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Pentagon to probe reuse of anonymous quote

Investigation to determine quote's accuracy, evaluate procedure

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon will investigate the use of a quote from an anonymous Iraqi that was issued almost unaltered in a second news release referring to a separate incident, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The investigation will attempt to determine whether the quote was accurate in the first place and whether the military needs to change its procedures and take disciplinary action, said Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita.

"I think the quote may have been modestly modified, but the basic point is accurate that they have appeared to use the second quote in another statement," Di Rita said.

The two releases, which refer to separate instances 11 days apart, each contain a 40-word quote attributed to an unidentified Iraqi. The quotes differ by only one word.

Task Force Baghdad with the 3rd Infantry Division issued both releases.

"First of all, the use of anonymous quotes in [Department of Defense] statements is unacceptable," Di Rita said Tuesday. "It's completely unacceptable. It was done for reasons that I don't understand very well yet, but I intend on understanding better.

"It probably reflects a rush to get something out on an important activity that occurred that may have benefited from a little more rigor than it got as the statement was being developed.

"We are developing a better understanding of what exactly has happened, but if there is a need to tighten up our procedure, we certainly will."

Asked whether anyone has been disciplined, Di Rita said, "We're going to gather the facts first and then determine what the actions are."

Asked whether the original quote was even accurate, he said, "I don't know that. It's one of the obvious questions we're trying to understand."

After the news media contacted military officials Sunday about the two statements, the military reissued the latter release without the quote.

"Task Force Baghdad Public Affairs regrets the confusion regarding two press releases issued in support of our operations July 24," the military said Monday in a written statement.

The statement added that there had been "a draft press release which, due to an administrative error, was mistakenly issued on behalf of the 3rd Infantry Division."

Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, a spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division, also told CNN on Sunday that there had been an "administrative error."

He did not explain why the quote was apparently changed to apply to the new incident.

Accuracy in journalism has been in the spotlight after a number of incidents in recent years, including Newsweek magazine's May retraction of a report alleging desecration of the Quran at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The magazine drew criticism from Bush administration officials over the report. (Full story)

In covering the war in Iraq, U.S. media outlets rely in part on information from military news releases and spokespersons.

Attention has also focused on journalists' use of anonymous sources after New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for her refusal to identify a confidential government source as part of a CIA leak investigation. (Full story)

The military's July 13 release referred to an incident in which children were attacked: "'The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure, the children and all of Iraq,' said one Iraqi man who preferred not to be identified. 'They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists.'"

The July 24 released referred to an attack in Iraqi security forces: "'The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure, the ISF and all of Iraq. They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists,' said one Iraqi man who preferred not to be identified."

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