June 15th, 2014
12:59 PM ET

Iraq: How to distinguish between real news and propaganda

Above, Storyful’s David Clinch on how his organization works to verify - and sometimes debunk - amateur photos and videos emerging from Iraq.

Here's the transcript:

STELTER: You have surely heard the old maxim that "in the fog of war, the first casualty is the truth." You've heard it because it tends to be true. It's very hard to know what's really happening in Iraq right now. Of course, it's a country that will always be associated in our minds with bad intelligence.

Sometimes reporters and TV producers have to rely on primary sources - photos and videos from people on the ever-shifting front lines. So, the vetting process for this material is critical. Many people here at CNN do it every day. We have Arabic speakers who watch video, translate them, cross-reference them, and sometimes debunk them. In fact, a message went out to the whole newsroom here on Friday, reminding everybody to steer clear of misinformation and mislabeled photos.

For help with this, lots of other news organizations depend on a fascinating start up called Storyful. It calls itself a social media news agency. Here's a sign how important this work is becoming: last year, Rupert Murdoch acquired Storyful for $25 million.

They have been busy there, debunking insurgent propaganda from Iraq, and I want you to hear how. So let me bring in David Clinch, executive editor of Storyful. He was previously a senior CNN international auditor here at CNN. David, thanks for joining me.

DAVID CLINCH, STORYFUL: Nice to be here, Brian. Thank you.

STELTER: Let me put two photos on screen that are from Twitter this week. Both of these are Blackhawk helicopters and the caption you can see on screen, it says, "Al Qaeda militants capture U.S. Blackhawk helicopters in Iraq." Are these images real?

CLINCH: They are real images. They are NOT Blackhawk helicopters captured by al Qaeda or ISIS in Iraq. And this is a vital part of what we do as journalists, and really what all journalists should be doing nowadays.

If you're covering a story like Iraq and you do not have somebody on the ground who is exactly at the point where things are happening, you have to use images that emerge from other sources. That's not an acceptable excuse or reason for using images that emerge from the web that can be verified or in this case, debunked.

Now, it may very well be ISIS and other forces captured weapons from the Iraqi army as they advance. In fact, there's no doubt they did. But there's significant evidence that, first of all, these particular images are old. And so, therefore, not from this particular incident - and there's also some evidence that these kind of Blackhawk helicopters were not supplied to the Iraqi army.

STELTER: I really want to hone in on this issue of where our information about Iraq comes from, because as you said, there aren't a lot of reporters there. It's very dangerous to be working in Iraq. In fact, a well-known freelance photographer was killed in the fighting in Iraq this week. So when we see images and we see videos, where are they coming from?

CLINCH: Well, there are a number of sources where images can come from. Of course, these activists or extremists put out their own videos. Of course, our motto at Storyful is "always trust but verify." In fact, I go further than that: "DON'T trust, and verify everything," because no matter where the content comes from, whether it's the Iraqi government which is putting out videos of air strikes, whether it's these extremists that post videos and circulate images, we've already seen that some of those can be debunked or whether it's the U.S. military or anybody else or local free-lancers, all of that content worth looking at and in some cases, can play an important part in telling the story.

STELTER: Tell me what it takes then to verify or to debunk these images?

CLINCH: Well, that's the important thing. If you look at these images and you make absolutely sure that you look at every aspect of it. Not just technically looking at whether the video is old or images are old or whether there's anything in the video itself that may have been manipulated, but does it correspondent to other information that you have.

There are ways in which you can confirm certain things, like geography, weather, whether there's other corroborating evidence.

STELTER: So, geography, for example, does that mean you're looking at Google Maps and try to cross reference images you see from satellites or from the ground?

CLINCH: Right. Absolutely every piece of evidence and every piece of available technology can be applied, as well as, of course, journalism and experience. There's an inherent knowledge within our team at Storyful where somebody can see that an image is circulating of a helicopter being shot down in Ukraine and immediately we're able to say, well, that helicopter was shot down and it's Syria last year and here's the video and we can show the two images next to each other.

So, technology, plus journalism, plus expertise and an institutional knowledge.

STELTER: And I saw the Pentagon this week even came out and warned about this, about this propaganda war. They said that they were seeing images copied, pasted and photoshopped from the militants.

CLINCH: Right. Absolutely. This is not a trivial issue. You really do need to dive in to these things and make sure that they're real if you're going to use them to tell the story.

STELTER: David Clinch, thanks for joining me.

CLINCH: Absolutely, Brian. Thank you.


Filed under: Iraq • Media • Reliable Sources
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