You will not read one of the most significant stories of the week out of Iraq on the front page of The New York Times. CNN will not make it headline news. The Associated Press has yet to touch it.
That's because the story exposes the media's own widespread malfeasance in reporting on the war on terror -- and its refusal to be held accountable when challenged by "amateur" bloggers investigating fishy sources and claims recycled recklessly by "professional" journalists.
One of the most sensational news items over the Thanksgiving holiday came from the Associated Press, which reported on six Sunni civilians burned alive as they left Friday mosque services. The shocking dispatch received global coverage. The front cover of the Philadelphia Daily News blasted:
"WORSHIPPERS BURNED ALIVE: Capping deadliest week of war, 6 Sunnis doused with kerosene, set afire as Iraqi soldiers reportedly stand idle." The Chicago Sun-Times blared: "Sunnis burned alive in revenge." The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia headlined: "Shi'ite militia burn Sunnis alive in revenge attacks." The Calcutta Telegraph in India echoed: "Shias burn Sunnis alive."
The Washington Post announced: "New savage twist to violence in Baghdad." The lead paragraph reported: "Revenge-seeking Shiite militiamen seized six Sunnis as they left Friday prayers, drenched them with kerosene and burned them alive, and Iraqi soldiers did nothing to stop the attack, police and witnesses said."
The story continued: "Police Capt. Jamil Hussein said Iraqi soldiers at a nearby army post failed to intervene in the burnings of Sunnis carried out by suspected members of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia, or in subsequent attacks that torched four Sunni mosques and killed at least 19 other Sunnis, including women and children, in the same northwest Baghdad area."
Just a few small problems with the massively publicized story:
1) "Police Capt. Jamil Hussein" is an unreliable, unauthorized spokesperson whom the military has warned the Associated Press about before.
2) The incident cannot be verified.
Newspaper readers around the world who carried the story have not been informed of any of this by the Associated Press or any other mainstream media outlet. But those who follow the blogosphere have been unraveling the story over the past week at lightning pace. Curt at the Flopping Aces blog (http://floppingaces.net/) has led the way, first raising questions on Saturday morning about "police Capt. Jamil Hussein's" account. He noted an official Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) statement in response to the AP report that "neither we nor Baghdad Police had any reports of such an incident after investigating it and could find no one to corroborate the story."
Next, he published a bombshell e-mail from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Iraq (which CENTCOM also confirmed to me). Since September, Multi-National Forces in Iraq (MNF-I) have worked with a group of retired police officers there to verify the legitimacy and employment of Iraqi Police (IP) and Ministry of Interior (MOI) "spokesmen" quoted in the media. According to the military, the Associated Press has been warned previously about these unreliable sources who have not been established as bona fide employees -- but "they have pretty much ignored us."
The list includes the following sources, many of whom have appeared in countless AP stories: police Lt. Ali Abbas; police Capt. Mohammed Abdel-Ghani; police Brigadier Sarhat Abdul-Qadir; Mosul police Director Gen. Wathiq al-Hamdani; police Lt. Bilal Ali; Ali al-Obaidi, a medic at Ramadi Hospital; police Maj. Firas Gaiti; police Captain Mohammed Ismail; Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the Interior Ministry spokesman (a.k.a. Police Brigadier Abd al-Karim Khalaf, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Brig. Abdel-Karim Khalaf); Mohammed Khayon, a Baghdad police lieutenant; police spokesman Mohammed Kheyoun (a.k.a. Police Lieutenant Mohammed Khayoun); Lt. Thaer Mahmoud, head of a police section responsible for releasing daily death tolls; police Lt. Bilal Ali Majid; police Lt. Ali Muhsin; police 1st Lt. Mutaz Salahhidine (a.k.a. Lieutenant Mutaz Salaheddin); Col. Abbas Mohammed Salman; and policeman Haider Satar.
And that's a partial list.
After Curt's inquiries, CENTCOM sent a request for retraction to the Associated Press. Public Affairs Officer Lt. Michael Dean of the MNC-I Joint Operations Center wrote:
We can tell you definitively that the primary source of this story, police Capt. Jamil Hussein, is not a Baghdad police officer or an MOI employee. We verified this fact with the MOI through the Coalition Police Assistance Training Team . . .
. . . Also, we definitely know, as we told you several weeks ago through the MNC-I Media Relations cell, that another AP-popular IP spokesman, Lt. Maithem Abdul Razzaq, supposedly of the city's Yarmouk police station, does not work at that police station and is also not authorized to speak on behalf of the IP. The MOI has supposedly issued a warrant for his questioning. . . . Unless you have a credible source to corroborate the story of the people being burned alive, we respectfully request that AP issue a retraction, or a correction at a minimum, acknowledging that the source named in the story is not who he claimed he was. MNC-I and MNF-I are always available and willing to verify events and provide as much information as possible when asked.
The Associated Press has yet to respond to queries from both Curt and me regarding its reporting on the incident. As of Tuesday afternoon, I could find no retraction, correction or reference to the shady spokesman angle in any Associated Press report. The silence from AP (and the rest of the media, for that matter) comes as no surprise. This is, after all, the same organization that sat on the news for five months that one of its Iraqi-based stringers, Bilal Hussein, had been and remains in detention after being captured by U.S. military forces with an alleged al Qaeda operative.
At least we know how to get the blabbermouth media to clam up now: Just start asking them questions and a mammoth hush will fall over newsrooms faster than you can press "mute."