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Fixing the Globe's Al Qaeda problem (and everyone else's)

I've griped about the media's conflation of Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Iraq recently, so I'm reluctant to do it again. But given today's Globe front-pager on the Al Qaeda threat--"Analyst counters Bush on Al Qaeda: Says biggest threat is in S. Asia, not Iraq"--I can't help myself.

First, kudos to the Globe for running the story above the fold on A1. (Oddly, the Times seems to have ignored it.)

Here's the problem: reporter Bryan Bender doesn't address the fact that Al Qaeda in Iraq only came into existence after September 11 until the story's penultimate paragraph--and then only by quoting Abraham Wagner of Columbia's Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism, who says:
In the Cold War it was called 'threat lumping.' It is creating a threat to justify whatever you are doing. Al Qaeda in Iraq never existed prior to the US activity in Iraq and I think it is still a small operation.
Now, that's an improvement over this Globe article, which allowed homeland security advisory Fran Townsend's conflation of the two Al Qaedas to go unquestioned. But when the two groups are differentiated in a quote, it doesn't carry the same weight as when the reporter does it him/herself. The former looks like an opinion; the latter looks like a fact.

Here's my suggestion: the Globe (and every other paper that writes about US foreign policy) should come up with a brief paragraph that's included in any story dealing with the two Al Qaedas. This info-nugget would explain that Al Qaeda in Iraq didn't exist before Sept. 11, and that, whatever ties the group may have previously had with the original Al Qaeda, they were intensified after the US invasion of Iraq. No controversy there; the president himself acknowleged as much earlier this week:
Al Qaeda in Iraq was founded by a Jordanian terrorist, not an Iraqi. His name was Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Before 9/11, he ran a terrorist camp in Afghanistan. He was not yet a member of al Qaida, but our intelligence community reports that he had longstanding relations with senior al Qaida leaders, that he had met with Osama bin Laden and his chief deputy, Zawahiri.

In 2001, coalition forces destroyed Zarqawi's Afghan training camp, and he fled the country and he went to Iraq, where he set up operations with terrorist associates long before the arrival of coalition forces. In the violence and instability following Saddam's fall, Zarqawi was able to expand dramatically the size, scope, and lethality of his operation. In 2004, Zarqawi and his terrorist group formally joined al Qaida, pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and he promised to "follow his orders in jihad."

Soon after, bin Laden publicly declared that Zarqawi was the "Prince of Al Qaida in Iraq" -- and instructed terrorists in Iraq to "listen to him and obey him."

Is that too much to ask?

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