Thursday, May 15, 2003
Ignore the man behind the curtain!: One of the biggest problems newspapers have today is their use of anonymous sources. The latest misuse of what was once a method of last resort to get a story out was demonstrated by The New York TImes' Jayson Blair. Blair's (in)famous sniper story alleged that the feds had stopped the questioning of John Lee Malvo just as he was about to spill his guts. The source of the allegations? FIVE anonymous sources. It's become so common to use anonymous sources -- especially the closer you get to Washington, D.C. -- that no editor ever asked Blair exactly who these sources were.
The Times' reporting and reliance on anonymous sources has bit it in the rear -- it has revealed the little man behind the curtain, pulling the levers on the great and powerful Oz.
Now that we can see behind the curtain, others at the Times now become targets.
Columnist Bob Herbert's column in today's paper attacks the Bush administration for allegedly telling soldiers that they should shoot looters on sight. The basis of Herbert's column is this story by Patrick E. Tyler who quotes an anonymous "official."
After the Times "broke" (manufactured?) the story, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denied the anonymous report.
In Washington today, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld described as "hyperbole" an article in The New York Times on Wednesday describing new rules of engagement under which American military forces in Iraq would have the authority to shoot looters on sight.
"We have rules of engagement — have had, do today," Mr. Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news briefing. "They've not been changed." The current rules permit "the use of whatever force is necessary for self-defense or for other selected purposes," he added.
In addition to Rumsfeld, the others in the know are also denying that the shooting of looters also was OK'd:
Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, commander of the Third Infantry Division, whose forces are now patrolling Baghdad, said today that "there are no `shoot to kill' or `shoot on sight' orders concerning looters."
Mr. Bremer, asked about the article in The New York Times about the policy toward looters, said he would not comment on the military rules of engagement, except to say that they were "robust" enough to cover any contingency.
Asked specifically if he had said that he supported shooting looters, Mr. Bremer replied, "No, I read that story and it looked rather colorful to me, more colorful than is my normal habit."
All of these denials, to columnist Herbert, are not a reflection that the Times' anonymous source was wrong, but that:
By late yesterday afternoon the administration seemed to be backing away from this crazy policy. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was still doing his macho act, telling a Senate subcommittee that the forces in Baghdad "will be using muscle to see that the people who are trying to disrupt what is taking place in that city are stopped and either captured or killed."
But Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, of the Army's Third Infantry Division, told reporters in Baghdad that his troops "are not going to go out and shoot children" who might be stealing, say, wood or cement from a factory.
Stay tuned. This controversy is one more screaming example of the need for the U.N. to be handed the major responsibility for administering Iraq. This is not an appropriate mission for the U.S., and we're making a hash of it already.
Now, once upon a time, you might give deference to the Times and it's anonymous source. After the Blair affair, maybe the Times and its columnists might be a little more willing to admit they might be wrong.