Don’t Believe Everything You Read

by Joshua Foust on 11/3/2008 · 3 comments

“Don’t believe everything you read,” I caution in my latest column for the Columbia Journalism Review. That’s certainly true of an unnamed wannabe Afghan Tomb Raider, but it’s true in general. Yes, it is a trite point to make, but far too many people seem willing to jump out with conclusions based on bad sourcing—something I admittedly fall for sometimes, too.

So we are flooded with news but get no information. When all that’s on hand are official sources, and when those sources are notoriously unreliable, it’s hard to know what to believe. It doesn’t mean these things didn’t happen, just that we can’t be sure they happened the way the government describes it.

So when a “senior government official” proclaims twenty dead after a U.S. missile strike in the Federal Areas, it’s best to adopt a certain measure of skepticism.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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William Mosley November 4, 2008 at 12:48 am

While I usually do not agree with Ann Marlowe’s Afghan assessments; I will always defend her right to air them. Foust needs to display a bit of professionalism and should avoid blatant ad hominems like a “wannabe Afghan Tomb Raider.” Such childish prose says much more about Foust than Marlowe’s assessments or logic.

Josh: please grow up and show a little class; we all know that you love to attack and have a very high opinion of yourself, but you don’t have to play such immature games. All it does is once again prove that you will never hold water to truly interesting blogs like Abu Muqawama, Ghosts of Alexander, or the Long War. Please spare us of your demons that appear to have a hold over you!

kao_hsien_chih November 4, 2008 at 2:28 am

Mr. Mosley,

I have no connection to this site, but I’d been coming across this line of argument rather often lately and that’s been bugging me, so let me write something in response to your comment.

Free speech means Foust has the right to say anything he wants on his web site–unless it does actual harm. Free speech does not mean people who write things that others may, in their judgments, are occasionally silly, have their writings protected from criticism–in fact, the latter would be exactly opposite. I’m bothered when people when people invoke free speech rights to attack people’s rights.

If I don’t like a blog, I don’t read it. Perhaps you should do the same.

Joshua Foust November 4, 2008 at 5:36 am

Kao, I appreciate the defense, but Mosley is right that I do attack people when I think they’re being needlessly silly (whether it’s born of inflated self-importance or not I’ll allow others to decide). Ms. Marlowe’s latest column is truly offensive in every way—she writes off all of the problems we have by saying “Afghans are used to death,” so therefore we shouldn’t worry about a few civilian casualties here and there. I had suspected it for a while, but that sealed it for me in terms of finding her utterly calloused and willing to unapologetically exploit anything—including, through her own autobiographies, her failed romances and heroin addictions—to get published for no reason beyond self-aggrandizement.

I don’t really feel the need to apologize for finding that unpardonable.

As for the comparison… I don’t want to be Abu Muqawama (which is seriously hurting with Exum either reduced or absent), or Ghosts of Alexander (Christian does a great job with the academic angles) or Long War Journal (which sometimes strays too far into the press release reporting style I don’t care for). Those sites all have their built in audiences, and they should, and I feel no desire to compete for them. But it’s telling where we all get published: Roggio sometimes goes to the Weekly Standard, or just relies on his own site now that he’s built sufficient credibility to be considered a legit news source (which is a big deal, and very laudatory); Christian goes to the CT Lab, or his school’s publications; and I go (most often) to the Columbia Journalism Review.

This is because—at least in my view—of’s founding principle, which is to draw attention to issues and a region few care about and even fewer write about accurately. Because my day job involves doing original analytical work, I do mostly press criticism here— it avoids any conflict of interest issues, and lets me blow off steam from reading the tremendous amount of asininity still being written about Central Asia.

So yes—I criticize. I even ridicule. That’s usually what my readers here enjoy. They even call me out when I go over the line, which does happen sometimes. Nathan’s readers enjoy other things, and Michael’s do too. We share some. That’s okay, I don’t mind. And I have a different audience than GoA, AM, or LWJ. And that’s how it should be.

But I won’t back off in finding Ann Marlowe a simply reprehensible person for what she wrote.

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