Reporters' Sources: April 12, 2003

When I teach newspaper articles to my ESL students, one of the first requests I make of them is to identify anyone to whom the reporter has talked. For reporters, primary sources are more often than not the people they have interviewed.

Saturday, April 12, 2003.

Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press, Saturday, April 12, 2003.
Hassan Hafidh, Reuters, Saturday, April 12, 2003.
John F. Burns, “Pillagers Strip Iraqi Museum of Its Treasure,” New York Times, Saturday, April 12, 2003
Paul McGeough, “A Cultural Catastrophe,” Sydney Morning Herald, April 12, 2003.
Maura Fogarty, "Baghdad Looting Continues," Voice of America News (audio), April 12, 2003.


Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press, Saturday, April 12, 2003.


This was one of the first articles to come out on Saturday, April 12, 2003, and it is interesting to note that Nabhal Amin declines to identify herself to Hamza Hendawi. Later on in the day she will be quoted and cited by all the others, but in this article she is an anonymous source.

Hendawi, we assume, speaks Arabic and doesn’t have to work with an interpreter, which must make reporting much easier. He is one of the few reporters to interview someone who claims to be a member of the Fedayeen Saddam.


1. Ali Mahmoud
2. anonymous security guards and museum workers
3. Nabhal Amin
4. member of Fedayeen Saddam
5. Gordon Newby
6. John Russell
7. Samuel Paley
8. Koichiro Matsuura
9. governments of Russia, Jordan and Greece
10 "some"
11. McGuire Gibson
12. Patty Gerstenblith

Reported by Hendawi in Baghdad:

1. Ali Mahmoud, a museum employee
2. “according to a security guard” / “museum workers said” / “one museum employee” / “said the employee, who declined to be identified”
3. Nabhal Amin
“A museum employee, reduced to tears after coming to the museum Saturday and finding her office and all administrative offices trashed by looters, said: ``It is all the fault of the Americans. This is Iraq's civilization. And it's all gone now.'' She refused to give her name.”

4. member of Fedayeen Saddam
“One of the men said he was a member of the feared Fedayeen Saddam militia.
’You think Saddam is now gone, so you can do what you like,’ he raged.”

Reported by others in the U.S.:

5. Gordon Newby, “a historian and professor of Middle Eastern studies at Emory University in Atlanta”
6. John Russell, “a professor of art history and archaeology at the Massachusetts College of Art”
7. Samuel Paley, “a professor of classics at the State University of New York, Buffalo”
8. Koichiro Matsuura, “head of the U.N.'s cultural agency, UNESCO”
9. “The governments of Russia, Jordan and Greece also voiced deep concern about the looting.”
10. “Some blamed the U.S. military”
11. McGuire Gibson, “a University of Chicago professor and president of the American Association for Research in Baghdad”
12. Patty Gerstenblith, a professor at DePaul School of Law in Chicago


Hassan Hafidh, Reuters, Saturday, April 12, 2003.


Hassan Hafidh uses two sources for his article, Nabhal Amin and Muhsen Kadhim. Like the others, he refers to Nabhal Amin as the "deputy director" of the museum. Of course, she was not. She was, in reality, an ex-employee who happened to live in the neighborhood and who shared with Donny George a perfectly reasonable (for a Ba'athist) anti-American sentiment.


1. Nabhal Amin
2. Muhsen Kadhim

1. Nabhal Amin, "deputy director."
Looters have sacked Baghdad's antiquities museum, plundering treasures dating back thousands of years to the dawn of civilization in Mesopotamia, museum staff said on Saturday.

They blamed U.S. troops for not protecting the treasures.

Surveying the littered glass wreckage of display cases and pottery shards at the Iraqi National Museum on Saturday, deputy director Nabhal Amin wept and told Reuters: "They have looted or destroyed 170,000 items of antiquity dating back thousands of years...They were worth billions of dollars."

She blamed U.S. troops, who have controlled Baghdad since the collapse of President Saddam Hussein's rule on Wednesday, for failing to heed appeals from museum staff to protect it from looters who moved in to the building on Friday.

"The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened," she said. "I hold the American troops responsible for what happened to this museum."
(My bolding)

2. Muhsen Kadhim, "museum guard for the last 30 years."
"We know people are hungry but what are they going to do with these antiquities," said Muhsen Kadhim, a museum guard for the last 30 years but who said he was overwhelmed by the number of looters.

"As soon as I saw the American troops near the museum, I asked them to protect it but the second day looters came and robbed or destroyed all the antiquities," he said.


John F. Burns, “Pillagers Strip Iraqi Museum of Its Treasure,” New York Times, Saturday, April 12, 2003.

Article with the 50,000 figure

Article with 170,000 figure

Burns has always written well, but for basic reporting, this article is pretty thin. We get a lot of “officials said” attribution. In fact, there is no concrete attribution to a named source until well down the column.

There is only one attributed source and that is Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammad. Who the other "officials" are, he doesn't say.

"Officials said" can be used to hold off attribution until further down the news article or it can be used for anonymous attribution (sources who for whatever reason remain anonymous).

John F. Burns is on the record for saying that he changed the figure from 50,000 to 170,000 later in the evening after he talked to the other journalists back at the Palestine Hotel. Therefore, it appears that when Burns and McGeough arrived, Nabhal Amin was already gone and the figure of 170,000 was added by Burns when Hamza Hendawi or one of the other journalists told him about the figure that had been given to them by Nabhal Amin. And this means that John F. Burns, patron saint of reporters, added the 170,000 without ever even talking to the original source of the number. He added that figure just from what other journalists told him. That, my friends, is shoddy journalism.


1. "officials" / "officials with crumpled spirits" / "museum officials"
2. Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammad

1. “So what officials told journalists today may have to be adjusted as a fuller picture comes to light.” / “Officials with crumpled spirits” / “museum officials said”

2. Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammad, “an Iraqi archaeologist who has participated in the excavation of some of the country's 10,000 sites”
He spoke with deep bitterness against the Americans.

Mr. Muhammad, the archaeologist, directed much of his anger at President Bush.


Paul McGeough, “A Cultural Catastrophe,” Sydney Morning Herald, April 12, 2003.


According to McGeough, he and John F. Burns went to the Iraq National Museum together. Their nerves were frayed by this point. "The hand-drawn map we had given was not particularly good," McGeough recalls, "so after we'd been around the block three times, Burns and I began yelling at each other. ... Our tiredness had turned us into zombies; the tension release created by the end of the war meant that we didn't have the reserves to cope with another wrong turn" (McGeough 260-1).

Neither Burns nor McGeough use use Nabhal Amin as a source. The main source they use is Raid Abdul Ridhar Mohammad. The figure of 170,000 does not come from Mr. Mohammad, but from Nabhal Amin. It appears that Burns was given the 170,000 figure from others journalists, perhaps Hendawi or Rifadh, both of whom used that number in their reports.

There are other peculiarities. McGeough attributes the following quote to Hoysen Hassan:
"All gone, all gone," he said. "All gone in two days."
Burns attributes the same quote to a different person, Raid Abdul Ridhar Mohammad:
"All gone, all gone," he said. "All gone in two days."
McGeough's characterization of Mr. Rahman as a "gibbering wreck" is classic McGeough, as I'm starting to learn.


1. Mohsen Hassan, 56, “an archaeologist and deputy curator.”
2. Abdul Rahman, “museum’s 57-year-old live-in guard”; “gibbering wreck”
3. Ra’ed Abdul Ridha Mohammed, 35, “another of the museum’s archaeologists”
4. Ahmed Mohammed, 27, (man-on-the-street)
5. Donald Rumsfeld, (McGeough includes a snarky reference to the "freedom is untidy" statement.)
6. Nezar Ahmed, "electrical engineer," (man-on-the-street)


Maura Fogarty, "Baghdad Looting Continues," Voice of America News (audio), April 12, 2003.

"Baghdad Looting Continues" You can also listen to the audio version at this link.

Ms. Fogarty was reporting for VOA from Cairo, Egypt. We assume she used the New York Times and the 170,000 figure to write her copy. And thus what Joel Best calls a "mutant statistic" expands, this time over the radio waves (Best 62-95).

Joel Best, Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).


1. Nabhal Amin

1. Nabhal Amin, “museum’s deputy director”

The museum's deputy director, Nabhal Amin, says about 170,000 priceless items had been looted or destroyed.

But she says some of the museum's most valuable artifacts had been moved into safe storage before the U.S.-led coalition attacked Iraq. Part of the museum collection was damaged during the 1991 Gulf war.

Ms. Amin says she blames U.S. troops for not protecting the museum, despite appeals from its staff.


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