Sunday, February 25, 2007

NYT: Whispers echo in the Cave

Could someone explain to Damien Cave that he's a reporter? He seems to have forgotten that over the weekend judging by "Iraq Rebel Cleric Reins In Militia; Motives at Issue" (front page of the New York Times this morning) which is built on a great deal of whispers but if there are any facts, Cave's keeping them to himself.

The narrative appears to be that al-Sadr has kicked out two members of his militia and that the two made DVDs of themselves killing Sunnis when they weren't taking assistance (money? training?) from Iran.

That's the narratives but where are the facts? Yes, it's very popular to play the Iran card these days and the easiest way it can go down is to push it in a manner like this -- even al-Sadr is offended!

But the thing is, Cave didn't speak to al-Sadr. Cave has no idea if two were kicked out or if they were kicked out on al-Sadr's orders. In his third pargraph, he launches into the following musings:

But did he do so as part of his cooperation with the new security plan for Baghdad, which aims to quell the sectarian violence tormenting the city? Because his men had been disloyal, taking orders from Iran, whose support he values but whose control he fights? Or was it just for show -- the act of an image-conscious leader who grasped the risk of graphic videos and wanted to stave off American action against him?

While those are all good questions, they all rest on the premise that what's been whispered to Cave is true and there's nothing in the story that should reassure a reader that the whispers are anything but gossip. That's in the whole story. Now the two paragraphs don't even try to pretend to document, they just present (unattributed) gossip as fact. I thought Bold Face or whatever the Times' attempt at a gossip column had been discontinued? Did it just move to Baghdad?

So let's be clear about what's known from this article: Someone wants you to believe that two members of Moqtada al-Sadr's militia were fired and they they were on the take from Iran and filming their own killing sprees.

Now those whispers are certainly Times' pleasing -- they advance the rumors that the Times has been pushing for some time. They may even be true but there's nothing in the article that would make a thinking reader believe they were.

Now Sami al-Askari does provide a for the record quote: "Iran intervenes in many ways, with many methods." What that vague statement (or his other ones) is supposed to be responding to is anyone's guess. Now others go on the record, people from outside Iraq, for instance. But what is the source that two militia members have been fired? Forget the reasons for the firing, how about establishing first off that two have been fired. That's what reporting does. It doesn't just toss out claims and ask the read, "Trust me! It happened! I've got too much to tell you to go into how I know, but I know!"

Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributes "Bomb at Iraqi Mosque Kills 36 After Sunni Imam Condemns Militants" which is a stronger piece:

A truck bomb detonated beside a Sunni mosque and public market near Falluja on Saturday, killing 36 people and wounding at least 62 more worshipers a day after the iman there condemned Sunni militants, according to Iraqi security authorities.

Oppel also attempts to provide the various statements regarding Friday's detention of Amar al-Hakim (son of Abudl Aziz al-Hakim who had face time with the Bully Boy in December). al-Hakim maintains he was roughed up by American forces. The US military denies this and states that they were present only in a support capacity and that Iraqis were in charge of the border checkpoint.

al-Hakim got an apology for his arrest and was released. If he were the son of someone less powerful, he probably wouldn't have even gotten that.

New content at The Third Estate Sunday Review:

All is revealed
The Nation Stats
If he exceeds his reach, you must impeach
Talking artistic representation with The Common Ills' Isaiah
The Weeping Rapist
TV: Aftermath leaves an aftertaste
Editorial: Watada, they go after, Watada
Truest statement of the week

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