Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Puzzling Story of Afghanistan's Mineral Wealth

I didn't write about James Risen's "news" in the NYT yesterday because it seemed that everyone in the blogosphere and maybe even a few MSMs were, and I didn't really have much more to say. If I did, it would have been something like
If you've ever taken the "Rocks for Jocks" course, you should be able to recognize that mountainous terrain means mineral deposits.
In any case, many of the critics found previous articles saying that Afghanistan had deposits of many minerals. (I might have added that Afghanistan's neighbors also have lots of minerals in their mountains, and they've all been subjected to the same plate-tectonic processes.)

The Soviet Union did some mineral surveys when they had closer relations to Afghanistan, since their geologists could recognize mountains and what they mean. Those surveys were duly published.

So I had to wonder why Risen and the Times thought this was news. It might have been something to do with fighting the ongoing war in Afghanistan, but Paul Wolfowitz was nowhere to be seen claiming that the mineral wealth would pay for the war. Was it possible that Times editors and Risen don't understand the function of Google?

Or, it seems, the blogosphere. Risen appears to be fairly ticked off that questions were raised about news value. I would have thought he would have discussed that in a soul-searching way with his editor, but he used Twitter instead, so he does know about some of those intertubes thingies.

The level of his anger underlines the question of why this story was published now. It could be bad judgement on Risen's and an editor's part, or it could be something nefarious in support of the war. My problem is that I can't come up with a plausible scenario for the nefarious possibility. It could be ego damage that a Serious Reporter for a Serious Newspaper was outed by bloggers, too.

Update: Steve Hynd has a theory. With reporting.

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