When Your New Best Source Is Imaginary
by Michelle Malkin, Ph.D.
Your news service has a new best friend, Capt. Jamil Hussein. Jamil is always available to play and share stories with your reporters in Baghdad. Jamil never demands special food or toys, and never has to be picked up or taken home. Sounds too good to be true, right? It sure is! Jamil is a figment of the AP's imagination!
According to CENTCOM, and research by blogger Flopping Aces, the AP's chilling story on burning and shooting during a sectarian attack at a Sunni mosque was likely to be based on an imaginary source, or even a stuffed animal! Mr. Aces has also uncovered big differences in personality and reporting between news-gatherers for the AP who have this imaginary source, and those who don't, like Judith Miller, formerly of the NY Times. His study suggests that, somehow, these AP reporters tend to be much better at seeing things from a terrorist's perspective!
Now, some of us so-called 'warbloggers' view the emergence of an imaginary source with alarm. Is the AP compensating for a lack of stimulation? Are their reporters socially maladjusted? Should we discourage their imaginary source, or play along? Negative Iraq stories may simply be their reporters' imaginative way of trying to understand concepts of authority, right and wrong, and punishment. An imaginary source may help the reporter cope with difficult emotions. For example, say the AP reporter spills a glass of milk. He may then quote his imaginary source saying that "Shiite militiamen grabbed six Sunnis as they left Friday worship services, doused them with kerosene and burned them alive near Iraqi soldiers who did not intervene," as a way of dealing with his or her guilt over the spilt milk.
When should you become concerned? Take your cue from the intensity and duration of the reporter's involvement with the imaginary source. A reporter who avoids meaningful interaction with CENTCOM's approved list of sources, preferring instead to play with an invented source, may be experiencing psychological distress. Imaginary sources may eventually disappear, but when AP reporters continue to focus on Jamil Hussein for two years, you might consider consulting a professional to determine if the reporters have any underlying concerns or anxieties.
That's where I come in. An imaginary source is a sign that your reporters are having difficulty dealing with the complex issues that confront all Americans as we 'interact' with Iraq. So I am taking up Eason Jordan on his offer to to go to Baghdad that I may gently but firmly prove to the AP that Jamil is only make-believe.
Be reassured, readers; I'll be gentle when challenging this enchanting facet of the AP's reportage. Their reporters are meeting the sometimes daunting challenges of reporting in a hostile environment in an inventive and imaginative fashion.
UPDATE: The Interior Ministry acknowledged today that an Iraqi police officer whose existence had been denied by the Iraqis and the U.S. military is in fact an active member of the police force, and said he now faces arrest for speaking to the media.