Of all the breaking news updates on the battle for control of Libya--and there have been many in recent days--perhaps the most unsatisfying was an Associated Press tweet on Tuesday that read, "BREAKING: Spokesman says Libyan rebels have a 'good idea' where Moammar Gadhafi is and will catch him." Had you proceeded to the accompanying article, you would have learned that the rebel official, Ali Tarhouni, did not elaborate on Qaddafi's whereabouts, though he did say, "We don't have any doubt that we will catch him." Well, that's comforting.
Throughout the Libyan uprising, the Qaddafi regime has repeatedly come under fire for its blatant propaganda, while the rebels have been accused of less egregious behavior like exaggerating their military might and failing to provide proof of alleged acts of brutality by the regime. In recent days, however, as the rebels strive to root out the last remnants of the Qaddafi regime, the opposition has demonstrated a concerning habit of feeding update-hungry foreign journalists false, misleading, or unsubstantiated information that often appears designed to advance the rebel cause.
As opposition fighters stormed the capital last week, for example, rebel officials told reporters that Qaddafi's sons Mohammed, Saif al-Islam, and Saadi had been arrested, prompting the international media--including the Wire--to run with the news, which seemed to spell the regime's impending collapse. Soon, however, Saif al-Islam appeared as a free man in Tripoli, Mohammed escaped to Algeria, and Saadi spoke with CNN and Al-Arabiya, indicating that he's not in rebel hands. While it's still unclear which sons escaped from custody and which were never arrested in the first place, the AP suggests that rebel leaders deliberately refrained from announcing that reports of Saif al-Islam's arrest were unconfirmed in order to "ease Qaddafi loyalists' grip on power," helping persuade 30 officers guarding Qaddafi's Tripoli compound to lay down their arms before the Libyan leader's son surfaced in public.