In his piece on the Alexis Debat controversy -- the ABC consultant and French counterterrorism expert who apparently faked several interviews with political figures and luminaries such as Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Gates, Alan Greenspan, Michael Bloomberg oh and Kofi Annan -- the WP's Howard Kurtz failed to contact Pascal Riche, who broke this story of the faked interviews. Kurtz's piece seemed a bit thinly reported, featuring mostly Debat saying he was scammed, and Brian Ross saying he was scammed. What about the substance? Perhaps he was in a hurry.
But there's much substantive to consider. For instance, among other details, this is a guy telling the world media from several respected perches that there's a three day blitz planned to bomb Iran. It's not an uninteresting question, whether the information is solid, or is embellished, or is fabricated. It certainly creates a big echo, and is an interesting example of how misinformation or even disinformation can work. Kurtz didn't for instance, raise the question I raised here, which is blindingly obvious: did ABC bend the rules by paying a source who also served as their reporter while having a full time appointment elsewhere, smoothing over any complications by calling him an all purpose "consultant"? How much did Brian Ross approve the unusual arrangement and independently verify the information Debat was bringing from the dark corners of Pakistan? IF, and I emphasize if, Debat faked interviews for a French journal, what was to keep him from faking interviews that informed multiple stories for ABC? I fiind it implausible that ABC has independently re-reported all that stuff so quickly and determined it's kosher.
I also had an amusing, if slightly surreal, experience interviewing the real Rob Sherman - a Chicago radio talk show host - who has the same name and rough geographic location as the person who Debat claims conducted an interview with Barack Obama for him. You will not be surprised to learn, perhaps, that the real Rob Sherman says he has never heard of Debat, although he has interviewed Obama. One thing I am learning -- there's a bit of truth in many of the apparent fabrications.
Let's see Ambassador Crocker try to put a positive spin on this:
A carefully constructed compromise on a draft law governing Iraq's rich oil fields, agreed to in February after months of arduous talks among Iraqi political groups, appears to have collapsed. The apparent breakdown comes just as Congress and the White House are struggling to find evidence that there is progress toward reconciliation and a functioning government here....
Mr. Shahristani, a senior member of the Arab Shiite coalition that controls the federal government, negotiated the compromise with leaders of the Kurdish and Arab Sunni parties. But since then, the Kurds have pressed forward with a regional version of the law that Mr. Shahristani says is illegal. Many of the Sunnis who supported the original deal have also pulled out in recent months.
The oil law which would govern how oil fields are developed and managed is one of several benchmarks that the Bush administration has been pressing the Iraqis to meet as a sign that they are making headway toward creating an effective government.
Again and again in the past year, agreement on the law has been fleetingly close before political and sectarian disagreements have arisen to stall the deal.
The Iraqis' attempts at oil sharing laws have never been impressive — and have often been suspiciously advantageous for multinational oil companies. But at least there was something, before recently, that the Iraqi government had come together to achieve. Now, even that moderate success is gone.
A key U.S. ally in Iraq was assassinated near his home in Ramadi earlier today. Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a senior member of the Anbar Salvation Council, was killed along with two bodyguards when a powerful roadside bomb destroyed his car. He had been a leading organizer of the so-called 'Anbar Miracle.' According to the Washington Post:
The council has been credited with helping tamp down violence in the area and retaking control from the insurgents, progress touted by U.S. officials as a sign their current strategy in Iraq is showing results. Abu Risha met just last week with President Bush during Bush's surprise trip to the country.
"This is a tragic loss," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, said of Abu Risha's death. "It's a terrible loss for Anbar province and all of Iraq. It shows how significant his importance was and it shows al-Qaeda in Iraq remains a very dangerous and barbaric enemy."
Along with reaffirming the ability of insurgents to operate in Anbar, Abu Risha's assassination could raise questions about the future of the tribal coalition that had pulled together to quell al-Qaeda influence.
Petraeus, in Washington where he delivered a report to Congress this week, said he was confident the coalition will hold.
"I think that the tribes will pull together and go after whoever did this," Petraeus said in an interview with The Washington Post.
He said it was not clear who might emerge as a successor. He called Abu Risha "an important unity figure" in what had been until recently a fractious and violence-riven community.
Abu Risha, in his mid-30s, was "an organizing force that did help organize alliances and did help keep the various tribes together," the general said.
The emergence of the Anbar council, Petraeus said, caused a "political shift of seismic proportions" -- a dynamic that the U.S. is trying to replicate in other parts of the country.
Members of the Senate intelligence committee have requested the withdrawal of the Bush administration's choice for CIA general counsel, acknowledging that John Rizzo's nomination has stalled because of concerns about his views on the treatment of terrorism suspects.
The decision followed a private meeting this week in which committee leaders concluded that the troubled nomination could not overcome opposition among Democratic members. It comes less than a month after a key member, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), announced his intention to block the nomination indefinitely.
Rizzo, a career CIA lawyer, has drawn fire from Democrats and human rights groups because of his support for Bush administration legal doctrines permitting "enhanced interrogation" of terrorism detainees in CIA custody.
In other intelligence news, Newsweekreports that intelligence czar Michael McConnell has asked to withdraw a statement to Congress that a recently passed electronic surveillance law contributed to the capture of German terrorism suspects earlier this month. Turns out, it didn't have anything to do with it.
Potentially lacking the wit of our other esteemed bloggers, I hope to let the site speak for itself here... Our tech team has been working late into the night to make the Mother Jones website better looking, more readable, and more useful to you. Yesterday we launched what we might call a "first step" in a much fuller redesign project. We're eager to know what you think so far!
We're even more eager to know what you think about how far we have to go to build the best looking, best performing online media experience you can't get enough of.... I'll be popping on the blog periodically to inquire, but here's the first step: Drop us a comment or two. What do you love and hate about the site? Are you a designer? How about throwing some scrawled on napkins my way? naster-at-motherjones is the address.
We've got some great things up our sleeves — this is only the beginning.
Funny how much difference a few days can make, huh? Kanye West is known for his egotistical outbursts and random baloney-spewing, but with his new album getting great reviews and headed for #1, suddenly he's also making a lot more sense. First of all, his statements about the MTV VMAs "scandal" on a Sirius Satelite Radio morning show Tuesday are pretty much right on. Describing Britney Spears' terrible show-opening performance, he blamed MTV, telling Sirius the network was "just trying to get ratings, and they knew she wasn't ready and they exploited her." West wanted to perform "Stronger" as the show opener, but was apparently told to host a "suite party" in a hotel room instead, where his performance of the hit track was under-lighted and attended only by pre-selected industry zombies.
"They exploited her, they played me and I really don't mess with MTV," he said. "So why do you have me do 'Stronger' in a suite, but you end the show with Justin? I looked at 50 like, yo, we need to help each other as much as possible."
Considering the massive sales for "Stronger" over the last few weeks (and now for the full album), it does seem a little cynical of MTV to give the show-opening performance to Britney, while Kanye is so clearly on top, but what else is new?
Well, no matter what you think of the whole debacle, West is making great music, and if you think he's got a bad attitude, check this out: French duo Justice, you'll remember, are supposedly the rapper's arch-rivals after they beat him for "Best Video" at the European VMAs in 2006. This year, in a cute rematch, the animated-T-shirt-featuring video for their track "D.A.N.C.E." was up against West's "Stronger" for "Video of the Year." Rihanna won, so now, everybody's best friends: the director of the video, So Me, was recruited by West to direct his own new video, which turned out so spectacularly you'd forgive a hundred tantrums. The liquid animations help you focus on West's intricate phrasings, and give added "oomph" to the track's already-high spirits. More Franco-American collaborations, please, and you go, Kanye.
Ignite!, Neil Bush's educational company, has received thousands of dollars from school districts through the federal No Child Left Behind program even though it doesn't meet the program's standards, a DC watchdog group reported today.
"NCLB requires any kind of educational products to have been scientifically peer-reviewed, and Ignite! has not," Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told me. Today CREW sent a letter to the Dept. of Ed Inspector General asking him to investigate the company. "NCLB is really benefiting cronies rather than kids," Sloan added. "I frankly don't understand why so many Democratic senators and congressmen, like George Miller and Kennedy are being so supportive [of NCLB] in the face of these problems."
Ignite! did not return a call from Mother Jones.
Neil Bush, the family's ne'er do well, is best known for his adventures in the savings and loan industry, which led to a taxpayer-funded bailout of $1.3 billion and a lifetime ban from the banking industry. In 1999, with no educational experience, he founded Ignite! with money from his family and international investors. For years Ignite has been dogged by questions about its effectiveness, and its reliance on donations from foundations to fund its purchase in schools. Last year, the Houston Chroniclereported that a donation from Barbara Bush to a Katrina relief fund was earmarked to Ignite! None of this has really slowed the company down of course. As of late it has been working in Russia and China, where I'd expect business will soon be booming.
ABC reports that Barack Obama denies he gave an interview to French journalist and counterterrorism expert Alexis Debat that appeared in a French journal, Politique Internationale. Debat himself acknowledges that he conducted the interview through a third party, and has provided an email from that person who says he carried out the interview and asked Debat to sign it and keep his name off it. An Obama spokesperson told ABC that they are not aware of that third party interview taking place either. Debat also acknowledges that he made a mistake. There's just one problem. Debat has been working since 2001 as a consultant for ... ABC News. Many of his reports are co-signed by other reporters at ABC, and one can presume that after an extensive investigation, ABC will determine that all of the stories he worked on as a "source" (but many also with a byline or co-byline) were multiply sourced and therefore they stand by all of them. As a colleague suggests, "Clearly they want to distance themselves from him, while still protecting" the institution. It may well be that all of his reporting is solid, and Debat has personally offered to discuss his sources and reporting with me, at my soonest possible availability. Sources suggest that ABC is not going to take Debat back, even if the investigation outcome is that his stories hold up. Debat firmly stands by all of his reporting for ABC, writing "ABC is currently taking all of my reporting apart, and has not found any reason to doubt it. It will not. I stand completely by 100% of the information I provided ABC."
Questions about Debat's interviews and representations were first raised earlier this week by former Liberation correspondent Pascal Riche at the website, Rue89. Debat has threatened legal action against Riche and Rue89, claiming the article "puts my entire professional life in jeopardy." ABC has indicated it demanded Debat's resignation in June, three months before the Rue 89 piece, saying that a French government official told ABC that Debat did not have the Sorbonne PhD he claimed to have. Debat has written that he recently learned there were administrative problems with his PhD and is working to resolve them.
Update: ABC's Jeffrey Schneider writes in reference to a post at my own blog, here "is a link to our blotter story about Debat. ... We have reviewed that story (and all the other stories he worked on) and we had multiple US and European government sources that informed our reporting. As you will see from the blotter story above, we acted expeditiously to sever ties with Debat when we could not establish his credentials and we did immediately investigate his work."
Meantime, we hear the Washington Post is working on its own story on the matter.