The Sunday Times is publishing proven fantasist Uzi Mahnaimi on yet another unsourced, headline-grabbing Israel story. This time, he says George Bush gave Israel the go-ahead to attack Iran. But don’t rush to reprint this story on your blog. The blogosphere is filled with deconstructions of his fantastic claims (one could even call them “lies,” particularly his most infamous lie, the claim that Israel was building a “genetic weapon” that would target only Arabs).
For instance: There was the “imminent” massive attack on Gaza we were promised … on June 17th, 2007.
ISRAELâ€™s new defence minister Ehud Barak is planning an attack on Gaza within weeks to crush the Hamas militants who have seized power there.
According to senior Israeli military sources, the plan calls for 20,000 troops to destroy much of Hamasâ€™s military capability in days.
More than a year later, that “imminent” attack has become a bit less imminent.
Here’s another one: Israel is going to attack Iran with nukes. Read Joe’s Dartblog for a deconstruction of that one. Joe points out that Uzi wrote the same story twice before. Israel Matzav says he wrote it three times.
Allison Kaplan Sommer, a real reporter, wrote:
One thing is clear: Mahnaimi makes a regular habit of reporting that Israel is about to attack Iran. If his reporting was accurate, Iranian nuclear facilities would already be a smoking ruin â€“ not once, but multiple times.
Notice the Mahnaimi patterns: He quotes “senior” sources, yet never names them. If he does name a source, that source inevitably turns out to have no contact with the current military establishment. He says an attack is going to happen within days or weeks. He adds the element of nuclear weapons strikes. Most of those are in his latest fantasy:
President George W Bush has told the Israeli government that he may be prepared to approve a future military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities if negotiations with Tehran break down, according to a senior Pentagon official.
Despite the opposition of his own generals and widespread scepticism that America is ready to risk the military, political and economic consequences of an airborne strike on Iran, the president has given an â€œamber lightâ€ to an Israeli plan to attack Iranâ€™s main nuclear sites with long-range bombing sorties, the official told The Sunday Times.
â€œAmber means get on with your preparations, stand by for immediate attack and tell us when youâ€™re ready,â€ the official said. But the Israelis have also been told that they can expect no help from American forces and will not be able to use US military bases in Iraq for logistical support.
Guaranteed this will sweep across the blogosphere as a legitimate story. But before you write that post, read up on your source. I’d love to know if there even is such a thing as an “amber light” status, because it sounds like b.s. to me.
Mahnaimi’s reputation got so bad the Times gave him a co-author. But Sarah Baxter is a political reporter who seems to have been assigned to Mahnaimi’s stories to add respectability to his reputation. She has no foreign reporting chops, unless you count things like this interview with John Gibson on Madeleine McCann. Adding her byline to Mahnaimi’s stories isn’t getting the result the Times wants. It’s making me (and probably others) think less of her. And adding to the skepticism about Baxter are stories like this, where she quotes secondary sources quoting unnamed sources, saying that the Pentagon has a “three-day blitz” plan for Iran. Secondary sources, quoting unnamed sources: Now there’s a well-sourced article for you—in Bizarro World.
The questions about Mahnaimi’s facts are numerous. You can’t turn around without finding someone easily debunking a Mahnaimi story. Here’s an in-depth debunking of Mahnaimi and Baxter, translated from the French.
Remember that before you reflexively quote this Times story as true. So far, the record on this “reporter” has been the complete opposite. The Sunday Times of London is not the paper that it used to be. If it ever was. Perhaps my British readers could vouch for the Times’ reputation back in the day. Because right now, it’s the paper the keeps publishing a reporter who should be writing fiction—not getting front-page headlines in the Times.