Saturday, December 02, 2006

The First Casualty of War

"The first casualty when war comes is truth" was puportedly coined by Hiram Johnson, a staunchly isolationist senator from California, in 1917. As is often the case, popular culture has simplified the quotation to a more pithy "The first casualty of war is truth" or "Truth is the first causalty of war."

As I noted in a previous post, there have been some serious questions raised by bloggers, notably Flopping Aces, about the reliability of some of AP's news sources. Allahpundit also asks some valid questions about the reliability of CENTCOM's insistence that those news sources aren't who they say they are.

So now I don't know exactly what to believe about Jamil Hussein and Maithem Abdul Razzaq's reports. I can't say that the AP is trying to pass on bad information, but I can't say that they're trying not to, either.

Remember the reports that came out of the Superdome, post-Katrina? The stories about rapes and murders and general mayhem going on inside? I hope you know that those stories turned out to be false.

So how did reporters who were right there outside the Superdome, get it so wrong? In times of chaos and social breakdown, such as the aftermath of a serious hurricane, rumors are bound to be rampant, and reporters should know it. Maybe they were afraid that if they went into the stinking Superdome, they would be in danger of being harmed themselves.

But then again, if you can't substantiate a rumor, is it really a good idea to go ahead and report it as if it were the truth? Should you rely on the word "allegedly" to prevent your readers or viewers from misapprehending the story?

And furthermore, members of the media... do you think that your viewers care about who scooped whom? Do you think that we remember that such-and-such network or such-and-such newspaper broke a particular story first? Here's a hint: we don't. We absolutely don't.

I would much rather hear a well-researched and sourced story a few hours or days later than to hear the reporter's initial impressions, or worse, unsubstantiated rumors that I might or might not hear are false, later on.

There have been times when I have been privy to the source matieral (I watched the event myself or read the whole document) and then heard a wrap-up or summary by a reporter and wondered what in Sam Hill they were talking about.

Which means that given how incredibly difficult it is to get a story right during a time of chaos, given how many rumors abound, and especially given how willing some people are to lie about what is happening during a war, reporters should exercise extreme caution about reporting something that they can't substantiate.

But if they can't get it right in our own front yard, how are they going to get it right on the other side of the world, while ensconsed in a hotel?

Answer: they aren't. So don't believe everything you hear about the chaos in Iraq. Chances are, some of those stories are totally untrue.

And yeah, my dear lefties, it does matter whether a particular atrocity took place or not. It's exactly as bad to report an atrocity that didn't happen as it is to not report one that did. I think we'd all agree on that. We do, don't we?

No comments: