Reporter Sarah Boxer has achieved instant notoriety in blogging circles for her irresponsibly speculative piece on a pro-U.S. blog run by Iraqi brothers.
Boxer's Tuesday Arts section story, "Pro-American Iraqi Blog Provokes Intrigue and Vitriol," begins in a breathless style that probably helped the story garner the top slot of the Arts front page: "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. The mystery began last month when I went online to see what Iraqis think about the war and the Jan. 30 national election. I stumbled into an ideological snake pit."
But her story is rooted entirely on the speculative postings from a far-left group blog called Martini Republic. She explains: "Out of a list of 28 Iraqi blogs in English at a site called Iraqi Bloggers Central, I clicked on Iraq the Model because it promised three blogging brothers in one, Omar, Mohammed and Ali. It delivered more than that. The blog, which is quite upbeat about the American presence in Iraq, had provoked a deluge of intrigue and vitriol. People posting messages on an American Web site called Martini Republic accused the three bloggers of working for the C.I.A., of being American puppets, of not being Iraqis and even of not existing at all. Then abruptly, at the end of last month, Ali quit the blog without telling his brothers while they were in the United States attending a blogging conference at Harvard and taking part in a tour sponsored by Spirit of America, a nongovernmental group founded after 9/11 that describes itself as 'advancing freedom, democracy and peace abroad.'"
The plot thickens: "What happened? Ali seemed to have gone through a radical transformation when he found out that his brothers, both described as dentists on their Web site, had met President Bush. Odd. I scrolled down a bit into the past and found that in mid-December a conspiracy theory had emerged about Iraq the Model on Martini Republic. One of the principal bloggers there, Joseph Mailander, had some questions for the Iraqi brothers. He wanted to know whether someone in the United States government or close to it had set up the blog. (The Web host, based in Abilene, Tex., is called CIATech Solutions.) And what about the two brothers' tour of the United States? Did the American government 'have a shadow role in promoting it?' The questions boiled down to whether Iraq the Model had been 'astroturfed.' Astroturfing occurs when a supposedly grass-roots operation actually is getting help from a powerful think tank, governmental agency or any outside source with an agenda. Why else, Martini Republic asked, would the brothers have been feted in Washington?"
Boxer didn't bother to do the basic reporting to confirm that the "CIA" in CIATech stands for Complex Internet Applications, and not, as the Martini blog ludicrously implies, the Central Intelligence Agency. (Maybe the Martini guys would have better luckhere ).
Instead, Boxer simply passes that along as Ali's explanation, as if to leave the matter in doubt, when the fact could have easily be confirmed by the Times, which is after all supposedly in the business of nailing such things down: "Ali explained the name of the Web host, CIATech Solutions, by pasting in an e-mail message he got from an employee of the company explaining that the C.I.A. in the name is short for Complex Internet Applications and that the company 'has nothing to do with the U.S. government.'"
Then Boxer drills down into the left-wing weeds to find more idle conspiratorial speculation: "That did not quiet the suspicions on Martini Republic. A man posting as Gandhi reported that his 'polite antiwar comments were always met with barrages of crude abuse' from Iraq the Model's readers. His conclusion? The blog 'is a refuge for people who do not want to know the truth about Iraq, and the brothers take care to provide them with a comfortable information cocoon.' He added, 'I hope some serious attention will be brought to bear on these Fadhil brothers and reveal them as frauds.'"
That's the spark for another round of loaded hypotheticals from the left-wing paranoid P.O.V: "What kind of frauds? One reader suggested that the brothers were real Iraqis but were being coached on what to write. Another, in support of that theory, noted the brothers' suspiciously fluent English. A third person observed that coaching wasn't necessary. All the C.I.A. would need to do to influence American opinion was find one pro-war blog and get a paper like USA Today to write about it. Martini Republic pointed out that the pro-war blog was getting lots of attention from papers like The Wall Street Journal and USA Today while antiwar bloggers like Riverbend, who writes Baghdad Burning, had gone unsung. Surely Iraq the Model did not represent the mainstream of Iraqi thinking?"
Boxer could have also unleashed even more skeptical questions about the anti-U.S. blog Baghdad Burning, which she seems to unquestionably accept as authentic. That blog, written by an anonymous blogger (apparently a young Iraqi woman) who goes by the handle Riverbend, is 100% against the U.S. occupation  and has never had a kind word for the U.S. invasion that toppled Hussein and was distinctlyunderwhelmed  by the news of Saddam Hussein's capture. But apparently irresponsible speculation is solely to be used against pro-war bloggers.
According to blogger Jeff Jarvis , who knows the brothers well, reporter Boxer never tried to contact the two brothers, Omar and Mohammed from the IraqTheModel blog who were (with the help of Jarvis) invited to meet with Bush.
She did get in touch with Ali, the third brother who left to start another blog, iraqilibe.blogspot.com: "Why did he quit Iraq the Model? When was he going to expose the Americans who made him feel he was on the wrong side? He was surprisingly frank. The blog had changed him. When the blog began, he said, 'People surprised me with their warmth and how much they cared about us.' But as time passed, he said, 'I felt that this is not just goodwill, giving so much credit to Iraq the Model. We haven't accomplished anything, really.' His views took a sharp turn when his two brothers met with the president. There wasn't supposed to be any press coverage about their trip to the United States, he said. But The Washington Post wrote about the meeting, and the Arabic press ended up translating the story, which, Ali felt, put his family in real danger."
Boxer concludes her shoddy story by seeming to imply that only Iraqis who have "questions" about the Bush administration's war in Iraq can be trusted: "'Me and my brothers,' he said, 'we generally agree on Iraq and the future.' (He is helping his brother Mohammed, who is running on the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party ticket in the Jan. 30 election.) But there is one important difference: 'My brothers have confidence in the American administration. I have my questions.' Now that seems genuine."
After lambasting Boxer for "repeating speculation that the bloggers in question - Iraqis whom she names - are really CIA plants," popular blogger Glenn Reynolds  trenchantly comments: "At the moment, the New York Times is in court, demanding constitutional protection for its sources. If they're exposed, it fears, they may suffer consequences that will make others less likely to come forward in the future. That, we're told, would be bad for America. But the New York Times has no compunctions about putting the lives of pro-American and pro-democracy Iraqis at risk with baseless speculation even though the consequences they face are far worse than those that the Times' leakers have to fear."
Indeed, the story's cut-out line for the hard copy edition makes the story's nasty insinuations explicit: "Does this little blog have friends in powerful places?"
For the rest of Boxer's attack on a pro-U.S. Iraqi blog, click here :
Celebrating Military at Inaugural "In Response to Critics"
Scott Shane's Wednesday story on wounded soldiers getting ready for one of Bush's inaugural balls ("Wounded Soldiers Find They're Welcome at the Party") argues that the event is a reaction to criticism: "In response to critics who have questioned the propriety of a lavish inaugural celebration in a time of war, Mr. Bush has made the military a central focus of the week's events, and sponsors of other gatherings this week have followed his lead."
White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller makes the same claim in her Wednesday story, "Bush Starts Inaugural Festivities With Tribute to Armed Forces." Bumiller asserts about another celebration: "The tribute, 'Saluting Those Who Serve,' was created by inaugural organizers to set a solemn tone for the festivities surrounding Mr. Bush's swearing-in on Thursday and comes amid criticism of a three-day celebration with a price tag of $40 million. In addition to the military, 7,000 civilians also attended the invitation-only event."
But the "Saluting Those Who Serve" tribute was publicized back in mid-December along with the other inaugural events  - neither Shane nor Bumiller provide any evidence the event was concocted as a defensive response to anti-war critics.
For the Shane story, click here :
For the Bumiller story, click here :