He Said, She Said: Bloggers Question AP Article

That the proliferation of blogging has transformed otherwise perhaps antiquated forms of news consumption is indisputable. Blogs often break news stories even before news organiztions gather enough evidence to report them, and a resulting influx of citizen journalists has greatly influenced the shifting media landscape we so often discuss. But when bloggers begin to question published articles, accusing the media of spinning stories in order to cater to a specific agenda, it is the journalists that become afflicted.

An article in The New York Times yesterday discussed a controversial AP article that detailed an incident in which six Sunnis were killed violently by a group of Shiites. According to the article, Bloggers questioned the report's validity, citing both Iraqi and American officials' insistence that the event was a rumor. The NYT article continued:

“Getting the News From the Enemy” was how the Flopping Aces blog (floppingaces.net) tracked the developing face-off between the military and A.P.

Iraq’s interior ministry wielded the article like a bludgeon and used it as an opportunity to create a press monitoring unit that suggested, in no uncertain terms, that reporters in Baghdad should come to its press officers for “real, true news.” A ministry spokesman promised “legal action” — whatever that might mean — against journalists who publish information the agency deemed wrong.

The AP rebutted:

Then there was The Associated Press itself, which by Friday had come to view the continued scrutiny of its article as evidence that everyone — the military, the blogosphere, even other media outlets tracking the back-and-forth — was either agenda-driven, insolent, or both, but not legitimately curious.

The international editor of the A.P., John Daniszewski, said in a statement Tuesday that the military’s questioning of the original sourcing on the article was “frankly ludicrous and hints at a certain level of desperation to dispute or suppress the facts of the incident in question.”

This seems a bit extreme. It is not outrageous that bloggers would question a potentially controversial article. It is becoming more and more evident that, although it is important not to forget the notion of the boy who cried wolf, oftentimes the blogosphere scoops news organizations, and a lot of times they are spot-on. Shouldn't this kind of close scrutiny be welcomed? The integrity of journalists is constantly being challenged, and now there are more critics, in the form of bloggers, for example, eager to uncover a possible untruth or blatant falsification or fabrication of evidence.

Daniszewski's comments seem defensive, however, in response the AP re-reported the event in question, eventually reaching the same conclusion. Iraqi officials continued to refute the article as untrue:

For all of the grisly detail, a spokesman for the Iraq interior ministry, Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, continued on Thursday to call the incident a rumor.

“We dispatched our forces to the area where the rumor claimed the burning took place and found nothing,” he said.

Meanwhile, little in the way of fallout over the event itself has been detected — no outcry, no heated, televised denunciations from Sunni clerics and politicians — as might be expected from what The Associated Press itself called “one of the most horrific alleged attacks of Iraq’s sectarian war.”

And so questions lingered and the blogs raged on.

The article doesn't side with the AP or with the bloggers, but rather takes an objective perspective on the implications of such a dispute. Afterall, isn't it at least curious that this issue has yet to be resolved? Is this what the public should come to expect from coverage of Iraq? Or has it been so all along, and only now there are critics willing to spend time dissecting articles that don't seem quite right? The AP was quick to accuse the bloggers as pandering to a specific agenda, which may be entirely true, but does this mean that their concerns should not be taken seriously? Where should news organizations draw the line? I applaud the AP for opting to re-report the event, although in this case it did little to quell the debate.

It is important to find out if this really happened in order to separate the hyperbole from the merely horrible in Iraq, so that the horrible will still have meaning. Otherwise it will all become din.

It is also true that the institution conducting America’s multibillion gamble in Iraq — the military — says that this standout of atrocities never happened, while a venerable, trusted news agency has twice interviewed witnesses who said, in extensive, vivid detail, that it did.

That is not just a curiosity. It is a limbo that leaves Hurriyah open for use as a political plaything, to confirm deep-seated beliefs about the media, or to give Iraqi ministers rhetorical fuel to threaten reporters.

Whatever the agenda of the bloggers most interested in debunking the article, it somehow seems important to figure out why this incident — in the face of all the killings in Iraq — remains in such dispute.

Hopefully someone, whether it be a blog, a news organization, or an official, will get to the bottom of this.

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