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March 18, 2006
All The News That Fits Our Mindset

The New York Times issued a correction today about their blockbuster story about the man they claimed was the subject of the infamous Abu Ghraib photo, wearing a poncho and connected to wires. The Times had reported that Ali Shalal Qaissi was the victim of American abuse and ran a lengthy profile about his efforts to ensure that Americans would no longer torture innocent Iraqis. Well, Qaissi isn't quite that innocent -- he lied about his identity as the man in the picture (see update):

A front-page article last Saturday profiled Ali Shalal Qaissi, identifying him as the hooded man forced to stand on a box, attached to wires, in a photograph from the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal of 2003 and 2004. He was shown holding such a photograph. As an article on Page A1 today makes clear, Mr. Qaissi was not that man.

The Times did not adequately research Mr. Qaissi's insistence that he was the man in the photograph. Mr. Qaissi's account had already been broadcast and printed by other outlets, including PBS and Vanity Fair, without challenge. Lawyers for former prisoners at Abu Ghraib vouched for him. Human rights workers seemed to support his account. The Pentagon, asked for verification, declined to confirm or deny it.

Despite the previous reports, The Times should have been more persistent in seeking comment from the military. A more thorough examination of previous articles in The Times and other newspapers would have shown that in 2004 military investigators named another man as the one on the box, raising suspicions about Mr. Qaissi's claim.

The Times also overstated the conviction with which representatives of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International expressed their view of whether Mr. Qaissi was the man in the photograph. While they said he could well be that man, they did not say they believed he was.

In other words, the Times didn't bother to do its own research; it relied on the "independent" reporting of PBS and Vanity Fair -- wait, I can't even write that with a straight face -- to identify Qaissi as the man in the photograph. Oh, wait, that's a bit unfair. Qaissi also had this evidence to show the Gray Lady:


Oh, so he had a business card! Well, no wonder the Times made this mistake.

The correction, quite frankly, stinks. First, it appears in its Saturday edition when the fewest readers will be likely to see it. Second, when reading the actual text of the correction, the Times only takes partial responsibility. It starts out by accepting responsibility for shoddy research, but then blames everyone else for getting suckered. PBS reported it first. Vanity Fair did the same thing. The Times even blames activist attorneys who would have been delighted to get any bad press against the US military on the front page of the Times -- instead of scolding itself for using them as a corroborating source from the beginning.

But the worst part of this correction comes when the paper blames the military for not doing the reporter's research for them. "The Pentagon, asked for verification, declined to confirm or deny it." It then says it should have been "more persistent" in getting an answer from the Pentagon, but in the same paragraph notes that the military named the correct detainee two years ago -- and that the Times reported it!

Is it the Pentagon's fault that the original reporter, Hassan Fattah, is too incompetent to do a search through the archives of his own newspaper?

One last problem comes in the original article, which the Times links at the end of its correction. Instead of noting that the entire story has been revealed as a hoax, the Times just puts a bold-type notice at the top that says, "Editors' Note Appended". Readers have to read the entire article -- which involves clicking to a second page -- before reading the appended correction at the end. The Times does not state at the beginning that the entire article is a waste of the reader's time; they get that information only after having read through all the lies. I can imagine that researchers who later purchase this article from the paper's archives (readers with more sense than Fattah) will not be terribly pleased to find that they've literally bought into a journalistic hoax.

As usual, great work from the Paper of Record. When do they bring Jayson Blair back as the managing editor?

See also Michelle Malkin and Power Line for more on this subject

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers!

UPDATE II: Tom Maguire rightly notes that Qaissi was at Abu Ghraib, although he faked being the man in the picture. I've corrected the text above.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 18, 2006 9:25 AM

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