Monday, February 12, 2007

Does the name "Judith Miller" mean anything to you?

So Deborah Howells slaps William Arkin's hand for this blog entry, while the New York Times runs this thoroughly bizarre piece:

After weeks of internal debate, senior United States military officials on Sunday literally put on the table their first public evidence of the contentious assertion that Iran supplies Shiite extremist groups in Iraq with some of the most lethal weapons in the war. They said those weapons had been used to kill more than 170 Americans in the past three years.
Why is this bizarre? None of the "officials" at this "public" presentation would allow their names to be used. Why?

The officials were repeatedly pressed on why they insisted on anonymity in such an important matter affecting the security of American and Iraqi troops. A senior United States military official gave a partial answer, saying that without anonymity, a senior Defense Department analyst who participated in the briefing could not have contributed.
But that's not really important, because:

Whatever doubts were created about the timing and circumstances of the weapons disclosures, the direct physical evidence presented on Sunday was extraordinary.
And we know the evidence is "extraordinary" because, not only did the reporter see it with his own eyes!, but because these anonymouse officials told him so:

The officials said the E.F.P. weapons arrived in Iraq in the form of what they described as a “kit” containing high-grade metals and highly machined parts — like a shaped, concave lid that folds into a molten ball while hurtling toward its target.

For the first time, American officials provided a specific casualty total from these weapons, saying they had killed more than 170 Americans and wounded 620 since June 2004, when one of the devices first killed a service member.

But then the officials went much further, asserting without specific evidence that the Iranian security apparatus, called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - Quds Force controlled delivery of the materials to Iraq. And in a further inference, the officials asserted that the Quds Force, sometimes called the I.R.G.C. - Quds, could be involved only with Iranian government complicity
But their from the government, right? So trust them!

Which is not to say the New York Times entirely does. But in law, there is a concept called "chain of custody." If the state comes to court with a murder weapon and a dead body, they have to establish that this weapon belonged to or was used by that defendant in the commission of this crime, and they have to do all the tedious proving of custody of said weapon from the time it was picked up by the police, until it got to that courtroom. And then they have to establish all the tedious connections between the defendant and that weapon, not to mention the connections between that weapon and the death of the poor murder victim.

So why is this group of anonymous sources with munitions that could have come from anywhere and been used by anyone, allowed access to the front pages of the NYT, even if the reporter expresses his skepticism about their claims? Why is William Arkin's statement beyond the pale, while these statements are given the gravitas of the front page of the nation's premier daily newspaper? Because the sources are "government officials"?

Isn't that what Judy Miller claimed?

Is our media learning?

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