December 20, 2006

Solvalogging: Jamil Hussein... Baghdad's Own Lieutenant Kije

Hatched by Dafydd

So John over at Power Line sez,

I assume that Associated Press reporters don't just make stuff up, and, when in doubt, attribute it to a fictitious character named Jamil Hussein.

Bah, humbug, sez I. I think that is exactly what they have done in this case!

In a 1927 short story by Yury Tynyanov, a Russian general is reading a report to Czar Paul I; the czar mishears a word and thinks the general is talking about a "Lieutenant Kijé," who sounds like a brave and brilliant fellow. Czar Paul demands to hear more about him.

As it is death to contradict the czar, the general makes up several wonderful missions and adventures of the entirely fictitious Lieutenant Kijé. Soon other commanders join in the fun; eventually, there is an entire cottage industry of Kijé sightings, Kijé adventures, and Kijé romances. Lt. Kijé eventually gets married -- and while the czar never seems to run into the fellow himself, the soldiers sure do enjoy all the vodka the czar supplies!

The story was turned into a movie in 1934 by Aleksandr Fajntsimmer, with music by Prokofiev (the music is much more famous than either the movie or the story).

I see an exact parallel to AP. Whenever a journalist is concocting a story, especially one designed to fit snug and tight into The Story (the predetermined vision that fills the reporter even before heading out to Iraq or Afghanistan or Upper Iguana), he typically ends up with a handful of important, tendentious points he desires to make... but which no actual named source is quite willing to supply. At that point, our intrepid reporter has only three options:

  • He can just shrug and let them go; but this runs afoul of the primary duty of the profession of journalism: to save the world from the likes of George W. Bush and other sordid Republicans;
  • He can simply make the points himself in his own voice; but this gets him in trouble with the managing editor, unless he has a big enough name that he's been dubbed a "news rainmaker," allowed to blatantly interject his own idiot opinions into alleged news stories (e.g., Bob Woodward's "interview" of Bill Casey);
  • If he's not the type only interested in reporting facts, and he's not a rainmaker, then there is but one surefire technique available to him, which is taught in the upper-division classes at J-school: he can simply invent a source and attribute those essential points of The Story to him.

But it's hard work to fabricate a source, complete with a believable name, a sufficiently impressive but safely vague enough background, and a job profile that would put him in the thick of whatever things the reporter is assigned to cover.

I'm sure at some point it has occurred to every reporter that it would be quite useful to have a small handbook of pre-fab fictional sources. That way, rather than straining to create one himself -- and perhaps coming up with "Sheikh Omar Kayyam al-Arglebargle, a Baghdad greengrocer and turbin adjuster," who travels all over the country witnessing war crimes the way Jessica Fletcher witnesses murders at every dinner party she attends -- the cub reporter can just thumb through the Handbook of Purely Believable Sources (Pure-BS) and find one to take the blame.

The Pure-BS would presumably group them by province; it wouldn't do to cite Police Captain Jamil "Kijé" Hussein in a story about American atrocities in Anbar, and have somebody else cite him the same day about Sunni crimes against humanity in Sadr City! But it probably wouldn't divide the provinces themselves up much, because that would require the reporter to actually know where he was, or to risk embarassment by having to ask his driver. Thus, the various reporters (stringers and actual AP employees) just use Jamil Hussein solely on the basis of how recently he's been cited and whether there is another fictitious source waiting his own turn.

Presumably, Reuters, CNN, and the Times each has its own handbook; we could test the theory for each media outlet by looking for those sources who get cited most often without any visible signs of existing. (Look for them not appearing on any payroll, never being seen by anybody but the reporter, or being described in the article as a six-foot tall rabbit named Mohammed al-Pooka). But perhaps they can "loan out" a particularly juicy Kijé to a rival for a fee.

Just like the "real" Lt. Kijé, now that the heat's on AP, look for Police Captain Jamil Hussein to suddenly turn up dead... murdered by a joint American/Shiite death squad who found out where he lives because Michelle Malkin and other right-wing bloggers outed him -- those dirty spoilsports!

I'm appalled by the lack of creativity and imagination in the blogosphere. Must it always be left to Big Lizards to suggest the obvious explanation for everything?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 20, 2006, at the time of 6:10 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Rovin

The fun part is still to come. Watchin' how AP's gonna try to squirm out of this. whooppppssss...

The first big misstake was editing out a portion of one of their "responses" (after two weeks)??

Or did anyone notice a hospital and a morgue dissapeared off the Iraqi map.

Now if we can just get Jordan to turn into Jamil, they could all implode together.

The above hissed in response by: Rovin [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 20, 2006 8:10 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

Excellent, Dafydd. I've been doing daily Jamilgate roundups for a little over three weeks now (... and they still aint found 'im?). A teaser for your post just became the "above the fold" portion of CENTCOM says AP’s "Iraqi police source" isn’t Iraqi police -- Part 23. That's all there is to the post right now but I'm sure that'll change by mid-morning.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2006 12:18 AM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

A better technique -

A reporter interviews Iraqi cop on the beat Hussein Al Hasenphepher who happens to confirm every preconceived noticed the reporter has! What a scoop! They publish.

Afterwards no one can find a trace of said Hasenphepher. Reluctantly, on page 11, they retract the story. But the story wasn't a lie, no they were simply duped by the media savvy enemy. But see, it is the fault of the enemy, not the lazy reporter who was so easily taken in.

Or I know, you can claim that Hussein Al Hasenphepher was just a pseudonym, designed to protect the real sources. Actually he is an amalgam of several sources. Yeah, that's it. Someday they will reveal his true name, but for now he must be protected from...the man.

A good reporter can keep up the dance indefinately. But if you get in real hot water change the story - start talking about the tone of the questioners (dirty right wing blogs out to get legitimate reporters...). Eventually everyone gets tried and moves on.

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2006 4:43 AM

The following hissed in response by: Calvin Powers

I am more and more convinced that future generations will look back on the movie "Wag The Dog" as one of the most culturally insightful movies of our times.

The Jamil Hussein story sounds more and more like Wag The Dog all the time. I can almost imagine that early scene in the movie in which the President's "Mr Fix-It" Conrad Bream (played by Robert DeNiro) finally comes clean about what he wants Big Shot Hollywood Producer Stanley Motss (played by Dustin Hoffman) to do.

I can't find the exact quote but it went along the lines of

Stanley Motss: (incredulously) "You want me to produce a War?"
Conrad Bream: Not a War. The Apearance of a War. A Pageant.

Only in the Jamil Hussein case, it seems that the goal is not the "apearance of a War" but "the appearance of losing the war".

And if the Jamil Hussein story turns out to be the worst case scenario, a total fiction that enabled the AP to just Make Stuff Up, can we not partly attribute the elections to the lies that AP has printed?

I agree with your prediction which by the way is exactly what happened in Wag The Dog. When the whole country was waiting for the fictitous "Col. 'Old Shoe' Schuman" to come home from the war, the producers eventually had to produce a someone who, conveniently, was dead.

But in he real world, dead people still have relatives, and friends, and places to live. We're all deeply enmeshed in the world we live in. So when the AP (almost inevitably) produces a dead body and claims it is Jamil Hussein, I hope people keep investigating and verifying his identity.

Likewise, I hope people will try to find corroborating evidence for every one of the claims attributed to Hussein in the 61 AP news stories.

The above hissed in response by: Calvin Powers [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2006 5:22 AM

The following hissed in response by: Rovin


It appears the "big guns" are circling the wagons and blaming both sides for the bias:

"In that sense, the outlets that exist for the explicit purpose of rooting out bias - liberal or conservative -- don't necessarily help so much. Certainly, biases exist, and sometimes they are reflected inappropriately. But if you're looking hard enough for bias one way or the other, you'll probably find it - maybe even both ways." (Link to complete post)

Major news sources have just as much at stake here for the obvious reasons. With the like's of Mapes, Rather, CNN and Jordan, and now AP, how much of "historical facts" will need revision?

The above hissed in response by: Rovin [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2006 7:20 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Eventually everyone gets tried and moves on.

Oh, how I wish!


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2006 8:23 AM

The following hissed in response by: snochasr

This will turn out to be another Rathergate, giving the media a black eye which they will promptly cover with makeup and go right on doing what they always do-- giving aid and comfort to the enemy in a time of war.

Nonetheless, to blame them for the election results overlooks the completely ineffective, bordering on counterproductive, behavior of elected Republicans over the last few years. If you can't advance the conservative agenda, you ought at least not do great damage to it, and these "guys" couldn't even seem to manage /that/.
I hope they "learn the lesson" voters were trying to teach before the Democrats screw this country up beyond all recognition.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2006 1:12 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

It seems there are still a lot of Baghdad Bobs over there and not all of them are Iraqi either. I wonder how often the media got away with running some crap that was not even close to being true. Maybe the old days were better. Back in WW2 the press in the war zone was censored. I really don't like to even say that but people's lives are on the lines and these guys are treating this like some kind of game.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2006 2:19 PM

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