The AP Responds, Sort Of

On Sunday, I commented on the disclosure that Associated Press stringer Bilal Hussein, one of the Iraqi photographers credited with helping the AP win the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography last year, was being held by coalition authorities following his apprehension in the company of two insurgents:

The military said Hussein was captured with two insurgents, including Hamid Hamad Motib, an alleged leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. “He has close relationships with persons known to be responsible for kidnappings, smuggling, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and other attacks on coalition forces,” according to a May 7 e-mail from U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jack Gardner, who oversees all coalition detainees in Iraq.

Following up on this post by Scott about the AP’s famous photo of the murder of two Iraqi election workers on Haifa Street in Baghdad, I titled my post “The Pulitzer Prize for Felony Murder, Part II.”

The basic point that I made in my post was that, far from showing “extraordinary courage” by taking pictures of insurgents “at great personal risk,” as the AP claimed, some of the AP’s stringers, apparently including Hussein, are in fact collaborators with al Qaeda and other insurgent groups, taking propaganda pictures on their behalf and publishing them world-wide through the AP. It is obvious from some of Hussein’s pictures, in particular, that he had no fear of the insurgents and that his presence was welcomed by them. This fact, evident from the photos themselves, was confirmed by his arrest.

The AP responded to my comments and those of other bloggers on Hussein’s detention here. The author, Robert Tanner, called me for comment yesterday, but I was traveling on business and unable to respond. Tanner’s purpose seems to be to debunk the criticisms that we and others made, but the AP’s responses, as recited by Tanner, are directed entirely at straw men.

Here is the first:

[A]dvocates of the press coverage questioned whether the critics wanted to block any coverage that doesn’t portray the U.S. policy in the best light. An independent press must fully and accurately cover a conflict from all sides, they said.

Neither we nor any other critic, to my knowledge, has tried to “block any coverage” of any sort. Nor is our complaint that the AP’s coverage “doesn’t portray the U.S. policy in the best light.” Our disagreement with the AP is simple: we don’t think that news organizations should pay stringers to accompany terrorist groups and take staged propaganda photos on their behalf. The AP, on the other hand, views this as appropriately “covering a conflict from all sides.”

Here is the second straw man:

AP executives, who made public Hussein’s detention on Sunday after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, said the news cooperative’s review of Hussein’s work did not find inappropriate contact with insurgents.

See above. We don’t think collaborating with terrorists by taking propaganda photos at their behest is appropriate; the AP does.

The third:

At Powerlineblog.com, John Hinderaker accused the AP of benefiting from felony murder.

The AP didn’t make any specific response to this one. Scott originally used that phrase to describe the AP’s winning the Pulitzer Prize in part on the basis of a picture of a murder as it was taking place, by a photographer who, the AP admitted, likely had been “tipped off” by terrorists to be on the scene at the right time.

The fourth:

The AP on Tuesday issued statements correcting various bloggers who repeated from site to site charges that Hussein had witnessed and photographed executions.

One of Hussein’s most controversial pictures – that of a dead Italian man with two masked insurgents standing over him with guns – was taken when the man already was dead, it said.

This is the photo:

BilalH19.jpg

Maybe someone accused Hussein of witnessing the murder; we didn’t. But what’s the point? Whether Hussein saw the murder or saw the body afterward, he obviously didn’t fear the armed terrorists who were standing over the body, and took the photo as a piece of propaganda that the terrorists wanted disseminated. The AP, once again, is answering the wrong charge.

Finally:

Another accusation — that Hussein had taken a picture of election workers being executed on a Baghdad street — was also false, the AP said. Hussein never took photos for the AP in Baghdad, and the AP photographer who took that picture was on the scene because of other events when the shooting unfolded in front of him.

Did someone say that Hussein took the Haifa Street photo? Beats me. I said that “this was the only photograph in the AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning submission for which the photographer’s name was withheld. So we don’t know whether it was taken by Bilal Hussein.” More to the point, the AP’s statement that the Haifa Street photographer was on the scene “because of other events” is rather misleading. Another AP spokesman has already admitted that the photographer was “likely ‘tipped off'” by terrorists to be at the Haifa Street location, though that spokesman assured us that the photographer was no doubt told to expect only a demonstration, not a murder.

Nowhere in the AP’s response is there any recognition of, let alone response to, the fundamental criticism that we and others have leveled: news organizations like the AP should not pay photographers to consort with terrorists and take photos that the terrorists evidently believe will advance their interests. The AP apparently considers this practice to embody an appropriate neutrality between the terrorists on one side, and their victims and American soldiers on the other. And they don’t seem to understand why that view is controversial.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has more.

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