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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Mighty Casey looks at Iraq the Model and .... strikes out?

posted by Jazz at 1/19/2005 10:02:00 AM


I suppose I'm going to need some help understanding exactly what is going on with the firestorm currently sweeping Blogtopia regarding Sarah Boxer's NYT Arts piece today about one of the authors of Iraq the Model. She is being attacked from a number of sides over this piece, and frankly I'm just not seeing it.

For those of you who haven't been following the story, Iraq the Model is a blog which is run by two Iraqi brothers (formerly three) who are doctors. The site is extremely pro-American, pro-Bush, pro-invasion, you name it. In fact, while they are certainly free to write whatever they wish, I removed ITM from my Iraqi blogroll last year. The reason was simply that I no longer felt confident that we were getting a true look at the personal feelings of these Iraq citizens. Their "opinions" began to look more and more as if they were not only writing in flawless English, but had been cut and pasted from White House press releases and Scotty McClellan press gaggles, complete with all of the current talking points to try to run up support for the invasion.

As I mentioned, and we'll get to a number of examples below, the author is being excoriated from blogs all over for writing some sort of "hack" piece which is biased, and "smearing" the authors of the blog, with some going so far as to say that she was endangering the blog authors' lives.

Before getting to the attacks on Ms. Boxer, let's look at a few key pieces of what she actually wrote. The first section of her article is being criticized by everyone. It reads as follows:
When I telephoned a man named Ali Fadhil in Baghdad last week, I wondered who might answer. A C.I.A. operative? An American posing as an Iraqi? Someone paid by the Defense Department to support the war? Or simply an Iraqi with some mixed feelings about the American presence in Iraq? Until he picked up the phone, he was just a ghost on the Internet.
Nowhere does she state that this is the reality of who the author is. It's a literary device (and a very common one at that) to pique the reader's interest and give a hint as to what will be discussed. Please note also that she offers an alternative to Ali being a shill for the Americans. In fact, she immediately goes on to say the following, which is conveniently ignored by all of her detractors.
I went online to see what Iraqis think about the war and the Jan. 30 national election. I stumbled into an ideological snake pit... The blog, which is quite upbeat about the American presence in Iraq, had provoked a deluge of intrigue and vitriol.
That doesn't sound to me as if the author is giving credence to Ali's accusers. Quite the opposite, in fact. One big aspect of her story isn't so much the blog itself, but rather the massive ado surrounding it and how it worked out in the debate between left and right.

The other horrible allegation being made against her by a number of bloggers, shockingly including Jeff Jarvis of Buzz Machine, is that she endangered Ali's life (and the lives of his brothers) be revealing their names in her article. First of all, two of those brothers showed up for a supposedly "unplanned" meeting with President George W. Bush last month which was covered in all of the major media outlets. Their names were already well known. Besides that, they had been "outed" long before that. Mahablog makes the case for this very well.
Jarvis would have a point, except that Mr. Fadhil plainly said in the interview that the brothers had already been outed. And that outing was by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post.
On December 20, Kurtz began his Media Notes column, headlined "Iraqi Bloggers, In the News and Critiquing It," by naming the brothers, identifying them as the authors of Iraq the Model, and revealing that two of them met with President Bush in the Oval Office.

Omar Fadhil says the media are painting far too dark a portrait of Iraq. ...

Fadhil, 24, is a dentist in Baghdad. He and his two brothers are doing more than just griping about the coverage; they are at the forefront of the first wave of Iraqi Internet bloggers, engaging in a form of expression that was impossible under Saddam Hussein.

On a visit to Washington earlier this month, Omar and his sibling Mohammed, 35, who is also a dentist, found themselves ushered into the Oval Office for a meeting with President Bush after a last-minute invitation. The president asked their views on Iraqi politics and assured them that the United States will not leave until the job is done. ...

Mahablog goes on to make a number of other excellent points and addresses some highly intriguing questions, so I strongly suggest you read the entire post. These include the issue of exactly how Iraq the Model got so much ink in so many MSM outlets, but anti-invasion sites like Riverbend and Star from Mosul got no such attention. Also, many right wing blogs, including ITM, keep referring to the brothers' meeting with Bush as "accidental" and "unplanned." Ah, what a nice surprise for them, then. But seriously, folks... does anyone ever have an "accidental" or "unplanned' meeting with POTUS? You can't get within a country mile of the man without signing an oath of fealty. Please.

So much for that. I read a number of these attacks trying to make sense of where this anger was originating. The first ones came from predictably rabid, right wing Bushies, so I was willing to blow it off as the usual "Nothing must be printed which makes Dear Leader � look bad" type hyperventilating.

Leading the pack, of course, was Mr. "Everything is coming up roses in Iraq" Art Chrenkoff. He takes up the cry of "smear" first and loudest. "the same media has now built a major quasi-investigative article on the "grassy knoll" theorizing of one minor left-wing blogger and hunches and opinions of his anonymous commenters." Excuse me, but... "quasi-investigative"? It was a piece in the Arts section that asked questions rather than answering them, and looked at the bitter war between the sides in the blogosphere.

Patterico takes up the same ridiculous accusation that the author was putting the authors' lives in danger, apparently unaware that the several conservative papers had already published their names. I thought all of the rightwingnuts read the Post?

You'll find plenty more of the same ranting at Power Loons, Polipundit and many more.

But I was very surprised when I saw some harsh criticism of Boxer's article coming from some normally far more rational speakers. Joe Gandelman took her to task, saying "...reflecting biases out of the starting gate, telling assumptions that put it in the category of "advocacy journalism" and leaving you with an overall feeling that you need to take a mental and physical shower arfter reading it." Honestly, I didn't get that feeling at all.

And Jeff Jarvis goes absolutely ballistic on Boxer. (Too many attacks to pick out a few to quote.)

So there you have it. I'm open to hearing some sort of non-partisan explanation from people who feel otherwise. Everyone seems to be quoting the same text from the article, but it sounds as if few of them read the entire thing. They got as far as the first paragraph and made up their minds. Where is the smear? As I pointed out above, I'm just not seeing it.