Friday, May 16, 2003

The Austrian magazine Format has published an exclusive interview with Salam Pax (full text unavailable; link to Google-translated intro), courtesy of his ex-roomate in Vienna, a journalist by the name of Stefan Kaltenbrunner. (I've been emailing with Kaltenbrunner and he confirms that he is indeed this man.)

Kaltenbrunner sent me the full German text of the interview, but I'm not really at liberty to quote the entire thing. However, excepts have already been appearing on English and German blogs, including Buzz Machine by Jeff Jarvis.

The gist: Salam will not be revealing himself anytime soon. Frankly, I don't blame him. He appears a bit of an introvert who lets loose only as his online alter ego.

For those determined to "out" Salam Pax, however, he left a good clue on his website recently -- or at least a clue that could lead a Baghdad correspondent for, say, The New York Times to figure out Salam's identity -- and then quickly covered his tracks by removing part of the post. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you should read Steve Hercher's PragueBlog more often.

Now about this Jayson Blair character writing for the newspaper in Canada (see post below). He writes:

[O]ne may discover a great deal about him from carefully reading his blog, and following obvious leads from there.

Salam is the scion of a senior figure from Iraq's Baathist nomenclature. He was brought up at least partly in Vienna, which is the OPEC headquarters; his father was therefore an oilman, and possibly a former head of Iraq's OPEC mission.
This statement leads the reader to believe that all this information can be gleaned from a careful reading of Salam's blog. Yet the writer provides no quotes to back up these statements. I myself have read Dear Raed from start to finish, and I never recall Salam saying he father is a Baathist. That certainly seems like something I would have remembered. I also do not recall Salam saying that he grew up in Vienna (although that may be the case). It does seem obvious that Salam comes from a wealthy family: he has a satellite dish and refers to his family home as "Hotel Salam." Only a shoddy pseudo-Marxist dogmatist would hold that against him.

Kaltenbrunner says he knows nothing about Salam growing up in Vienna; as Salam wrote on his blog, he lived with Salam for a few years when Salam was studying (I believe architecture) in Vienna. My understanding is that this was during Salam's adult life. During the run-up to war, Salam repeatedly refered to the "party members" patrolling the streets, without referering to any party member(s) patrolling the kitchen table.

He mentions his father in the interview, and the fact that's he'd hid the fact that he is Salam Pax from him and most of his family. Yet even if Salam's father is a Baathist, reporting that he's a "senior figure from Iraq's Baathist nomenclature" is really pushing it. It's also hardly something Salam himself should feel bad about, despite Warren's confounding comment that Salam "shows no guilt whatever at his own family membership in a Baathist regime."

The real question is why this mysterious figure has sparked such an hysterical reaction in some people. It's also a pretty sad statement about how opinion journalism really works: It doesn't matter whether you've done your homework or whether you have any ground to stand on, but if you can make a forceful point about the topic du jour, you'll be widely read. The writer has obviously succeeded in that regard.