Monday, January 24, 2005

Apologists For Power

Here's a story Howie "the Putz" Kurtz can't seem to ignore often enough, as it doesn't involve Dan Rather or the sex lives of bloggers.

It involves a major newspaper and a fraudulent story reported by that paper as the truth. A fraudulent story that supported the paper's political agenda. A fraudulent story that wasn't investigated properly, if at all -- as the paper was forced to admit. A fraudulent story promoted by the Administration -- and the paper --to justify the Administration's policies.

No, it's not the story of Judy Miller and Ahmad Chalabi.

No, it's not the story of Steno Sue and Jessica Lynch, or the Washington Post's pre-invasion coverage of the Administration's lies -- stories on which the Putz acted as the Post's primary apologist.

It's the story of Jumana Hanna, an Iraqi woman who found a willing outlet for her lies in the pages of the Washington Post. She told a story that the Post desperately wanted to believe -- a tale of her rape -- and the murder of her husband -- in Saddam Hussein's prisons. A story that was false, told by an individual with no credibility.

The Post doesn't even have the defense that the Bush Administration and Hanna duped it despite its best efforts. The Post reporter, Peter Finn, now admits "[t]he Post was unable to independently verify or refute her allegations of abuse." In other words, the paper had no idea whether what she said was truth, and made no effort to find out, but published her claims anyway. And the paper never bothered to examine any of the lies Hanna told that were easily discredited.

In this case, Michael Getler has been assigned the Putz role of excusing the paper's incompetence. He writes:

The Esquire piece focused heavily on the impact of the Post piece, and readers who saw the magazine late in December wrote to ask whether The Post was going to retract or correct its reporting. The initial internal reaction here, and from Finn, was to point out that many of the claims Hanna made to Solovitch that proved false had not been made to The Post....

Nevertheless, Finn said, the Esquire report that Hanna's husband was still alive and had not been shot and killed in an Iraqi prison, as Hanna had told The Post, was clearly serious and required new investigation.

The investigation took a while. Finn, a diligent and experienced reporter, had been based in Germany and was in Iraq to help cover the post-invasion period when he wrote the initial article. He has since become the Moscow correspondent....

Ultimately, The Post did the right thing in re-reporting this story and laying out all the flaws. Headlined "Threads Unravel in Iraqi's Tale," it appeared Thursday on Page A18, and there was a small reference to it on the front page. That it was well inside the paper on Inauguration Day annoyed those who were initially critical. They have a point. This was a big and powerful front-page story, with pictures, 18 months ago, and correcting the record deserved more prominence.

Could The Post have been set up to meet Hanna by the coalition or administration? Finn said he doesn't believe that happened and described how they met. As for lessons learned, Finn says, "I obviously should have done more reporting, particularly within the wider Christian community in Baghdad [Hanna is an Assyrian Christian]. That would have raised the kind of questions that would have signaled she was trouble." Then again, Thursday's story ends with an e-mail Solovitch sent Finn saying, "Now, I believe that she is at best a pathological liar, at worst a highly intelligent con artist. Jumana took advantage of all of us."

The old Putz-brand "reporting is hard work" dodge. The old "it's not my fault, she was a pathological liar" excuse. No calls for an investigation as to how Finn was duped, or whether Finn was simply pursuing the paper's right-wing agenda. And the role of the Admninistration in pushing the story is dismissed without any examination.

Read the original story -- It's clear that the Post made no effort to question -- or verify -- any of Hanna's claims. In fact, the story relied on another pathological liar, Bush stooge Bernard Kerik.

This is the kind of media story that would be right up the Putz's alley -- if he wasn't an Administration toady, that is.


No comments: