Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Understanding Barbara Starr's confusion

[Update below]

Barbara Starr is driving Atrios insane today, as she discusses the "evidence," briefed anonymously to reporters over the weekend, that Iran is helping Iraqi insurgents.

The truth is, there's a pretty good reason for her confusion over Maj. Gen. William Caldwell's suggestion that "hype" is involved in the Iran evidence: Caldwell can't keep his story straight.

Today, Caldwell not only suggested someone wants to hype the evidence, but is quoted in USA Today as saying that the decision to release the information had no political backing. "Our decision to publicly release this information was conceived, coordinated, and ultimately decided here at the (U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad)," he said. Caldwell, as chief spokesman in Baghdad, would have been one of the decision makers who made the final call on this and, as anyone who has worked in military public affairs (like me) knows, there's no way in hell this info would have been released without the approval of, at a minimum, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and, since it involves the discussion of another country, the Department of State PAO. In the military, the number of people who have to see something before it's released as official is known as a "chop chain." The chop chain for information like this would be a mile long and, if not followed, should cost someone their job.

What makes Caldwell's seeming contradictions--someone wanted to hype this, but we released it--even more confusing is that Caldwell himself has been outed as one of the anonymous briefers who, according to Starr, "said that these shipments were tied to the highest levels of the Iranian government."

Either Caldwell is being pulled this way and that by competing interests (and doesn't care to spin his contradictions in order to cover for those interests) or he's an incompetent hack. And I've never met a two star who's an incompetent hack.

None of that excuses the notoriously incurious Barbara Starr for reciting what she's fed as gospel, but even a real journalist would be confused by Caldwell's statements.

Update: Starr isn't the only one who's confused. Andy McCarthy writes at the Corner:
When it comes to Iraq, the Left is dizzying. Are these not the same people who said that if Lynndie England was walking a naked Iraqi prisoner around like a dog on a leash, she simply must have been acting on orders from Don Rumsfeld, if not Bush himself? Now, the mullahs' own militia, formed for the purpose of exporting the Islamic revolution, is caught red-handed exporting the Islamic revolution to Iraq, and the Left's response is to ask whether we can really be sure the mullahs put them up to it?
All I can say to that is welcome to the Left, General Pace:
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that the discovery that roadside bombs in Iraq contained material made in Iran does not necessarily mean the Iranian government is involved in supplying insurgents.

The comments by Pace called into question assertions by three senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad on Sunday who said the highest levels of the Iranian government were responsible for arming Shiite militants in Iraq with the bombs, blamed for the deaths of more than 170 coalition personnel.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Monday that he is confident the weaponry was being sent with the approval of the Iranian government.

Pace told reporters in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, that U.S. forces hunting militant networks in Iraq that produced roadside bombs had arrested Iranians and some of the materials used in the devices were made in Iran.

"That does not translate that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this," Pace said. "What it does say is that things made in Iran are being used in Iraq to kill coalition soldiers."

On Monday, Pace told the Voice of America during a visit to Australia: "It is clear that Iranians are involved and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved, but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."
If only there were a memo tying the Iranian government to the weapons.

Update: And welcome to the Left, CentCom commander Adm. William "Fox" Fallon:
I have no idea who may be actually with hands-on in this stuff, but I do know that this is not helpful to the situation in Iraq. The folks there are struggling. They’re trying to build a new life for themselves, a new country.
[Oy. I fixed a misquote caused by careless pasting before running out to Valentine's Day dinner with Mrs. Nitpicker. See comments. Thanks, psyberdawg.]

12 Comments:

Blogger Woody Guthrie's Guitar (aka Konopelli) said...

but even a real journalist would be confused by Caldwell's statements.

presumably, the fact that you do not seem to be in the least confused by it suggests to me you're nat a 'real' journalist, either???

not that there's anything wrong widdat...

9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose anybody that keeps a journal can be a journalist, but the basic function of a reporter is to ask questions. It's not rocket science. Curiosity -- not writing ability, not good elocution, not genius -- and a rudimentary intellect are all that's required. You just ask: Do I fully understand this? Do all the pieces fit? What are (person X's) motivations? And then you call a bunch of people and try and get them to answer those questions and weigh their answers against their obvious motivations and biases, and you set all that out as transparently as possible for your reader.

These people are not reporters, that's for sure. What they are is photogenic seat-warmers and stenographers.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Nitpicker said...

For the record, I'm just as confused by Caldwell's statements as anyone. That's the point.

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the debate over Iran's involvement in attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq heats up, the Bush White House is facing a credibility gap of historic proportions. As Bush himself said in 2002:

"Fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."

For the details and video, see:
"Fool Me Once: Bush and Iran."

10:20 AM  
Anonymous JT Davis said...

Nitpicker said...
For the record, I'm just as confused by Caldwell's statements as anyone. That's the point.


So we are either seeing a tug of war going on up the "chop chain" (or higher?) or could it be intentional?

What would be the advantage for them in creating this confusion intentionally? I think I am agreeing with you here, that this indicative of a tug of war or is intentional, because I'll take your word for it a two star is not likely to be an incompetent hack.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Nitpicker said...

I have no evidence of this, but, having seen this sort of thing before, I'd be willing to be that Caldwell is throwing up his hands and saying, "Look, you tell me what you want me to say and I'll say it," knowing full well that those who look closely will see the errors.

Now, I have seen some general officers who might be considered somewhat hackesque, but none so incompetent as to make statements this discrepant.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous NonyNony said...

For the record, I'm just as confused by Caldwell's statements as anyone. That's the point.

Ah, but you have the insight to realize not only that there is a confusion, but that the confusion itself IS A STORY. This is more than almost all TV journalists seem to be capable of these days (and a depressingly large number of print journos as well).

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Plausible lede, so everyone up the chain can deny it was their idea.

See also Scooter Libby leaks. tweak the info just enough each time so it does not meet word for word, but still achieves the intended narrative.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous psyberdawg said...

Sorry to 'nitpick', but you accidentally quote Pace again when you cite Adm. Fallon's remarks. From your link to TP's CNN transcript:

GENERAL PETER PACE: We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se, knows about this. It is clear the Iranians are involved, and it’s clear that materials from Iran are involved. But I would not say, based on what I know, that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Sir, what is your belief?

FALLON: Kyra, I have no idea who may be actually with hands-on in this stuff, but I do know that this is not helpful to the situation in Iraq. The folks there are struggling. They’re trying to build a new life for themselves, a new country.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Nitpicker said...

Never apologize for correcting an obvious error, psy. I appreciate it, because unlike Frank Gaffney, for example, I care about accuracy.

9:55 PM  
Blogger PRETTYOBVIOUS said...

It's the old illusionist trick - confuse them with the magic so they don't question what really happened, so the underlying information slips through as fact.

Question? - The leaked power point presentation I saw on the internet showed weapons(ammo) bearing English markings. When did Iran abandon Farsi for American English?

9:07 AM  
Anonymous inchirieri apartamente cluj said...

I agree with Anonymous when he says "I suppose anybody that keeps a journal can be a journalist, but the basic function of a reporter is to ask questions."

I believe it is a hard thing to be a reporter: always in the center of the action, available 24/7.... And above all I personally believe that the major qualitie of a reporter should be objectivity.

4:17 AM  

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