Now seriously, where is Raed?  MAR 20 2003

When the topic of weblogs gets covered in the mainstream press, the question of trust often comes up. Inevitably, the comparison is to print and television media. Is the information you get from weblogs as trustworthy as, say, what you read in the NY Times or watch on CNN? Old media's quick answer is often "no".

But people gauge the trustworthiness of weblogs just like they do with newspapers, magazines, and television. Based on what's being said, how it's said, the accuracy of the information compared to other sources, the blogger's track record with similar information, and who else trusts that blogger, we can make pretty good decisions as to the general trustworthiness of a blogger and the specific trustworthiness of a particular post. And much of the time -- say, when Instapundit or Boing Boing are just linking to and excerpting stories from other online sources -- trusting a certain weblog isn't that much of an issue.

Trust becomes more important when eyewitness reporting is involved. Where is Raed? is the personal weblog of Baghdad resident Salam Pax**...or so he tells us. Other than what he tells us, we have no way of knowing if he's actually posting live from Baghdad or is running some elaborate hoax from the middle of Kansas (don't laugh, it's happened before). The site is hosted on blog*spot and is therefore practically anonymous.

Is Salam posting from Baghdad for real? I don't know, but if I had to guess, I'd say yes. There's a good way to find out for certain. Kevin (whom I'm pretty sure is real and blogging from Iraq), if you make it to Baghdad during the course of or after the war, look up Salam and tell us all about it, would you?

** Salam Pax is almost certainly a pen name. "Salam" (or more properly, "Salaam") and "Pax" mean "peace" in Arabic and Latin respectively.

There are 40 reader comments

jkottke58 20 200311:58AM

Due to problems with my web host, I wrote this early in the morning but didn't get it online until just now. Paul Boutin has done some digging in the meantime:

"Rather than guess, I emailed Salam and asked for proof of his location just before the first attack on Baghdad this morning. 'how can i do that?' he emailed back. 'you don't expect me to run out in the street and take a picture near something you'll recognize.'"

mathowie11 20 200312:11PM

It sounds like paul boutin just did a traceroute on the headers. I really wished he posted all email headers so someone more technically inclined could do some lookups on the originating IPs.

Another thing that kind of puts the brakes on more digging is that Google now has Pyra. What would have been a quick email to Ev, to call in a favor for a reporter now probably requires a search warrant from a judge.

Isabel Walcott31 20 200312:31PM

did you notice "dear raed" is a palindrome, reads the same backwards and forwards. He's obviously hiding his identity -- I would too if I lived in Iraq and posted to the net... the guy's life is probably in danger from the Iraqi authorities.

Freedom Stewart49 20 200312:49PM

The author is definitely someone who has spent a lot of time in Iraq. Whether or not he/she is still there is the hard part to verify.

Conspiracy Blogger51 20 200312:51PM

Back up a second... how do we know this "Kottke" character isn't some paid Iraqi shill, trying to discredit Raed?

After all, isn't it suspicious that "Jason Kottke" is an anagram for TASK KETONO-J? Doesn't that sound like a code name of some kind?

Even more interesting - when you search Google for "ketono-j", you don't get any results back!

THEY'VE GOT GOOGLE! TRUST NO ONE!

Chris Reid00 20 2003 1:00PM

Well I looked at the fellow's email address, raidjarrar@yahoo...so I looked up his yahoo profile, which says he's located in Jordan.

robert16 20 2003 1:16PM

He is close by nonetheless... perhaps he put Jordan as his location so he wouldn't be KILLED for talking without a minder!

By the way, off topic sort of -- regarding your war post Jason:
Tell me how you are so convinced there is no link between Al-Qaeda and Iraq. I am not convinced either way. There very well could be a link...

I have at least read more speculation proving the links than I have incontrovertible evidence that no link exists!
http://worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=31546

The guardian also picked up that story. I know... it's one story. But to be as convinced as you seem I don't understand.

thanks for your reasoned post.

tj hooker22 20 2003 1:22PM

Jordan or Iraq? Real or pen name? Which brings up the "so what?" question. I mean, what's more important about Raed? How "real" it is, or the fact that the reader is forced to imagine what it might be like to be a Raed, living in a city that is about to be bombed? In some respects, even if Raed were "unmasked" (a la Kaycee), the experience of reading the awful things Raed describes... that experience is real. There are things about the web that make it both real and unreal. Just like fiction, or history, or life.

justinmilo11 20 2003 2:11PM

isn't Raed who he is looking for? I didn't think that Raed was Shalom Pax.

John Dowdell37 20 2003 2:37PM

Would you act differently if you were sure the account was authentic? or if you were sure it was inauthentic? Suppose you could be assured of some-but-not-all of the observations posted?

Me, I'm still not sure about that grassy knoll stuff, much less how Vince Foster's shoes were dirtless after walking through the woods. But I know I don't have to take action on those events, so I can keep conditional beliefs and a certain degree of ambivalence. Are you trying to assess the words of "Raed" for some action you're considering, where "Raed said X" wouldn't suffice...?

John51 20 2003 3:51PM

"Salam Pax" also sounds a lot like Salonpas.

mathowie07 20 2003 4:07PM

Would you act differently if you were sure the account was authentic? or if you were sure it was inauthentic?

If I found out Wolf Blizter was actually filing reports from central Ohio, and the stuff behind him was a matte painting, I'd take what he was saying with a grain of salt.

Whether this site is fiction or not seems important to me, especially if he's going to be posting any sort of insider info you can't get elsewhere (and therefore, you can't check the authenticity of). Truth is a big part of journalism I don't feel like ignoring in this case.

guyATsofthomeDOTnet12 20 2003 4:12PM

According to this page not a single visit from a .iq domain; lots from the US gov and military though ;)

If you really wanted to know the truth; cross-reference this page with a posting and do a tracert on the ip address.

Brian15 20 2003 4:15PM

I thought the guy's name(or pen name) was salam, and the site mentioned he was looking for raed. maybe raed is something symbolic, like he is looking for peace, or democracy. who knows. Either way, if it is a hoax, which i doubt, then its well done, and lots of people are believing it.

jkottke23 20 2003 4:23PM

Are you trying to assess the words of "Raed" for some action you're considering, where "Raed said X" wouldn't suffice...?

No, but that's not the point. The only thing I really need to know to function properly over the next 4 hours is how cold it is outside because I need to know which coat to wear when I go to the grocery store in 15 minutes. However, in my effort to keep informed about current events and the world around me (for a variety of good reasons), it's nice to know if the information I'm hearing is true or not.

anatsuno24 20 2003 4:24PM

William Gison just posted this backgrounder on Salaam Pax, which I found interesting.
You probably have that link already, but..

link.

mathowie32 20 2003 4:32PM

If you really wanted to know the truth; cross-reference this page with a posting and do a tracert on the ip address.

He said somewhere on his site before that he can't actually see blogspot, that it is blocked inside Iraq, so he just edits his blog through blogger and hopes for the best.

It seems like it'd be pretty easy for the author to prove if he was really in baghdad or not, without giving away his identity or incurring the wrath of the government.

Joe Szilagyi18 20 2003 5:18PM

Unless I'm missing something, could someone please elaborate for me where on Raed's site they are finding an IP address to cross-reference against?

amanda34 20 2003 5:34PM

Whether this site is fiction or not seems important to me...

I agree. I'm not interested in a fictional account of things which are happening right now. And, I'd go so far as to say if this blog is fiction (I don't think it is but that's just a hunch) that this person is doing a real disservice to people who *are* living there right now trying to cope and survive.

John Dowdell49 20 2003 5:49PM

Matt wrote:
>> Would you act differently if you were sure the account
>> was authentic? or if you were sure it was inauthentic?
>
> If I found out Wolf Blizter was actually filing reports from
> central Ohio, and the stuff behind him was a matte painting,
> I'd take what he was saying with a grain of salt.

psst, a grain of salt may be useful in any event, greenscreen or no.... ;-)


Jason wrote:
> in my effort to keep informed about current events and
> the world around me, it's nice to know if the information
> I'm hearing is true or not.

Some will be true. Some will be false. Most will fall in-between, whether incomplete or slanted or presented in a way to evoke a particular emotional response. (I'm frustratingly pat here, I know.... ;-)

Seriously, it sounds like you're looking for a "true" or "false" category to put this particular writer into, instead of wondering how truthful or useful a particular piece of his writing is...?

Hmm, from Amanda's note, maybe you're wondering whether you should emotionally invest in the account of "Raed", rather than relying on this person's info to inform your own actions. Is this it? Are you trying to figure out if you should care...?

jkottke27 20 2003 6:27PM

Seriously, it sounds like you're looking for a "true" or "false" category to put this particular writer into, instead of wondering how truthful or useful a particular piece of his writing is...?

Come on John, you've read my site long enough to know I'm not a black and white kind of guy (at least I hope that comes through in my writing).

And this person's identity is important when trying to gauge how truthful or useful a particular post of his is, depending on what he's talking about. If it's an opinion piece about the impact of the war on Iraqi society, who he is isn't so important. But, if he's reporting that American soliders are raping and killing civilians outside his window and that information is contrary to what the media is reporting, verifying (to the best of our ability) his whereabouts and identity becomes important.

Put it this way...I can enjoy the works of Shakespeare not knowing if he was a Stratford playwright or an Oxford professor, but if I'm seeking medical advice, I need to know the level of expertise of the person I'm talking to. Different kinds of information for different purposes require different levels of trust.

neurotech21 20 2003 7:21PM

salampax@nme.com

Look at http://www.nme.com

Registrant:

IPC Magazines LTD
King's Reach Tower
Stamford Street
London SE1 9LS
Gb

Why do you think Ev should have handed out IP addresses
of his guests (even nonpaying ones) as a party favor to
aspiring journalists in the pre-Google days?

John Dowdell41 20 2003 7:41PM

"...if he's reporting that American soliders are raping and killing civilians outside his window and that information is contrary to what the media is reporting, verifying (to the best of our ability) his whereabouts and identity becomes important."

Understood, thanks. (I've been seeing this discussion pop up everywhere since the MSNBC link -- I hadn't realized how hot it was today.) If one source *does* offer unusual reporting, then checking their track record becomes more important, understood.

"Different kinds of information for different purposes require different levels of trust."

Right on! We can listen to anyone, but that doesn't mean we take each of them at face value.

Jason Wall45 20 2003 7:45PM

I may be speaking somewhat out of ignorance, but even if you could trace his IP, that doesn't not necessarily guarantee you a definitive location, because a users IP address may not be registered in the same geographic location that his computer is located in. It all depends very much on who is providing his access and where the company is located and how they have set up their physical network.

From personal experience, it is often the case that one company may provide access to several countries in surrounding locations, especially when dealing with third world entities.

The principle holds true when trying to identify the US State an IP comes from, as some log analysis packages try to do. In my case, though I post and surf from Saint Louis, my IP will trace to Reading, Virginia.

Anyway, all that to say that if someone is going to verify the identity of Salam, then its going to have to be done by an analysis of his content. Has he posted information that only someone in Baghdad would know, and can that be verified? As I see it, that is the only way to verify his location. Pursuing technical solutions simply isn't practical on a network built around a stateless protocol.

Rambling on, I might note that his descriptions of the satellite photo he recently posted might provide some clues to the veracity of his claim.

I might also note that I think the issue of his honesty is important, and that I agree with Jason K., in that whatever information he provides might play significantly in the way someone who reads him will form his beliefs and such concerning the conflict in that region. Erroneous data would serve only to potentially put me in a significantly dangerous position ideologically.

And for my last note... *grin* Concerning Jason K's war post, which he probably purposely didn't allow comments on but whose purpose I'm going to politely ignore because I feel like having my say anyway, I would agree on some things like the way both parties have communicated and how biased in a bad way the media is intrinsically. But a point that I think is often overlooked is that even if Bush did have hard evidence, it is possible that revealing such evidence would put our national security in distinct danger. I would remind you that most governments have intelligence capabilities that most citizens are unaware of, and even in the event citizens are away of such capabilities, they have no idea to what extent those capabilities have been successful.


The truth is, we just don't know. And that sucks. But I say all that to make this point, you should give Bush the benefit of the doubt for now. Until evidence surfaces to disprove him, he is in a better position to tell us if there is a danger than those peace protestors who march against all war for almost every reason. (and I acknowledge that not all protestors for this war do so for such reasons or in such ignorance)

Wow... how I do seem to wax verbose today...

[ References for IP tracking: Measuring Web Site Usage: Log File Analysis]

Vaughan37 20 2003 8:37PM

Some of us can't even access Dear Raed because of the dreaded underscore in the URL. Not that I'm going to ask him to change it, obviously - I mean, if the guy really is in Baghdad, I'm sure he's got other things on his mind than reformatting his web address.

Freedom Stewart58 20 2003 8:58PM

NME gives out free email address, neurotech.

Tim Swan49 20 2003 9:49PM

Lots of amateur detectives here. Read his posts and you'll see that he's not just trying to give the typical black and white, hawk vs. dove, position. He's actually describing a life. It sure sounds real to me -- confused and ambivalent, but there.

neurotech24 20 200310:24PM

Freedom Stewart: I am fully aware of that, thanks for your response. I just wanted to point out, that

1) the blogger offers a Web based email address for communication. Ask, if you are curious - but please don't post the chain of IP addresses even if you ask with the goal of tricking the blogger and don't be surprised if you won't get a response.

2) comment boxes are also offered on the site.

3) email@NME.com reflects a different bias than email@yahoo.com

I found it really appalling that someone actually suggested that the IP address of the blogger should be obtained from the blog host - or rather that it should have been obtained from the blog host before Google bought the hosting machine and software along with the company. Why? Would not that be unethical to distribute the IP addresses to just anyone who asks for it?

The assumption is even more appalling, that if Google has the power over the IP address, it cannot be obtained, if a small company has it, it's OK to ask for it, and it's OK to expect that the host/CEO would just give it away. Especially in this case, when this may put the guest/blogger into _mortal danger_ literally.

As for the blog: it's rather hard to fake that level of detail.

On the other hand, the MSNBC blurb about that blog is rather funny - it almost suggests in that technical aside that the blog was not accessible, as the troops were approaching Iraq. Poor Google.

(Technical note: reaching this blog has been hit and miss this afternoon as U.S. troops move toward war on Iraq.)

mathowie51 20 200310:51PM

I found it really appalling that someone actually suggested that the IP address of the blogger should be obtained from the blog host

If Paul Boutin really wanted to prove that raed/salam existed in iraq, he could ask Ev and match the guy's posting IP to the email IP, if the same person was both writing the email and posting to the blog. It's up to Ev whether or not to reveal something like that to the reporter, and there are certainly ethical issues around doing it, but if Boutin really wanted to prove it, that's one way of doing it. It's just a suggestion.

I still think the blog's author could prove he's in baghdad without sacraficing his safety. Heck, just take a photo of your arm holding today's newspaper with a view of a Baghdad landmark in the background. It doesn't sound like an impossible thing to do.

The only thing Paul Boutin got was a failed traceroute, which doesn't prove anything. dear_raed is a great blog, but I'm not going to believe it's actually being written by someone in Iraq until there is better evidence. No big deal, as long as the author isn't claiming to be posting breaking news.

Paul Boutin00 20 200311:00PM

Having evidence and publishing it are two different things, mathowie. You seem to prefer talking more than knowing what you're talking about. I have the opposite preference. Carry on.

mathowie11 20 200311:11PM

Having evidence and publishing it are two different things, mathowie. You seem to prefer talking more than knowing what you're talking about.

Huh? As an outsider looking at the evidence that was published, I don't see anything that proves he's in baghdad. If you've got evidence you're not publishing, great, but don't expect me as a reader to believe it on blind faith.

Tom18 20 200311:18PM

ouch.

In defense of matt's ip comment, he only said it could be obtained, not should be. A small but inportant distinction. And seeing as how Matt was probably just commenting on the situation from his own point of view, and being an associate if not friend of Evan's, it would be only natural for him to think of asking him for some help. Cut him some slack.

As for Paul's comment, I think he may be taking Matt's comment a little too personally?

Anil21 20 200311:21PM

Paul, I'm surprised you'd take the questions of veracity so personally. Nobody's doubting your credibility, but the credibility of the information that you've gotten. At least the subset that you've revealed.

The question then becomes, what's a reasonable test of veracity that could safely be asked of Salaam? Especially given that it's not his highest priority right now to prove his identity, if he is in Iraq, it would have to be something simple and non-incriminating. Assuming access to a digital camera or a scanner or a daily paper might be asking too much, what's a way to prove who he is?

mathowie25 20 200311:25PM

I should also add that the IPs probably don't mean anything and I put too much emphasis on it (but then, it was used as a piece of evidence). If the author of the blog was really concerned about their life and their safety, they're probably using a public proxy to cloak their location anyway.

Paul, if it matters, I'm also of thinking that the blog posts "probably" come out of baghdad, but I haven't seen any real evidence to prove one way or the other if it's really true.

neurotech37 20 200311:37PM

In my opinion that blogger does not have to prove anything
But what if proof from today's Baghdad is provided today or tomorrow?
Is the blogosphere going to assume then that the blogger
is a close relative/propaganda machine for Saddam and new proof will be needed? Where will it end? Why can't we just be thankful for this unique opportunity and wish the writer(s) well - which is ironic itself, given the circumstances.

mathowie05 21 200312:05AM

In my opinion that blogger does not have to prove anything

Nope, they do not.

But what if proof from today's Baghdad is provided today or tomorrow?

Then the blog is 100% authentic and the author is the only independent voice (read: not employed by any major media outlet) I know of reporting from Baghdad and that's something very special. That's a unique perspective that the whole world should be interested in hearing. The author could be this war's Wolf Blitzer for all I know.

Adam36 21 2003 1:36AM

The real question could be, is it really important where Raed is at? Because even the most factual of information is really just a part of a larger set of ideals that one lives by. One influences the other, even if only discreetly.

ess15 21 2003 5:15AM

Adam, you are just wrong. Period. The whole point of ideals is to have values that are better than the facts of your life warrant.

As a female, I' ve been told plenty of things that were "authentic" at the moment, but unlike to be true in a meaningful historical way. This phenomenon of saying half and barely true things, in detail and earnest, arguing why your story is special and unique and meaningful and worthy of attention is a cheap and common trick and the reason we have an old pop song called "Will you still love me tomorrow?"

If you ask someone to trust and respect your views and reports, you owe them honesty and respect. Simple part of the social contract.

"As for the blog: it's rather hard to fake that level of detail. " Neurotech, are you kidding?

I've met Kottke - or at least the one who calls himself Jason. But all I really know is that he has a darn good blog (except for occasional long post from people like me), and has for years and years. I've learned, for instance, that every time he mentions a book, that book will make a great gift for my dad. Over time, Kottke has built up tremendous credibility on certain issues.

The trouble with blogs v journalism is, blogs aren't accountable. In most countries, mainstream publications are either accountable to the state or to law. Bloggers are sort of like gossips who don't have to worry about whether or not they'll be invited to the next barbecue. Some enjoy having a place to reason out their views, and comment and reflect on whatever. Others just like the idea of running they mouth. And god knows, many former Trolls became bloggers for all of those awful reasons.

temuet30 21 2003 8:30AM

Al Barger of Culpepper Log questioned Salam's credibility a while ago. No definite answers, but you might find some "clues" in the exchanges between him and Salam, whose reply to the accusation is particularly interesting.

Note that Salam Pax =/= Raed; Raed is Salam's friend in or from Jordan.

Paul Boutin32 21 2003 9:32AM

Matt, I'm sorry I'm touchy, but it wasn't your credulity I was taking issue with. It was your presumption that I would, could, or should ask Evan to breach his ethics and cross his customers. Not very flattering to read in this company. Evan and I actually talked about what would be an ethical way to verify Salam. Salam turns out to be all for being verified, but that's beside the point.

And yes, of course IP addresses prove nothing - he could be dialed into Uruklink from anywhere. But I did promise I wouldn't post confidential info that might locate him, and in the case of email headers it feels risky to do so, or to talk about why. As with the time I posted Poindexter's home phone number off Yahoo People Finder, it could spur people to act against him who otherwise wouldn't have thought to do it.


This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

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