I first talked about the blogger-driven battles over the Israel-Hezbullah war imagery in an essay for Editor & Publisher and then here and here in PolicyByBlog.

And the controversy continues–with a constructive object lesson for us all.

I don’t think blogs will replace big media, but the small blogger can, with moxie and smarts, shame the big boys and girls by doing the job that we trained the professionals to do in journalism school. Every good J-School teacher I know instructs her/his students to think, question and dig. Don’t just accept the press release about, easy answer for, herd response to or the face value of an event or issue. Scratch your head and ask: “Where can I go besides the usual sources to get the information that will better reveal the truth?”

Sometimes the answer is simple, and you think “Wow, why did nobody else think of that?” The answer is sadly that industrial journalism breeds laziness and routine. There are many hard working journalists out there; but the system undercuts their inventiveness and encourages them to walk the rut of what everybody else is doing; some still shine through, some fall down.

Not so with the nimble, one wo/man blog enterprise. Consider the case of Mr. Bob Owens, aka, ConfederateYankee, and his post on “Armored Vehicle Experts: Reuters News Vehicle Not Hit by Israeli Missile.”

It began when he read the following item in the news, via the Reuters news service:

 

Israeli air strike wounds two journalists in Gaza

By Nidal al-Mughrabi Sat Aug 26, 7:58 PM ET

GAZA (Reuters) – An Israeli air strike hit a Reuters vehicle in Gaza City on Saturday, wounding two journalists as they covered a military incursion, doctors and residents said.

One of the Palestinian journalists, who worked for a local media organization, was seriously wounded. A cameraman working for Reuters was knocked unconscious in the air strike, one of several in the area.

The Israeli army said the vehicle was hit because it was acting suspiciously in an area of combat and had not been identified as belonging to the media.

“During the operation, there was an aerial attack on a suspicious vehicle that drove in a suspicious manner right by the forces,” army spokeswoman Captain Noa Meir said.

“This car was not identified by the army as a press vehicle,” she said. “If journalists were hurt, we regret it.”

The missile struck the vehicle after dark. The armored car was clearly labeled as a media vehicle, with signs on all sides, including the roof.

Michael Lawrence, Reuters Managing Editor for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: “We are deeply concerned at this attack on a clearly marked press vehicle as journalists were doing their job to report the story from Gaza.

“We understand that the army says it had no intention of targeting the media, but this incident is totally unacceptable and we urge a careful examination of how this happened to ensure there is no repeat.”

Both journalists were by the doors, covering an Israeli military incursion into the Shijaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, known as a stronghold of militant groups.

Sabbah Hmaida, who works for a local news Web site, was seriously wounded in the legs.

Fadel Shana, a Reuters cameraman, received no major bodily wounds in the air strike, but was knocked unconscious. Doctors said his condition was not life threatening.

Blood spattered the seats of the armored vehicle and the ground nearby.

Owens notes that some other bloggers had raised questions about the story. Now, at this point, he could have just chimed in with his own speculations and offered some visual analysis of the key picture of the “struck” vehicle.

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But then CY does something amazing…he goes to the experts to ask some basic factual questions. The “experts” are not the usual suspects, a Palestinian “spokesperson,” a “news analyst,” or an Israeli minister but technicians–people who know something on the subject, not just hawkers of “opinion.”

I wanted support to prove or disprove these allegations, and so I went to the people who should know most about the kind of vehicles damaged in the attack, armored vehicle manufacturers themselves.

I sent an email to these five armored vehicle manufacturers, asking them to look at the photo (above) that seems to be the center of the debate, and asked them two questions:

  • Is this damage consistent with what you might expect from a 70MM rocket’s warhead detonating roughly a foot above an civilian-manufactured armored vehicle such as the one pictured? If not, would you expect more damage, or less?
  • People suspicious of the attack are citing the obvious rust around the impact site on the vehicle as proof that these are old markings, while the expert claims that vehicles can rust in this kind of climate in the short time mentioned. Does that sound logical, or would alloys used in civilian armored vehicles take longer to show this level of rust? Would you provide an estimate of how long it would take?

Within an hour, I had responses from representatives of two armored vehicle manufacturing companies.

David Khazanski of Inkas Armored Vehicle Manufacturing responded first, stating:

Looking at the picture received through the link on your email, the damage on the vehicle was sustained very long time ago and probably not by the rocket, or it was already tempered [sic] with[.]

In no uncertain terms, Mr. Khazankski doubts that the vehicle was damaged recently, or by rocket fire, and suggests that the vehicle may have been tampered with.

Chris Badsey, chairman and CEO of First Defense International Group, which has armored vehicles deployed in the Middle East and has professional knowledge of Israeli weaponry, graciously offered up a very detailed analysis of the vehicle in the photo above (minor spelling errors corrected):

1.) Firstly as an armouring company we are familiar with all weapons, weapons damage, collateral damage and the destruction of armoured vehicles from blasts and various types of rockets and ammunition.

2.) Secondly we are familiar with the Israeli weapons of choice and uses in the field as we continue to work with them and have a manufacturing relationship with them both in Israel and Iraq.

3.) Whether the Reuters vehicle was attacked by who I could not verify but In my expert opinion the damage, the hole is NOT consistent of a Hellfire Missile or a 70mm rocket nor any armoured piercing bullet/trajectory.

4.) The Reuters armoured van would only be armoured to threat level IV which would consist of 8mm of High Hard 4140 Steel armouring on the roof which you can see in the picture as peeled open somewhat. The damage to the roof looks to me very consistent with possible shrapnel penetration from an object other than a rocket or missile itself.

5.) Furthermore the armored glass would be 62mm for threat level IV protection against blasts and armour piercing rounds. The damage to the back window is certainly NOT consistent with any missile, bomb, rocket blast that would have occurred on impact if a rocket was fired around and directly at the vehicle.

Mr. Badsey went on to bring up a point that few of us seemed to have considered, and that is the primary blast effect involved in any explosive projectile used against an armored vehicle.

And so on—a primer on the subject. So was the van “strike” all a hoax or not.? The reader must decide, or investigate on your own as well! Perhaps there are other experts out there with a different tack. But what struck me was that Mr. Owens thought out the box (or in newsy terms, out of the upsidedown pyramid) and went to experts who could help us understand what we were seeing. As far as I know no industrial journalist did the same.

Bob, you earned an “A+” for investigative journalism.

The indy bloggers out there, left, right and center have the power to do the same, whatever the story, whatever their partisanship.

UPDATE:

Reuters has filed updates of its original story. One shows a picture of the “wounded cameraman”–who certainly appears wounded. Interestingly, I could find no updates of the story on the Reuters site since August 27th and pictures of the vehicle do not reappear.

Note: This post has been updated with new information and ideas.

Originally posted August 30, 2006 at PolicyByBlog

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