The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Post fake Iraqi torture victim

Prior to Daddy Bush's war, we had the Oscar-worthy performance of Nayirah al-Sabah as the Kuwaiti Incubator Queen - a production helmed by Hill & Knowlton, of course (February 17 2003).

That time, America's journalists needed no Armstrong Williams pay-off to lap the story right up.

Now, we have Jumana Michael Hanna, who appears to have done quite a number on the Washington Post. (Whether Hill & Knowlton were involved this time is not apparent.)

Hanna served up a fantasy story about Iraqi torture to Post man Peter Finn, and he bought it. And Post editors bought it. And slapped Finn's piece on the front page of the July 21 2003 edition.

As ombud Michael Getler tells it,
had been based in Germany and was in Iraq to help cover the post-invasion period when he wrote the initial article.

Classic parachutist.

The scam was discovered by Sara Solovitch (piece in January Esquire) who was commissioned to write a book about Hanna's story.

Solovitch employed no gimmick to get at the truth of the matter, but rather engaged in the (apparently unfashionable) practice of methodically seeking corroboration in a sceptical frame of mind.

It seems she's a sort of anti-Mapes.

(To date, her online footprint is small and mostly Hanna-related. Her own site has samples of her work - of which I'd like to see more, if the Hanna piece is anything to judge by.)

Finn's post-Solovitch clean-up piece last week seems directed towards self-exculpation on the grounds that
  1. a judge investigating her torture complaints over months had believed her; and

  2. the stories she told Solovitch were more incredible than those told to him.

Hanna's angle? I like to be in America, apparently.

For an editor, a Hanna-type tale is a percentage play: probably, the informant is broadly telling the truth, or, at least, there's no proof that he's not. And, if the story does prove to be a dud, it's a one-day wonder amongst the aficianados at the worst. Who's going to sue? There's no Jayson Blair-style black hat - everyone's sincere.

Percentage play.

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