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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Groups Scuffle to Take Responsibility, While Newspapers Leap to Irresponsibility

The NY Times headline says Kurds Say They Bombed Turkish Hotels. But here's what the article says:
A previously unknown Kurdish group said it carried out the attack. The Germany-based Mezopotamya News Agency, which often reports rebel statements, said it received a telephone call from an individual claiming responsibility for the attacks in the name of the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons Organization.
But this individual, calling from a pay phone or stolen cell phone from, probably, somewhere on the planet Earth, wasn't the only one claiming responsibility:
The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, named for an al-Qaida commander killed in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility earlier, saying the attacks were the first of a "wave of operations" in European countries and that worse was to come.

"Istanbul is the opening for the bloody war we promised the Europeans," the statement said. The group is named for an al-Qaida commander killed in Afghanistan.

It was not possible to check the authenticity of the al-Qaida claim. Western experts have questioned the credibility of the group, noting it has previously claimed to be behind events for which it clearly didn't play a role, such as power failures in North America and Britain.
Here's how former CIA analyst (don't worry, he's already been outed) Ray McGovern described the The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades:
Sinister sounding though the name may be, this "group" is thought to consist of no more than one person with a fax machine, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official. That fax is notorious for claiming credit for all manner of death and destruction.
So the newspaper of record is at least smart enough to question the authenticity of a notoriously inaccurate fax machine, although they still refer to it as "al-Qaida" because it is named after some AQ muckety-muck. But demonstrating a relentless ability to ignore the obvious, the Times takes one unauthenticated call to a German news agency as sufficient evidence to say that Kurds have claimed responsibility for blowing up two hotels, killing two and injuring 11. Headline readers around the world will assume that the Kurds are now adopting al Qaeda tactics.

So much for the newpaper of record. How's the rest of the media doing? CNN is buying the fax machine's story: Al Qaeda linked group says it was behind blasts (yes, they mean the Abu Hafs Al Masri Brigades). Reuters mentions both claims of responsibility in its article, but the Washington Post gives the headline to "Qaeda group" (Abu Hafs, again). (I'm assuming that the Post put the headline on the Reuters story; otherwise, blame Reuters. The bombings were not big news for the Post--didn't make the main web page.) The LA Times only mentions the bombings, not the claims of responsibility. USA Today's story comes from AP--the headline says "Militants claim Turkey bomb responsibility," while the article gives credence to the "Kurd" claim while rejecting the Abu Hafs claim. FoxNews uses the same AP report, but doesn't mention the responsibility claims in the headline.

Obviously I could go on, but hopefully I've made my points, those being:
  • News articles can't be trusted.
  • Headlines are orders of magnitude worse than the articles.
  • Anyone with a cell phone, fax machine or computer can claim responsibility for a terrorist attack; and
  • They won't necessarily be claiming responsibility for themselves, because
  • Pointing the finger at someone else can be used to achieve your goals when there are trigger-happy "anti-terrorist warriors" like George W. Bush out there.
This just in: The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades have just claimed responsibility for the sorry state of American journalism. Administration officials are considering bombing a fax-machine factory in China in retaliation.