ANALYSIS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: All the news that’s fit to print — with Pentagon approval

Case lays bare the media’s reliance on Iraqi journalists

Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi photographer who had a hand in The Associated Press’s 2005 Pulitzer Prize for photography before being jailed without charges by the United States military, finally had a day in court last week. But his story, which highlights the unprecedented role that Iraqis are playing in news coverage of the war, is really just beginning.

He was held for around 20 months by the military — in Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere, with no right to contest his detention — before being turned over to an Iraqi magistrate, who will act as a one-man grand jury and decide if there is enough evidence to link him to the insurgency. He has not been formally charged with a crime.

The Associated Press has staunchly defended Mr. Hussein, pointing out that his role as a journalist involved getting close to the insurgency. Over the last three years, the American military has held at least eight other Iraqi journalists for periods of weeks or month without charges and released them all, apparently unable to find ties to the insurgency, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent nonprofit organization.

As for Mr. Hussein and his lawyers, “they were not given a copy of the materials that were presented and which they need to prepare a defense,” The Associated Press said in a statement last week, noting that Mr. Hussein was still being detained without formal charges. “The Associated Press continues to believe that claims Bilal is involved with insurgent activities are false.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — The one indisputable fact in this story is that Bilal Hussein is not guilty as charged — unless of course one wants to include “charges” made by the U.S. military, delivered by email to the New York Times. As for the Times’ own ability to report the facts and nothing but the facts, the paper gives the game away in this line: “The [Western] reporters and editors said that they often had to filter out obvious sectarian biases from news copy [provided by Iraqi journalists], and, as a matter of policy, would not run statistics like death counts from the field without official confirmation from the military.”

“All the News that’s Fit to Print” — so long as it gets official confirmation from the military.

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