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Chron discovers Raed

Like many other media outlets, the Houston Chronicle has discovered Salam Pax, the man behind the Where is Raed? weblog. Not unexpectedly, they expressed doubts about his authenticity:

While stories like those by Salam Pax may seem intriguing, Aly Colón, an ethicist for the media think tank Poynter Institute, said the entries should be taken with a dose of skepticism.

“Blogs are another tool for journalists and the public to get other perspectives from inside Iraq,” Colón said. “The danger is taking this, or anything on the Internet really, at face value.”

Colón said while the blog may be convincing to some, it could just as easily be a computer prankster in Topeka, Kan.

Salam Pax lists only an e-mail address as a means to contact him. The e-mail address, operated by a British music magazine, responded several times Monday with a message indicating the inbox was full. Efforts Monday to contact Salam Pax or determine his location were unsuccessful.

Look, maybe Salam is real and maybe he is a hoaxster from Topeka. The problem is that this “analysis” gives short shrift to the question. For one thing, Salam’s blog has archives that go back to September. If he’s having it on with us, he’s put an awful lot of time and energy into doing so. That’s by no means conclusive evidence of his bona fides, but it’s a fact that ought to be taken into consideration.

Second, while you may not be able to get hold of Salam himself, that doesn’t mean he’s a cipher. Why not treat him like a reclusive author who doesn’t give interviews – read his collected works, speak to people who know him, and paint yourself a picture. Maybe there’s something in an old post that clearly contradicts what he says about himself. All I’ve seen so far in the old media accounts of Salam is quotes from his most recent entries, which again gives the impression that he’s a newcomer on the scene.

As for his peers, Salam has been a blogworld celebrity for some time now, and a number of bloggers have corresponded with him. Diane E. was an early booster, and she thinks he’s real. Other bloggers, especially those on Salam’s blogroll, likely have some useful insights. Maybe one of them has an actual email from Salam, whose headers could be checked to see if the originating IP address is in a block that’s assigned to Iraq. You never know till you ask.

I understand that this story is seen as “timely”, and the steps I’ve outlined would take more time than a reporter in this position might like to take. But I think we deserve a better examination of the question of Salam’s genuineness than the canned opinion of some “media ethicist”. Who knows, we might even discover the truth of the matter.

UPDATE: Someone has done some of this detective work, and he thinks Salam is real, too. Thanks to Ikram and Ginger for the tip.

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  1. And he’s also showing an extremely nuanced position on the war that I don’t see many in America holding, or even that many in America seem capable of believing people in Iraq would hold. Both the pro- and anti-war bloggers constantly seem to claim Salam as some sort of propaganda victory. It’s quite bizarre.

    The other thing that convinces me of Salam is the what he writes about when he writes about it. His style of writing reminds me of other people I knew who were non-native speakers but with impressive skills.

    Either there is a hell of an actor in Topeka who has way too much time on his/her hands or Salam is for real.

  2. ikram saeed says:

    There was a guy who did an authenticity check a while ago. He checked headers, traced e-mails etc. Salam does work off, and the headers could be traced back to Beirut.

    (I don’t know anything about this web-stuff. I take the word of people who understand.)

    The NYT has a story on Salam with a lot of personal detail. (A worrying amount). They did not doubt his veracity.

    To me, it sounds like the chron was trying to do that usual ‘balance’ schtick, ansd a little cover-your-ass in case he is a hoax. They don’t want to look like dupes.

  3. Hmm. I missed the NYT story when I Googled “Salam Pax”. If someone could provide the link for that, I’d appreciate it. Thanks!

  4. Ginger says:

    The technical information Ikram is talking about came from Paul Boutin’s blog.

  5. Kevin Whited says:

    Maybe it will turn out to be another Kaycee Nicole…