Michelle Malkin's credibility, R.I.P.

It's time for warbloggers to find a new conspiracy theory to promote because their most recent one, which involved accusing the Associated Press of manufacturing a source in Iraq and colluding with the insurgents, blew up in their faces. But don't look for detailed corrections, let alone heartfelt apologies. Being a warblogger means not having to say you're sorry.

It's time for warbloggers to find a new conspiracy theory to promote because their most recent one, which involved accusing the Associated Press of manufacturing a source in Iraq and colluding with the insurgents, blew up in their faces. But don't look for detailed corrections, let alone heartfelt apologies. Being a warblogger means not having to say you're sorry.

I've written extensively about this controversy because I think it perfectly captures the right-wing warbloggers and their never-ending goal to undermine the press. Not with thoughtful, factual analysis -- which is always welcome -- but by feverishly trying to undercut news reports that might pose a problem for President Bush's war in Iraq and by shifting attention onto the media. They want to simultaneously create confusion about facts, while undermining news consumers' confidence in the mainstream news media.

Indeed, warbloggers want to have it both ways. They want to be seen as tenacious press critics, thoroughly scrutinizing the media's work and doing democracy a favor. But in reality they can't control their naked disdain for progressives, not to mention their consuming hatred of the “liberal media.” It's a combination that routinely prompts them to launch dim-witted crusades built around flimsy, what-if conspiracy theories. (Glenn Greenwald assembled a Greatest Hits list here; the Terri Schiavo talking points memo hoax represents a particularly telling chapter in warblogger foolery.)

I'm not necessarily surprised by the outcome of the AP controversy. In December I noted, “Warbloggers, who have been wrong about Iraq for going on 50 straight months, are looking for a scapegoat. I don't think the AP is their answer.”

Their press offensive began over Thanksgiving weekend when an AP dispatch, quoting Iraqi police Capt. Jamil Hussein, reported that Shiite militiamen had “grabbed six Sunnis as they left Friday worship services, doused them with kerosene and burned them alive near Iraqi soldiers who did not intervene.” Warbloggers were skeptical of the chilling report, and actually raised some legitimate journalism questions, in part because no other news organizations could confirm the horrific event. The U.S. Central Command's communications machine, relying on the information from Iraq's Ministry of Interior, then issued a statement that it could not corroborate the Burned Alive story, followed by another statement that Hussein was not a Baghdad police captain.

That's when the warbloggers became unhinged. Piling on, they claimed the disputed story raised doubts about all the mainstream media's reporting in Iraq. Warbloggers also accused American journalists of being too cowardly to go get the news in Iraq themselves and relying on local Iraqi news stringers with obvious terrorist sympathies and who purposefully push insurgent propaganda into the news stream -- the way Hussein did with the Burned Alive story -- to create the illusion of turmoil.

Despite the volcanic violence unfolding inside Iraq recently, the pursuit of the Hussein story produced giddy times for warbloggers. They named the scandal “Jamilgate” and created a special "Free Jamil Hussein" logo for bumper stickers. Somebody even produced a phony Jamil Hussein blog, while fake Jamil Hussein emails (aka "JMail") were posted online amidst much chuckling and backslapping.

At the height of the self-congratulatory frenzy, Michelle Malkin, who wrote incessantly about the Hussein “scandal,” triumphantly announced warbloggers had caught the AP faking a source. The verdict for the mainstream media? As delivered by Malkin it was simple: "MSM credibility, R.I.P."

But turnabout is fair play, and suddenly it's Malkin's already-thin credibility that has expired. Thursday afternoon the AP reported that the Iraqi government had flip-flopped and confirmed the disputed officer's existence. The Ministry of Interior confirmed the source's name was Jamil Hussein, that he was a captain, that he was assigned to the Khadra police station, and that he had talked with AP reporters, which is precisely what the AP had insisted for months.

I must concede the discipline warbloggers have shown in maintaining their denial in the wake of the crumbling Hussein story is impressive. For instance, last month Power Line, busy hyping the “fake” Hussein story, wrote , “Of course, if Jamil Hussein turns up and [journalists] interview him in his office in a Baghdad police station, the AP will be vindicated.” Well, Hussein not only turned up in Baghdad but his position was confirmed by the Ministry of Interior -- the same source warbloggers had used to deny Hussein's existence. So the AP was “vindicated,” right? Not by Power Line, which for 96 hours stoically ignored the inconvenient development.

The same's true of Flopping Aces, the warblog at the center of the Hussein conspiracy story. In a rare moment of reflection last month, Curt, who was supposed to travel with Malkin to Baghdad in search of the “mysterious” Hussein, wondered out loud what would happen if the source was found. Imagining himself locating Hussein on a Baghdad street, Curt pondered the scenario "[w]hen we say that we would like him to come with us to the Ministry of Interior and have the MoI verify he is indeed a employee [sic]."

For Curt, having the Ministry of Interior verify Hussein's position would be the best way to end the controversy. Of course, last week the Ministry of Interior did verify Hussein's position -- but Curt refused to admit his pursuit had been pointless.

More? At the height of Hussein frenzy, warblogger Rick Moran at Rightwing Nuthouse wrote, “If it can be shown that Jamil Hussein is a fake or doesn't exist, where does that leave AP's coverage of the war over the last three years?” Note the emphasis Moran put on proving that Hussein “is a fake” and “doesn't exist.” Yet now that we know the truth, warbloggers like Moran insist proving whether Hussein was “a fake” was never all that important. And of course, the inverse of Moran's statement now boomerangs back on the warbloggers; if it can be shown that Jamil Hussein is not a fake, where does that leave warbloggers and their coverage over the last seven weeks?

I don't want to spend too much time debunking the conspiracy point-by-point, in part because warbloggers have chased the Hussein rabbit so far down the hole they've burrowed beyond Alice's Wonderland and popped out in another dimension. They truly have proven the truism that it's not possible to argue rationally with conspiracy theorists because logic rarely deters them.

For instance, despite insisting just days earlier that Hussein was "fake," Curt at Flopping Aces wrote of the confirmation that Hussein exists: “Actually it makes it better.” This from the same warblogger who previously lectured the AP, complaining that it “refuses to acknowledge that they screwed up, and screwed up royally.”

Warbloggers: Jamil Hussein does not exist

It's important to understand that the entire premise of the warbloggers' press conspiracy revolved around the fact that Hussein did not exist. That's the angle that drove the story and drove their excitement. Period. Warbloggers were going to make national headlines by proving the AP had manufactured a “bogus” source in Iraq. I realize warbloggers now deny that point and argue they never pushed the angle that Hussein was a fake. Unfortunately for warbloggers, they're bloggers, which means they typed up all their dark press assertions and gleefully posted them on the Internet where people can easily go back and see what they wrote:

  • Curt at Flopping Aces described the police captain as “the fraud we know as Jamil Hussein.”
  • Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs mocked the AP and “their nonexistent news sources.”
  • SeeDubya at JunkYardBlog categorically announced “There is no Captain Jamil Hussein,” stressed “he doesn't really exist,” that he's "non-existent," and suggested the AP source might actually be “Ayman Al-Zawahiri calling up the AP to give his version of events.”
  • Armed Liberal at Winds of Change declared, “We don't believe [Hussein] exists.”
  • Michelle Malkin mocked the AP's “bogus source Capt. Jamil Hussein.”

Since Hussein is not fake, that means warbloggers are right back where they started, obsessing about a single AP dispatch filed Nov. 24, and claiming that one story somehow taints all the AP's reporting from Iraq. When I wrote a column pointing out the absurdity of that warblogger claim, arguing that they were extrapolating all kinds of dark inferences from a single news report about six deaths at a time when thousands of Iraqis were being killed each month (i.e. “Michelle Malkin fiddles while Baghdad burns”), warbloggers reacted with anger. They insisted I was missing the point, which was that the AP had manufactured a “fake” source in Jamil Hussein, and if the AP did that for one article, who knows how many other stories the AP faked. Meaning: Hussein was the tip of an enormous press scandal iceberg.

But now Iraq's own Ministry of Interior has confirmed Hussein's title, warbloggers are racing in reverse, insisting Hussein's existence was never the issue. (It “changes very little,” SeeDubya assured his readers.) The disputed facts from the Nov. 24 dispatch, that's what warbloggers really wanted to nail down. Which, if you're following this loop, means that warbloggers just spent the last seven weeks and untold man-hours compiling a laundry list of vicious smears against the AP because warbloggers took issue with part of a single article the AP posted about Iraq. One article out of more than 10,000 articles the AP has posted about Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

To date, the warbloggers' admissions of errors have been grudging and brief, despite the fact they wrote enthusiastically and freely while lodging their nasty allegations. I'd estimate that over the last seven weeks, warbloggers have posted at least 40,000 words combined about the alleged Hussein scandal. By contrast, I'd estimate the combined expressions of regret so far have totaled less than 100 words. For instance, Malkin's belated mea culpa was posted late on Saturday night, perhaps the least-read time of the blogger week, and was attached to the bottom of a 900-word item that dealt with an unrelated topic (a different assertion that she had to correct). Warbloggers badger the press for “transparency,” but they often show little use for it themselves.

Also, in Malkin's correction, she claimed she had nothing to be ashamed of for pushing the phony Hussein saga because she was simply asking “legitimate questions” about the AP. Actually, what she did was attack the AP for being part of the “terrorist-sympathizing, anti-Bush press” and dubbed it “The Associated (with terrorists) Press.”

That's legitimate?

Meanwhile, the Hussein charade helped spotlight the perpetually low regard warbloggers have for the free press, particularly in times of war. Indeed, for warbloggers, the process of information gathering appears to be a simple one. Namely, if the U.S. government, or more importantly officials with CENTCOM, say something is so (i.e. Jamil Hussein does not exist), than that ends the discussion. Over and over again warbloggers announced they trust government officials more than they do journalists.

“I'm still willing to take the word of an officer in the US Military over others,” announced warblogger Anchoress. (Keep in mind that the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recently concluded that for years, the U.S. military wildly underreported violence inside Iraq.) In reality that means you don't really need a press corps, because if wartime information is coming straight from the top, what's the point of filtering it through the press? More importantly, it means if journalists report something that contradicts CENTCOM, that simply proves reporters are dishonest and aiding the enemy.

And believe me, during the Hussein jihad warbloggers were quite vocal in claiming the AP was aiding Iraqi insurgents; was doing their bidding. "[M]any in the American media ... have a vested interest in exaggerating the violence [in Iraq] as much as possible," claimed Malkin. Little Green Footballs bemoaned “the Associated Press's right to lie to its customers and spread enemy propaganda” and insisted the global news outlet had been “hijacked by propagandists for terror gangs.” Rick Moran declared that nobody needed "enemy propaganda coming from the AP."

The bottom line? Or at least the bottom line warbloggers excitedly stitched together? It was that the scandal over the AP's “fake,” “bogus,” and “non-existent” police source proved that journalists could not be trusted to tell the truth about Iraq. Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit excitedly posted this item in late November:

MORE REPORTS OF BOGUS IRAQ STORIES FROM A.P.: Kind of makes you wonder about the reporting from Iraq. Okay, it's more like “confirms your suspicions” than “makes you wonder,” really.

Warblogger Bob Owens at Confederate Yankee was even more sweeping in his connect-the-dots assumptions:

This presents us with the unsettling possibility that the Associated Press has no idea how much of the news it has reported out of Iraq since the 2003 invasion is in fact real, and how much they reported was propaganda. The failure of accountability here is potentially of epic proportions. [Emphasis added]

In the end, the Jamil Hussein fiasco simply highlights the dramatic fall from grace warbloggers have suffered over the last 24 months. Following Memogate in late 2004, when warbloggers helped drive CBS' Dan Rather off the air for botching a report on Bush and his days with the Texas Air National Guard, warbloggers, basking in the glow of mainstream media acclaim, had a real chance to grow the right-wing blogosphere into something influential and politically important. Instead, today it's an outpost of misplaced arrogance. Turns out warbloggers are one-hit wonders, the Stealers Wheel of cyberspace. ("Stuck in the Middle with You," 1973.) As Jane Hamsher recently noted, warbloggers don't get their facts right, they don't fundraise, and they don't organize. By contrast, liberal bloggers just pitched in and helped orchestrate the Democratic takeover of Congress. Warbloggers? They incessantly Google AP articles from Iraq in search of questionable sourcing in hopes of proving their Holy Grail theory that journalists -- "traitors" -- are conspiring with Iraqi insurgents to throw the war.