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December 14, 2005
Paper Of Rumor And Urban Legend

The Confederate Yankee catches the New York Times with its pants down, reprinting rumor as fact and getting caught on a single-sourced story that attempts to discredit the upcoming Iraqi elections. Dexter Filkins reported this morning that trucks inbound from Iran had carried forged ballots for the Iraqi elections with the intention of skewing the results for the Shi'ites:

Less than two days before nationwide elections, the Iraqi border police seized a tanker on Tuesday that had just crossed from Iran filled with thousands of forged ballots, an official at the Interior Ministry said. ...

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Iranian truck driver told the police under interrogation that at least three other trucks filled with ballots had crossed from Iran at different spots along the border.

The official, who did not attend the interrogation, said he did not know where the driver was headed, or what he intended to do with the ballots.

The seizure of the truck comes at a delicate time in Iran's relations with both Iraq and the United States. The American government has said Iranian agents are deeply involved in trying to influence events in Iraq, by funneling money to Shiite political parties and by arming and training many of the illegal militias that are bedeviling the country.

Now this would be quite a story, if true. The Iranians want to see a Shi'ite-dominated government rise up from the ashes of Saddam's Sunni-led military dictatorship, presumably one that can get warped into a theocracy that would bring the Kurds and the Sunni under their heel. The Kurds feel reasonably autonomous now and probably do not have too many worries about this, but the Sunni -- already suspicious of the Shi'ites and their thirst for revenge -- will be ready to believe the worst. This development could undermine the entire election process and put Sunni intransigence back into high gear ... if it was true.

Well, apparently it isn't, according to Reuters:

The head of Iraq's border guards denied police reports on Wednesday that a tanker truck stuffed with thousands of forged ballot papers had been seized crossing into Iraq from Iran before Thursday's elections.

"This is all a lie," said Lieutenant General Ahmed al-Khafaji, the chief of the U.S.-trained force which has responsibility for all Iraq's borders.

"I heard this yesterday and I checked all the border crossings right away. The borders are all closed anyway," he told Reuters. ... "I contacted all the border crossing points and there was no report of any such incident," Khafaji said. ...

Iraq's frontiers are closed for the period of the election.

Oops! I guess Dexter Filkins and the several layers of editors at the Paper Of RecordTM didn't think to check out the well-reported fact that the roads in and out of Iraq on both the Iranian and Syrian borders had been closed. That makes it pretty difficult for eighteen-wheelers to sneak in and out of the country. They tend to get bogged down in the sand and dirt otherwise, making it hard to put the ballots into the polling places. And how exactly were these tankers supposed to get the ballots into the boxes anyway -- pump them into election stations with a hose? The boxes are watched by election judges and a few thousand outside auditors.

It turns out that Filkins' source either works for the Defense ministry's intelligence unit or passed along a rumor that got sourced from there. Stories based on anonymous, single sources can do tremendous damage, especially to a reporter's reputation and that of his newspaper. Perhaps the Gray Lady should think about that before jumping in with both feet to repeat stupid and easily-debunked urban legends such as these.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 14, 2005 6:32 AM

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