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Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before?

(AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
You know that feeling where you get the paper or turn on the news and think how it all sounds the same? Sort of a mix between "Groundhog Day" and "Network?"

I had a particularly kooky sense of déjà vu yesterday when I picked up the Washington Post and saw the following headline: "Weapons Given To Iraq Are Missing." The article opened:

The Pentagon has lost track of about 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, according to a new government report, raising fears that some of those weapons have fallen into the hands of insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.
That's a huge story, and it got right-side column play in the Washington Post, along with banner headline treatment in the Chicago Tribune. But it seemed … familiar to me. So I went online and realized that only did it feel similar to a story I'd read before, but it pretty much was a lot of the same article I'd read the previous Thursday, when I saw a piece in the Agence France Press entitled "Americans lose track of 190,000 weapons issued to Iraqi security forces." That article began:
The US government cannot account for 190,000 weapons issued to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, according to an investigation carried out by the Government Accountability Office.
Extremely similar in the lead, but four days apart. A closer look at the articles did show two things:
  • This source material of all this information was a report released last Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office.

  • The Washington Post's piece was more thorough, actually going through the records and finding out that the person in charge of overseeing this program during the time in question was none other than, according to the piece, "Gen. David H. Petraeus, who now commands all U.S. forces in Iraq."

    But still I was curious about the lag time. So I got in touch with Glenn Kessler at the Post, who wrote yesterday's piece. I asked him about the front-page treatment given to a story that was reported in the AFP days earlier. Kessler was extremely open to discussing things, both on the phone and via e-mail. He explained that he did a search of news coverage surrounding the GAO report before he began writing his piece – coming up with only one AP article that didn't highlight the 190,000 missing weapons. He also added via e-mail: "In the course of my reporting, I discovered the Petreaus angle, which from the Post's perspective made it even more significant. I finished writing the story last week, but it was held a few days because of the crush of congressional news."

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