Eason Jordan Calls Out AP on Jamil Hussein

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Jan 02, 2007 12:32 PM

Who is Jamil Hussein? Nobody knows yet, and the AP has yet to produce him.

Former CNN head Eason Jordan, who knows a few things about journalistic scandals and the cover-up thereof, has words for the AP today:

Therefore, in the absence of clear and compelling evidence to corroborate the AP's exclusive story and Captain Hussein's existence, we must conclude for now that the AP's reporting in this case was flawed.

To make matters worse, Captain Jamil Hussein was a key named source in more than 60 AP stories on at least 25 supposed violent incidents over eight months.

Until this controversy is resolved, every one of those AP reports is tainted.

When two governments challenge the veracity of your reporting, when there are reasonable doubts about whether your prime named source for a sensational exclusive story exists, when there's no proof a reported horrific incident occurred, when the news outlet responsible for the disputed report stonewalls and is stridently defensive, when the validity of dozens of other of your reports has been called into question as a result, then that news organization has a scandal on its hands, and that is where the AP finds itself.

Having learned from my own successes and failures and those of others, I know that a journalistic scandal can be handled effectively only when the news organization's management deals with it proactively, constructively, and transparently, with a readiness to admit any mistake, to apologize for it, and to take appropriate corrective action.

The AP has failed to do so in this case.

I, therefore, urge the AP to appoint an independent panel to determine the facts about the disputed report, to determine whether Iraqi Police Captain Jamil Hussein exists, and to share the panel's full findings and recommendations with the public.

Until this matter is resolved, the AP's credibility will suffer.

He's right, though it's a little strange to reference him on a matter of journalistic credibility.

Bob Owens is tracking all 60-some of those stories attributed to Jamil Hussein to see if he can find corroboration from other news sources. Here are his conclusions (emphasis mine):

Put bluntly, a search for other news agency accounts of the events described by Jamil Hussein seems to indicate that most of these events simply do not exist anywhere else except in AP reporting. I was completely unable to find a definitive corroborating account of any of Jamil Hussein's accounts, anywhere.

That I was unable to find corroborating accounts for some stories is quite understandable; even in non-war-torn countries some news organizations have access to some stories denied others, as reporting assets and sources are not evenly distributed. Most of the AP dispatches using Jamil Hussein as a source were simply not that big in the wider and often larger chaos of the bloody sectarian conflict whirling through Baghdad; a gunbattle killing two suicide bombers, or even a non-fatal car-bombing is something that has sadly become far too common in many parts of Iraq, and Baghdad in particular. That other news agencies don't account for every single attack of this kind is not surprising-though it should be somewhat suspect when in 40 straight stories, not a single one of your competitors captured the same event. Not one. At that point, some sort of editorial oversight should have kicked in, should it not?

And yet, in 40 AP stories checked, only in two instances covering a total of four stories did I run into anything approaching possible corroboration.

And, don't anyone forget that the original report of four burned mosques from Thanksgiving week, which accompanied the burning Sunnis account, was later reduced to only one in subsequent AP reporting without any acknowledgement of the mistake.

These are basic journalistic mistakes for which there are basic fixes and corrections required by basic journalistic practices. AP has yet to employ any of them in this situation, and now that the criticism is expanding to include Eason Jordan,it's a bit harder to slime the messengers, as Allah points out:

I look forward to Eric Boehlert’s next dopey exercise in What Warbloggers Believe, in which Eric explains how a guy who once accused U.S. troops of trying to murder journalists is actually a neocon Bush-booster busying himself with minutiae to avoid facing the hard facts on the ground.

Via Allah, the AP stonewall continues:

This has not set off a new round of examination by the AP, apparently.

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."

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."

Um, he's a named source. He's been named for years. Just produce proof that he exists. It's not as if we're asking them to reveal anonymous sources. This guy, if he exists, has been putting himself out there for two years, now, and suddenly he's completely disappeared? The AP has also stopped quoting him in dispatches, so one wonders if they're as sure about his credibility as they claim.

Update:  Cool facts about Jamil Hussein. Make up your own if you want!