Tuesday, January 18, 2005

All the News That's Fit to Fit 2

Sarah Boxer of the New York Times News Service, asks 'who can you trust' and tentatively answers, maybe not Iraq the Model.

When I telephoned a man named Ali Fadhil in Baghdad last week, I wondered who might answer. A CIA operative? An American posing as an Iraqi? Someone paid by the Defense Department to support the war? Or simply an Iraqi with some mixed feelings about the American presence in Iraq? ... I clicked on Iraq the Model because it promised three blogging brothers in one, Omar, Mohammed and Ali. ... People posting messages on an American Web site called Martini Republic accused the three bloggers of working for the CIA, of being American puppets, of not being Iraqis and even of not existing at all.

She focuses on the reason why one of the three brother-bloggers, Ali, quit posting. Boxer asked whether they had been 'astroturfed' that is: received help from a 'powerful think-tank'. Or worse.

a conspiracy theory had emerged about Iraq the Model on Martini Republic. One of the principal bloggers there, Joseph Mailander, had some questions for the Iraqi brothers. He wanted to know whether someone in the U.S. government or close to it had set up the blog. (The Web host, based in Abilene, Texas, is called CIATech Solutions.) And what about the two brothers' tour of the United States? Did the U.S. government "have a shadow role in promoting it?"

'CIATech Solutions' is really a reference to Complex Internet Applications Technical Solutions, something the reader learns about further down. Boxer reported that some commentators doubted whether Iraq the Model represented 'mainstream of Iraqi thinking'. They believed it was a refuge for fantasists who wanted to see Iraqi events in a certain way and were willing to fete those who would pander to their point of view. She might have been referring to commentators like Juan Cole, or someone very like him, who wrote:

Joseph Mailander of the Martini Republic weblog has an extremely important posting on Sunday about the dangers of "blog trolling." ... A related practice has been called by Josh Marshall "astroturfing," where a "grass roots" campaign turns out actually to be sponsored by a think tank or corporation. ... The MR posting brings up questions about the Iraqi brothers who run the Iraq The Model site. It points out that the views of the brothers are celebrated in the right-leaning weblogging world of the US, even though opinion polling shows that their views are far out of the mainstream of Iraqi opinion. ... Contrast all this to the young woman computer systems analyst in Baghdad, Riverbend, who is in her views closer to the Iraqi opinion polls

With mystery swirling around Ali, Boxer finally contacted him and asked why he had quit Iraq the Model. His short answer was danger.

His views took a sharp turn when his two brothers met with the president. There wasn't supposed to be any press coverage about their trip to the United States, he said. But The Washington Post wrote about the meeting, and the Arabic press ended up translating the story, which, Ali felt, put his family in real danger. Anyway, he said, he didn't see any sense in his brothers' meeting with Bush. "My brothers say it happened accidentally, that it was not planned." But why, he asked, take such an "unnecessary risk"? He explained his worries: "Here some people would kill you for just writing to an American."

His longer answer was that he found blogging, by itself, ineffective. With danger a given, Ali and his brothers went into politics, which in Iraq is a hazardous profession. Boxer reports that Ali then started his own blog and is helping his brother run for office under Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party ticket in the Jan. 30 election. But Boxer never did provide an adequate explanation for why three brothers with professional qualifications might express opinions on which a sentence of death was laid. In the end she came to no answer. It apparently wasn't money; and as for the trip, it had brought them nothing but more danger. She might have tried William Babington Macaulay who understood the power of an older motivation: belief and the courage to uphold that belief; a motive many journalists have no problem assigning to 'insurgents'.

‘Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed ye may;
I, with two more to help me,
Will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three.
Now who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?’

Then out spake Spurius Lartius;
A Ramnian proud was he:
‘Lo, I will stand at thy right hand,
And keep the bridge with thee.’
And out spake strong Herminius;
Of Titian blood was he:
‘I will abide on thy left side,
And keep the bridge with thee.’

‘Horatius,’ quoth the Consul,
‘As thou sayest, so let it be.’
And straight against that great array
Forth went the dauntless Three.
For Romans in Rome’s quarrel
Spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life,
In the brave days of old.