Marc Danziger at Winds of Change has announced that he might have located the man who, according to the AP, is a Baghdad police captain but who, according to the U.S. military and the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, is not. More on that in a minute. First I’d like to clear something up.
Apparently a comment I made about Michelle Malkin’s decision to join Eason Jordan in Iraq on a search for Captain Jamil Hussein was picked up by some left-wing blogs as an example of a conservative blogger making fun of the whole idea. (I wrote that it sounded like an idea for a sitcom). I did not mean to imply that this investigation into the AP’s Iraq reporting would be a waste of time, and I most certainly did not mean that I would find it funny if Malkin were hurt or killed in Iraq, as she seems to think. It was nothing more than a comment on the oddness of the pairing (the basic idea behind dozens of sitcoms), and I hate that it’s been so badly misinterpreted, but I also find it bizarre that Michelle would lump me in with the haters on the left who have been saying some truly malicious things about her. If Malkin and Jordan go through with their inquiry, I hope that it yields useful answers about the state of journalism in Iraq and that they both return safe from the war zone. I think that should be obvious.
As for the subject of Malkin and Jordan’s inquiry — Capt. Hussein — the blog report indicating that he has been found has set off a premature celebration at Editor & Publisher, whose staff is eager to vindicate the AP. Meanwhile, this is all we really know:
1. A blogger has reported that “it appears – appears, but is not certain – that there is in fact a Jamail Hussein in the Yarmouk police station in Baghdad.” This really raises more questions than it answers, and so far Danziger hasn’t posted an update. It does indicate that the AP was quoting a source it believed in good faith to be a legitimate Iraqi police officer, but it doesn’t explain why neither the U.S. military nor the Iraqi MOI had any record of his employment. This might have something to do with the spelling of his name, in which case CENTCOM and the Iraqi MOI also acted in good faith when they found no “Jamil Hussein” in their records and disputed the AP’s account. (Although, if it is something as simple as a misspelled name, it raises the question of why the CENTCOM didn’t just contact the Yarmouk police station and ask around for Capt. Hussein before declaring that he wasn’t a police officer.)
2. This report tells us nothing about the veracity of the AP story that started all this. CENTCOM and the Iraqi MOI have also denied that the incident described in the article that quoted Capt. Hussein ever took place. New York Times correspondent Ed Wong also heard rumors about the incident — the alleged burning of six Iraqi Sunnis in front of a mosque — but couldn’t verify that it actually happened. Witnesses have changed their stories, and at this point a full accounting appears impossible. One hopes that Hussein — a major source for the AP’s report on the incident — if found to be a legitimate Iraqi police officer, can shed some new light on the story. But that brings us to point number 3, which is
3. Why hasn’t the AP found, re-interviewed or profiled Hussein? The AP has been taking a lot of heat over this. Why hasn’t it taken the one measure that would do the most to dispel the criticism? After the identity of another sketchy source — Salam Daher, a.k.a. “Green Helmet Guy“ — became an issue last summer, the AP quickly produced not one but two profiles of the guy. It seems like the AP would be best-positioned to get the story on Hussein. Instead, we’re left to speculate like mad about a short blog post stating that Hussein might or might not actually exist.
I honestly do hope that Malkin and Jordan get together in Iraq and get to the bottom of this. In fact, I hope they go even further and investigate the use of Iraqi stringers, the problem of enemy propaganda disguised as news and dozens of other issues stemming from the reporting of the war. Sometimes odd couples yield brilliant results (think Aerosmith and Run DMC). Sometimes they’re just annoying (think Carville and Matalin). I’m genuinely interested to see how this one turns out.
UPDATE: Danziger has posted an update. Hard to know what to make of it because it contains so many contradictory pieces of information. Danziger informs us that CENTCOM has finally gotten serious about its inquiry into this and to expect some solid answers soon.