More on the ABC Debat Affair: Annotating ABC’s Jundullah Report

A striking comment by ABC’s Brian Ross in today’s NYT:

ABC News has sent a producer to Pakistan as part of its second investigation into reports involving Mr. Debat. One report it is re-examining concerned a guerrilla organization called Jundullah, which, ABC reported in April, had the support of the United States and Pakistan for operations that led to the kidnapping and murder of several Iranian officials.

Pakistani officials ferociously denied the report, calling it “an absurd and sinister insinuation.” ABC announced that it was standing by its reporting and quoted Mr. Debat, saying that he had “just returned from the region.” Brian Ross, the correspondent who worked most closely with Mr. Debat, said the Jundullah story had many sources.

“We’re only worried about the things Debat supplied, not about the substance of that story,” he said.

Does Ross really dismiss the importance of whether the substance of what he reported is true?

That US is backing the Jundullah story represents among the most problematic of the Debat-Ross collaborations. And it’s no small matter perhaps that Ross’s name is on it.

My annotated version of that story (Brian Ross and Christopher Isham, “The Secret War Against Iran,” ABC, April 3, 2007) suggests that the key allegations in the piece were sourced by Mr. Debat, ABC used Debat as a confirming expert analyst in the piece for dubious information he himself supplied, and that other sources cited in the piece deny the basic gist of the report.

Are Debat’s interviews with tribal sources — which form the very essence of this report — any more real than his interviews with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Alan Greenspan, Nancy Pelosi, and Kofi Annan? The evidence says no. History shows no. Knowledgeable regional experts say no. That people who fabricate something as easily, provably deniable as an interview with Senators and presidential candidates and the UN Secretary General cannot be trusted to be telling the truth about what the Pakistani tribal sources are telling them is, of course, obvious. The capacity for an extraordinary degree of mendacity demonstrated by Debat claiming to have conducted such high profile fake interviews speaks for itself.

Notice no where in the above report does a US or other official confirm what Debat is providing and the story is asserting. And that ABC used Debat as the channeled reporter on the main substance of the piece, providing the information from the tribal sources, and then featured him as a confirming commenter/analyst in the report. It’s a sleight of hand an ordinary viewer might not have noticed, but nevertheless not worthy of a serious news organization that cares about telling its viewers and readers the truth.

In other words, if you remove the information provided by Mr. Debat in this report, and his presence in the report as an expert analyst, there would be nothing there but background information on Jundullah, and U.S. officials denying the report.

See my original story, “Subject to Debat” here.

(Parts of this cross-posted here)

Update: Spoke with Brian Ross, who says that “I feel very comfortable very with the thrust of that [Jundullah] report. … We really did have a number of U.S. and European government sources who walked us through that story, which essentially is the US is not funding that group, but is offering advice and guidance and is in contact with that group.” He couldn’t provide more details on the record but could say that “We feel comfortable wih sources not from Debat that the U.S. has at least contact with and communication with that group on an ongoing basis … to help fight al Qaeda.”


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