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.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.
"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.
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.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?
"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."
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…