David Warren - more attribution questions?

“A Pogrom in Baghdad”, December 8, 2010

At around the same time that the Ontario Press Council ruled that David Warren had, among other things,failed to meet generally accepted journalistic standards relating to attribution by either:

(a) using the words or assertions of another author or spokesperson without revealing that the words were not his own; and

(b) misusing the words or assertions of an unidentified author or spokesperson by failing to quote them fully and/or accurately”.

Warren wrote about an attack on the Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad. It had occurred over a month earlier (October 31), and, contrary to his complaint of scant coverage, there were dozens of reports in major news outlets (Wikipedia’s entry on the tragedy lists almost 50 news sources).

Warren waited over a month to write about it. On December 7, the day before his article appeared, a commentary by Sandro Magister was published on Catholic websites. It included and introduced the translation of an article by Marco Pedersini from Il Foglio. Magister describes Pedersini’s story as “a reconstruction” or “dramatic account”, and indeed, though apparently based on fact, it is presented in a somewhat stylized, present-tense, docudrama style. The titles refer to works of fiction.

Rather than a commentary or report based on an aggregate of different fact sets reported a month earlier (which included a variety of details from witnesses), Warren’s Dec. 8 article contains similar editorial points, story details, and quotes, as the Magister/Pedersini publication, along with some overlapping wording. While Magister republishes and credits the Il Foglio story, Mr. Warren cites neither, although, in later reference to one detail, he mentions “Italian media” in passing.

Warren begins with similar editorializing about negligent media coverage indicating disregard for Christians that appears in Magister’s introduction, and in his conclusion echoes Magister’s observation about the “exodus” of Iraqi Christians to Kurdistan. Warren’s account of the attack parallels Pedersini’s narrative (without reference to any of the different fact sets in other reports), though in Warren’s version it is condensed. Warren's account is similar in style, outline, details, and uses the same quotes found in Pedersini’s narrative “reconstruction” – quotes that do not appear to be included in other reports. As well as paraphrasing, at times Warren’s words or phrasing are almost identical to the other authors.

Below are side-by-side comparisons of excerpted sections (ellipsis added).

Warren: … days, weeks, and sometimes years may be required, to reconstruct what actually happened…Many details are only now emerging…

Magister: … What happened…became known days later, little by little, thanks to the testimonies… (Here Magister cites the previous publication of Pedersini’s article, something Warren does not do) …the following is a reconstruction published one month later, on November 30, in the Italian newspaper "Il Foglio."


Warren: …the wounded who were flown out of Iraq to Rome, and other European cities...

Magister: … the wounded who were taken for treatment to Rome and other European cities.


Warren: … persistent and increasing attacks on Christians, as well as on other religious minorities, all over the Muslim world, this one was especially notable, and deserved far more sustained press coverage…

Magister: …the scarce interest that Western governments and public opinion are showing toward these anti-Christian attacks. If one then looks within the Muslim world, the indifference with which such acts are allowed free rein....


Warren: … automatic rifle fire, which began towards the end of the homily. Congregants were at first relieved that the attack did not seem to be directed at the church.

Pedersini: …about to finish the homily, when outside of the church a burst of automatic weapon fire breaks the silence. The priest tries to calm the faithful, the shots have to be aimed somewhere else…


Warren: It had begun with a diversionary strike against the Baghdad stock exchange:

Pedersini: …attack on the stock exchange… this was only a diversion.


Warren: A jeep parked outside the church then exploded…

Pedersini: …Jeep Cherokee parked in front of the church. The Jeep erupts…


Warren: …a brigade of jihadis, in Iraqi army uniforms, burst through the main entrance commando-style. First one priest -- a Father Wasim, among those trying to hold the door -- shouted, "Leave them alone, take me!" He was immediately shot. A Father Thair then shouted from the altar, likewise, "Leave them alone, take me!" and was likewise annihilated.

Pedersini: Fr. Wasim tries to hold the church's wooden door closed, but it is thrown backward by the brigade of armed men, who burst in… wearing the uniform of the Iraqi army... "Leave them alone, take me!" shouts Fr. Wasim, and is immediately hit with a bullet…

"Leave them alone, take me!" Fr. Thair also shouts from the altar. He too is dispatched in an instant…


Warren: … a Father Raphael succeeded in herding about 70 of the faithful into the sacristy, and blocking its door. In due course the jihadis found it had a small high window, and tossed grenades through that; others amused themselves by firing bullets through the door.

Pedersini: Fr. Rafael succeeds in pushing about seventy of the faithful into the sacristy… before the terrorists throw themselves against the door. It holds, but the attackers find… a little window at the top… tossing a few hand grenades inside is a game for the young butchers... Others are hit by the bullets that come through the door.


Warren: …the jihadis used the central crucifix for target practice, while shouting in mockery, "Come on, tell Him to save you!"

Magister: …used the crucifix for target practice, and terrorized the children…

Pedersini: …The crucifix becomes a shooting target. The terrorists riddle it with gunfire…shouting mockingly: "Come on, tell him to save you!"


Warren: At their leisure… terrorizing the women and children in various other ways. They shot the arms off a couple of girls who tried to use cellphones; they shot babies who were crying.

Pedersini: The terrorists shoot anyone who pulls out a cell phone, as demonstrated by the wounds of two girls hit in the hand and arm when their phones started to ring… children who cry are killed instantly.


Warren: …in classical Arabic, with Egyptian and Syrian accents, they declared: "We are going to heaven, and you are going to hell. Allah is great!"

Pedersini: …the attackers did not speak Iraqi dialects, but the classical Arabic...Egyptians, and also a Syrian.

…shouting, "You will all go to hell, but we to paradise. Allah is most great."


Warren: At their leisure, for over the five hours they twice stopped for formal Islamic prayers.

Pedersini: …the terrorists seem strangely relaxed… they first permit themselves the maghrib, the afternoon prayer, and then the ishà, the evening prayer…


Warren: Iraqi military authorities had the church surrounded for most of this time; American-made helicopters buzzed overhead.

Pedersini: …the Iraqi army and the muffled droning of the American helicopters watching the situation from the air…


Warren: … place bombs around the cathedral, for the purpose of blowing it up at the end, but owing to faulty wiring these did not go off. Survivors, in the accounts I've seen in Italian media, say the jihadis eventually ran out of bullets, and then began calling for the bombs to be detonated.

Pedersini: …explosives, which were supposed to explode around the perimeter of the church, collapsing it… Why this did not happen is a secret… halfway through the attack, one of the terrorists called... "We're out of bullets, what should we do?" A quick order, with a sinister result: "Okay, now we'll start using the bombs."


Warren: They had several colleagues stationed on the roof, orchestrating their affair; unmolested by the troops surrounding the church…

Pedersini: …eight persons and at least one other who commanded the operations from the terrace around the roof of the church.


Warren: Two of the jihadis with suicide belts managed to blow themselves up.

Pedersini: they were determined to blow themselves up. Two of them succeeded…


Warren: …area hospitals where friends and relatives were already making their hysterical inquiries…

Pedersini: …relatives started to run frantically from one hospital to another…


Warren: …The church was now "secured," so that passersby could not get a view of the devastation…

Pedersini: Rubble… was cleaned up hastily the next day while the army blocked the entrance to the church so that no one could see the devastation.


Warren: The exodus of Christians from Iraq is, by now, more or less common knowledge. Within Iraq itself, there is a movement from such cities as Baghdad and Mosul… to safer territory in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Magister: Meanwhile, in Baghdad and in other places in Iraq the killing of Christians as such continues… the exodus of Christians from Baghdad and Mosul to the safer Kurdistan, in the extreme north of the country, continues.






In terms of Warren’s article as “reportage”, omissions are also notable: repeatedly characterizing the rescue as weak, Warren, a vocal advocate of the 2003 American invasion, omits mention of the American role noted in reports. For example, several quote “Lt. Col. Terry L. Conder, a spokesman for U.S. special forces”, on the scene of the rescue, who also described the attack as a “robbery gone wrong” (Associated Press). Other American military representatives are also cited, and “witnesses described American troops leading the assault” (UK Telegraph), or noted, “The hostages were caught in the crossfire between Iraqi and US security forces and the hostage takers”.

Warren omits material like this from other reports: “Syrian Catholic Archbishop Georges Basile Casmoussa of Mosul… told the Italian Catholic paper Avvenire that ‘most of the deaths were caused during the blitz by the Iraqi security forces led by the Americans... The head of the US bishops’ conference, Cardinal Francis George, said: ‘We share the Iraqi bishops’ concern that the US failed to help Iraqis’”.

And he omits relevant context found in many other reports: “Christians in Iraq, who numbered several hundred thousand before the 2003 invasion, became targets for attacks and kidnapping as violence worsened. As many as two-thirds may have left” (The Economist, Nov. 1, 2020).