On December 12, just before I went off to Japan on a trip, I drew attention to a web log entry by Joseph Mailander at the Martini Republic, which raised questions about the bona fides of a web site run by three Iraqi brothers called IraqTheModel. Mailander had come to be suspicious of the site for various reasons, some of them now known to be wrong. I had been contacted by Mr. Mailander with some of these suspicions a few days previously, and had responded then that I thought some of them were overdrawn. In particular, I demurred from his attempt to link the site to the CIA. I enclose the relevant comments from that message below.
In my own posting on this issue, I did not actively make any allegations against IraqTheModel myself at all. In my own mind, I was merely drawing attention to Mailander’s entry on an informal, “Isn’t this interesting?” basis. In particular, I thought that the Martini Republic posting raised some very interesting issues (that was what I meant about it being very important), most notably about the possibility that the blogging world was open to some sorts of manipulation. Since bloggers often pride themselves in being more honest than the corporate media, Mailander had started me wondering whether there weren’t ways to pump up a site artificially. Coincidentally, Kevin Drum had just published an expose of the way in which CBS News had used a lobbyist on the issue for a “man in the street” interview on privatizing social security.
The only substantive point I made with regard to IraqTheModel myself was that the authors appeared to me not very representative of Iraqi public opinion. That is all right, of course. They are putting forward their own ideas. It is just that if we want to really understand contemporary Iraq, we should understand that few of their co-citizens think as they do.
And then I went abroad, and all hell broke loose in cyberspace, as a number of bloggers attacked my posting (well, OK, they attacked me; I think the phrase “pond scum” was deployed.) It turned out that Mailander’s identification of the ITM web site server as being in Abilene, TX, was innocent and typical of blogspot users.
I was under the gun preparing my lectures, and then was on a whirlwind trip and often did not have good internet access (I blogged only telegraphically for most of the past couple weeks), and it has taken me this amount of time to get back and catch up on the controversy. If I had just been at home in my normal routine I could have responded immediately and no doubt that would have been better. In cyberspace time I am now probably talking about ancient history.
In retrospect, of course, I should have been clearer about my lack of active endorsement for Mr. Mailander’s specific allegations, even as I made clear that what interested me was the issue of how the blogging world might be affected by political “marketing.” I don’t doubt Mailander’s good faith, but obviously there were elementary errors in his initial entry. And, if I could take it back, I wouldn’t have linked at all. This is a matter in some ways of not knowing my own strength. Blogging is deceptively informal, sort of like a conversation rather than like formal writing. So it is natural to cross-link among friends and say, ‘Hey, check this out.’ But my weblog has come to be so widely read that this degree of informality is now a luxury I obviously cannot afford, and I will try to be more careful.
The other thing to say, though, is that errors come with this territory. You can’t be out here posting daily and not commit some errors from time to time. When kind readers correct them, I try to put the corrections in brackets, even ex post facto. Indeed, errors are the human condition. Many of the more vitriolic critics of Informed Comment alleged 2 years ago that Iraq was 2-5 years away from having a nuclear bomb, that Iraq was floating in biological and chemical weapons, that Saddam was in bed with al-Qaeda, that Iraqis would universally greet US troops with garlands and sweets, that the Iraq war and aftermath would be a “cakewalk,” that the road to peace in Palestine/Israel went through Baghdad, etc., etc. The commentators who made these allegations want to be held harmless from these enormous and highly consequential errors that have gotten large numbers of people killed. But I kept getting these annoying messages that my merely cross-linking to a site had endangered my “credibility.” One of the more vehement attacks on my site was written by someone who writes for Tech Central Station, which is in turn published by the Republican lobbying firm, DCI Group. And the first time Jeff Jarvis mentioned me it was to complain in summer of 2003 that I seemed to be seeking out bad news on Iraq– when in fact, I was just ahead of the curve in seeing the growing guerrilla war; he has never apologized.
It is now being alleged in the rightwing press (which really is a paid-for manipulation of public opinion) that I said that the Ali brothers were connected to the CIA. I never said any such thing. My phrase “certain quarters” referred to, at most, the Republican Party or organizations associated with it. As the email below should make clear, I never thought that charge plausible. Some have suggested that the controversy endangers the brothers’ lives. But if meeting with high US officials in Washington and blogging about it does not, nothing would.
(Personally, by the way, I cut the CIA a lot of slack in the post-9/11 world; I don’t like the dirty tricks the Company has sometimes played, but we do need a CIA to fight al-Qaeda, which does want to destroy us. I know some analysts read this site, and I am honored if they feel they learn anything here, and hope it helps the country. So I’m just not the sort of person that would use the CIA rhetorically in a negative fashion.)
So, anyway, I offer this posting as a clarification and also, as a retraction of the comment about the Abilene ISP and any unfounded implication of USG support for the IraqTheModel site. And I apologize to the Ali brothers for the error, and want to stress that I bear them no ill will. I am sorry I was abroad and unable to respond in detail before now.
From: Cole, Juan
Sent: Fri 12/10/2004 4:56 PM
To: Joseph Mailander
Subject: RE: IraqTheModel and Abiline Texas
. . . The CIA ISP is hilarious, but the explanation is certainly correct. A real CIA operation would go out of its way to avoid using that acronym.
The question of how they ended up with an Abilene ISP is a good one
Another issue is artificial visibility. Is the US press being directed to the Iraqi bloggers who are actually popular in the blogosphere, who object to US policy? The US government is one hell of a press agent . . .