"The AP's Jamil Hussein Scandal
Controversy Will Haunt the AP Until It Does What is Right
By EASON JORDAN Posted 18 hr. 12 min. ago
"If an Iraqi police captain by the name of Jamil Hussein exists, there is no convincing evidence of it - and that means the Associated Press has a journalistic scandal on its hands that will fester until the AP deals with it properly.
This controversy and the AP's handling of it call into question the credibility, integrity, and smarts of one of the world's biggest, most influential, most respected news organizations, the New York-based Associated Press.
The back story: On November 24, the AP quoted Iraqi Police Captain Jamil Hussein as the source of a sensational AP story that began this way:
"Militiamen grabbed six Sunnis as they left Friday worship services, doused them with kerosene and burned them alive as Iraqi soldiers stood by."
It was a horrific report that was an AP exclusive - a story picked up and reported by news outlets across the U.S. and the world.
The U.S. military and Iraqi officials were quick to call the story baseless, saying there was no evidence that six Sunnis were burned to death in Hurriya and that there was no record of an Iraqi police captain named Jamil Hussein. The U.S. military and the Iraqi government demanded the AP retract the story and explain itself.
The AP fired back with at least three strong statements defending the initial AP report and provided a follow-up report from Baghdad quoting anonymous witnesses as confirming the original immolation story.
In the absence of irrefutable evidence that Captain Hussein exists and that the original AP report was accurate, bloggers and a few mainstream media journalists kept plugging away in an effort to get to the truth about whether there is a Captain Hussein and whether six Sunnis were burned alive that day.
Five weeks after the disputed episode, key questions remain unanswered, but what is clear is the AP has botched its handling of this controversy - and it's not going away until the AP deals with it forthrightly and transparently.
IraqSlogger's probe into the case is inconclusive, with conflicting and unconfirmed information regarding whether there's a Captain Hussein and whether the reported immolation happened.
Inquiries by others point to there being no Captain Jamil Hussein, although there is no proof of that.
While proof might yet surface to substantiate the AP's story - there is circumstantial but unreliable evidence in that regard - conclusive evidence has not yet materialized.
The AP has steadfastly refused to answer questions about this episode from IraqSlogger and other news outlets and bloggers.
In statements, the AP insists Captain Hussein is real, insists he has been known to the AP and others for years, and insists the immolation episode occurred based on multiple eyewitnesses.
But efforts by two governments, several news organizations, and bloggers have failed to produce such evidence or proof that there is a Captain Jamil Hussein. The AP cannot or will not produce him or convincing evidence of his existence.
It is striking that no one has been able to find a family member, friend, or colleague of Captain Hussein. Nor has the AP told us who in the AP's ranks has actually spoken with Captain Hussein. Nor has the AP quoted Captain Hussein once since the story of the disputed episode.
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.
Meantime, IraqSlogger and others will doggedly pursue the truth in this case."