Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Take the same approach

It appears that someone is in fact trying:

Thanks to a reporter at The New York Times, the controversy is not likely to go away. Tom Zeller said "it is important to find out if this really happened in order to separate the hyperbole from the merely horrible."

In other words, Zeller seems unconvinced that the story reported by AP of six Sunnis being horribly burned ever actually took place. Zeller also noted in a separate post on his blog that a Times colleague in Iraq was unable to verify the story and in fact cast serious doubt on its legitimacy. A Time magazine correspondent also was unable to confirm the story, describing the burnings as “alleged.”

Remember two years ago when bloggers raised questions about a "60 Minutes" segment led by CBS News Anchor Dan Rather? The segment was based on documents provided under strange circumstances by a mysterious source who has never been identified. Rather said the documents suggested President Bush received favored treatment by the National Guard in order to avoid service in Vietnam.

Within hours of the “60 Minutes” broadcast, however, bloggers were uncovering persuasive evidence that the documents were almost certainly forgeries. CBS convened an investigation by former AP President Lou Boccardi and former U.S. Attorney-General Dick Thornburgh. Boccardi and Thornburgh were unable to verify the documents. Rather retired.

It's time for AP to take the same sort of approach to resolve the Captain Jamil Hussein controversy. But there is one big difference between the present issue and the Dan Rather/"60 Minutes" ordeal - AP provides news to virtually every daily newspaper in America. AP is a cornerstone of the mainstream media. If AP's credibilty is harmed, every news organization that uses its products also suffers.

Thus, AP should ask the American Society of Newspaper Editors to oversee the appointment and conduct of an independent panel of respected journalists and outside evidentiary experts to determine the truth behind Captain Jamil Hussein and all other sources similarly in doubt.

To allow this controversy to continue to fester without taking decisive actions to resolve it to everybody's satisfaction could be disastrous for journalists everywhere.

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