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Blogosphere Reporting on Forged Niger Docs: Will this be the Left's Rathergate?

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The liberal blogosphere has been way out in front of investigating the origin of the forged Niger documents that may have been deliberately used to help sell the war in Iraq. I've come across a lot of insights from investigative bloggers who have been connecting the dots using information from the public record -- as well as doing some original reporting.

These forged Niger documents were publicly discredited as being "not authentic" by Mohamed ElBaradei on March 7th, 2003 before the war began 12 days later, but it has always been a bit of a mystery as to who forged them -- as well as how they ended up being used by the Bush Administration to help create the impression that Saddam Hussein was actively seeking to reconstitute his nuclear weapons program.

The cultural right has their takedown of Dan Rather under their belts, and if it turns out that the forged documents originated from the United States and can be tied to the Bush Administration, then that would certainly not bode well for Republicans in the next election cycle and could ultimately result in impeachment hearings with a Democrat majority in Congress.

The liberal blogosphere would certainly take this as an unprecedented victory if this plays out to how Steve Soto describes it:

Get some more popcorn folks. Once you tie Chalabi and people like Ledeen into the forgeries, you tie Cheney’s office into this crap as well. And if that connection is made, it is game, set, and match.

The Patrick Fitzgerald investigation, the FBI investigation into the forgeries, Congressional action, and the mainstream media would inevitably put the final nails into the coffin, but there has been a lot of work by liberal and anti-war bloggers in aggregating what has been already reported on this story overseas -- as well as pushing the story forward.

For example, it looks as though blogger Josh Marshall may have had a role in shining a spotlight to the fact that the FBI may have never even interviewed one of the couriers of the forged documents.

At least until late in 2004 the FBI had never interviewed the man who tried to sell the documents, Rocco Martino -- despite the fact that he came to the United States twice in the summer of 2004.

The FBI now says it concluded its investigation in July of this year. So did the FBI interview Martino before making its determination?

This may have caused the Senate Intelligence Committee to ask the FBI to reopen it's case.

Those findings concerned some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee after published reports that the FBI had not interviewed a former Italian spy named Rocco Martino, who was identified as the original source of the documents. The committee had requested the initial investigation.

It appears as if the FBI tried to whitewash the investigation, but they were called out by Marshall -- and potentially others in the media -- to give the Senate the ammunition they needed in order to call their bluff. So it's good news that the press can still play a watchdog function, and this LA Times report could help open up the floodgates for other news organizations to start digging into material that some liberal bloggers have already been exploring:

After talking with committee members, FBI officials decided to pursue "additional work" on the case, likely exploring the origins of the forgeries and whether the documents had been created specifically to help make the case for ousting Saddam Hussein...

Federal officials familiar with the case say investigators could examine whether the forgeries were instigated by U.S. citizens who advocated an invasion of Iraq or by members of the Iraqi National Congress -- the group led by Ahmad Chalabi that worked closely with Bush administration officials in the buildup to the war.

There is quite a bit of detailed information on this already from the blogosphere, and I'd thought I'd do a quick brain dump of what's passed through my radar screen in the following sections below:

Investigative Blogging from Marshall and eriposte on Niger Docs
State withheld forged Niger Doc from IAEA
John Bolton involved in withholding documents from IAEA?
La Repubblica: Niger forgeries -- New Revelations by top French Spymaster
Clarridge, Wolf & Ledeen implicated by Italian Parliament for Forged Documents

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New Media Blogs Discuss Downing Street Memos

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A discussion of the Downing Street Memos has kicked up briefly in the New Media blogosphere after Jay Rosen's post on Sunday.

I thought I'd drop a few signposts from my daily blog surfing from this morning [my Internet connection went down delaying this post.]

All of these following posts have interesting discussions going on in their comment sections.

Dan Gillmor weighs in by excerpting the following passage from Russ Baker's Why Bush Went to War -- "Bush wanted a war so that he could build the political capital necessary to achieve his domestic agenda and become, in his mind, 'a great president."

Jeff Jarvis says that the Downing Street Memos aren't a big deal because everyone knows "the truth is that WMDs were never the real justification" and that this is all just "a scandal of bad PR."

Gillmor updates his post in response to Jarvis "What Jeff fails to note is that Congress would never have backed the war so fecklessly had the phony WMD issue been off the table..."

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Rosen's BloggerCon III Comment on Blogs & Journalism

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I didn't attend the BloggerCon III conference back on November 6, 2004, but I was able to listen to the Journalism session because IT Conversations recorded the entire conference and made it available online for anyone in the world to hear.

Rosen's comment at the end of the session jumped out at me because I think he has an important insight for how blogs may be a more natural way for how people consume information. Blog readers start from the opinions of the bloggers they trust, and then they read the factual details if there's some type of conflict or argument -- or if they're interested in learning more.

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Citizen Journalism Implications of Blog Doc Controversy

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(UPDATE 6/7/05 6:08p.m. -- John Hart has posted a public reply on his website, and I'm a bit speechless. It is certainly not a very rational response to the whole situation. Below were my thoughts on what I saw developing with the project independent of any outside influence or input from Chuck Olsen.)

There could be a bit of a PR nightmare brewing for the 59 Bloggers documentary in pre-production that I mentioned a few days ago. Independent filmmaker Chuck Olsen titled his film Blogumentary and expressed concern to the 59 Bloggers director John Hart that there might be some confusion over loosely throwing around the "Blogumentary" meme on his site.

Hart sent back a curt e-mail telling Olsen, "Please don't bother me with this bullshit nonsense." Then Olsen published an excerpt from Hart's e-mail on his blog. Hart apparently threatened Olsen with some type of legal action for publishing the e-mail.

Then David Weinberger -- one of the potential interviewees for the 59 Bloggers film -- responded to the controversy by saying, "I've seen how this new guy responds to a civil inquiry, I have asked him to drop me from his list of interviewees."

Hart then backtracked and removed all references to "Blogumentary" on his website -- along with a lot of other background information. Here's Olsen's archival screenshot.

At this point, we're only hearing Olsen's side of the story because Hart is not keeping a production blog (Bad PR on Hart's part).

So I see four lessons for citizen journalism from this little episode:

1.) There's a difference between social capital and normative standards and institutional capital and legal standards
2.) There are ethical and legal issues with publishing e-mail correspondence
3. ) This may have implications for establishing credibility and building trust with potential interviewees for citizen journalists
4.) It's bad to write something in an e-mail correspondence that you wouldn't want published in The New York Times.

More details below...

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Another blog documentary coming down the pipe

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Steve Rubel has been asked to participate in a documentary film about bloggers done by a career film industry guy named John Hart. Rubel says that the 59 chosen bloggers that Hart plans on interviewing represent his vision of the blogosphere -- after looking at the preliminary list, I can tell that Hart isn't very political since there is no sign of Instapundit, Atrios, Daily Kos, or Talking Points Memo on the list. Hart blogs here.

Rubel suggested that it might be a good opportunity for a company to support the project from a viral marketing opportunity.

Rubel didn't mention Chuck Olsen's Blogumentary or PBS' Media Matters: Welcome to the Blogosphere.

I met Olsen in Austin for SXSW and we had already discovered each others' projects. I had found his project because Olsen wrote on his site:

I want to make Blogumentary the first open source documentary. (If this has already been done, I'd love to know about it!)

Olsen found my project after Rebecca MacKinnon & David Weinberger linked to my New Media Ecosystem flowchart.

Olsen and I agreed that he is doing "open source" filmmaking from a transparency perspective, and I intend to do "open source" filmmaking from both a transparency and a decentralized collaborative perspective. A summary of links are below, and I have a couple of other blog posts about it on the way.

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Bridging the Technology & Filmmaking Gap

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My wife just asked me why I'm posting so many details about the mundane day-to-day stuff that I'm dealing with.

The first reason is for transparency sake -- Sometimes I'm debugging a problem and the site goes silent. I think it's better to keep everyone informed with what's going on even when there bad news or if I'm pulling my hair out trying to get something to work that probably has a really simple solution.

I also assume that a lot of the people reading this are skimming the posts for what they find interesting.

I also wanted to document the process for how I go about making this film for others who might want to try a similar approach.

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Video + Audio + Blogosphere = The Next Big Thing?

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Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame did a 15-minute video at Blog Nashville where he primarily focused on gathering thoughts from bloggers about Making Money with Blogging.

From a technical standpoint, he used the on-camera microphone and had the autofocus on the camera turned on, which meant that the sound was a little iffy and his shots were constantly going in and out of focus. But it was well-edited and had a great round-up of some of the current buzz on the blogosphere.

Reynolds perceived that the ">hot topics at the conference were making money with blogging as well as:

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Blog Philosophy -- Roadblocks of Overintellectualizing

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I went through my first big blogging dryspell throughout the month of April. I have been writing all of these really long and intellectually dense blog entries in the name of planning out the theories for a new paradigm of journalism.

The lesson? People want to see a proof of concept -- Theory is too abstract and -- well, theoretical. I've had a ton of people say to me, "You know, I try to read you blog, but it's just too confusing. I don't know what you're talking about."

I would usually discard these criticisms by saying, "Well, I'm trying to reach a specialized audience of the movers and shakers of the New Media movement." And then when I actually got to talk face-to-face with a lot of these technologists at SXSW I realized that they understand me when I talk to them face-to-face, but that they still aren't gleaning some of the major ideas from my writing.

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The Anatomy of Hitting the New Media Radar

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Today I got two links from some of the leaders of the New Media movement -- Rebecca MacKinnon & David Weinberger. Here's how it happened. Last week, I had a chance to bounce some of my ideas about citizen journalism with Rebecca MacKinnon at the Online Social Networking conference. We went back and forth, and I got her attention. I wanted to follow up with her this past Wednesday, but she got swamped with other things including a conference at the Nieman Foudnation called "Whose News?"

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Citizen Journalism at PRWatch

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PRWatch.org is starting to do some more collaborative journalism, such as this discovery of photoshopped propaganda found by a volunteer citizen journalist in Spain.

This pro-Liberation photo is of a US soldier holding an Iraqi child with the added caption of "She's glad he's there. Are you?" This citizen journalist finds another version of the same scene that has a caption that says that the girl is actually a boy, and that his mother had just killed by crossfire.

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