Friday, December 08, 2006

Perhaps AP's Critics Would Like To Interview Hurriyah Residents Themselves?

AP is continuing to stand by the accuracy of the story that has had right-wing bloggers in vicious attack mode for weeks. AP's executive editor and senior v.p., Kathleen Carroll, released a statement today responding again to the charges that the news service relied on fraudulent sources to report a story that wasn't true. She called the charges "plain wrong," and pointed out the cowardice of people who criticize, from the safety of their homes or offices thousands of miles away, the integrity of local correspondents who put their lives at risk every day to uncover the truth.

Carroll deserves a standing ovation for refusing to back down from what she knows to be true, and for supporting Iraqi reporters who are doing what every journalist is supposed to do: Seek out the truth, and report it.

Here are some excerpts from her statement:

In recent days, a handful of people have stridently criticized The Associated Press’ coverage of a terrible attack on Iraqi citizens last month in Baghdad. Some of those critics question whether the incident happened at all and declare that they don't believe our reporting.

Indeed, a small number of them have whipped themselves into an indignant lather over the AP's reporting.

Their assertions that the AP has been duped or worse are unfounded and just plain wrong.
We have sent journalists to the neighborhood three different times to talk with people there about what happened. And those residents have repeatedly told us, in some detail, that Shiite militiamen dragged six Sunni worshippers from a mosque, drenched them with kerosene and burned them alive.

No one else has said they have actually gone to the neighborhood. Particularly not the individuals who have criticized our journalism with such barbed certitude.
We have not ignored the questions about our work raised by the U.S. military and later, by the Iraqi Interior Ministry. Indeed, we published those questions while also sending AP journalists back out to the scene to dig further into what happened and why others might be questioning the initial accounts.
What we found were more witnesses who described the attack in particular detail as well as describing the fear that runs through the neighborhood. We ran a lengthy story on those additional findings, as well as the questions, on Nov. 28.

Some of AP's critics question the existence of police Capt. Jamil Hussein, who was one (but not the only) source to tell us about the burning.

These critics cite a U.S. military officer and an Iraqi official who first said Hussein is not an authorized spokesman and later said he is not on their list of Interior Ministry employees. It’s worth noting that such lists are relatively recent creations of the fledgling Iraqi government.

By contrast, Hussein is well known to AP. We first met him, in uniform, in a police station, some two years ago. We have talked with him a number of times since then and he has been a reliable source of accurate information on a variety of events in Baghdad.

No one – not a single person – raised questions about Hussein’s accuracy or his very existence in all that time. Those questions were raised only after he was quoted by name describing a terrible attack in a neighborhood that U.S. and Iraqi forces have struggled to make safe.

That neighborhood, Hurriyah, is a particularly violent section of Baghdad. Once a Sunni enclave, it now is dominated by gunmen loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Many people there talked to us about the attack, but clammed up when they realized they might be quoted publicly. They felt understandably nervous about bringing their accusations up in an area patrolled by a Shiite-led police force that they suspect is allied with the very militia accused in these killings.

Carroll's complete statement is here.

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