Fact checking

Okay, what’s going on here, exactly? I came across a remarkable photo taken by an AFP photographer that made the rounds the news services earlier this month. I missed it then, but I certainly read about it in some blogs. The image is below¬†with the original caption as seen on Yahoo Canada News. Go ahead and read it.

An elderly Iraqi woman shows two bullets which she says hit her house following an early coalition forces raid in the predominantly Shiite Baghdad suburb of Sadr City. At least 175 people were slaughtered on Tuesday and more than 200 wounded when four suicide truck bombs targeted people from an ancient religious sect in northern Iraq, officials said.

An elderly Iraqi woman shows two bullets which she says hit her house following an early coalition forces raid in the predominantly Shiite Baghdad suburb of Sadr City. At least 175 people were slaughtered on Tuesday and more than 200 wounded when four suicide truck bombs targeted people from an ancient religious sect in northern Iraq, officials said.

What’s wrong with the picture?

Initially I saw nothing wrong, but it’s one of those “it’s so obvious, I didn’t see it” things once you notice. Those bullets have not been fired. I know little about guns, but once pointed out, this fact is obvious even to me.

So the photographer and reporter got it wrong. It can happen, but how did it get past everyone in the AFP and then the news services that later published the image? I’ve read suggestions that these bullets are not even the right size and shape to be ammunition used by coalition member forces! True or not, the bullets didn’t come out of the business end of a firearm. You’d think news organizations might have some experts on staff when reporting a long-term war.

Stories like this bring up an annoyance I have about news reporting. The story cannot be called inaccurate because it clearly states the woman says the bullets hit her house. I have no doubt she said this, so the story is accurate. But shouldn’t the news do more than just report what people claim? If her claims are an outright fabrication, the story isn’t worth the space it takes up on the page or screen, even if her claims are accurately reported. The only exception I can think of is if the fabrication is itself the story, but this isn’t the case here.

What I am not suggesting reporters take the facts and present us with an interpretation. This enters the realm of the editorial, and they belong on the op-ed page. What I’d like to see is rudimentary fact-checking. Sure, what someone says can be news, but are the facts in what they say true?


Photo: Wissam al-Okaili/AFP

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