American media incorrectly reports that U.S. troops "are preparing to go to Iran" + AP reporter who wrote original article: "That should have said Iraq. It was a spelling glitch." + But AP has not corrected the mistake, and the Internet is ablaze with bad information
April 14, 2011by Tom Kowitz — www.baldyandtheblonde.com
Buried in an April 6 Associated Press article by Lolita C. Baldor under the headline, "General: US may consider sending troops into Libya" was this nugget: "(General Carter F. Ham, Commander of U.S. Africa Command) said it was important for the U.S. to turn control over to NATO because many of the troops involved in the Libya strikes are preparing to go to Iran or Afghanistan or have just recently returned from the warfront."
U.S. troops are preparing to go to Iran? I was immediately skeptical.
The story was picked up by several major new outlets, including NBC News, FOX News, CBS News, ABC News, The Boston Globe, The Canadian Press ("Canada's trusted news leader"), Yahoo! News, the Chicago Tribune, and Forbes.com, in addition to many newspapers and television stations across the country. The blogosphere went berserk. Even military.com ran the story.
Some incorrectly reported that General Ham had actually said the words, "many of the troops involved in the Libya strikes are preparing to go to
Iran or Afghanistan or have just recently returned from the warfront." But in the original Associated Press article, Baldor did not quote General Ham, but merely paraphrased him. Another good reason to be suspicious.
The Commander of U.S. Africa Command tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that U.S. troops are preparing to go to Iran, but all we get is a paraphrase of what he said, and not a direct quote? How can that be? The assertion by a general that the United States is preparing to attack Iran is one of the most sensational of the 21st Century, but we don't get to know exactly what he said? That just doesn't happen. And yet the biggest of the big news organizations dutifully ran the article as is.
Unlike the mainstream corporate media, I don't blindly trust a reporter's paraphrasing skills, especially in matters of this importance. So I did something the big-time pros probably aren't accustomed to doing: I checked the facts. I called Baldor at the Washington bureau of the Associated Press. It took me all of two minutes from the time I thought of calling her to the time I had her on the phone. Anyone could have done that. I reminded her of the article and the reference to Iran and asked her if she could check her notes for the actual quote.
Baldor told me, "That should have said Iraq. It was a spelling glitch, and a spellchecker wouldn't catch that." That was a pathetically weak response, and one that would likely result in an "F" in a high-school journalism class, but that was her story and it seemed she would stick to it. I didn't see any point in pressing for the quote, so I thanked her and hung up. A minute later it occurred to me I should have asked whether Associated Press had published a correction. I'm not saying she was dumb or that she was playing dumb, but her reply was ridiculous: "Oh, I don't know. I'm not sure. I guess we should do that." Indeed. Newspapers routinely print corrections of minor errors. Here's a random example from the New Orleans Times-Picayune of April 11: "In a story Sunday (April 10), state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, was incorrectly identified as a state representative." Simple enough. But the Times-Picayune printed the Associated Press article on April 7, and still no correction. I had half a mind to alert them, but I stopped myself. I'm not going to do their job for them.
I noticed, and confirmed, the error immediately, but news outlets all over the country still haven't? That is entirely impossible. But I'm not expecting AP to publish a correction, because the conspiracy theorist in me tells me the reference to Iran was intentional. Why? It's another example in a long line of attempts to desensitize the American people to a U.S. strike on Iran.
The Iranians didn't fall for it, though. When the Tehran Times, on April 10, ran an article about General Ham's testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, it chose an article by Tony Karon of Time.com, which originally published the article on April 7. That article made no mention of U.S. troops preparing to go to Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, or anywhere else.
Why did the Tehran Times publish the one article about General Ham's testimony that did not mention U.S. troops preparing to go to Iran, and ignore the scores if not hundreds of articles (or rather, that many appearances of the original article) that did mention it? The answer must be that the Tehran Times knew that the Associated Press article, as published, was nonsense.
So now we have a guy at his computer in Louisiana, and someone else at a computer in Tehran, who catch the so-called "spelling glitch" and realize it can't be accurate, versus the mass of the American media who stupidly go along and announce that U.S. troops are preparing to go to Iran. That scenario is impossible to believe.
I have other reasons for questioning the "spelling glitch" excuse, such as:
+ Associated Press presumably has pretty good copy editors who have a good understanding of geopolitics and the importance of saying "iraq" instead of "Iran" when it comes to where U.S. troops are preparing to go. They simply would not get this wrong.
+ The national news outlets, and of course even local outlets, may not have Woodward and Bernstein on their staffs, but it's not like they can't read or ask questions. At some, if not nearly all, of the news outlets that ran this story, someone must have questioned the reference to Iran, and yet the "mistake" has not been corrected.
+ The Associated Press first published the story the evening of April 6, at which time a few news outlets picked it up. AP updated the article the next day. That's when the major outlets picked it up and the blogosphere went wild. No one at AP caught the error between the original publication and the update? Or between the update and now, despite all the blogging about it? That's hard to believe.
Was I the only person who suspected right away that the reference to Iran must have been a mistake? Is it possible that I, an extremely part-time blogger, was the only person curious enough and serious enough to go right to the source for clarification? Of course not. If I questioned it, then reporters and editors all over the country must have questioned it. Yet the story ran everywhere, and AP, who admits it is aware of the "error," has done nothing to correct it.