(By Ray D.)
Nina Rehfeld's Attempted Hit Job - Or How it Backfired
A small German blog recently chronicled a particularly suspect article authored by correspondent Nina Rehfeld for the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - one of Germany's most respected daily papers). The piece, entitled "Debacle for the Online Sniper" can only be described as a hit job gone terribly wrong. The "online sniper" in question is none other than journalist and top blogger Michelle Malkin:
FAZ Caption: "Converted Blogger: Michelle Malkin"
The FAZ piece reads as follows (our translation - this is the entire article):
Debacle for the Online Sniper
By Nina Rehfeld, Phoenix
A few days ago a witch hunt called out by conservative bloggers in the United States against the news agency AP came to an end. The starting point for the hysteria was an AP report according to which six Iraqi Sunnis were doused with gasoline by Shiites in front of a mosque and burned alive as Iraqi soldiers looked on. As a source, AP named a Baghdad police captain by the name of Jamil Hussein, but the American military and Iraqi Ministry of Interior denied for a long time that there was a policeman by that name. No one else could confirm the report, yet the story went around the world.
In Internet forums doubts were quickly raised about the authenticity of the AP story and the reliability of sources in Iraq in general. But what should have been a debate about the pitfalls of reporting from war zones turned into a vanity fair. Led by the prominent conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, the AP story was presented as proof that the "liberal mainstream media" were intentionally distorting the situation in Iraq to turn people against the Bush government: "MSM credibility, R.I.P.," wrote Malkin.
The Outcry is Silenced
The talk quickly turned to "AP scandal"; All AP reporting on Iraq was brought into question. Liberal websites like Media Matters struck back at the "warbloggers." And because the mainstream media in America leaves the field of reporting on the background details to the bloggers, they were able to smash journalistic porcelain undisturbed. In the meantime, AP stuck with the story that its reporters had spoken with Jamil Hussein.
A few days ago the Iraqi Ministry of Interior confirmed the existence of Jamil Hussein and announced that he may be subject to a fine - because he spoke to journalists. The outcry is silenced. Michelle Malkin accepted a challenge to visit Iraq from CNN news boss Eason Jordan where she has meekly reported on danger, violence and corruption, but also on signs of hope in Iraq that the mainstream media is allegedly happy to overlook. Nobody is talking about the policeman Jamil Hussein anymore."
Memo to FAZ: The Outcry is Not Silenced
Rehfeld would be right if the only aspect of the AP story brought into question by bloggers was the existence of source Jamil Hussein. In reality, there are two elements of the original AP story that remain controversial: The first, Mr. Hussein's reported claim that four mosques were "destroyed" in sectarian violence, has been proven demonstrably false. The second, that six Iraqi Sunnis were burned alive as Iraqi soldiers looked on, remains uncorroborated and has been disputed by other sources. Bloggers continue to discuss both - Ms. Rehfeld completely fails to acknowledge the controversy surrounding either.
In other words, this is neither a witch hunt nor is it "case closed" as Ms. Rehfeld clearly implies. In fact, the bloggers' skepticism over the original AP piece has proven to be largely justified. Unfortunately, those inconvenient details are conspicuously omitted by FAZ.
Because Rehfeld and her FAZ editors are clearly aware of Michelle Malkin's blog (see caption above), it is hard to believe that they simply overlooked the two contested elements of the original AP story. This appears to be yet another case of a major German media outlet omitting and twisting facts to vilify those (conservatives - bloggers - Americans) it perceives as political enemies. The arrogant, frothing-at-the-mouth tone of the piece is, taken by itself, a clear sign of journalism gone bad. Beyond that, it is difficult to conclude that Rehfeld is anything more than a cynical liar. Her work is particularly disturbing because it is directed at a German audience that, with a language barrier and lack of alternative sources, will likely never know to what extent it has been defrauded and misled.
This much is clear: To avoid future "witch hunts" and journalistic "debacles", FAZ would be well advised to drop Ms. Rehfeld and her particularly destructive brand of character assassination. Instead of cutting Michelle Malkin down to size, Rehfeld has succeeded only in shooting herself and her publication's reputation in the foot.