The Blame Game

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Anya Kamenetz at the Village Voice tackles the much-discussed question of whether "Big Media" such as The New Yorker may have resulted in Baghdad blogger Salam Pax being netted by Iraqi authorities. Salam stopped blogging, she notes, the day the New Yorker article ran. To me, it seems more likely that the communications centers (or, God forbid, Salam's apt) were hit during that day of heavy bombing in Baghdad than that Iraqi leaders were sitting around reading "Talk of the Town" (a point Kamenetz mentions later in the piece). Still, the question of culpability of Western journos is worth addressing.

She slams New Yorker author Daniel Zalewski for including too many personal details, but really the question is whether influential journos should have touched the story at all. Once the authorities were tipped off, they could have dug up all the info they needed from his blog in a matter of hours.

So that's the question: Should The New Yorker, Reuters, the BBC, etc have kept their hands off the story? What about publications with less reach, such as the V.V. or Reason? Blogs? At what level of media would Salam have been safe? If Iraqi officials surfed the Web at all, then it seems that even the most humble of bloggers could have given him away, through the magic of search engines.

I thought about this question before I wrote about Salam. I decided to go ahead for a couple of reasons. First, Instapundit, a hugely trafficked site, had already written about him extensively, and a Reuters story had run. The word seemed out. Second, the war had already begun, and Iraqi officials had far worse threats to contend with than some writer who criticized the Bush administration practically as often as Saddam's. And it seemed a foregone conclusion that the U.S. would successfully get rid of the old regime.

Were those three things not true, I'm not sure I would have written my piece. Hard to say. I might have.

What is clear: Salam kept blogging after the first Reuters story hit. That means he either weighed the risk and decided he was safe, or bravely kept blogging, whatever the danger.

What is also clear: He'd better make it through the war safe, because we need answers to all these bloody questions.

NEXT: Cloning Endangered Species

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  1. I don’t see why you’re feeling so guilty. You’re falling into the liberal-leftist trap. It’s the communist Iraqi authorities that are the problem. We have a free country and freedom of the press. You’re a reporter; you report. End. Of. Story.

  2. Iraq isn’t communist. Thinking about the consequences of your actions isn’t a left-liberal thing. And having the freedom to do something doesn’t automatically make it a good idea. Otherwise, though, a good anonymous post.

  3. Bloggers are in search of a martyr.

    When I was in first grade they told us not to stick body parts out of the windows of a moving bus. So Salam stuck his digital head out had has now, perhaps, paid the price. There is no martyrdom in blogging, as self-important as many bloggers feel. He should have known better than anyone the risks of speaking out while Saddam was still in power.

    Of course, this assumes he was real, and not a CIA plant who makes use of oops-a-daisy deliberate typos and totally vague insights that could easily have been made by Special Ops in Baghdad.

    Yawn.

  4. “Anya Kamenetz at the Village Voice tackles the much-discussed question of whether “Big Media” such as The New Yorker may have resulted in Baghdad blogger Salam Pax being netted by Iraqi authorities.”

    Oh, so it’s Iraqis who read the New Yorker now. I thought it was just NPR listeners in Indianapolis.

  5. I’m sure that if Salam wanted to avoid publicity, he could have not written a blog. I think he was publishing a blog because he wanted the word to get out. I hope nothing happened to him, but I assume he wanted the publicity.

  6. Sara, there’s a fair number of blogs that linked to dear_raed.com, so any one person getting blame isn’t reasonable. Besides, If I recall correctly, didn’t the Iraqi government shut down things like internet access at the start of the war?

  7. I agree with what instapundit said some time ago – Salam understood the risks of what he was doing much better than anyone else. Whatever he chose to put online, once published, should be fair game for as wide circulation as possible. There is no reasonable principal to say that information put online comes with an understanding that it remain obscure.

    So no, reprinting anything he put on his blog is acceptable, even at the most high profile site. The real question is, what if a reporter dug up information in some other way? Is it acceptable to publish details about Salam he himself did not first put online?

    My thinking on this second question is no. A dissenting voice inside a police state must have their privacy respected. No muck-raking expos?s on Salam while Saddam is still in power. Stick to the information he’s given us.

  8. This is also the second time (at least) that Salam has not been heard from for a while. The site changed from “where is raed” to “dear raed”. While this latest interuption could very well be because of the war, it could also be because it was time to change sites/locations/whatever again. Time will tell.

  9. Most of the real identifying details in the New Yorker piece were gleaned from an email Salam sent to Diane, a NYC blogger. I’m not sure how the reporter got those details. Seems that Diane perhaps chatted a bit too much about her online friend.

    Sara, I appreciate your second thoughts about journalistic responsibilities in these matters. I agree they’re important questions.

    And, Commentator: that “Yawn” really was so snarky. So easy to be glib.

  10. Sean says it well. Reporters have sometimes gone so far as to suffer jail time for not revealing sources, if anyone revealed info on Salam that he himself chose not to share, they should consider themselves in violation of that unwritten journalists code, given that we know what Hussein is capable of.

    Salam surely must have known the risks. though. He himself said that his boyfriend was apprehended/kidnapped by the regime, right?

  11. Sara, IIRC, you were actually considering a Salam piece for Reason before the (official invasion part of Gulf) war (Phase II) began, and held off out of concerns for his safety. Do I have that wrong? Am I confusing you with Marie Gryphon?

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