No Comment — July 8, 2007, 5:04 pm

The Curious Omnipresence of Al Qaeda in Iraq Coverage

The New York Times new ombudsman is Craig Hoyt. His column this week is extremely impressive and merits close examination.

Why Bush and the military are emphasizing Al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.

But these are stories you haven’t been reading in The Times in recent weeks as the newspaper has slipped into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about Al Qaeda’s role in Iraq — and sometimes citing the group itself without attribution.

And in using the language of the administration, the newspaper has also failed at times to distinguish between Al Qaeda, the group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, an Iraqi group that didn’t even exist until after the American invasion.

One of the key functions of good war reporting is distinguishing between objective facts and spin. Every military engages in heavy news spin for obvious reasons. The difference between a good war correspondent and a stenographer lies in many things, but one of the most important is the courage to challenge accounts that are misleading or that serve a psy-ops objective rather than providing reliable information. Hoyt has engaged this issue on a critical point and at a critical time. He deserves to be commended for performing his job just as it was envisioned.

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