The Associated Press is standing by its report that six Sunni men were burned to death in Baghdad Friday by Shiites, even though U.S. military officials have accused the wire service of relying on a source who "is not who he claimed he was," an Iraqi police captain.
Military officials also say they cannot confirm that the incident took place and have asked AP to retract or correct the story, which was repeated by media around the world and cited as a grim example of Shiites taking revenge for a deadly bombing that killed more than 200 people a day before.
"The attempt to question the existence of the known police officer who spoke to the AP is frankly ludicrous and hints at a certain level of desperation to dispute or suppress the facts of the incident in question," AP International Editor John Daniszewski said in a statement e-mailed to On Deadline this afternoon.
He added that "we have conducted a thorough review of the sourcing and reporting involved and plan to move a more detailed report about the entire incident soon, with greater detail provided by multiple eye witnesses."
"The police captain cited in our story has long been known to the AP reporters," Daniszewski wrote.
"The AP stands by its story."
But a U.S. military spokesman has told the AP in a letter that "neither we nor Baghdad Police had any reports of such an incident ... and could find no one to corroborate the story."
"Unless you have a credible source to corroborate the story of the people being burned alive, we respectfully request that AP issue a retraction, or a correction at a minimum," Navy Lt. Michael Dean, the spokesman, wrote to the AP on Monday.
Questions raised by the U.S. military spokesmen have sparked considerable discussion in the blogosphere, particularly among conservative commentators. Michelle Malkin is among those who have raised questions about whether AP was led astray by an Iraqi correspondent. Curt at Flopping Aces has been among the most active in chronicling the accusations.
Malkin's little poll asking which news agency 'is the biggest terrorist propaganda tool' was indirectly responded to in the AP's updated story about the burning deaths (in which they quote more witnesses):
The AP reported on Sept. 26 that a Washington-based firm, the Lincoln Group, had won a two-year contract to monitor reporting on the Iraq conflict in English-language and Arabic media outlets.
That contract succeeded one held by another Washington firm, The Rendon Group. Controversy had arisen around the Lincoln Group in 2005 when it was disclosed that it was part of a U.S. military operation to pay Iraqi newspapers to run positive stories about U.S. military activities.
Ouch. So who's really spreading propaganda, Malkin?
The fact that the US military says it cannot confirm (or deny) that the incident happened does not mean that it didn't - unless you're a member of CSI: Bloggerville with a special hate-on for media agencies that report what you don't like.
Update: You'll find more about this insanity at The Huffington Post.