. Obviously, there's a history here: no one in the media should be willing to be a stooge for over-hyped way mongering "evidence" again, considering how well this all went the last time around. As Greenwald notes, "It seemed as though the media was treating the war-inflaming claims of Bush officials against Iran much more skeptically."
So a lot of people hit the ceiling when, on Saturday, New York Times reporter Michael Gordon penned a front-page article headlined "Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Made By Iran, US Says." Greenwald puts it well:
The article does nothing, literally, but mindlessly recite administration claims about Iran's weapons-supplying activities without the slightest questioning, investigation, or presentation of ample counter-evidence. The entire article is nothing more than one accusatory claim about Iran after the next, all emanating from the mouths of anonymous military and "intelligence officials" without the slightest verified evidence, and Gordon just mindlessly repeats what he has been told in one provocative paragraph after the next.
Editor and Publisher dryly noted that Gordon "wrote with [Judith] Miller the paper's most widely criticized -- even by the Times itself -- WMD story of all, the Sept. 8, 2002, “aluminum tubes” story that proved so influential, especially since the administration trumpeted it on TV talk shows." Raw Story alleges that the Gordon story "appears to violate the paper's policy on using unidentified sources ... Gordon's article doesn't contain any explanation why his sources were unidentified, nor does it even come out and explicitly say that anonymity was granted." And Think Progress highlights the little-noticed fact that the Bush Administration stepped back from the cooked-intelligence precipice once before, noting that "on Feb. 2, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley acknowledged that the Iran briefing was held back because it was “overstated” and not “focused on the facts.”
So, this is where we find ourselves Sunday morning, as the Pentagon prepares the Baghdad release of its long-delayed, much-hyped "Iran dossier," charging that "Iranian security forces, taking orders from the "highest levels" of the Iranian government, are funneling sophisticated explosives to extremist groups in Iraq, and the weapons have grown increasingly deadly for U.S.-led troops over the past two years."
Incendiary claims indeed. But here's the worst thing. The briefing was provided by "senior defense official ... on condition of anonymity," according to the AP. Or as the Washington Post puts it, the briefing was supplied by "a senior defense official in Baghdad, who like the two other officials spoke on condition of anonymity." The AP attributes the briefing to "U.S.-led forces in Iraq," as if somehow the forces themselves stood up at the podium and provided a hundred-thousand man press conference.
This boggles the mind. A full-dress press conference, supposedly providing the best-evidence the U.S. has amassed so far on Iranian interference in Iraq, is given by three people, all speaking on condition of anonymity? And its taken seriously? And reported? And it gets better. Writes the Post:
"The officials said they would speak only on the condition of anonymity so the trio's explosives expert and analyst, who would normally not speak to reporters, could provide more information. The analyst's exact job description was not revealed to reporters. Reporters' cell phones were taken before the briefing, and the officials did not allow reporters to record or videotape the proceedings."
Or writes the Times:
"During the briefing, the senior United States military officials were repeatedly pressed on why they insisted on anonymity in such an important matter affecting the security of American and Iraqi troops. A senior military official said that without anonymity, for example, the military analyst could not have contributed to the briefing."
This is insanity. This press conference should have been boycotted by every self-respecting reporter in Iraq.
Update: Editor and Publisher notes that the Voice of Iraq (VOI) has outed one of the three "anonymous sources":
In his new site, Iraqslogger.com, Eason Jordan observes in response, that "one of the three supposedly unnamed US officials apparently has been outed by an Iraqi news service, Voices of Iraq, whose report on the Baghdad news conference identified one of the three speakers as Major General William Caldwell, whose portfolio includes public affairs and who holds frequent news conference and grants one-on-one interviews.
"So, if the VOI report identifying Caldwell is correct, why did every other news organization apparently agree to grant anonymity to the general who's the official spokesman of the US-led Multi-National Force in Iraq? Why would Caldwell insist on not having his name associated with these allegations today?