December 16, 2007

The Other Fallujah Reporter (UPDATED THREE TIMES)

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” — Thomas Jefferson

I just returned home from a trip to Fallujah, where I was the only reporter embedded with the United States military. There was, however, an unembedded reporter in the city at the same time. Normally it would be useful to compare what I saw and heard while traveling and working with the Marines with what a colleague saw and heard while working solo. Unfortunately, the other Fallujah reporter was Ali al-Fadhily from Inter Press Services.

Mr. al-Fadhily is unhappy with the way things are going in the city right now. It means little to him that the only shots fired by the Marines anymore are practice rounds on the range, and that there hasn’t been a single fire fight or combat casualty for months. That’s fair enough, as far as it goes, and perhaps to be expected from a reporter who isn’t embedded with the military and who focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians. The trouble is that Mr. Al-Fadhily’s hysterical exaggerations, refusal to provide crucial context, and outright fabrications amount to a serious case of journalistic malpractice.

Read the rest at Commentary Magazine.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald thinks that because I was embedded with the U.S. military and al-Fadhily wasn't that my work is less credible. Specifically he insists that al-Fadhily's claim that 70 percent of Fallujah is destroyed is more credible than my claim to the contrary.

If the city were 70 percent destroyed it would look much like Dresden did after the fire-bombing. I could not possibly spend a month there without noticing, especially since I moved to a new location inside the city every day. You can believe that I would publish pictures of vast destruction in Fallujah if it existed because that's exactly what I did when I recently went to Ramadi and Lebanon. I do have a track record of that sort of thing. I have no reason, good or bad, to treat Fallujah any differently.

It would be truly amazing -- if not impossible -- if I could spend so much time in Fallujah and not notice that 70 percent of it was destroyed.

I recently (sincerely and politely) offered to help Glenn Greenwald get to Iraq safely since he's a journalist who writes about it so much. So far he hasn't responded. By his own logic, both al-Fadhily and myself are more credible on the subject than he is. I wouldn't normally pull rank on a colleague like this, but since Glenn pulled rank over me on al-Fadhily's behalf, he gets the same in return.

I'll still help Glenn get to Iraq if he wants so we won't have to talk to each other like this.

UPDATE #2: Glenn Greenwald says I mischaracterized what he wrote in the following paragraph:
Writing at The Podhoretz Family's Commentary Magazine, right-wing blog favorite Michael Totten -- who says he has been the only reporter other than al-Fadhily in Fallujah -- takes issue with some of al-Fadhily's claims about the extent to which Fallujah was destroyed by our 2004 military assualt. In doing so, Totten revealingly points out that he, Totten, is always with the U.S. military, while the independent al-Falahdy "isn't embedded with the military and [] focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians," as though that makes Totten's assertions more credible, rather than less credible, than al-Fadhily's.
He wrote in an email that he did not say my “reporting was less credible with regard to whether 70% of Fallujah had been destroyed.” It looked that way from my first reading of his paragraph, but I suppose it could be read both ways and the misunderstanding can be chalked up to sloppy writing on his part, sloppy reading on my part, or both.

In any case, I have no interest in mischaracterizing what he or anyone else writes. And I'm glad to hear he did not mean to say what I thought he said.

He says, in email, that he thinks al-Fadhily is more credible than me “SOLELY WITH RESPECT to the point about whether Falljuah residents had been harrassed or arrested after speaking with journalists.”

I think he's wrong about that, but feel free to click on over and read his argument.

One point he makes is fair enough, at least. I did not back up my assertion with evidence. He's right. I didn't. I exceeded my word limit and tried to keep it short, so here is some evidence now:

Arresting citizens for talking to journalists is a strict violation of the human rights rules being handed down from the Americans to the Iraqis. And the Iraqi Police are very closely supervised by the Marines. They live together in the same stations and go on joint patrols with each other.

I personally sat in on a class where two Marine officers instructed Iraqi Police officers in the human rights ethics expected of them. United Nations documents, rather than American documents, were the source material for the course, but the Iraqi Police are being trained to act like professional police officers in a liberal democracy, not a dictatorship.

Not everything sticks. It's possible that the Iraqi Police would round someone up for no reason other than talking to journalists, but the Marines would be furious and would instantly undo the problem as soon as they found out about it.

No one can disprove a negative, but this one does not pass the smell test. Iraq is a paranoid place. I can't prove that the Americans didn't put a shark in a Euphrates River canal to scare people, either, but I shouldn't have to.

UPDATE #3: Here is a worthwhile comment posted over at Commentary:
# Richard F. Says: December 17th, 2007 at 5:12 pm

Michael: I am writing as a 3-time embedded reporter including one stint with the 3/8 Marines in Fallujah just two months after the conclusion Al-Fajr. I was on Humvee patrols in and out of the city, and the claim of “70%” destruction is bogus. Moreover, it is a claim that has steadily grown since the conclusion of that battle. Particularly from war opponents, an assertion of 1/3 destruction was the first “percentage” I heard; next it was 50%; about one year ago, I read that 75% was the actual number. It’s good to know that there has been some “decline” however marginal—must be the result of the Surge!

Seriously, between these claims (which I found bogus and which may be investigated by a close viewing of satellite photos) and the (usually) allied assertion that the destruction was attributable to the indiscriminate use of WP, I had first-time experience with the famous comment (of uncertain parentage) that truth is the first casualty of war.

The claim that embed equals “in-bed” is usually raised in direct proportion to how well the subject reporting comports with the political views of those making the comment. For example, when Kevin Sites took his famous footage inside a Fallujah mosque, that purported to show a US Marine executing a wounded insurgent (the Marine was later cleared) no one claimed that Sites was “in bed” with his PAO. Unfortunately, for honest reporters, their work is evaluated by how useful it is to the media’s, politician’s or blogger’s agenda. Just remember, in a hyper-partisan world, there is always room for more agreement!
Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 16, 2007 07:10 PM
Comments

"The trouble is that Mr. Al-Fadhily’s hysterical exaggerations, refusal to provide crucial context, and outright fabrications amount to a serious case of journalistic malpractice."

While all the 'faults' you cite may indeed be completely true, I fear that they cannot add up to something you refer to as journalistic malpractice. Journalism as practiced today by most everybody cannot fall to the level of 'malpractice' by dint of something it actively does or does not do. It operates from that base level as a matter of course which is why its output is always 'questionable'.

It's because it is corrupted fron the outset that its product is defective not the obverse. It only sees and describes what it wishes to see or describe, and therefore operates in the capacity not of a camera but of a film playing out according to a pre-arranged script. I happen to think it is a very poor film.

Mr. al-Fadhily saw exactly what he set out to see and described it fully and 'honestly'. He could just as well have stayed home and written the piece since all he apparently wanted was confirmation of his obvious 'truth'. As you say he was not really 'wrong' in his observations. They were likely not 'false' as far as they went. The problem is with the lack of context and historical perspective.

I truly accept both versions of Fallujah as described. It is doubtless a miserable place but as you say what else can be expected after 4 years of conflict and terror ? You could write the same story about virtually any city that has been the center of conflict for years. Never mind one that had a 'dubious' reputation even in Saddam's day.

Posted by: dougf at December 16, 2007 07:47 PM

Doug, 70 percent of Fallujah isn't destroyed. Nor is the city under siege. There is just no way to make those claims honestly if you've been there and know what it's actually like.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 16, 2007 07:51 PM

"Doug, 70 percent of Fallujah isn't destroyed. Nor is the city under siege. There is just no way to make those claims honestly if you've been there and know what it's actually like."---MJT

Oops ,sorry about that. I was bending over backwards (and at my age that is a truly dangerous and foolhardy action) in order to appear 'fair' to my dear friends in the 'media'. As you know from my LONG history on the subject, I can't abide the MSM in any of its incarnations. But I wanted to at least appear to be giving the benefit of the doubt. Just goes to show that no good deed really does go unpunished.

So upon advisement,I am more than happy to withdraw the 'honest' qualifier.

I stand corrected. This guy is not 'honest' but 'untrue'. He is just 'untrue'.

First time I ever felt great about confessing error.

Posted by: dougf at December 16, 2007 08:49 PM

dougf,

To beat on this otherwise dead horse just for the fun of it:

If you publish a story and it causes otherwise innocent people to die because of inaccuracies and deliberate choices or simply incompetence on your part, how is that different from a doctor leaving a sponge in your abdomen after surgery?

When Newsweek published that a Qur'an was flushed when they didn't have proof or a credible source, aren't they significantly liable for their libel? People died in the subsequent riots.

This week a Marine was convicted of wrongfully killing and Iraqi Army soldier he claimed was signaling a sniper. The Marine misunderstood a situation, somebody died from his choices, and he is going to prison because he failed to meet his professional obligations. As a member of the military, I am under exactly the same obligations as the convicted Marine when I am armed. Why should the professional media be excused from responsibility when their failures cost lives?

As a reference, I trust Michael Totten's observations, analysis, and reporting with my life, literally. Michael doesn't call a reporter a fraud unless the reporter is practicing fraud.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at December 17, 2007 12:32 AM

So the media goes where the violence is. By that logic, the recent slump in reporting from Iraq indicates that there is a slump in violence. Makes sense that there would be only one other reporter in Fallujah, since it has calmed down so much. Thanks for being there Mr. Totten, even though Fallujah isn't "where the action is at". I think it's an important story to be told IMHO.

Posted by: LT Nixon at December 17, 2007 02:38 AM

Patrick,

"To beat on this otherwise dead horse just for the fun of it: "

To be guilty of malpractice or negligience, once must prove that a person deviated from some commonly accepted standard of practice. A doctor gets nailed for leaving the sponge in the patient because it is specifically noted 'not to leave things in patients' in medical training manuals.

In the engineering world, we regularly annotate plans with 'acceptable margins of error'...I.E. a 1/2 inch hold should be 1/2 inch +- 1/64th or some such depending on the thing. I.E. A 6" heating duct could be anywhere from 5 1/2" to 6 1/2" where a car cylinder is the margin of error is somewhere around 1/1000".

In journalism, the only guidelines are the you can't scream fire in a crowded theatre and you can't knowingly print false hoods about someone.

We live in a world where taxi drivers(code word- knowledgable sources) and bar tenders (code word -informed sources) are generating more of our daily news than most folks would want to know.

Posted by: Soldier's Dad at December 17, 2007 05:34 AM

I read al-fadhily's report and it seems he is JUST like any other anti-US reporter. (I took the time to read some of his co-reporter's stuff too.) I can see right through their crap. IPS.org looks more like the DailyKOS than any legitimate publication.
Its imbedded reporters like Totten and Yon are out there giving the accurate reports. al-fadsilly is out getting quotes from insurgent's wives (I'm guessing her husband was not detained for singing too loud in the choir)...and "Others do not want to be quoted for different reasons". When I read words like those it's like a spot light on the "untruthiness" in the article.

The Thomas Jefferson quote is right on... Keep up the great reporting Mr. Totten.

Posted by: Ronpapworth at December 17, 2007 07:08 AM

Loved that last line. I'm from Canada, and I've witnessed the death and destruction brought about by Tim Horton's and McDonald's!

Posted by: Paul MacPhail at December 17, 2007 07:56 AM

Doug, 70 percent of Fallujah isn't destroyed.

I think "lie" is a strong word to use when questioning an estimate of something in 2004, based on personal observation in 2007. If the US military claims something along the lines of "50% arms caches destroyed" in a given city in a given month, and it turns out to be obviously less than that, because they find twice as many the next month, were they "lying"?

I think Mr. Fadhily's article would be improved by investigating that number, but he probably found it from some prior commentary and passed it along.
He did also use the word "approximately".

Wikipedia:
"US officials report that "more than half of Fallujah's 39,000 homes were damaged during Operation Phantom Fury, and about 10,000 of those were destroyed" while compensation amounts to 20 percent of the value of damaged houses, with an estimated 32,000 homeowners eligible, according to Marine Lt Col William Brown.10 According to NBC, 9,000 homes were destroyed, thousands more were damaged and of the 32,000 compensation claims only 2,500 have been paid as of April 14, 2005.11 According to Mike Marqusee of Iraq Occupation Focus writing in the Guardian, "Fallujah's compensation commissioner has reported that 36,000 of the city's 50,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines".

So the estimate is on the high side, but not a fabrication. Rather, it's along the lines of prior reported claims.

I know (and you know) that Voice Of God Smackdowns sell the papers, but I don't think you've made a convincing case of "journalistic malpractice". One could imagine that accusing the only other reporter in Fallujah of "journalistic malpractice"
could have a stifling effect on journalism in Fallujah.

Nor is the city under siege.

If no vehicles from anywhere outside the city are allowed to enter the city, given that 'under siege ' is a subjective term, I'm not sure that's empirically false, either. Siege, as far as I know, involves the restriction of access.

But if the best possible scenario ever unfolds, if peace arrives even in Baghdad, if the government becomes truly moderate and representative, if rainbows break out in the skies and the fields fill with smiling children and bunny rabbits, somebody, somewhere, will complain that Iraq has been taken over by the imperial powers of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks.

This is probably true.

I don't see much daylight between you and al-Fadhily. Different slants, and that's about it.
Do you personally check the accuracy of every estimate provided you from an outside organization, such as the US military?

Posted by: glasnost at December 17, 2007 08:53 AM

glasnost,

According to the dictionary, one definition of "siege" is:

4. a prolonged period of trouble or annoyance.

So, I guess Fallujah is under siege, in a sense.

I have a feeling, though, that Fadhily meant it in a different way.

Posted by: Edgar at December 17, 2007 09:07 AM

Glasnost, it's obvious that 70 percent of Fallujah isn't destroyed just by walking around the city. For God's sake, 70 percent destroyed would mean there is more detruction than non-destruction. That would be an absolutely shocking thing to witness, like Dresden after the fire-bombing. Al-Fadhily is completely full of crap.

Is Israel under siege because non-residents aren't allowed by the Israeli authorities to bring their cars in?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 17, 2007 09:46 AM

glasnost,

Siege, as far as I know, involves the restriction of access.

Movie theaters are under siege? Railways, toll roads, and national parks are under siege?

We also restrict access to control usage. We are declining usage of Fallujah as a location to plan, coordinate, and implement terror through control of access. We are letting food, fuel, construction material, and residents pass in and out. This is not a siege in any manner that reflects poorly on the Coalition, which was the intention of Mr. al-Fadhily. If anybody is seeking untoward access to Fallujah, it is the bloody handed monsters of AQI.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at December 17, 2007 10:00 AM

If you're embedded with the military the whole time you'll never get a true picture of what Iraq is like for an Iraqi.

Posted by: waka waka at December 17, 2007 10:07 AM

waka waka: If you're embedded with the military the whole time you'll never get a true picture of what Iraq is like for an Iraqi.

I didn't write a "day in the life of an Iraqi" article. That would be a dumb thing for me to attempt, and your "criticism" would be fair and dead-on if that's what I did.

You know even less than I do what it's like for average Iraqis in Fallujah because you have never even been there at all.

What I wrote is accurate and what Ali al-Fadhily wrote isn't.

Do you know what a fact is?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 17, 2007 10:13 AM

Michael - I thought you might appreciate the following Falluja story from VOI yesterday.

http://www.aswataliraq.info/look/english/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&NrArticle=62870&NrIssue=2&NrSection=4

Posted by: Monk at December 17, 2007 10:18 AM

Monk,

That is an accurate and balanced story, unlike the garbage I just debunked.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 17, 2007 10:24 AM

Welcome home Michael. Glad to see that you made it back in one piece, and vertical.;) Good article. You didn't spare the rod, but neither did you go medieval on his butt. Looking forward to more.

Posted by: Kevin Schurig at December 17, 2007 11:00 AM

Glasnost is in full spin mode. Consider it entertainment.

In reality, al-Fadhily has an agenda that has nothing to do with the situation on the ground. If you can match al-Fadhily's dispatches with 4 year old Wikipedia articles, you know something's wrong.

Thanks for flushing the spin down where it belongs, MT.

Posted by: perestroika at December 17, 2007 12:36 PM

MJT: Glenn Greenwald thinks that because I was embedded with the U.S. military and al-Fadhily wasn't that my work is less credible. Specifically he insists that al-Fadhily's claim that 70 percent of Fallujah is destroyed is more credible than my claim to the contrary.

Not from what I read.

He wrote: "Totten, is always with the U.S. military, while the independent al-Falahdy 'isn't embedded with the military and [] focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians,' as though that makes Totten's assertions more credible, rather than less credible, than al-Fadhily's."

He isn't saying you're less credible, though he implies it, I suppose. He mainly takes issue with a statement you made.

And he doesn't "specifically insist" that you are less credible when it comes to issue of war damage. It's something else entirely.

He wrote: "Totten also asserts with no evidence of any kind that al-Fadhily's report of citizens being arrested for speaking with reporters is false...Al-Fadhily's claims in this regard are far more credible than Totten's."

Posted by: Edgar at December 17, 2007 01:36 PM

"Totten, is always with the U.S. military, while the independent al-Falahdy 'isn't embedded with the military and [] focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians,' as though that makes Totten's assertions more credible, rather than less credible, than al-Fadhily's."

Glenn is good at Richelieu's art of seeming to say something without really saying it.

If the statement is whether 70 percent of a city is, or was, destroyed, it doesn't matter whom you're embedded with. If you're both in the city, you have equal claims to credibility. If you then produce reports that disagree, check them against the available facts.

Interesting, though, how Glenn will eagerly quote you as an authority when your words suit his purposes, just a few keystrokes after dismissing your credibility.

Yes, of course, with him it's a case of implying, "if even a wingnut says it's this bad, you know it is worse," after having tarred you with that brush. [The same thing the extreme right does with regard to the NYT and WaPo.]

But it would be equally justifiable, even from his position, to read you as an honest reporter without an agenda other than to tell what he sees. He could quote you more honestly in support of his arguments, without the gratiuitous rubbishing. But gratuitous rubbishing is what GG was put on this earth to perform.

Posted by: Callimachus at December 17, 2007 02:03 PM

Ya, I can see why you're annoyed Mike, but I don't know if this would be a fight that I'd pick to be public about. I say this mainly because it's all very subjective, and full of unproveable facts. You may personally know it's less than 70% damaged, but how are you going to illustrate that to us? Same with the other issue of under seige, there are various meanings to that word that does not entirely entail attackers persistently obliterating the city.

What this is going to turn into is a pissing match about who thinks it's 70% blown up and who thinks it's less than 70% blown up. What does it matter? The city is damaged pretty bad, but things are getting better from what I've read, and what you report.

What I'd do is just let the facts speak for themselves, and let these guys say what they want. If they're wrong, the facts will show them wrong. Don't take it personal if they disagree with you. It's all part of having opinions =)

Posted by: JohnDakota at December 17, 2007 02:07 PM

I'm with Totten on this. The Fallujah glass is half-full, not half-empty. Fallujans know the score by and large and life will continue to get better for them.

But don't tell that to glasnost, et al; axe grinders don't like good news.

Posted by: john at December 17, 2007 02:15 PM

Glasnost, it's obvious that 70 percent of Fallujah isn't destroyed just by walking around the city. For God's sake, 70 percent destroyed would mean there is more detruction than non-destruction. That would be an absolutely shocking thing to witness, like Dresden after the fire-bombing. Al-Fadhily is completely full of crap.

I'm not asserting that 70 of Falljuah is currently destroyed. From what I read of Al-Fadhily's article, Al-Fadhily did not assert that 70 percent of Al-Fadhily is currently destroyed.
Al-Fadhily attested that "approximately" 70 of Fallujah was destroyed in 2004.

The US Military, from Wikipedia:

"US officials report that "more than half of Fallujah's 39,000 homes were damaged during Operation Phantom Fury, and about 10,000 of those were destroyed"

So, at a minimum, we had - in 2004 - Somewhere greater than 50% of homes damaged, and 25% destoyed. That's the US military's estimate.

Now, for another estimate, we have the guardian, quoting a Fallujah official:

According to Mike Marqusee of Iraq Occupation Focus writing in the Guardian, "Fallujah's compensation commissioner has reported that 36,000 of the city's 50,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines".

So the Iraqi official with jurisdiction reported... math in my head... about 70% of Fallujah's homes destroyed.

You're arriving three years after Operation Phantom Fury.

Do I believe you that 70% of Fallujah (homes) is/are not currently destroyed in 2007? Yes.

Has Al-Fadhily committed "journalistic malpractice" by quoting an Iraqi estimate of damage from a 2004 operation, since he has no way of personally verifying what the city was like three years ago?

I think your depiction of Fallujah is fine. I just think your case against Al-Fadhily uses rhetoric that's way out of line with what actually occured - using the higher of available estimates to describe a past event. The worst one ought to call it is careless journalism, but it's hardly "fabrication".

What was your quote from your first article? 70% of Iraqi residents support US troops and 30% want them out right now? How sure are you about those numbers? Don't journalists use some sort of judgement about these things?

Posted by: glasnost at December 17, 2007 02:16 PM

Glenn Greenwald is probably not a big fan of yours, but you're repeating a factual error in your update. You describe Al-Fadhily's claim as "al-Fadhily's claim that 70 percent of Fallujah is destroyed"

Al_Fadhily does not claim this in his article. He wrote that "Since the November 2004 US-led attack on the city, named Operation Phantom Fury, which left approximately 70% of the city destroyed" -

So his claim is that 70% of the city was destroyed in 2004. Not now, 2007. I'd suggest that you correct this error.

Posted by: glasnost at December 17, 2007 02:21 PM

Michael,

Greenwald is full of crap. His reasoning is critically flawed because your blog is peer reviewed by Marines in Fallujah you report on. We see them in comments on a regular basis. If you were making things up, the Marines would correct you in no uncertain terms.

Who is reviewing al-Fadhily's reports? His interviews with Fallujah residents...which residents are they? Are they residents who were released from detention for insufficient evidence who explained their initial capture on speaking to the press?

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at December 17, 2007 02:24 PM

So his claim is that 70% of the city was destroyed in 2004. Not now, 2007.

He also said "Since the November 2004 siege, entire neighborhoods remain totally destroyed"

Can you find any statement in the article that suggests that any structures were rebuilt or improved since then?

Posted by: mary at December 17, 2007 02:28 PM

What I'd do is just let the facts speak for themselves, and let these guys say what they want. If they're wrong, the facts will show them wrong. Don't take it personal if they disagree with you. It's all part of having opinions.---JD

No it most certainly is NOT all part of having opinions. It is or SHOULD be all part of describing what is . If I ask you what the current physical state of downtown Detroit is I don't want to hear your 'opinion' on that subject. I want to hear about what you have observed and how that extrapolates to the whole. Now as regards Detroit, the view might well depend on whether you were a member of the Mayor's family or just a gang banger from the hood. But as part of the 'information stream', I don't want my information filtered through your 'opinions'.

If they're wrong, the facts will show them wrong. --JD

That's s-o-o-o-o-o wrong I hardly know where to start. Let's just say that it sounds ever so pleasant when it is repeated like a mantra. And like a mantra it has effect only only because you believe it. Objectively it is a very very debatable proposition. It is only because people such as MJT and the milbloggers are there that the 'facts' are even available for review.

Without them, Iraq might even now be LOST due to all those 'facts' that were forwarded by men such as al-Fadhily.

Posted by: dougf at December 17, 2007 02:34 PM

Hmm... I don't want to argue on the side of Greenwald and Fadhily.

But I think Mike decided to attack too swiftly and bit off more than he could chew.

It will be interesting to see if Greenwald has more to say on the matter.

Posted by: Edgar at December 17, 2007 02:39 PM

Doug,

Take it easy man, all I'm saying is that facts speak louder than opinions. You can aruge until you're red in the face, but until someone brings hard facts to the table to show one side is right/wrong, then all you're doing is a pissing competition. LOUD NOISES!!!

Problem in this situation is that the facts are hard to come by. From what I read in Ali al-Fadhily's work, he says that it was the 2004 assulat that caused the damage, and that's where the 70% number comes from. Not what the current state of Fallujah is. In fact in terms of currently damaged infrastructure he doesn't even quantify it, he just describes it in terms of quality. Very different.

His piece is an opinion piece written from the perspective of the Iraqi's he's interviewed. Anyone can cherry pick their interviews so they get the story they want. Ali al-Fadhily could have certainly done that. But how are you going to prove that unless Michael physically goes out and interviews citizens himself? In that case what are you going to do? A pissing competition. So if you want to be part of a pissing competition, by all means. I just figured Michael would be higher than that.

That's all I"m saying.

Posted by: JohnDakota at December 17, 2007 02:46 PM

Glasnost,

Fallujah was not reconstructed from 70 percent destroyed during a war. If it was 70 percent destroyed then, it would be 70 percent destroyed now.

Actually it would be more than 70 percent destroyed now because there has been a lot of fighitng since then.

They didn't even have garbage collection during the in-between years, let alone a massive reconstruction boom.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 17, 2007 02:47 PM

This:

Since the November 2004 US-led attack on the city, named Operation Phantom Fury, which left approximately 70% of the city destroyed ...

is ambivalent, and could be read as meaning the city was 70 percent destroyed in 2004, or that it was so then and remain so. The "left ... destroyed" construction could be read legitimately as implying a continuing condition or a one-time situation. Whether the writer chose it deliberately for that ambiguity is known only to him.

Nonetheless there is plenty of room to criticize al-Fadhily's reporting using Glenn's own standards, which he seems to want to bring to bear only against you, and only where he disagrees with what you saw and wrote. The quote about Fallujah's pre-assault economy being "the best in Iraq" cry out for context.

And while GG boldly sentences you because "Totten also asserts with no evidence of any kind that al-Fadhily's report of citizens being arrested for speaking with reporters is false," he fails to point out that al-Fadhily's report -- "Many residents told IPS that US-backed Iraqi police and army personnel have detained people who have spoken to the media" -- is 1. hearsay at best, 2. printed without supporting evidence.

Did he speak to anyone who was so detained, or only to people who told him other people have been detained, which is how I read that sentence.

Further, your travelling alongside the authorities and al-Fadhily's movement among the civilians doesn't make his claim of arrests more authentic than your assertion there's no basis for it (especially if he didn't really speak to anyone so detained).

If the authorities are arresting the citizens, one traveling alongside the authorities is as likely to see it or hear about it as one traveling among the citizens. More likely, perhaps, as the number of police and army personnel is fewer than the number of citizens, so their activities along that line would be easier to notice.

Posted by: Callimachus at December 17, 2007 03:05 PM

Here is a worthwhile comment posted over at Commentary:

Richard F. Says:
December 17th, 2007 at 5:12 pm

Michael: I am writing as a 3-time embedded reporter including one stint with the 3/8 Marines in Fallujah just two months after the conclusion Al-Fajr. I was on Humvee patrols in and out of the city, and the claim of “70%” destruction is bogus. Moreover, it is a claim that has steadily grown since the conclusion of that battle. Particularly from war opponents, an assertion of 1/3 destruction was the first “percentage” I heard; next it was 50%; about one year ago, I read that 75% was the actual number. It’s good to know that there has been some “decline” however marginal—must be the result of the Surge!

Seriously, between these claims (which I found bogus and which may be investigated by a close viewing of satellite photos) and the (usually) allied assertion that the destruction was attributable to the indiscriminate use of WP, I had first-time experience with the famous comment (of uncertain parentage) that truth is the first casualty of war.

The claim that embed equals “in-bed” is usually raised in direct proportion to how well the subject reporting comports with the political views of those making the comment. For example, when Kevin Sites took his famous footage inside a Fallujah mosque, that purported to show a US Marine executing a wounded insurgent (the Marine was later cleared) no one claimed that Sites was “in bed” with his PAO. Unfortunately, for honest reporters, their work is evaluated by how useful it is to the media’s, politician’s or blogger’s agenda. Just remember, in a hyper-partisan world, there is always room for more agreement!

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 17, 2007 03:40 PM

What strikes me odd, Michael, is that you are being touted as right-wing in the GG article. I had you more as being a moderate.

I enjoy your journalism because you are not bent to one politic or another. Your writing displays faces of Iraq and the ME from various prospectives. You skip the body counting and report the humanity, both good and bad.

The end of story for me is, I will continue returning to your site but these others will probably never appear again on my computer screen.

Posted by: Kevin China at December 17, 2007 04:51 PM

Yes, Kevin, I am a moderate, not a conservative.

Commentary is a conservative magazine, though, so I'm not going to make a big deal out of it. I'll publish my work in either mainstream liberal or mainstream conservative publications. I'm not really picky about it. Whoever wants my work, is not politically insane, and will cut a decent check is welcome to have it.

Salon.com, where GG writes, is liberal. They asked me for stories when I reported the Israel/Lebanon war, but they didn't offer enough money, so I had to say no. I wouldn't have been able to even cover expenses with what they were offering. Otherwise I would have said yes. That wouldn't have made me a liberal all of a sudden, though.

Whatever. I'm pretty much done concerning myself with these labels. It's just not important.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 17, 2007 05:12 PM

Fallujah was not reconstructed from 70 percent destroyed during a war. If it was 70 percent destroyed then, it would be 70 percent destroyed now.

Actually it would be more than 70 percent destroyed now because there has been a lot of fighitng since then.

They didn't even have garbage collection during the in-between years, let alone a massive reconstruction boom.

This is reasonable logic. I still think that everyone agrees that the 2004 destruction in Fallujah was, to one percentage or another, large.
Since neither you nor him was there in 2004, I think your accusations were too strong - since the only factual dispute involves him using a high, but previously reproduced estimate for an event from three years ago.
There may not have been a massive reconstruction boom, but I don't think you'd state there has been zero reconstruction. If so, that would be worth a critical story on us all by itself.

Posted by: glasnost at December 17, 2007 05:14 PM

Glenn, safe at home, bites
Totten's weary ankles; but
I send Totten cash.

-- a Christmas Paypal haiku

tx again, mr. totten

Posted by: popskull at December 17, 2007 08:30 PM

Unfortunately, the other Fallujah reporter was Ali al-Fadhily from Inter Press Services.

I recognize that name. He's an activist who moonlights as a reporter, working for a propaganda outfit that masquerades as a press service.

From the IPS entry at wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inter_Press_Service

"IPS’s stated aims are to give prominence to the voices of marginalized and vulnerable people and groups, report from the perspectives of developing countries, and to reflect the views of civil society. The mainstreaming of gender in reporting and the assessment of the impacts of globalization are a priority."

What I would like to know is where these people get their money from.

RE Greenwald- The best way to deal with him is to offer to help him embed so he can go and either confirm or debunk what you've written. I suggest simply repeating the offer each time he criticizes your coverage of Iraq. As the old saying goes, avoid wrestling with pigs- you get dirty and the pig likes it.

-----

What strikes me odd, Michael, is that you are being touted as right-wing in the GG article. I had you more as being a moderate.
-Kevin China

GG is rabidly partisan. In his world, you're either on his side, or right-wing. The current litmus test is someone's opinion on Iraq.

Posted by: rosignol at December 17, 2007 08:33 PM

Michael, you ruined my romanticized notion of your work.
I'll publish my work in either mainstream liberal or mainstream conservative publications. I'm not really picky about it. Whoever wants my work, is not politically insane, and will cut a decent check is welcome to have it.

Here I thought of you as a starving artist type of journalist. But you turn out to be a capitalist journalist with some scruples in regards to whom you sell your articles. Well, I guess ya gotta pay for the beer somehow.
Hope this bit with GG doesn't hijack your time. Not saying you would let it, but these things can take on a life of their own.
Have enjoyed your articles, definitely up to your standards. But your site being conservative??? Just goes to show it's all in the eye of the beholder, even when the eye is attached to a nitwit. I've visited many conservative sites and I gotta say, unless you say where you stand politically, it's difficult to ascertain. And that, to me, is a key mark of an excellent journalist

Posted by: Kevin Schurig at December 17, 2007 09:50 PM

Kevin Shurig: Michael, you ruined my romanticized notion of your work.

I think it's a lot better to have a reporter who works primarily for financial gain. We have enough ideologues on the beat already...

Posted by: Edgar at December 18, 2007 09:13 AM

Edgar and Kevin,

I also do it for the chance to see the world, so to speak.

But the biggest reason I do it is because I enjoy writing more than any other work I've done in my life.

I would do it for free if I could (really), but I can't because I am not rich.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 18, 2007 09:19 AM

Edgar,
It was meant with tongue in cheek. Sorry I didn't convey that better.

Posted by: Kevin Schurig at December 18, 2007 09:27 AM

Yeah, I know. But some people no doubt think that reporting isn't a business just like any other.

Posted by: Edgar at December 18, 2007 09:34 AM

For the sake of argument, I'll stipulate that the level of destruction of Fallujah did not reach the magical 70% threshhold. Michael, what is the level of destruction, in your esteemed estimation? 20%? 30%? 56.8%? Are any of these percentages a good thing to be insisting upon?

Posted by: waka waka at December 18, 2007 09:36 AM

Waka waka,

The percentage of visible destruction is somewhere around 2 percent.

The percentage of damaged homes probably is around 70 percent if a single bullet hole in a wall counts as damage.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 18, 2007 09:41 AM

Michael,

How much new glass was there. I'm pretty sure almost every window in the city was blown out in '04. Three years later, how much new glass was there?

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at December 18, 2007 10:44 AM

Correct me if I am wrong but I believe the second part of that Jefferson quote is, "for it is closer to the truth to know nothing than it is to know only lies". I believe he wrote that in a letter to his daughter late in life, but I'm really not sure of the context which made Jefferson so upset. Can you let me know where you found this qoute?

Posted by: joefrommass at December 18, 2007 12:11 PM

"The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and
errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false." --Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell,
1807. ME 11:225

That letter can be found in the Library of America volume of Jefferson's writings, page 1176, which should be available in any public library. That letter also contains other comment on newspapers, such as:

"Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known
only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day." --Thomas Jefferson to John
Norvell, 1807. ME 11:224

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/7842/archives/quote046.htm

Posted by: Tom in South Texas at December 18, 2007 12:47 PM

what you write is your perspective on facts that aren't exactly facts. your perspective is that of a casual observer that has a particular interest in reporting what sells. what you observed in Falluga is what you wanted to see, not necessarily what is there.According to the group Just Foreign Policy, an independent organisation "dedicated to reforming U.S. foreign policy to serve the interests and reflect the values of the broad majority of Americans," more than one million Iraqis have died as a direct result of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation.
i guess that is a non factor for you and your reporting.

Posted by: walter peers at December 18, 2007 01:06 PM

walter: more than one million Iraqis have died as a direct result of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation.

Yes, Walter, but for the last time: they were all bad

Posted by: Edgar at December 18, 2007 01:15 PM

what you write is your perspective on facts that aren't exactly facts. your perspective is that of a casual observer that has a particular interest in reporting what sells. what you observed in Falluga is what you wanted to see, not necessarily what is there..

walter, if you're going to demand facts, you should double-check your own. Falluga?

Speaking of leftist-influenced randomness, are you sure it's more than one million? Were more or less Iraqi children killed by the UN Sanctions Against Iraq [that]Only Serve US Ambition Or how about the many Sudanese that were killed by Clinton bombing the aspirin factory? How many were killed for those and other Amerikkan imperialist ambitions, twelvety, eleventy million?

Posted by: mary at December 18, 2007 02:03 PM

MJT,

Do you have any plans to go to Afghanistan in the next few years?

Posted by: john at December 18, 2007 02:10 PM

mary,

There are confirmed reports that every morning, two hours before they go to bed, every Iraqi is woken up, killed stone cold dead by Americans, brought back to life, and forced to lick every inch of the highway system clean before being sent off to the salt mines.

But you tell the conservatives that and they won't believe you...

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at December 18, 2007 02:36 PM

Walter Peers: what you observed in Falluga is what you wanted to see,

What I saw in Fallujah is what I saw. I wasn't unable to see a destroyed city because I didn't feel like it. I was unable to see a destroyed city because I wasn't in a destroyed city.

what you write is your perspective on facts that aren't exactly facts.

Which of my facts are false? The satellite image? The new water treatment plant? Please advise.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 18, 2007 04:08 PM

John: Do you have any plans to go to Afghanistan in the next few years?

I will probably go there before Spring, but my plans are still tentative.

First I have a lot of Fallujah material to write up. You know, subjective "facts," hallucinated quotes, right-wing photographs, interviews with Iraqis who are secretly Republican operatives just pretending to be Iraqis. That sort of thing. [Sarcasm off.]

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 18, 2007 04:13 PM

thanks tom in south texas

Posted by: joefrommass at December 18, 2007 05:01 PM

Mike:
The percentage of visible destruction is somewhere around 2 percent.

Mike:
If it was 70 percent destroyed then, it would be 70 percent destroyed now.Actually it would be more than 70 percent destroyed now because there has been a lot of fighting since then.They didn't even have garbage collection during the in-between years, let alone a massive reconstruction boom.

Wikipedia:
"US officials report that "more than half of Fallujah's 39,000 homes were damaged during Operation Phantom Fury, and about 10,000 of those were destroyed"

I'm sure I'm being a pain in the butt, but I'm not sure that all three of these statements can be true at the same time. The contradictions should be clear from the excerpts, I think. Either your estimate is low, the military's was high, or reconstruction has been occurring prior to your arrival.

The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and
errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.

Even heroes like Jefferson fall victim to sweeping generalizations. But to the extent that it's true, there's nothing unique to newspapers here. It applies to almost every source of information out there.

Posted by: glasnost at December 18, 2007 05:24 PM

Glasnost: Either your estimate is low, the military's was high, or reconstruction has been occurring prior to your arrival.

Probably. Which is it?

I had a very hard time finding any destruction in Fallujah to photograph. I saw more in Ramadi in five minutes than during a month in Fallujah. I will publish every photograph of destruction that I have, which isn't much, and I photographed all that I saw. (Not every bullet hole, but every thing that was actually blown up and destroyed, even things that were only half destroyed like the broken house the Marines live in. See the post below this one for that picture.)

Make of all this whatever you want. I'm not saying I know everything, and I'm not pretending I do. Just telling you what I witnessed in person. These are data points for you, but I know they aren't the whole set.

What I do know is that "70 percent" destroyed figure is complete and utter bull shit.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 18, 2007 05:32 PM

Wikipedia:
Fallujah suffered extensive damage to residences, mosques, city services, and businesses. The city, once referred to as the "City of Mosques", had 200+ pre-battle mosques of which 60 or so were destroyed in the fighting. Perhaps half the homes suffered at least some damage. Of the roughly 50,000 buildings in Fallujah, 7,000-10,000 were estimated to have been destroyed in the offensive and from half to two-thirds of the remaining buildings had notable damage. [11] [12]

[11] NBC News Jim Miklaszewski April. 14, 2005
In last November's fighting, 9,000 homes were destroyed and thousands more were damaged. Homeowners line up daily to file for compensation — but out of 32,000 claims, only 2,500 have been paid.

[12] WaPo Ann Scott Tyson April 19, 2005
More than half of Fallujah's 39,000 homes were damaged, and about 10,000 of those were destroyed or left structurally unsound to live in, [unnamed] U.S. officials say.

Posted by: Tom in South Texas at December 18, 2007 06:23 PM

Think of it this way. If the level of destruction was actually very high, and it was all rebuilt in three years, that's a testament to the effectiveness of US efforts to get Iraq rebuilt. If the level of destruction was low, then it was low, and everyone wins (except the guys who reported that it was very high).

Posted by: Math_Mage at December 18, 2007 07:36 PM

I don't want to start any rumors, but were Ann and Jim embedded together?

Posted by: Tom in South Texas at December 18, 2007 08:02 PM

Here's a description of the city from back in December 2004 written by an Iraqi doctor in the Guardian who was working on a documentary for Channel 4:

By 10am we were inside the city. It was completely devastated, destruction everywhere. It looked like a city of ghosts. Falluja used to be a modern city; now there was nothing. We spent the day going through the rubble that had been the centre of the city; I didn't see a single building that was functioning.

And here's the video.

Posted by: wissam at December 19, 2007 12:14 AM

wissam - I watched the video. There were a few blocks of destruction, and a man was angry because his sugar bin was broken.

And of course, they spoke of 'humiliation', because what would a Guardian article be without it? But the film did not show 70% destruction of the city.

I believe the current phrase describing the entire city of Fallujah is 'flattenened'. You still haven't found the apparently mythical flattened Fallujah.

Posted by: mary at December 19, 2007 07:42 AM

Probably. Which is it?

I don't know either. I'd guess that even with all the fighting, buildings have been rebuilt to one extent or another since 2004, but it's just a guess.

The moral of the story is that it's hard to know for sure exactly what happened in Fallujah in 2004. So it would be nice if everyone - the blogosphere as a whole - gave everyone in the MSM a break once in a while. Mistakes are easy to make. Being wrong is easy. Not only that, but many facts are ultimately ambiguous. Just because you find a logical problem with something doesn't mean you've demonstrated it to be definitively wrong and they owe you an apology.

I don't believe the 70% in 2004, but I don't think the case against it is airtight.

Posted by: glasnost at December 19, 2007 08:37 AM

Whatever. I'm pretty much done concerning myself with these labels. It's just not important.

Exactly, what's important is the truth. That's why I trust your writing more than anyone claiming political affiliation with right or left.

The "70% destroyed" is flat wrong, as anyone can see from satellite pics, and anyone arguing otherwise is either being disingenuous or is ignorant of the facts.

Posted by: TallDave at December 19, 2007 12:20 PM

Here is what Greenwald actually wrote:

right-wing blog favorite Michael Totten -- who says he has been the only reporter other than al-Fadhily in Fallujah -- takes issue with some of al-Fadhily's claims about the extent to which Fallujah was destroyed by our 2004 military assualt. In doing so, Totten revealingly points out that he, Totten, is always with the U.S. military, while the independent al-Falahdy "isn't embedded with the military and [] focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians," as though that makes Totten's assertions more credible, rather than less credible, than al-Fadhily's.

Then he emails Totten:

He says, in email, that he thinks al-Fadhily is more credible than me “SOLELY WITH RESPECT to the point about whether Falljuah residents had been harrassed or arrested after speaking with journalists.”

Right. Consecutive sentences in the same paragraph on the same topic have nothing to do with each other? Please, this is such a poor argument it is insulting to his audience that he thinks anyone reading will believe it.

As ever, Greenwald is not honest enough to have a real debate with. It's like trying to debate Baghdad Bob over whether U.S. troops are in the city, or Ahmadinejad over whether there are gays in Iran.

Greenwald has never had any interest in the actual truth or honest debate, as he famously proved with the self-promoting sock-puppeting incidents. He likely believes very little of what he writes.

Posted by: TallDave at December 19, 2007 12:34 PM

Speaking of Sock Puppetry, THIS is hilarious.

http://wuzzadem.typepad.com/wuz/2006/07/greenpuppet.html

Posted by: lindsey at December 19, 2007 01:31 PM

Mike,
You do great work and I greatly admire your writing ability and your willingness to get out there and see things for yourself. But you are barking up the wrong tree here. By the end of November 2004, Fallujah was trashed. If there is only two percent destruction, then there has been ALOT of reconstruction. I'd be glad to discuss it further with you if you want to email me.

Posted by: Mike at December 19, 2007 03:53 PM

Michael, after spending a great deal of time in Fallujah as a Marine myself, its really good to find the most accurate and honest reporting I've personally ever seen come out of that city. And I have a few things to say.

I was there - post-Phantom Fury, before the violence ended,- living in the city all the time, bouncing often from place to place. I was there when a certain officer made the famous statement about there being 3,000 Marines in the city before, and now there's 300, and this is a good thing (to paraphrase). Well, I was one of the "300." I'll tell you firsthand, it was more like 100 - actually in the city- and at the time, it was FAR from a good thing.

During my time there, I knew more about that city and what was going on it than any officer reading and making reports safely from Camp Fallujah, which is actually NOT in Fallujah at all, as you know. And here is my main point: Within 3 weeks of my glorious exit from that city, I would not have known jack shit about what was happening there had I gone back. In other words, Fallujah is a constantly and rapidly changing place. And so, I would very seriously caution anyone in claiming permanent victory or success because of any stretch of time without violence or American casualties. Statistics and figures mean absolutely nothing.

It SOUNDS like the right things are happening now and that legitimate progress is being made. But it SOUNDED like that when I was there too, and it just wasn't like that. On the same day that a certain officer made a comment to the press about Fallujah being a safe haven, a gated-community, a friend of mine was shot. Many more went on to die and be seriously wounded. I've never lived in a gated community before, but I stole a security guard's golf cart and rode around in one for a day when I was 13, and there were no snipers, IEDs, or indirect fire.

But this comment, this blatantly untrue statement, made headlines, and became the basis for reports that the city was on the up and up. And in reality, it was bullshit. Complete and total bullshit.

I don't read anything about Fallujah without a grain of salt. But I will tell anyone who cares to listen that the most honest and fair and just plain accurate reporting I have seen from this city comes from the pen of Michael J. Totten.

Lastly, a comment on the "70%" destruction debate. Essentially, it depends on where you go. I would agree that 70% of some areas are in shambles, but some are not as bad. Much of the destruction is old, and much of it is not destruction at all but a lack of crucial infrastructure that keeps human waste and garbage in the streets, electrical wires everywhere, and piles of rubble that no one cleans up which become trash dumps.

Is destruction a bullet hole in a courtyard wall? A shot-up car? Broken window? Blown-out pile of house from a laser-guided missile? Is it a school building abandoned 10 years ago and falling apart? Garbage heaps between houses that have been building up since Sadaam's time? You get my point.

Pardon my tangent here. And keep the Fallujah news coming.

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Posted by: תכשיטים at December 25, 2007 05:53 AM

"None of the Marines I've spoken to are nervous while walking the streets. "Complacency kills" is the new catchphrase in Fallujah, and it's drummed into the heads of the Americans here every day. The Marines may not have won the war in this city, but it sure is starting to look like it. The insurgency in Fallujah is over."

Marines DID NOT WIN in Fallujah? YOU'RE A COMPLETE MORON AND IDIOT! We NOT ONLY WON, but we kicked the shit out of every insurgent/insurgent group that went against us. You obviously don't know shit press-boy, and HENCE are an independent press monkey and not working for a serious press agency.
We won hands down, and we did it ALL OVER AL-ANBAR province. You had best get your facts straight son. IT WAS THE MARINES who turned AL-ANBAR province into as safe of an area as it is today.
Unlike you I was there for the combat, and not while its nice and quiet. GIVE CREDIT WHEN ITS DUE YOU CHUMP!

Posted by: Currently in Iraq at December 29, 2007 05:31 AM

WFASDFASDFASDFASFD

Posted by: 234 at December 29, 2007 05:32 AM

Act like an asshole much?

Combat operations are over now, obviously. But lots of Marines, officers and grunts alike, hestitate to declare final victory in Fallujah since they're still there and no one knows what will happen next. Since you're IN IRAQ you know that. Or maybe you only pretend to be in Iraq.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 29, 2007 10:04 AM

Wow. Like, I said above, I would doubt the end of the insurgency in Fallujah myself, but I'm not there right now. That's just based on untruths of the same nature published in the past while I was there. But Jesus Christ man, maybe you need to go read some other Fallujah news coverage and see who's really the "press-monkey."

Posted by: PDK at December 29, 2007 10:39 PM
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