Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

McClatchy News Agency Purposely Distorts Quotes, Publishes Unattributed Gossip

McClatchy Newspapers put out a news wire on April 29 under the byline of Hannah Allam (McClatchy’s Middle East bureau chief in Cairo, who traveled to Iraq for this story), with Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel—two reporters known for their sources within U.S. intelligence, specifically the CIA—reporting from the United States. Landay and Strobel are also known as two activist reporters with a strong bias against the Iraq war.

The report tried, with plenty of hyperbole, to paint General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, as the most influential man in Iraq.

This served as a follow-up story to another of McClatchy’s reports published on March 30 under Leila Fadel’s byline in Baghdad (she’s their bureau chief there) which claimed that an Iraqi parliamentary delegation had met with Suleimani in Tehran and beseeched him to stop the fighting in Basra with the Sadrists, something that he was allegedly able to pull off within hours. Fadel had cited “parliamentary sources” for that story, yet one of my own sources dismissed this account at the time as a “naïve fabrication”.

Yet the big news in Allam’s piece was an allegation that on the weekend of March 28-29, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani held a meeting with Suleimani at the Mariwan crossing on the Iraq-Iran border and pleaded for an end to the fighting.

To bolster this allegation, Allam cites three Iraqi officials and a single Iraqi politician all of whom remained anonymous in her piece. What’s more is that the political or professional affiliations of these four anonymous sources were not clarified in any such manner to convincingly argue that they would indeed be privy to highly secretive information of this nature. The report adds a disclaimer that McClatchy tried to reach Talabani for a comment, but he was unavailable. Yet Allam could have alternatively posed this question to Talabani’s office or his spokesman but she didn’t; maybe it was because she purposely avoided dealing with an on-the-record denial from Talabani’s people, which would have rendered the anonymous allegations journalistically questionable.

It should be noted that neither Allam (who is of Egyptian and American parentage) or Fadel (who’s of Lebanese and American parentage) can claim to be proficient Arabic speakers, and must always rely on translators when conducting interviews. I should also add that I know them both personally.

This point about language proficiency becomes a salient one when it turns out that the only person who ostensibly confirms a meeting with Suleimani in Allam's piece has been woefully misquoted: Ammar al-Hakim is the only person who is quoted by name and affiliation saying that the parliamentary delegation had indeed met with Suleimani, thus seemingly confirming Fadel’s earlier account.

This is how it is written-up in McClatchy’s version:
"A delegation went to speak to the officials in Iran in the name of the alliance, to ask them to encourage these groups to stay within the boundaries of the law," said Ammar al-Hakim, the son and senior aide of the leader of Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. "They met with a number of officials, and Mr. Suleimani was one of them."
However, it seems that in fact al-Hakim didn’t confirm anything of this nature because in the Arabic transcript of his interview with McClatchy, which was posted on the website of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq-Presidency Office (…his daddy’s outfit) on April 20, he was non-committal about any meetings with Suleimani:
The meetings did not occur on the border; the delegation went to the capital Tehran and met with a number of officials, one of whom could have been Mr. Qasim Suleimani.
Thus Hakim is not confirming or denying such a meeting; he’s merely speculating because he simply doesn’t know. Hakim must have been speaking in Arabic since he doesn't know English.

He said these words in response to a direct question about Suleimani from the McClatchy reporter (likely to be Allam) who asked “Why would delegations go to Iran and meet General Suleimani, and also meetings occurred with him on the border?”

Al-Hakim is also misquoted later in the article, when the order of his sentences is reversed:
"This man is like other men," al-Hakim said of Suleimani. "He may have significant intelligence capabilities, he may have his good points and his bad points. But it's not logical that we exaggerate these points to the extent of giving a surreal picture.

"We have all enjoyed watching the American films in which the 'hero' is capable of doing the impossible, and anyone can die in the film except him, but no sooner does the film end than we return to the reality that only God is omnipotent," al-Hakim said.
But in the ISC’s transcript, the second sentence precedes the first sentence, thus changing the meaning of al-Hakim’s words, which served to point out that all this hullabaloo concerning Suleimani’s influence was overblown, much like a Hollywood action-hero movie.

The transcript add that the interview with the McClatchy reporter occurred on April 18.

Moving on, the McClatchy story resorts to other rhetorical tricks, which I find awfully cheap. Check this one out:
One member of the delegation that met with Suleimani, Ali al-Adeeb, a top Dawa Party leader, said that the Iranian officials swore that they weren't arming al-Sadr's forces.

"We reminded them that the security of Iraq would affect the security of Iran," Adeeb said in an interview at his Baghdad headquarters. "And that any support they give to the Sadrist movement would send a message to the United States to stay in Iraq because it's still too unstable."
McClatchy matter-of-factly asserts that Ali al-Adib met with Suleimani, but their reporters couldn’t get al-Adib to say and verify that on the record, so they quoted his out of context, just to make it seem as if he did! Al-Adib led the delegation to Tehran, but has never been quoted as saying that he’d met with Suleimani while he was over there. I'm pretty sure the reporter posed that question to him, and he must have denied it. But why didn't the reporter print the denial?

Another similar trick is to quote another parliamentarian who accompanied al-Adib, and that would be Hadi al-Ameri by posing a hypothetical concerning Talabani’s alleged meeting with Suleimani on the border:
"As long as the dialogue is about Iraq, meetings will be held on the soil of Iraq as well as the other places," said Hadi al-Ameri, an Iraqi legislator who commands the Badr Organization. "Maybe the president going to the border can be questioned as far as protocol, but protocol is not our main concern. Our main concern is putting out the fires."
Notice al-Ameri is not denying or confirming a Talabani-Suleimani meeting, he is seemingly answering a hypothetical question about whether it is appropriate, from a protocol point of view, for an Iraqi president to be meeting an Iranian general at a border crossing!

The other fishy aspect about this story is that it quotes Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi as saying that Suleimani brokered the premiership of Nouri al-Maliki in April 2006. However, there’s a glaring omission that Abdul-Mahdi himself was angling to become Prime Minister during that time, and that his current statements could be colored by a lingering bitterness over losing the job to al-Maliki. Not only that but he’s still campaigning for the post; denouncing Maliki as Suleimani’s man would help Abdul Mahdi’s chances. Furthermore, anyone who followed the mechanics of how Maliki was picked over all the other candidates through a political maneuver by Sistani’s son would realize that Suleimani’s role in that whole farce was negligible at best.

So there you have it, McClatchy tried to make these rumors of Suleimani’s omnipotence stick through distorting quotes and propagating innuendo. Al-Hakim’s words were published in transcript form on his organization’s website nine days before McClatchy went to print, and thus this particular distortion could have been averted. Yet the reporters chose not to correct their translations—why is that?

McClatchy tried to turn Suleimani into the Loch Ness monster; reporting murky anecdotes and relying on anonymous sources for his sightings. They tried to peddle the storyline that Iran controls Iraq. I wonder how McClatchy will further distort the news when reporting about the parliamentary delegation that just went to Iran a couple of days ago to confront the leadership there with evidence of Iran's support for terrorism and criminality…Yep, I wonder…

16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good catch, Nibras! It is scary to think that had it not been for people like you pointing out the errors and tricks, this fairytale would have been filed away in the history books unchallenged. What is scarier is that many talking heads will cite this fairytale as if it were Gospel without ever reading TG. I'm sure the reporters will get an award to boot! "Where does ignorance end and where does falsehood begin"!!! It will take us a very, very long time to fathom the damage that such ignorance/falsehood is doing to our understanding of Iraq and the Middle East. Even in peacetime such damage would be dangerous anyway, imagine what dangers we face as a result of this ignorance/falsehood during a time of war.

9:38 AM, May 04, 2008

 
Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

Thanks anonymous,

I would like to add that it is my suspicion that the main "anonymous" source responsible for these stories in McClatchy is Ali al-Dabbagh, the official spokesman for the Iraqi cabinet. On the face of it, he would seem like a credible source, but al-Dabbagh has all sorts of ambigious loyalties, and I for one, don't see him as a credible or serious guy, and believe me: I would know for I got to see how he got started in Iraqi politics, in fact, I actually gave him a ride to his first rendez-vous with political destiny. I've always felt that he's the initiator and peddler of fallacies and gossip, and that he's quite shameless about it. One of my sources says that al-Dabbagh is one of those that Maliki has come to suspect of undermining him. Al-Dabbagh is slated to become Iraq's ambassador in Damascus.

Once again, I'm just volunteering a guess as to who could be pushing the Suleimani gossip. I also suspect others, unfortunately some of them were people I respected but who in a fit of political opportunism and survival found it convenient to push this storyline too.

Best,

Nibras

11:19 AM, May 04, 2008

 
Anonymous Kafir said...

All I needed to tell me the story was false was that it was put out by McClatchy. Ever since their reporter was caught being rude to a coalition soldier just doing his job, I haven't trusted anything from them about Iraq or anything else.

11:21 AM, May 04, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that McClatchy was اسم فاعل in Iraqi Arabic for liar...

1:42 PM, May 04, 2008

 
Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

Hi anonymous,

The point is not about lying but rather it is a case of sensationalizing. These McClatchy reporters were fed a flashy name like "Qaseem Suleimani", one that is bound to arouse attention, and they ran with it by attributing all sorts of powers to his name. The notion that someone like Suleimani is in control would embarass the Bush administration, and these reporters are either enthusiastic proponents of such talking points, or want to fit in with the crowd that does.

However, the lengths to which they tried to make the Suleimani story legit--by distorting quotes, over-relying on anonymous sources, and quoting persons out of context--goes to show that they didn't have a solid story. I don't think these reporters are qualified to understand the complex political mechanics governing the Iraqi political landscape, or figuring out the motivations of those orchestrating such leaks who stand to benefit from narratives of this sort being out there in print. In fact, one way to look at all this is that it could be Iranian psy-ops: Iran seems super-influential on the cheap. That's just one possible culprit out there. I think that gullible reporters can be played for dupes, and that's just one element of this vicious media game.

Iraq is a very complex place; it is picture with too many moving parts. Sensationalizing and simplifying the story, as the McClatchy reporters did, only serves to further muddy the waters. One needs to ask: who benefits from these leaks? What are their motives?

The other thing about the McClatchy story is that it wasn't even a clean-cut leak, but rather a hazy "someone-said-something" sort of write-up. It was slapdash and sloppy, and that's why they couldn't get basic things like translations right.

Best,

Nibras

6:27 PM, May 04, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

whatever, i still think hannah allam is one of the better reporters on the arab world.

11:49 PM, May 04, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hannah Allam is one of the better reporters? She has a reputation for distorting facts. Thank you Nibras for this post. The mistakes in this story are unacceptable.

4:32 AM, May 05, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

His name is Hamid Dawood Al-Zawi, this is Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi according to Al-Arabiya.
حامد داوود الزاوي = أبو عمر البغدادي


Ali/Iraq

4:18 AM, May 07, 2008

 
Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

Hi Ali/Iraq,

This is an interesting revelation from the police chief of Haditha, who spoke about AOB to Al-Arabiya.

Hamid Dawood Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi! He's supposed to have been an officer in the Amn al-'Aameh [General Security Directorate] under Saddam!

This account has credibility in so far as the Zawis of Haditha and Anah claim descent from Al-Hussein [much disputed by genealogists], and AOB in his last speech singled out the Jughaifis in his last speech and seemed to be knowledgeable about the tribes in that area above Haditha. He even mentioned the Zawiyeen even though they are a very small clan.

In fact, I remember reading a year ago, around the time when Muharib al-Juburi was killed, that someone on a jihadist chatroom made the assertion that al-Zawi was AOB.

So it could be Hamid al-Zawi afterall. However, I would have thought that Al-Qaeda would have been very sensitive about placing a former Saddam officer at the helm of their organization, and would have looked for someone completely unconnected to the ex-regime. Furthermore, this could be a very local problem between the police chief of Haditha who is accusing a top terrorist commander from his town to be the top dog of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

One more thing, if he was from Anbar, then why call himself al-Baghdadi? Such a title would come back to haunt him if he goes public with his identity in the future, exposing him to mockery.

We shall have to wait and see if the Islamic State of Iraq is going to respond in a public statement to this assertion.

I'll still kind of convinced that it could be Khalid Khalil Ibrahim al-Mashhadani, Abu Zaid, but we've not seen anything to verify that. This claim that Hamid al-Zawi is AOB constitutes the most serious challenge to my AOB as al-Mashhadani theory.

Either way, I never bought the idea that he was a fictional character.

Let's wait and see.

Best,

Nibras

10:47 AM, May 07, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice Catch!! I am also concerned that Iranians are being mischaracterized in the global media, looking through the world news it seems that almost all sources claim Iranian is involved in killing people in Iraq. Hopefully you will continue working and helping everyone understand the facts of what is really happening, the people of the world continue to support the truly innocent victims.

5:49 PM, July 05, 2009

 
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