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Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at

Read: Q & As

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003. It's about the transformation of the journalism world by the Web.

Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

Half hour video interview with Robert Mills of the American Microphone series. On blogging, journalism, NewAssignment.Net and distributed reporting.

Jay Rosen explains the Web's "ethic of the link" in this four-minute YouTube clip.

"The Web is people." Jay Rosen speaking on the origins of the World Wide Web. (2:38)

One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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October 31, 2005

Guest Writer Ron Brynaert: Does the New York Times Have a Learning Disability?

"Why-the-heck-is-it that after six years, at least four major controversies, and two we’re-gonna-fix-it committees--each coughing up its lessons--the editors of The New York Times haven’t seemed to learn a blasted thing?"

Jay Rosen: “Take this guy, Ron Brynaert,” I wrote on June 5, “a tenacious (lefty, stand alone) investigator with an instinct for where information and proof and the jugular are. He’s a natural: Why isn’t he on someone’s I-team?”

Brynaert is a new type: the investigative blogger with clear political convictions who is scrupulous about getting things right, doing his homework, and finding what is hard to find. I liked his stuff, so I asked him to guest post for PressThink while I am taking a break to finish my book. He’s working semi-regularly for Raw Story these days. A fuller bio appears at the back end.

“There are articles we should have assigned but did not.”

If only we had heard something like that from the editors of The New York Times. After all, the controversy surrounding Judith Miller and her employers revolves mostly around what wasn’t published as opposed to what was.

But wait. We did hear that from the editors of The New York Times. But not in June or July of 2003. Nor in July of 2005. And especially not since September 29, 2005, when Judith Miller, after 85 days, finally emerged from a federal detention center, jailed for refusing to give up her source (or sources) for a story she never wrote.

The quote, “articles we should have assigned but did not,” dates back to September 26, 2000. It’s from an editor’s note called The Times and Wen Ho Lee, which – four years later - Jay Rosen would call the day the “modern era in transparency at the New York Times began.”

The editors explained:

In this extraordinary case, the outcome of the prosecution and the accusations leveled at this newspaper may have left many readers with questions about our coverage. That confusion — and the stakes involved, a man’s liberty and reputation — convince us that a public accounting is warranted.

Six years ago—weirdly, they didn’t call it a retraction or a correction, but an “assessment of the coverage”—the editors described five articles that they “should have assigned but did not.” This time all we really got was a reference to a July of 2005 “article about the role of Mr. Cheney’s senior aides, including Mr. Libby, in the leak case,” assigned but never published. Richard W. Stevenson, one of the disappointed reporters, was informed that it “did not break enough new ground.” But how are we to know if we never got to read it? Stevenson, a Times reporter, has a theory:

“It was taken pretty clearly among us as a signal that we were cutting too close to the bone, that we were getting into an area that could complicate Judy’s situation,” he said.

What do the people at The New York Times think of their readers? According to a column written just a few weeks ago by Public Editor Byron Calame, almost overwhelmingly, the Times News Staff believes that we’re primarily “curious.” That’s an image of us that makes sense to them: “Times readers: curious about the world.”

Well, many of us are closer to being obsessed with it. But if there’s one thing that we are curious about it’s why-the-heck-is-it that after six years, at least four major controversies, and two we’re-gonna-fix-it committees—each coughing up its lessons—the editors of The New York Times haven’t seemed to learn a blasted thing?

It’s as if there were no lessons. What’s even stranger is that the New York Times wrote the lessons down and published them in various places, and even made new policies out of them, which got press, or at least trade press… and then seemingly the Times forgot them. There’s a word for that; it’s… curious.

Could be a learning disability or something. Rosen in PressThink showed how similar the breakdowns were in the Wen Ho Lee case (2000), and the Weapons of Mass Destruction (2002-3) story:

Controversial cases involving national security. Times relies heavily on confidential sources in the government (with an agenda, like most sources.) “Star” reporters (Jeff Gerth, Judy Miller) involved. Appearing frequently but not always on page A1, the Times reporting goes further than the reporting of others because of what its sources, unnamed but highly placed, have said.

Over time, critics of the coverage start mounting a factual case and raise arguments against the body of work. The Times barely replies…

There’s the Times getting too close to government sources and trusting too much in the “inside” dirt. After Wen Ho Lee, the next key date in the “modern era in transparency at the New York Times” was May 11, 2003 when The Times chronicled in its pages the agonizingly “long trail of deception” left by the now-notorious Jayson Blair.

“It’s a huge black eye,” said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Company and publisher of the newspaper, whose family has owned a controlling interest in The Times for 107 years. “It’s an abrogation of the trust between the newspaper and its readers.”

But Mr. Sulzberger emphasized that as The New York Times continues to examine how its employees and readers were betrayed, there will be no newsroom search for scapegoats. “The person who did this is Jayson Blair,” he said. “Let’s not begin to demonize our executives, either the desk editors or the executive editor or, dare I say, the publisher.”

Actually, the scapegoat hunt proved to be more fruitful than the search for Saddam Hussein’s WMD since, shortly after, executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald M. Boyd followed Blair out the door (or off the plank). But Raines and Boyd deserved it because the problems didn’t just suddenly appear out of nowhere. Some critics blamed a bleeding heart need for diversity for the numerous breaks Blair received after his prior mishaps (Raines dared to say so, himself), but the real reason for the long leash probably had more to do with arrogance. Faulty or not, Jayson Blair was an official Timesman and rather than admit mistakes in hiring him (Blair had been labeled a plagiarist even before his Times tenure) it was easier to let him remain on staff.

Mostly due to Blair and partly because of a smaller imbroglio involving best-selling author/well-respected reporter Rick Bragg and his reliance on uncredited stringers (which led to his resignation, as well), The Times assigned Allan M. Siegal the awesome task of taking care of what looked at-the-time like an indelible shiner. But on July 28, 2003—not long after Bill Keller took charge as the executive editor—the Siegal Committee released a 58-page report which was more than a beefsteak but less than what most critics hoped it would be.

Some things changed at The Times. Even the toughest critics would have to agree. The two major recommendations were two new jobs, a public editor and a standards editor, and while none of the new hires (Daniel Okrent and Al Siegal, respectively…and three if you count Okrent’s replacement, Byron Calame) has proven to be a miracle worker, they have helped with transparency: clearer standards were supposed to help the paper stay out of trouble, and readers got a public editor who can get them answers.

The Siegal Committee also proposed that both new editors make smart use of Web forums. While the public editor has embraced the Internet (more true of Calame than Okrent) with a semi-regular blog that sometimes pulls comments in from readers, the standards editor has been MIA (though not necessarily by choice). An anonymous forum— overseen by the standards editor—where Times staffers could air inner-paper complaints was a good idea that was never implemented.

(Allow me to interject: how did Al Siegal manage to escape the wrath of staff for the damage done by Hurricane Judy? In a late August interview, Siegal explained to Calame: “I’m supposed to be the recipient of any complaints and misgivings by the staff about how we’re doing and what we’re doing, the person who adjudicates differences of opinion about how we should go about reporting and editing stories.” That was shortly after telling Salon, “If any member of the staff dissatisfied about our internal communication approached me, I would try to get some answers, within the limits of our necessary protection of sources, of course. But no staff member has expressed that frustration to me.” If none of the very unhappy Times campers complained to the standards editor about how the paper was handling the Miller case, then, sorry, the system isn’t working. In any case, Siegal has to retire next year, and his replacement will be Craig Whitney.)

Keller certainly seemed pleased with the Siegal report:

Without their work, I would be starting my tenure as executive editor looking back, doing damage assessment. Thanks to them, I start my job with a plan of action that will help secure our integrity and credibility, and make us a better-run news organization.

But “looking back” and “doing damage assessment” are exactly what he should have done. It didn’t happen. This resulted in what many of Jay’s left-leaning readers and critics view as the Times’ greatest crime: the belated and half-assed “apology” for “not as rigorous as it should have been” coverage of the prelude to war with Iraq.

Though not specifically named in the May 26, 2004, Page A10 article, Judith Miller and her reliance on “good-faith” sources were the key ingredients responsible for the slop.

And that wasn’t a newsflash to those of us who sometimes faulted the Times more than we did the Bush Administration: the ones who spoke the lies that Judith Miller transcribed. We were on to her before “shock-and-awe” entered the lexicon.

(Perhaps some strong-stomached blogger can someday take the time to pore through all of the ‘Letters to the Editors’ sections of The Times for the year 2003 and try to find if there was ever even one published complaint about Judith Miller’s stenography. I certainly wrote my share of unpublished and unanswered ‘Complaints to the Editors.’ I’m sure some of you did, too.)

And then came June of 2003, and there’s no need to get into that since most of us have the “entangling” dates memorized. Remember that brave admission from 2000?

“There are articles we should have assigned but did not.”

Even if Judith Miller didn’t end up writing a story about “the possibility that the White House was unfairly attacking a critic of the administration,” and whether or not she advised Jill Abramson to find someone else to pursue it, does it really matter?

Judith Miller wasn’t the only capable reporter at the New York Times. While it may be odd that a story wasn’t assigned to anyone after Robert Novak’s July 14 column exploded on arrival, it’s an absolute sin that no one followed up the July 17, 2003 Time magazine Web Exclusive, “A War on Wilson?” which Matthew Cooper helped write (and it’s not just The Times that slept on that one).

It doesn’t matter who’s being more truthful: Judy or Jill. Jill Abramson simply wasn’t doing her job if she didn’t see a story in the Cooper piece.

A few days ago, when Rosen threw me this assignment, he mentioned a few questions that I should explore:

Why should a news organization have to go through some of this again? Is this a learning organization, as in learning from mistakes?

One thing’s for sure: they do use that word.

On May 2, 2005, another committee headed by Siegal released a report called “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust,” and in one of the first paragraphs there appears the question: “What have we learned?”

And Keller writes Calame in an e-mail for use in his October 23 column:

If you decide to post our exchanges on the Website, perhaps this will help readers understand that we hope to learn from this experience.

We’re more than curious why these recommendations—which might have helped considerably during the disaster with Judy Miller—didn’t take. Here’s what the Times had earlier said to itself:

  • “The Standards Editor should consider running an online forum where anonymous concerns of substance could be submitted [by Times staff.] A continuing electronic Q & A could explain why things work the way they do.” (Siegal Report, p. 46)
  • “The Standards Editor and the Public Editor would collaborate actively and continually to make sure that outside complaints, when valid, translated swiftly into action by the newsroom.” (Siegal Report, p. 18)
  • “The executive editor and the two managing editors should share responsibility for writing a column that deals broadly with matters about the newspaper. The column should appear regularly in a fixed spot, ideally every other week and perhaps on Page 2 of the Week in Review or alternating with the Public Editor in his space.” (Preserving Our Readers’ Trust, p. 3)
  • “The newsroom should establish a coherent, flexible system for evaluating public attacks on our work and determining whether they require a public response, and in what form. That system should rely centrally on department heads, in conjunction with a designated masthead editor.” (Preserving Our Readers’ Trust, p. 3)
  • “Create a procedure for systematically watching the cumulative impact of continuing stories that risk conveying an impression of one-sidedness.” (Preserving Our Readers’ Trust, p. 12)

Or “watching the cumulative impact of not doing stories.” Point is: these recommendations were about speaking with us, the readers, when there’s big doubt out there about Times reporting, engaging with critics when there’s a newsworthy controversy, joining the debate and telling the Times side of the story when necessary, but also reflecting on published work, looking for patterns that might cause mistrust, opening up the lines of communication internally, peer-to-peer and troops-to-generals. This is what the Times counseled itself to do.

Was anyone listening?

Instead of speaking elliptically through insulting soundbites (or leaked e-mails to the staff), the executive and managing editors could have taken their case directly to the public from inside the newspaper itself. Next time around, The New York Times can’t afford to ignore for so long such a massive outcry, from not only bloggers but also their direct MSM competitors, even if fear of legalities are holding them back. And even if all the pundits march in lockstep with the reporters and the editorial page, The Times must make certain that opposing views are represented somewhere in the paper.

Or better yet. Perhaps if the New York Times won’t learn from itself it’s about time the place learned from us. And by “us,” I mean all of us: right-leaning, left-leaning, no-leaning, Times loyalist, Times doubter, Times cynic.

Honestly, I believe the best answer is to show them how it should be done; here and there, the blogosphere is already doing that. We can’t ever hope to replace the not-as-mighty institution, but maybe we can help motivate it.

And screaming, “Bias,” over and over again is certainly not going to accomplish much of anything. That’s the part of the lesson that many of us need to learn.

They learn, we learn, and then maybe we’ll all get to where we need to go – wherever that might be. All I know for sure is that that place ain’t here, with “articles we should have assigned” but did not because we the Times foolishly backed the cause of a reporter who was not adhering to our own standards.

Who’s going to bring me all those articles?

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Ron Brynaert on Ron Brynaert:

Born in Queens in 1968; grew up in Newburgh, New York; majored in Literature, minored in History at Syracuse University from 1986-1990. Worked primarily as a video store manager in New York City, as I pursued fiction writing on the side. I started my blog, initially, to promote a play I wrote - “The Rules of Embedment or Why Are We Back In Iraq?” - which had a few successful readings but was never staged. After the RNC protests I realized that I had a knack for investigative blogging - as opposed to just opinionated - when I broke a story about Bush’s connections to Project P.U.L.L. cofounder Ernie Ladd. Since July I’ve been part of the Raw Story staff as a researcher and occasional feature writer.

On Friday, Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. spoke to the Online News Association, defending Judith Miller’s decision to go to prison to fight the subpoena. While he offered regrets regarding the paper’s delay in owning up to the many mistakes made in its pre-war WMD coverage (“It was an institutional failure,” he said. “We didn’t own up to it quickly enough.”), Sulzberger soft-pedaled the public/press perception of Judy Miller’s Times:

When asked by a member of the audience whether he thought the Times’ credibility had been hurt by what the questioner termed its failure to fire Miller, he responded, “No, I don’t.”

He added, however, “There’s no question there has been an effect on the way people are viewing us because of this Judy Miller situation and because of the aftereffects of the testimony.”

“We are certainly trying to own up to that,” he said. “The story is not over.”

Asked after the speech whether he was referring to ongoing developments in Washington or the status of Miller’s relationship with the Times, he said he left that deliberately ambiguous and preferred not to be more specific.

In his speech, Sulzberger provided “seven points for modern journalists to follow,” three of which pertain to the relationship between the mainstream media and the online community. While he stressed the importance of doing a “better job of embracing the new virtual communities,” the MSM honcho couldn’t stop himself from taking another swipe at them:

The necessity of ensuring that strong ethical values are adopted across the media. It is important to remember that while we still have access to almost everything at our fingertips, we must be cautious and remember that not all writers online take journalistic protocols seriously.

A strange thing to say - at this particular moment - since it’s becoming evident that not all traditional reporters are taking “journalistic protocols seriously,” either. Publisher, heal thyself, first.

Rem Reider, editor and vice president of American Journalism Review, wrote a column, “After Judy,” which addresses the “learning disability” that appears to have stricken the Times:

Not long ago a journalism savant I respect a great deal made a very interesting point. He said he thought that USA Today had absorbed the painful lessons of the Jack Kelley scandal and implemented necessary changes. He wasn’t sure the Times had been as successful in learning from its mistakes.

Along with addressing “breakdowns in the editing process” as a perpetual mistake, Reider also hopes that the Times will learn to “level with its readers, consistently.”

Posted by Ron Brynaert at October 31, 2005 1:00 AM   Print


I look forward to reading your posts. A wonderful idea not to leave such a reliable site blocked. I stopped by every day just in case and today was rewarded.

Posted by: Marcia at October 31, 2005 3:28 AM | Permalink

Journalistic protocols? I have been itching to talk about that. What are they exactly? I think that if you asked 10 print and broadcast journalists to say what is the protocol, you'd get 10 different answers.

Posted by: JennyD at October 31, 2005 12:17 PM | Permalink

Are we ready to move on from the idea that the NYTimes is the sacred text so many believe it to be?

Nah! I didn't think so.

Posted by: kilgore trout at October 31, 2005 2:18 PM | Permalink

A very refreshing post - thanks.

Personally I've been reading the Times for nearly 50 years (started very young), and have always had a very sceptical attitude towards the "paper of record" reputation. Not only from a hard news viewpoint, but rather more from the viewpoint of a professional in my own field and the inability of the Times to regularly report on that field (entertainment) with anything approaching a reality-based knowledge. (Yes, there are a few exceptions that prove the rule - but not that many.)

I've shared that criticism with others in more normal occupations, initially as a comment on the Times' inability to see through the smoke in a well-PR'd biz. Surprisingly, many of my interlocutors have expressed the same about their fields: e.g., banking, intellectual property (patent) law, the art business (as opposed to criticism), stock/security analysis, and others. So, if we feel that way, why should we think the "hard news" coverage is better, especially when we look back over the last few decades and see how much of what's happening in the world the Times chose not to cover (or, perhaps less obnoxious but also worse, didn't know)?

When one adds in the normal hagiography (Bumiller being the latest example in a line all the way back to the sainted Reston and beyond) from those close to the seat of power, it is no wonder that the TImes is having problems in a world where so much more information is available. It will do Pinch little good to complain about the lack of conforming to protocols when it is clear that so much of what appears in the Times does not conform itself.

btw, I have often wondered if the Family will allow Pinch the continued luxury of destroying what took over a century to build. Any thoughts on that?

Posted by: fatbear at October 31, 2005 5:09 PM | Permalink

Are we ready to move on from the idea that the NYTimes is the sacred text so many believe it to be?

Nah! I didn't think so.

I'm afraid I don't grasp your point. It does not appear to be about the post. Do we typically say: "sacred text, you really screwed up and you don't even get how bad it is?" What in Ron's post makes you think he's not ready to move on?

"Perhaps if the New York Times won’t learn from itself it’s about time the place learned from us." Sounds movin-on-ish to me. Is that what is typically said to texts held up as sacred? Or are you just addressing yourself to some nameless formeless "we" that anything can be said about?

No intelligent Times reader was ever in doubt that the modern big city newspaper is secular and cosmopolitan-- and not a sacred institution at all. Your term "sacred" is fatally exaggerated, but it corresponds accurately to an idea you have of "them." Loyal (and liberal!) Times readers are buyers of the myth you see through. "The sacred text so many believe it to be" is shorthand for how you see them-- besotted. It corresponds not at all how to how Times readers, even the loyalists, see the newspaper.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 31, 2005 5:23 PM | Permalink

Congrats, RB, as you move higher and higher. Well deserved.

Posted by: The Heretik at October 31, 2005 6:07 PM | Permalink

Yes, I'm addressing myself to some nameless, formless "we". You got a problem with that?

Posted by: kilgore trout at October 31, 2005 6:22 PM | Permalink

"The sacred text so many believe it to be" is shorthand for how you see them-- besotted. It corresponds not at all how to how Times readers, even the loyalists, see the newspaper.

And yet, the critics from the left proclaim that it was the NYT (in the persona of Judith Miller) that so many "loyalists" believed to go to war?

Does the "besotted" assumption not also underly the criticism of the pre-war reporting in the NYT?

Posted by: Sisyphus at October 31, 2005 6:44 PM | Permalink


Hey, congrats for "making it" to the big time!

And kudos for combing through the Siegal Report.
At the time it was released, only Jay and Jon Dube (Cyberjournalist.Net) linked to it.

One thing leaps out at me that you found:
"The newsroom should establish a coherent, flexible system for evaluating public attacks on our work."

To my knowledge, Jack Shafer was one of the first columnists to bring attention to Judith Miller's poor use of sourcing, back in December 2002 (before the war), with Leak of the Week: Madame Smallpox; he followed with a dozen pieces over the year as the war unfolded. Michael Massing gave him the necessary props in his 8,000-word piece Now They Tell Us, published in the February 26, 2004 issue of The New York Review of Books (the link is to a free version-- also note that the article was printed earlier than the issue date). That was strong enough that Miller an other reporters responded to Massing, but the whole discussion never made the Times-- and a search through the Times archives right now suggests that there's been no report of the existence of that dialogue (which is much more germaine to understanding the art of reporting than the inter-office dialogue from the last two weeks)

Oddly ennough, there was a public editor at the time. Dan Okrent did have time to reprint a cyberspace debate: about Shafer's critique of the sex-slave Magazine piece. (From my searching of PressThink, I see that Jay did salute Massing and Shafer in the May 28, 2004.

I'd recommend that the Times could toss out any "embracing the virtual community" half-baked experiments that they are considering (including the new sop to "reactions from bloggers" for the scandal du jour) if they would only provide ongoing links to worthy criticisms of their reporters and reporting. I would imagine that the Public Editor would have some standards, in that the criticsms should inspire critical thought in the readers. The critic should meet some useful standard of proof, and not merely fire off a knee-jerk whine as many blogging bigfeet did following Daniel Lyons recent piece in Forbes.

And I'd recommend any publication, periodical or blog, look into doing that.

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at October 31, 2005 6:49 PM | Permalink

RB says that the NYT should be shown how it's supposed to be done.
The presumption there is that they don't know.
I'd like to know what is so difficult about the "it" that the NYT should be shown how to do that they don't know it.

Looks more like a matter of choices to me.
And the trend of the choices is a matter of an inbred culture.
Note, for example, the article on Guzman's war in which the reporter said Special Forces guys go straight from boot camp to the war. Now, this is not only not true, it's so obviously, clearly, widely known to not be true that one has to ask how the reporter missed it. Furthermore, one must ask how a reporter not knowing this didn't do some simple homework. Like asking Sgt. Guzman about the SF career path.
Years of good soldiering first, then some rank, the jump school and Ranger school, the qual course takes a year, then special area and language schools and technique schools (HALO, diving, and so forth). The subject of her article could have straightened her out in about ninety seconds.
She didn't even bother to ask.
She could be shown how it should be done, but the question is whether she would bother to listen.
Are there no editors with any curiosity at all, as in "How do you know this?"?
The point is not that a NYT reporter got it wrong. That's dog-bites-man. The point is that so many readers know better--or at least US citizens, perhaps NYT readers are a special case--that there are a good many people who can look at this and wonder what else she--and by extension the entire enteprise--screwed up.
The NYT keeps navel-gazing and chin-pulling and vowing, but the worker bees keep on keeping on in the old way and the Big Shots don't even notice. Or, if they notice, they don't care.
Readers take a different view, I expect.
But the Big Shots haven't figured that out, either.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 31, 2005 7:31 PM | Permalink

The bottom line is: If you want news, don't go the NY Times.

Posted by: Walter Guest at October 31, 2005 9:10 PM | Permalink

Tim: I don't agree with those who say news articles in the New York Times "led" us to war, as if the Times were somehow able to march the nation there. The left sometimes goes overboard here, in my view-- anything to say, "their blood is on your hands." The Times doesn't have that kind of muscle anymore, if it ever did. The case went forward on many, many fronts. This was deception on a grand scale, and the wish was father to the report again and again.

In general, and in this case, I'm against transferring political sovereignty--and thus responsibility--from elected representatives to the news media. We shouldn't do that, allow that, or think that because it's untrue. At the same time, I am all for recognizing the press as an actor and factor in events like the build-up to war.

I think you can say, however, that the Times coverage helped the Bush Administration make its case, and the case was in many respects falsely made. In those respects the Times pre-invasion coverage was more false than it was true-- a serious matter for all journalists there.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 31, 2005 10:22 PM | Permalink

Richard Aubrey wrote: "The point is not that a NYT reporter got it wrong. That's dog-bites-man. The point is that so many readers know better--"

This is starting to sound like Dan Gillmor's handy crutch "my readers know more than I," which may apply to topics such as consumer technology, but doesn't quite hold for someone on a beat like national security.

Two names you won't find through a search of PressThink's coverage of Miller: Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, who got it the pre-war intelligence doubts right, writing for the Knight-Ridder newspapers. Actually, Kent Bye did mention them once in an April comment here. Kent, after all, is producing the Echo Chamber Project, an open-source documentary trying to understand the role of the media in the march to war. Ultimately it's a very challenging question he wants to answer, and one that's at the heart of all journalism studies.

Back to Ron's core argument about the Times and its policies: I would hope that the Times moving forward can recognize a meme that their reporters have put forth, and link to some counter-arguments to that meme.

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at October 31, 2005 11:22 PM | Permalink

JR. Who, do you think, could have made the case that WMDs were not the problem everybody thought?
Miller was reporting in two separate milieus.
One was before the war and the other during the first frantic searching.
What she did in the latter case did not in any way lead us to war, the war having been commenced some weeks earlier. Some, not necessarily here, seem to deliberately conflate the two. Not only is that inaccurate, it casts doubt on the sufficiency of the case to be made solely on her pre-war reporting. If it were possible to demonstrate her mistakes in the earlier milieu, why haul in the clearly irrelevant second milieu?
So the question is about the pre-war reporting.
From whom would she have gotten good, solid information that the WMDs did not exist?
You will recall that the infamous Downing Street Memo showed Brit commanders worried about chemical weapons, while many of those who opposed the war pointed to the horrible casualties in case SH unleashed his WMD on coalition troops.
It appears that many of SH's higher commanders believed he had them. They were told that the guy on their left has them, or the next higher headquarters has them for emergency deployment.
There may have been people making the strong case that the things didn't exist and doing so with good evidence. Who were they? Why did so many reporters, not all of them NYT Miller types, get it wrong?
Some must have been skeptical of US intel. Why didn't they go to other nations' intel? Oh, that's right. They believed, too.

It is also worth remembering that the war had so many justifications that Bush's enemies sneered he couldn't make up his mind. Clearly, this was not sold solely on WMD.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 31, 2005 11:23 PM | Permalink

Jon. Not sure what you mean in your reference to consumer technology vs. national security.
Is national security the beat of the lady who screwed up a simple fact in the Guzman article? If so, it shouldn't be.
It doesn't really matter, though, since reporters are supposed to check on stuff as opposed to knowing all in advance, and the real kick here is the best source she could possibly have had was the guy she was talking to.
Where were the famous layers of editors?
One commenter on another blog said, contradicting an earlier post, that there is no way the Times could get egg on its face by this howler, since none of the readers know anything about this, either. Not like the rest of the country which is reasonably current with the simpler issues of military affairs. And some with the more complicated issues, being soldiers or veterans and all. Is this reasonably close to truth?

Here's the question: It isn't whether she should have known--although she should.
The question is WHY DIDN'T SHE ASK?
These are not rhetorical questions. There is a reason. What is it? What does it tell us about the NYT?

Oh, yeah. There's this other question. How often do they do this sort of thing where I don't know enough to know better?

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 31, 2005 11:34 PM | Permalink

Richard: Jon Garfunkel's links to Shafer and Massing answer your question. If you read those pieces and don't see how it was possible to be far more skeptical than the Times and Miller were, then I'm sure my arguments wouldn't convince you, either. They show how other reporters did it.

To some extent this is a question of what your standards are. Judith Miller standards, her idea of what we should expect, is, "If you're sources are wrong, your reporting will be wrong; it's unfortunate when it happens, but that's journalism." You appear to adhere to that view. Jack Shafer's reply to Miller is: That is a lie.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 31, 2005 11:49 PM | Permalink

Actually, I don't adhere to that standard. It's a copout.
I looked at Shafer's piece on Mme. Smallpox. Seems like a good journo prof reaming a poorly-researched story. Good for him.
But all he said was that Miller wasn't sufficiently rigorous. He is skeptical. Also good for him.
On the other hand, he did not provide any evidence the thing was not true, only that the people involved in leaking might need a grain or two of salt. True.
So what we have here is poor sourcing, not evidence that Miller was positively wrong.
My question was not whether Miller's sources were irregular, but whether there was anybody making a solidly-sourced case that WMDs didn't exist.
The fact is that one can make a good source look sketchy if desired, so criticizing a reporter's sourcing can be underhanded as well. You could start out with scare quotes around, say, "experienced", while not letting on that the guy has twenty years in the business. To ask "who is....?" can be taken to imply that the guy, whoever he is, either doesn't exist or isn't worth a cup of coffee, when in fact what it means is that only the reporter knows anything. Perhaps we should want the reporter to tell us more, but the planted axiom of asking "who is...." and related questions is to go farther than that and lead the reader to believe that there is something besides anonymity afoot. There may be, but it would be more honest to say so rather than copping out with a bit of sleight of hand.

However, my question is who was making the solid case that there were no WMDs and why did so few reporters listen to him/them?

I agree that poor sourcing should cause us to be wary as to conclusions, but that's not the same as demonstrating that the premise is positively false.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 1, 2005 12:20 AM | Permalink

The New York Times does not stand accused of failing to prove there were no WMD's in Iraq. That would have beem extremely difficult to do for anyone; if this is your point, you made it successfully. But as I said, failing to prove there were no WMD's isn't the charge. The charge is the New York Times failed to apply any proper standard of skepticism to the claims the Bush Administration was making as it assembled its public case for the war.

One of the reasons it failed is that it became convinced it had "inside" sources (Miller's) who were more inside than everyone else's sources and thus closer to the known truth when actually they were more heavily involved in a manufactured case.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 1, 2005 12:31 AM | Permalink

Jay I know you are working on a book...but you just said

...closer to the known truth when actually they were more heavily involved in a manufactured case.

How can a case be manufactured when fear of Saddam's aggression and weapons programs, based on available knowledge, was not just internationally shared, but the basis of our official national policy throughout the Bush I and Clinton years?

Manufactured means only one thing in this context: that government officials knowingly created a false case for war. That they assembled a case they knew to be false, and that sympathetic media assisted in this effort.

I don't think you believe that. Do you?

Posted by: Marc Siegel at November 1, 2005 1:31 AM | Permalink

No, they cooked the books so that the books read like proof the world needed for a case the Bush team thought was true. On the nukes, I don't think they ever thought there was credible evidence. That accounts for the hysteria about Wilson. What they had was polling data that showed support for the war jumping off the charts if Saddam did have nuclear weapons. That was the slam dunk "reason." So they worked backwards to the proof. After a while they no longer knew what was true and what they just claimed was true because it would help make the case.

Cheney gave us an unwitting look inside this process when he was confronted by journalist Gloria Borger with comments he had made on Meet The Press in 2001. Cheney actually denied saying it was “pretty well confirmed” that Mohamed Atta went to Prague in April 2001 and met with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia.

But he did say it-- on "Meet the Press," even. The tape exists, and it has been shown many times. Twice Cheney told Borger he never said that. He was extremely insistent. She had watched the tape. She knew what he had said. But as she later put it, "There was no point in getting in an argument with the Vice President of the United States." (See Robert Cox on it.) Did Cheney ever apologize or even admit that he was wrong? If you thought he might have done so, you understand nothing about the Bush Administration.

I think many people in the bureaucracy and intelligence agencies came to the same kind of conclusion, "There was no point in getting in an argument with the Vice President of the United States." And so when you say things like "all the evidence and all the experts said..." you are including their go-along, get-along agreement in the "all."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 1, 2005 2:26 AM | Permalink

"There was no point in getting in an argument with the Vice President of the United States."

This seems to sum up the attitude of almost all the reporting done during the run-up to the war and the after-math as well. Another translation would be, no contradition of the VP's statements, which were always received as truths and never questioned. No solid evidence was ever furnished other than poor Colin Powell's crucifiction at the UN.
The press did not take us to war. Congress relinquished its constitional duty when it transferred its right to declare war to the executive branch. Rice recently pointed out they intend to keep it. Work for the future Supreme Court? Congress, the press and citizens are now fore-warned.
When Judith Miller wrote her articles, Chalabi had an already established international reputation, the facts of his former activities public knowledge, yet her articles were rarely questioned.
I lack your informed judgment, mine is only an opinion.

Posted by: Marcia at November 1, 2005 4:41 AM | Permalink

There's also quite a bit of difference between "all the evidence and experts" that said Saddam Hussein was seeking WMD and those that said that he already had them.

And if you honestly believe that there isn't a head of state anywhere in this world that - at one point or another - hasn't been a-seekin' then you don't understand geopolitics.

I've yet to meet any liberal that doesn't think Saddam is a bad, bad, bad man (though some on the right paint us all as defenders or apologists or what-have-yous) but was there an imminent threat?

Many of the speeches by prominent Democrats that the right parses to "prove" their "all the evidence and experts" blah-blah-blah conveniently leave out the parts which speak of no imminent threat and that the policy of containment worked or should be modified (exhibit A).

(and off-topic...thanks to all my friends for the kind words and support...if it wasn't for all of ya...I might've packed it in months and months ago)

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at November 1, 2005 5:07 AM | Permalink

I don't think it's fair to use what we find out later to prove what we were arguing about earlier.
But I will succumb to the temptation.
The Oil for Food bribery and its wider corruption in the UN and elsewhere "proves" the sanctions weren't working in the sense that they were going to keep SH in his box.
While the administration probably didn't know how it was happening, or much of it, they certainly did know that SH was acting as if the sanctions were crumbling, and there were efforts in the UN and elsewhere to promote the end of sanctions, a separate but equally worrying prospect.
As has been said many times. Bush said the threat was not imminent. The key was to avoid that unhappy situation.
The history of war is too replete, too mind-numbingly, tragically replete with instances where moving before the other guy got to imminent would have saved lives. Confronting the Germans when they occupied the Rhineland in 1936, for example. Now, having tried this before, we can anticipate scoffing and faux astonishment that I would compare Hitler to SH. Go ahead, get it out of your system.
Dum dum de dum. Rented a tent Rented a tent.

Feel better now?

I appreciate the distinction between skepticism of Miller's sources and proving there were no WMD.
Now we have to worry how important her reporting was in the grand scheme. Much? Of course, in looking at her, we might also remember what our mothers said, "It's the thought that counts, dear." What was Miller herself thinking.

I don't think the US managed to cook the books in such a fashion as to fool the rest of the world, including a number of SH's top commanders. I think SH cooked the books. Nobody else was in a position to do it. We can cook our own books. Other nations can use their intel, and read UN reports. Other nations can choose to believe SH's son in law or not. But we can't put all that stuff together.

The dumb ass tried to run a bluff. It worked. He fooled a lot of people.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 1, 2005 7:45 AM | Permalink

Can the Times learn from its past? From its past mistakes, or from changes in its environment/marketplace?

Let's look for some other cases of large, stalwart, venerable, powerful institutions and how they learned, or didn't.

How about GM? No learning there. Their first heads-up that something was wrong came in the 1970s. And still they haven't figured out how to compete with Toyota.

How about Xerox? Or some of the investment banks that stuck to the old ways and were gobbled in acquisitions by more nimble competitors?

I think there's a good chance that Times may not ever learn. Ever. They may change the way they look, but it's just window dressing.

Posted by: JennyD at November 1, 2005 8:24 AM | Permalink

Jay, I appreciate your clarification.

I am working on a research project in my spare time to explore how arguments are constructed by allowing the competition of narrative frameworks linked with facts through a web interface. It is my contention that all arguments start with a narrative framework around which a network of interdependant facts are built. These narrative frameworks are I think inspired (an act of creativity) often by a few facts, which may not even be related to each other. But the existance of narratives is then separated from facts. It is my contention that this is the nature of human argument, and that it is the market competition between competing narrative frameworks that in fact motivates the ensuing search for facts. This explains a number of things I dont need to get into here, such as the fact that unchallenged narrative frameworks generate little new facts over time, but a challenge to one framework will generate a whole host of facts on both sides in a short amount of time, and also generate incidentally unrelated facts that stand for or against emotionally related narrative frameworks. Even though the facts themselves are unrelated.

So you see my world view there - As has been said, WMD was not the initial or to my mind primary reason that the Bush Administration saw the need to go crush Sadam. But, as you say, it polled well (especially with Europe and Blue states), and had to be pursued for political reasons.

I believe there is no crime in being accused of making a case by working backwards - this is what, I think, the human mind does all the time, even most of the time. I agree that Cheney has a problem with apologies and admitting error, which is different issue. I agree that the NYTimes has a problem with professional standards, which is a different issue.

I do not agree that Judy Miller was 'co-opted by access' into supporting a counter-factual case. Judith Miller was extremely emotionally invested in the WMD narrative framework long, long before this war. I believe her natural affinity for that story is a much much more important factor in her reporting than any 'insider' access peddling, and that this should be obvious to anyone who has worked investigatively or in a research area.

Therefore, I fervently hope that you, Jay Rosen, Renowned Journalism Professor and Blogger, will focus some writing and thinking on "Professional standards to make sure journalists with an affinity for one narrative framework are fact-checked by a journalist with the opposite affinity" - which will almost always lead to good investigations - rather than "Professional standards to avoid access peddling", which may seem sexier to some people but I think is less salient to the future of journalism.

Posted by: Marc Siegel at November 1, 2005 9:43 AM | Permalink

My question was not whether Miller's sources were irregular, but whether there was anybody making a solidly-sourced case that WMDs didn't exist.

Jay, its virtually impossible to prove a negative --- and thus this is really the wrong question.

Numerous reporters contributed to making the case that needed to be made, i.e. "There is no real reason to believe that Iraq has stockpiles of WMDs, and active WMD programs." And regular readers of the British press -- especially readers of the Guardian and the Independent -- were fully aware of the level of deception, distortion, exaggeration, and lies being promulgated by both Bush and Blair in the run-up to the war.

One of the largest, and possibly insoluable, problems is structural --- every major news organization employs "White House reporters" who function as little more than stenographers of the Royal Court (Sue Schmidt and Candy Crowley leap immediately to mind.) But these same organizations don't have people assigned specifically to rebut the claims advanced by the stenographers on behalf of the White House. There was no one assigned to ask why Condi Rice flat out lied about the possible uses (other than in centrifuges). of the "aluminum tubes". No one was assigned to ask why the President consistently distorted the findings of UNSCOM by treating huge quantities of "unaccounted for" chemical and biological weapons and precursors as if there was any possibility that they still existed. (It was known that these weapons and precursors had been destroyed, but because the destruction was undocumented it could not be quantified and thus remained "unaccounted for.")

The reality is that the White House propaganda effort was so pervasive and effective that even the vast majority of those opposed to the war assumed that something would be found in Iraq to support the fear-mongering of the Bush regime. We, the "American people", could not conceive of our government alienating the international community and invading and occupying a nation on the other side of the globe unless there was extremely compelling reasons to do so that had to remain secret. We assumed that the White House knew more than we did --- even if the policy was misguided.

Finally, to suggest that Judy Miller and the Times was not instrumental in getting us into Iraq is kinda naive. The Times remains the single most influential source for setting the agenda of the corporate media, and if something appears on the front page of the Times, it is considered both credible and important.

Posted by: ami at November 1, 2005 9:53 AM | Permalink


If it was known that certain numbers of WMD had been destroyed but there was no documentation, how was it known?
Inside sources? Anonymous sources?

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 1, 2005 10:37 AM | Permalink

The Times remains the single most influential source for setting the agenda of the corporate media, and if something appears on the front page of the Times, it is considered both credible and important.

Which is why I said: "the Times coverage helped the Bush Administration make its case, and the case was in many respects falsely made." I would sign on with your word, ami-- instrumental. The Times became an instrument for the war packagers to package their case, and it got to that squalid state by trusting in the magic of access.

Your post reminds me: among the many reasons the Times fell down on the job, the most interesting to me has to do with imagination. It was literally impossible for them to conceive of deception being practiced on that scale, where for example the same phony or misleading data was circulated to foreign intelligence, intelligences agencies here, and Miller directly so that it looked like three sources confirming it when it was only one!

The Times was out-thought. Its people could not imagine that what was happening was happening. It is simply untrue to say, "and no one else could, either."

Marc: Take a look at this book. It is very much along the lines you are investigating. What you call a narrative framework he calls "framing effects." Also see this book by Thomas Patterson and his discussion of a "governing schema" vs. a "game schema." Finally, similar themes are explored in my post, The Master Narrative in Journalism, which I am happy to say is the first result on Google when you put "Master Narrative" into the search box.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 1, 2005 10:41 AM | Permalink

Your post reminds me: among the many reasons the Times fell down on the job, the most interesting to me has to do with imagination. It was literally impossible for them to conceive of deception being practiced on that scale,...

This sounds like an excuse for incompetence. You keep upholding their ability - as I mentioned way up above, I doubt it seriously. While Times writers may or may not be smarter than the average bear, their daily output leaves much to be desired. And I am not writing about taking sides - I am referring to basic factual understanding of one's area of expertise. Yesterday Hulse wrote about budget-cutting plans in Congress, and at least three times he stated "its reputation for frugality" (or essentially the same) about the Republican party - that is ancient history, much like using James' Washington Square as a travel guide for today's New York (and, btw, did you see the 1960's dress-up for the Sq today - mammoth peace flag under arch, etc. - for a "major feature film" they say). To get back to it, Hulse is showing a real lack of knowledge or, worse, a reliance on some truism that is long past date. I do not mean to pick on Hulse, nor do I mean this as a complaint of giving the GOP a free ride - I could find the same in many other pieces, not the least in the coverage of NY's two Senators.

You seem to ignore the questions: Is it too much to expect that the TImes' writers have some basic competence and understanding of what they cover? Is it too much to expect that there is some sort of fact checking, and I mean basic facts like the sun rises in the East? Is it too much to expect that even if they write "he said, she said" stories they at least understand what the he and she are saying?

Posted by: fatbear at November 1, 2005 12:01 PM | Permalink

Jay, thanks for the links. My end goal is to have my tool on the internet, where instead of hypothesizing we can observe in detail exactly how every shift in fact and belief flows with the entry, and dispute, of narratives and facts and source interpretations.

Posted by: Marc Siegel at November 1, 2005 12:41 PM | Permalink

Honestly, I believe the best answer is to show them how it should be done; here and there, the blogosphere is already doing that. We can’t ever hope to replace the not-as-mighty institution, but maybe we can help motivate it.

Isn't it conceivable that the blogosphere is actually eroding the Times credibility, causing them to continually make errors. In the time of ridiculously fast blogged news and commentary, The Times surely must be rushing stories out, and they don't exactly get the chance to quickly edit their mistakes. They may try and turn it around, but their marketbase is going to continue to be chipped away.

Posted by: Brett at November 1, 2005 1:53 PM | Permalink

Brett. I don't see it that way. I believe what we see is an artifact of reporting, or, to put it another way, they're getting caught more and more often doing what they used to do with no backtalk.

Besides, as a number of MSM folks have said, the bloggers get their news from the MSM. This is true, in a sense, in that few bloggers happen to be in a position to do first-line reporting unless they just happen to be where the train leaves the tracks.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 1, 2005 1:58 PM | Permalink

So true Brett and the question for all newspapers is this: if we can't provide news accurately and timely, why are we here?

My guess is that newspaper owners/publishers/editors nationwide are asking that question. That's what it's all about, isn't it?

Posted by: kilgore trout at November 1, 2005 2:41 PM | Permalink

Kilgore, I have to disagree.
My guess is that the MSM is asking itself what the hell is wrong with the readers/viewers.
We have two examples on this subject about howlers at the NYT resulting from abject ignorance on the part of the reporters involved, and, worse, about issues most readers can be presumed to know better than.

Had the biggies actually been concerned about this stuff, it would still be happening, but not so often and not over such silly issues that one can wonder how come the reporter is the only person who doesn't know.
Far as I can tell, the bigs just don't care. Either they don't think it's a factor or they are putting up with incompetence as an inevitable companion to screwing the pooch in pursuit of an agenda.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 1, 2005 3:09 PM | Permalink

Blogging makes possible hand-crafted truth claims.

On the Net these mix with the mass produced truth of Big Media, which includes the New York Times. Even if it's for a "class" market the Times is still mass production in the organization of work.

When you guestimate what's happening (or gone bad) in newsrooms you should factor in more heavily than you do the requirements and distortions inherent in "news factory" routines, plus the need for the bureaucracy to anticipate and pre-sculpt in order to mass produce news of the world every 24 hours.

Say you're a daily journalist with a production quota. Even the best you can do within this routine may not compare in quality to de-routinized, passion-driven, hand-crafted fact-assembly by bloggers, including those that assault your stories. That's why bloggers sometimes terrify journalists.

Here's Tim Porter on the mass production bias. From Shutting Down the News Factory.

To produce newspapers in this manner requires efficient, repetitive action - papers are scripted in advance, before the news happens; reporters are told how long to write, before they cover the stories; photographers are given dimensions of an illustration, before they take the pictures. This way of working discourages innovation and encourages rote behavior.

This will introduce error. The errors build up. They don't build up randomly but in patterns. The patterns reflect who journalists are as people. This gets called bias. The innacuracies are considered untruths.

The hand crafted check on the "efficient, repetitive action" of news production isn't turning out well for the manufacturers.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 1, 2005 3:54 PM | Permalink

JR. The parameters of getting out a paper each day are a given, as are some, but not all, of the results you mention.

But it doesn't actually apply.
There is no reason among the parameters you mention that would require, cause, or allow Mascia to be so stone-ignorant of one part of her article (Sgt. Guzman's War in the NYT) and, alternatively, utterly uninterested in finding it out (and, as a matter of infinite fun, being face to face with the best resource it would be possible to imagine all the while).

There is no reason among those parameters which would require the NYT to go nuts about the missing explosives at al Kaka--which weren't missing--and then, transparently, decide they weren't a story on the day after the election, nor to connive with CBS to hold the story until too late for the admin to respond.

There is no reason among those parameters which would allow Josh White of Newsweek to blindly report that prisoners at Gitmo accused US soldiers of using pages from the Koran to shine their boots without mentioning that field boots have been rough-out and unshinable for decades. They are never shined. I'm sure the Gitmo Guys know this, but they also know their market--US reporters.

Your explanation may be absolutely true, but it doesn't do anything for the reader who doesn't like being fed incompetence seasoned with agendas and biases both conscious and unconscious.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 1, 2005 4:14 PM | Permalink

Huh? I was supposed to explain your latest howlers from the Times? Sorry, cannot.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 1, 2005 4:22 PM | Permalink

No, JR, you weren't supposed to explain the NYT's howlers I was so afflicted with lese majeste as to notice.

But if you weren't addressing the difficulties papers have of getting the stuff right, why did you waste the cyberwhatsit?

To be a bit more straightforward, let's use a metaphor of a guy buying a car.
If the seat's uncomfortable, he's not interested in all the reasons the engineers couldn't make a comfortable seat. Not his problem.
He'll go elsewhere.
One, single, solitary word about why the engineers couldn't do it is one too many. A complete and utter waste.
While insiders like to talk about the difficulties of getting out a paper, and the job seems just perfectly suited for somebody who thinks breakfast is a bowl of jalapenos and a tumbler of vodka, readers want it to be right.
If it's not right, the paper loses.

I can't think of anything that affects this process.

To return to the car seat metaphor.... If the only business in town were Ford, GM, and Chrysler, and their engineers were equally incompetent in the matter of seat design, that would be one thing....

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 1, 2005 4:42 PM | Permalink

You completely lost me. If there's a point it is beyond my powers of comprehension.

Of course readers don't care about excuses. No, you don't solve a quality control problem by explaining your production process. Yes, it's irrelevant to the dissastified buyer who has other options. Who in the world is arguing with these elementary rules of market capitalism? Do I look like I just dropped in from Mao's Cultural Revolution? You think I am excusing incompetence in reporting by telling you how the news factory works? Wowzer.

I thought you were speculating on how journalist's got into this situation, how they see or define it, why they don't fix it. Wrong-o. I see I am supposed to explain your latest press howlers, and I my interest in that is below zero. A modern newsroom isn't organized to find truth but to manufacture news in a rhythm. This way of organizing work doesn't work any more, except for production, which it accomplishes. That's the observation I offer you.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 1, 2005 5:00 PM | Permalink

What was once the resource that made the press a powerful institution is now its weakness.

It's the paper itself.

Paper. It's size, it's cost, it's weight, and the need to have it printed with ink and then trucked to various locales. Once these were the resources controlled by a powerful few, and thus the words contained on this rare and wonderful resource--paper with ink--were quite important.

But the paper is now the limitation. It limits the numeber of words, and the scope of readership. It paralyzes those who work to contain words on the paper, making them think that any one printing is somehow the definitive answer or explanation. It's rigid, not fluid; it doesn't allow for change and growth and reflection.

I'd argue that the entire newsroom and all it does is organized around the fact that main resource for distributing news is chewed up wood pulp. Now that doesn't seem smart today, does it?

Posted by: JennyD at November 1, 2005 5:02 PM | Permalink

Jenny, hold that thought. The larger question that Jay raises is thus: is a newsroom still useful for discerning truth? The example trotted out here on PressThink through the month of October is that the Times can't, and therefore no one can.

Yet Michael Massing pointed to Landay and Strobel of Knight-Ridder as guys who got it right-- the barrier to them wasn't working in a newsroom per se, but a newsroom which produced newspapers not read in New York or Washington.

Also, there were a lot of questions raised in PressThink through October about why the people at the Times acted how they did. Nicholas Lemann bats cleanup in this week's New Yorker. He gives a completely rational explanation about Miller's selective memory-- and about the Times's reasons for wishfully thinking that their best hope was for Miller never to testify at all.

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at November 1, 2005 8:26 PM | Permalink

Jenny, your main point that a newspaper needs to use online tools is pretty much accepted faith here (umm, "here" being Washington Square, but also Times Square, Morningside Heights, and beyond Manhattan island). But there is a value to getting the words in print-- the writer feels forced to meet a higher standard of veracity than they would online. And I'll argue this night or day with anyone. That's not to say that I disagree with your point that online (ie., updateable) writing has a unique, and useful, set of values for civic society.

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at November 1, 2005 8:32 PM | Permalink

I could speculate on how reporters get it wrong so often, but nobody's listening. There is a level of competence which is laudable but not perfect and nobody begrudges an occasional piece of grit in the machinery, especially if the warranty is honored.
The MSM is far, far worse, which indicates a lack of interest, and the warranty isn't worth a hoot.

I am not expecting you to explain a couple of days' crop of howlers--picked up between work and family and sleep and so forth and probably exactly representative of anybody else's experience--but I am trying to make the case that, without fixing that NOTHING else matters.
Process issues? Competition?

In fact, nothing explains them, and their relations on other days and in other publications. Nothing good, I should say. Nothing even remotely resembling an excuse.

Miller and the NYT are part of the problem, and if you want to restrict the conversation to them, fine. You make a good case for ignoring the NYT on important issues, since they seem institutionally incapable of controlling anybody with sharp elbows.
IMO, it's a waste of time to worry about it. Fewer and fewer people are bothering with it and if we leave it alone to die in peace, we'll all be happier.

There is a signature observation that one of the NYT biggies gulped at. The subjects of Jayson Blair's various nonsenses said they didn't object because they thought making shit up was the NYT's job. So what would be the point?

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 1, 2005 9:59 PM | Permalink

Ok, check that. A Times columnist made a small factual mistake that appeared in today's printed paper. I caught it last night, and sent it in, and it was corrected online-- and no notice. Shall I tell Bob Cox?

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at November 1, 2005 10:07 PM | Permalink

If it was known that certain numbers of WMD had been destroyed but there was no documentation, how was it known? Inside sources? Anonymous sources?

Richard, I'm not here to discuss the nature of the distortion of intelligence information. If you seek answers, I suggest that you go to the original source -- the final UNSCOM report published by the United Nations in 1998. Indeed, anyone who wants to discuss the impact of the media and its pre-war reporting from any sort of intelligent perspective should consider the UNSCOM report required reading.

Posted by: ami at November 1, 2005 11:42 PM | Permalink

I recognize a wide range of views apply here, but I think the New York Times is still a powerful institution with a powerful capacity to do good, and to go wrong, or do harm.

Of course I am a subscriber, a reader for 20+ years, and a disappointed, angry loyalist.

Although weakened and misaligned at the moment, its fate still matters because having an independent press matters, even though it matters way more to a DC and NY elite than to anyone else, and even though the Times does not have the singular influence it once did. The Times is, I think, a correctible institution. It can be renewed, re-charged. I still believe it can get smarter about itself, although it isn't happening lately.

The history of the New York Times under the Ochs and Sulzberger clan is still going, and this has a certain gravitas, energy, force-- for example, in persuading the new generation of owners, "the cousins," to value press power, journalistic achievement and First Amendment glory (the Times tradition, as they understand it) over dividends, stock prices and Big Cash Out Day, which they also understand.

If they continue to make that choice the Times is able to be one kind of newspaper; if they make a different choice the Times becomes a different animal. Its history starts all over again on that day. The Republic will survive either way. The course of journalism might be changed, however.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 2, 2005 12:43 AM | Permalink

Here are a few suggestions for journalists:

1. Before you publish the story, try to prove the story is wrong. Be the blogger who is going to take your story apart, because someone is waiting to do that.

2. Be aware of what others are reporting, and if they contradict your story, do more reporting. Too many news organizations gain access to one source, lay claim to one slice of the story, and don't look back.

3. Read your policy on anonymous sources and obey it. An anonymous source weakens your story. Every time you use an anonymous source, you might as well say, "Some guy on the Internet said..." because that's what it sounds like. The New York Times averages at least six anonymous sources a day. Is this necessary?

4. Avoid weaselly phrases such as "appears to confirm."

5. If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

And one more suggestion: In the guest posting above, Harold Raines should be Howell Raines.

Posted by: Brian Cubbison at November 2, 2005 2:30 AM | Permalink

The value of this guest-post is the historical contribution of the editorial (not reportorial) failure (again) at the NYT. Specifically the five bulleted recommendations at the end.

I especially agree that this question, "how did Al Siegal manage to escape the wrath of staff for the damage done by Hurricane Judy?", gets to the beginning of an answer.

It deserves much more investigation and analysis.

I would combine it with Sulzberger's "the worst thing to come out of the Blair scandal was … readers who knew about the incorrect reporting did not complain…"

Finally: The Times deceiver’s many enablers

That’s because news is an intense process, and editors are essentially production bosses who run hard to keep their own reporters on track and on deadline. They don’t get out much. They’re driving a huge train blindfolded, straining to hear guidance shouted from below by reporters, who have their own ideas where to go.

Above the routine din of their own machinery, it takes real effort for editors to hear the people outside. But they ignore those people at their peril.

Posted by: Sisyphus at November 2, 2005 6:48 AM | Permalink

Jon, I'm not sure about the higher veracity with paper versus another medium. I get a little itchy if I'm about to post something here that seems, well, weak or wrong. There is a level of "correctness" required even in the digital world.

I kind of think of it this way: When people were riding horses and using buggies, road builders had certain parameters. when people started driving cars, road building changed. Some road builders complained that cars were bad and should go away. Some buggy riders did the same. But the road changed, and the complaints fell away. Successful road builders embraced change.

You know, thus makes a ton of sense at just after 6 am. I wonder how it will look when the sun finally comes up.

Posted by: JennyD at November 2, 2005 6:54 AM | Permalink

whoops...Brian...thanks for spotting the "harold raines"'s probably cause I loosely based a character from my play on howell and named him Harold.

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at November 2, 2005 11:46 AM | Permalink

Which leads to the original question "Does the New York Times Have a Learning Disability?"

Posted by: Tim at November 2, 2005 12:15 PM | Permalink

Incredible NY Observer article on Miller's social network coming into play and forcing the Times to take her back as a reporter-- and soon.

If it happens the way it's mapped out here, (things could change in a week) New York Times journalism will have suffered complete humiliation at the hands of... the New York Times, and the social world centered among the rich and famous in the Hamptons. Not the power of John Burns in Iraq, but of Judy Miller and Friends in East Hampton... Wowzer and a half.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 2, 2005 1:30 PM | Permalink

Jay, I just read the article in the Observer. This is so sad. I am shocked, although I feel a little naive. Did I really believe that the New York Times was about journalism, or about powerful people and their desires? I guess I always wanted to think it was journalism.

Posted by: JennyD at November 2, 2005 1:48 PM | Permalink

One should add that the New York Observer, being a newspaper about the rich and famous people on the East Side of Manhattan and in the Hamptons, whose lives are constantly chronicled in the New York Times, would be close to such a story-- but possibly too close. Perhaps it overestimates the pull of Miller's social world because the Observer itself is caught up in the Hamptons "scene," as social drama. I don't know. The re-conciliation and Miller's return to the staff haven't happened yet. If they do, this will have turned out very badly for Times journalism, and the journalists there.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 2, 2005 2:05 PM | Permalink

Observer: "... the newspaper of the liberal establishment finds itself at odds with a considerable chunk of that same establishment ..."

Jay Rosen: "... complete humiliation at the hands of... the New York Times, and the social world centered among the rich and famous in the Hamptons."

Bias, bias, bias ... ;-)

Posted by: Sisyphus at November 2, 2005 2:54 PM | Permalink

If this works out as forecast, it would be difficult to insist that the worldview of the East Hamptons or wherever it is has no influence on the NYT coverage.

A couple of possibilities: Social justice and economic and tax policy with a layer of white guilt from the limousine liberals who, nonetheless, want to keep what they have. Ex. Municipal bonds are income-tax-free. Somebody with $20 mill in munis at, say, 3% nets $600k. What does he care about the marginal tax rate? Can go through the roof for all of him.

Estate taxes: Once past a certain point (known in economics as TBMP or The Brewster's Millions Point), it becomes exceedingly difficult to spend money and have nothing to show for it. Taking $10 mill from the bank and buying--another--house doesn't reduce the estate at all. You can only eat and drink so much.
Once you pass TBMP, your assets grow no matter what. So, presuming you didn't do your trust homework, Uncle Sugar takes half. The rest is split between the kids who also are past TBMP Their assets grow. But the folks who haven't achieved TBMP are kept from reaching your exalted station. The nouveau riche are kept down. No problem with the estate tax.

And plumping for higher marginal income tax rates and against repealing the estate tax give the limousine liberals a good feeling.
No downside here.

Immigration: Need some way to keep the help from getting mouthy, so if they're here illegally, so much the better.

War: Nothing in the institutional memory of the Sons of Mary has ever threatened them. That's what gated communities and private security is for. Thus, any effort to prevent such things is meaningless.

Jeez. Looks like I predicted the past pretty accurately.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 2, 2005 4:44 PM | Permalink

Arianna speculated that Judy might be coming back cause they're afraid of "unleashing her legendary wrath." The New York Post has certainly had fun with the Dowd/Miller "catfight" - as they call it.

This is great from the Observer: "Ms. Miller’s lawyer has also floated the idea of a non-disparagement agreement—a concept that seems hard to enforce, given the quasi-independent status of Ms. Dowd and Mr. Calame. And according to one source, Ms. Miller herself has indicated that she would never agree to a gag order."

If the public editor is only "quasi-independent" then the Times truly does have a learning disorder.

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at November 2, 2005 4:59 PM | Permalink

With all respect, Richard, if you're saying that the rich are always with us, or that 'things' wind up going their way, that's not exactly profound.

Elitism has always been the Time's signpost. Those Who Know - or those in the Hamptons who think they know - read the Times; everyone else reads the Post.

An aspect of that elitism was the Times' journalism. The best reporters had the best sources to provide the best coverage. Times' reporters could be infuriatingly arrogant. But they were good. My, how things change.

We're now seeing the continuing misfires of an industry in downfall. The journalism business is scared shitless and doesn't know what to do about it. Rather than a sign of elitism or anti-militarism or whatever the some think it is, a clumsily written clause about just when Special Forces units go into combat is more a sign of that desparation. Everyone is so busy trying find that 'right' approach, they forget the basics.

The news world has changed and no one, not even the sainted New York Times knows how to handle it. But the new paradigm is hardly more comforting, since it makes it far easier for us all to filter the news in a way that doesn't bother with dissenting views.

While we document -- and some cheer on -- the continuing mess at the Times, and journalism in general, we might consider what's going to become the news delivery standard. And be aware that we should be careful or we might get what we wish for.
But remember, be careful or you may get what you wish for.

Posted by: Dave Mclemore at November 2, 2005 6:12 PM | Permalink

Oh. That's what that Preview thing is for.

Or consider the last sentence as emphasis.

Your choice.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at November 2, 2005 7:16 PM | Permalink

Dave: I have tried to be careful in not wishing for the Times destruction, at all (I think it's a necessary institution, and deserves to thrive into the future) while at the same time pointing out in the strongest terms what I consider to be acts of self-destruction.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 2, 2005 7:24 PM | Permalink

And you've succeeded in that, Jay.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at November 2, 2005 7:26 PM | Permalink

Jay, when you pop up here, do you want us to tell you to get back to the book?
(we understand full well the addiction...)

re Jon Garfunkel's "A Times columnist made a small factual mistake that appeared in today's printed was corrected online-- and no notice."

"it's a small thing, but it's a small thing that speaks to an attitude" - J. Rosen

Posted by: Anna Haynes at November 2, 2005 8:53 PM | Permalink

I think Jay is having a little fun commenting on his on blog.

Jay...go back to your book.

Posted by: JennyD at November 2, 2005 9:14 PM | Permalink

Dave. I wasn't saying, exactly, that the rich are always with us. The Brits had a saying, "clogs to clogs in three generations". There were always rich, but not always the same folks.
My point is that now, the super rich, the class Teddy Roosevelt thought needed some fresh blood, may be interested in retaining the estate tax as a way of avoiding such a catastrophe. That will effect their views on the issue and if their views on the issue have influence with the NYT, there you are. The fun thing about this is they get to posture as being on the same side as the defenders of the poor and those who want to keep socking it to the malefactors of great wealth. Ditto the income tax issue.

I disagree with the assertion that the Special Forces report was a matter of forgetting the basics.
Among other things, anybody with a lick of sense already knew that. How'd she get so dumb?

Years ago, discussing an opinion dressed as a report in the Detroit News about the Gulf War, I mentioned to the reporter something about the WW II Strategic Bombing Survey. "Oh," she said, "I don't know anything about that."
Well, hardly anybody does. You have to go looking for it.
The point was her tone. It was saying that it was good to not know about such horrid things. It was a good thing to be ignorant about. And that ignorance was so good that it meant she was more correct than I--a knuckle-dragging babykiller in her implication. Not knowing stuff, at least this stuff, trumped knowing it.

Being so wrong as the SF report was seems to be more than random lack of information. It gives me the impression that such a lack is desireable. To know that stuff is to know about bad things. To be tainted.
And, of course, an editor who would never send the finance guy to a garden show, or the theater critic to a fire has no hesitation about sending a generalist--at best--to cover an issue in one of the most complex institutions in our country.
I don't see desperation. This doesn't smell desperate. I see a bone-deep template which is proof against the outside world.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 2, 2005 10:48 PM | Permalink

The point was her tone. It was saying that it was good to not know about such horrid things. It was a good thing to be ignorant about. And that ignorance was so good that it meant she was more correct than I--a knuckle-dragging babykiller in her implication. Not knowing stuff, at least this stuff, trumped knowing it.

Her tone? You read all that in her tone? I'm starting to see the problem. You may have read a wee bit too much into the reporter's statement. And the depth of Macias of the Times' sins.

And, yes, Richard, editors send generalists out every day to talk to a whole host of different people about newsworthy or interesting aspects of their jobs. They're called 'general assignment' writers. And sometimes they go out to talk to soldiers.

I don't know Macias of the Times or her job title. From the writing, I'd say she is a feature writer assigned to do a story on a day in the life of a recruiter. It wasn't a story on the intricacies of Special Forces training or an in-depth analysis of our Defense posture.

Now you and I may agree that she might have understood better that SF don't leave for combat from training camp - unless it's that last training camp at the long end of SF training. But I digress.

She didn't know. An editor should have caught it but didn't. But tracing that lack and finding "an impression that such a lack is desireable. To know that stuff is to know about bad things. To be tainted," is more than a little over-sensitive.

Turning it into "a bone-deep template which is proof against the outside world," stretches credulity w-a-a-y beyond silly.

It's just a story, Richard. Other than that faulty clause, did you think she maligned the recruiter?

Posted by: Dave McLemore at November 3, 2005 12:39 AM | Permalink

Okay...I've remained silent because I'm certainly not a military expert...but "How'd she get so dumb?" is just a bit too I decided to do a little research.

Not long after 9/11 Special Forces began recruiting civilians (link).

In case you don't trust that link...try this from

"The Army is now recruiting civilians to join the U.S. Special Forces. This is a unique opportunity to join up, receive exceptional training and find strength you never knew you had."

In civilian you might have heard of...Pat Tillman took advantage of this.

While it's true that the training camp is certainly longer than basic training...63 can go from "training to the front lines" as the reporter you called "dumb" reported.

But...again...I'm no military expert...but since you are...perhaps you can explain why even though there's a 63 week training period - from what I've read - Pat Tillman went from enlisting in May of 2002 to being sent to Iraq in March of 2003.

My guess is things are a little different now.

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at November 3, 2005 1:27 AM | Permalink

In civilian you might have heard of...Pat Tillman took advantage of this.

Really Ron? Are you sure about this? That Tillman joined the Army Special Forces?

Do you know the difference between Army Special Forces and Army Special Operations? The difference in the organization and training requirements for Army Ranger units and Army Special Forces units?

Did Pat Tillman take advantage of the Army Special Forces recruiting civilians?

Posted by: Sisyphus at November 3, 2005 6:04 AM | Permalink

I don't think Macias maligned the recruiter, although the emphasis on his smoothnes might have been excessive.

I do not think the SF-boot camp issue is major, although it has two aspects. One is that the dispatch of boot-camp only guys as individual replacements to units in contact ("from boot camp to the front lines) was a bad idea, although difficult to avoid in WW II. Their casualties were higher than among the guys who'd been with the unit since the beginning in the States--but since they had to stay in the fight until death, crippling wounds or the end of the war, it meant they died faster than the old sweats--not that they died and the latter lived.
The Brits addressed this by not sending a replacement until a unit was out of the line for a break. That was a bit better, but they rotated their units and the US doctrine was to leave them in until, in Patton's phrase the division became ineffective on account of its rifle platoons being at thirty percent strength. So "boot camp to front lines" tells anybody who knows, and many of those who know only vaguely, and leaves the impression among those who don't know, that something is dreadfully wrong. Kids to war and all that.
The other is that this is a factual issue, a matter of such a simple, straightforward fact that it's one of those things that ought to have been correct. She didn't have to put it in. She could have passed it up. But she chose to put it in and she has a responsibility to do at least a simple check. As a reader who's been in the real world for some time, and known about the boot camp to the front lines issue since about 1965, and this is the main point, it makes me wonder what else she missed. Let me say that again. It makes me wonder what else she missed.
It is icing on the cake that the subject of her story is about the best, most informed source for such information, and more prepared than practically anybody else in the Army to explain it clearly.

Ron. I don't know where you're coming from. I will presume that by now you know you're not dealing with morons and so won't be trying yet again to put us on. This, I should say, is a conundrum faced by readers on encountering such howlers.
In the real world, Ron, "boot camp" is basic training. Eight or nine weeks. All services do it. It makes you into somebody who knows how to march, salute, report for pay (maybe they've gone direct deposit by now), wear a uniform, shoot some, and, here is the most important thing, the folks who train them later in their specialty can expect to only have to train them in their specialty. The BASICS have been taken care of.
It has never been understood otherwise in the understanding of the folks in the real world, including civilians whose only experience with the military is knowing somebody who was in.

The reporter said "boot camp", not training. Tillman's boot camp was far behind him. By almost a year. Ron is off by a factor of about eight, if his 63-week fact is correct.

If the reporter meant "training" then she should have said so. But that would have--to be as paranoid as a news consumer ought to be--taken some of the sting out of the thing. Even if Tillman went, after months and months of training as in individual replacement to a unit in contact, he was infinitely better trained in military affairs than most soldiers in history. And I don't know that Tillman went as an individual. Perhaps he joined a company at Benning, trained a bit more, and then went overseas. Anybody know for sure?

To recap. The error was a howler because practically everybody knows better. If it were true, then it would be saying something unpleasant about the state of US forces. Since it 1, was untrue, and 2, discredited US forces if it were true, and 3, was in the NYT, a careful reader might even think it was deliberate. Or a matter of a bone-deep template.

I realize that my encounter with a reporter's tone seems tenuous as an item upon which to build a case. It is not the sole item, others being the rest of the conversation with her, and having experience with many like her.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 3, 2005 8:09 AM | Permalink

Since it 1, was untrue, and 2, discredited US forces if it were true, and 3, was in the NYT, a careful reader might even think it was deliberate. Or a matter of a bone-deep template.

Going Freudian on us, Richard? There are no mistakes?

You're far too intelligent to construct a faulty syllogism as you did above. To go from 'untrue' to 'discredit US Army' to 'deliberate' is bizarre. Even for a careful reader.

I don't see any sign of bad intent in the story except what you apparently read in to it, Richard. Sometimes a mistake is just a mistake.

And, by the way, Macias wrote 'training camp.' in the clause in question. "Unlike the Marines, Army infantry and Special Forces, which send volunteers straight from training camp to the front lines," Check it out for yourself.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at November 3, 2005 9:52 AM | Permalink

Richard, a reasonable person would assume from what Macius wrote exactly what was (doubtless) intended -- that SFs went directly from the completion of their initial training as SFs into combat.

Macius had a 'brain fart' -- we think of 'boot camp' as initial training, and her equation of "boot camp" with "initial training" is not some indicator that she had no idea of what she was saying, its simply a reflection of imprecision of language.

In other words, you are making a mountain out of a molehill here, solely because the error fits your ideological agenda.

Posted by: ami at November 3, 2005 9:57 AM | Permalink

Dave wrote:

And, by the way, Macias wrote 'training camp.' in the clause in question. "Unlike the Marines, Army infantry and Special Forces, which send volunteers straight from training camp to the front lines," Check it out for yourself.

Wow! So you mean all this time Aubrey has been railing about something that never actually occurred? Here is the first reference to the article in question...

Note, for example, the article on Guzman's war in which the reporter said Special Forces guys go straight from boot camp to the war. Now, this is not only not true, it's so obviously, clearly, widely known to not be true that one has to ask how the reporter missed it.

and here, from a later post...

The reporter said "boot camp", not training.

(The reporter did use the phrase "boot camp" in other context)

What Richard has done here is impose his own specific knowledge on what she wrote, and then asserted that what he THOUGHT she meant is what she wrote. Mascia used the phrase "Army infantry and Special Forces, which send volunteers straight from training camp to the front lines" in a way that does not differentiate between the kinds of training given to infantry and Special Forces recruits.

Aubrey, knowing there is a difference, assigned to the words "training camp" the "limited" training given to the infantry, then accused Mascia of inaccuracy (and worse) based SOLELY on his own superimposition of meaning on what she wrote.

Hopefully, this little brouhaha will lead Aubrey to reconsider his knee-jerk reaction to issues of bias, and make him understand that what he perceives as bias in the Times is very often objective reporting filtered through his own biases...

Posted by: ami at November 3, 2005 10:16 AM | Permalink

In other words, you are making a mountain out of a molehill here, solely because the error fits your ideological agenda.

No, in order to prove an ideological agenda in the news criers that would explain Richard's latest howlers, which is what his whole time-wasting trollish act is about-- getting the libs or the journalists (same thing) to "admit" it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 3, 2005 10:19 AM | Permalink

If people don't go from training to fighting,where do they go? In other words, why is this newsworthy? Why waste ink? Ink, unlike cyberwhatsit, costs money. This would be like saying the sun rises in the east.
She would only be saying it if it meant something.

Speaking of Freudian, the next question is why she chose to make this particular mistake. Of all the mistakes in the world, she made this one.

I have been speculating on the reason she made this mistake, and it is true that my ideology (call it "experience", since that's more accurate) leads me to suspect one thing instead of another.

But there are several irreducible facts. One is she got a simple thing wrong and a reader who knew nothing else of what she wrote but that this was wrong would be inclined to doubt the rest. Journalism can't afford to have readers doubting their competence, no matter the presumed reason for screwing up. The other is that this is one of those things everybody knows better than, with the exception, possibly of Ron and the reporter. That it is simple and widely known adds a dimension to the initial error. To get a simple thing wrong is one thing, to be ignorant of what everybody knows is another. That increases suspicion of the rest of the article's assertions.

The unique point is that the subject of her article was the best person she was ever likely to talk to in her life about the correct facts and she didn't bother. As far as I know, this kind of opportunity is a rare occurence. It is, as I say, icing on the cake.

This leaves the average reader asking "How in the Hell could she screw this up?" And wondering how much more of the article she blew. What the motivation behind this is is a separate issue.
I see a template.

It also demonstrates that even minor brain farts can have serious effects on reader's perceptions of an article. That none of us are free from brain farts does not diminish the practical effects of putting them into print.

Sure, editors send general assignment reporters to cover things. So? Point is, when they do that, the likelihood of an error increases. Why not ask around for a veteran to do a story on the military? Unless the NYT's quest for diversity overlooked that category....

There may be a reason. There was an article in the Flint Journal some years ago where the reporter, who had gone to NG annual training to watch, reported she was astonished at how nice, and competent, and just plain worthy these folks were. I called and asked how come she had been picked for the story, being so ignorant of the subject, plainly. I also asked how she came to be so ignorant, since this is the kind of thing everybody knows and you have to have a knowledgectomy to end up not knowing it. She said the editor sent her specifically to get a piece on the reaction of somebody like her--the editor at least knew what he was doing--and she got dumber about this stuff in college in order to be with the right sort of people. Her father and uncles were all veterans and she knew better until college. A laudable confession, I told her.
But this was a story frankly about the reaction of somebody who didn't know better. Unfortunately, it had been presented as a straight feature about the NG, hence the confusion.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 3, 2005 10:39 AM | Permalink

Dave McLemore/ami,

Try searching on ""send volunteers straight from boot camp""

Posted by: Sisyphus at November 3, 2005 10:51 AM | Permalink

Sisyphus: So what? That particular clause is not in the story. Maybe Richard's umbrage takes flight on gossamer wings.

Or are you also saying that the reporter's intent was to denigrate the Army with that little clause?

Don't we have other things to talk about?

Posted by: Dave McLemore at November 3, 2005 11:16 AM | Permalink

I think the story was changed from the original "boot camp" to "training camp".

Posted by: Sisyphus at November 3, 2005 11:21 AM | Permalink

Let's assume the phrase was changed. That means an editor caught the error in an earlier edition and changed it. Isn't that what Richard argued they should do?

Like LA, there's not a lot of there there, Tim. I don't understand why you think this is important.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at November 3, 2005 11:27 AM | Permalink

An observation on perception and its application hereabouts.
If a person screws up nine times in a certain direction and then a tenth situation shows some ambiguity, the ordinary person will presume that the tenth time is more of the same.

It would be the prudent thing to do.

See Greyhawk ("Mudville Gazette) for a list of NYT massaged quotes from soldiers.

One aspect of the Mascia story I would emphasize is that even mentioning that troops go from training camps to combat is puzzling. Is there anyplace else they come from? Troops are training all the time. In part, commanders don't want armed adolescents thinking up ways to pass the time.

Now, if she was making a differentiation between a TRAINING UNIT, whose sole purpose is to impart a specialty, and a LINE UNIT, whose purpose is to be ready to go to fight, or already be fighting (and if they're not fighting, they're training endlessly)then she has a further problem.

She has to show that people go from a TRAINING UNIT to a unit in combat. Can she? Or do they go from a line unit individually to combat? Or do they only go into combat with a line unit of which they have been a member for more or less time?

If she conflates Stateside line units with their endless training with training units, she misleads.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 3, 2005 11:27 AM | Permalink

If she conflates Stateside line units with their endless training with training units, she misleads.

And if she were made of green cheese, she'd be the moon.

The writer didn't discuss, much less conflate, stateside units or the relative systemology of training vs. combat units. She wrote about a recruiter. If she were going to intentionally mislead and denigrate the Army, she had a much bigger mess of fish to fry than one puny little clause.

If, as Sisyphus suggests, the offending clause was changed in later editions, than the editing process worked and you have less of a point.

You raise straining at gnats to an artform, Richard.

Posted by: Dave Mclemore at November 3, 2005 12:07 PM | Permalink

Dave: I don't understand why you think this is important.

Important? At first I just found Richard's complaint mildly interesting.

I agree with his larger point, that there's little military expertise or knowledge among journalists working at newspapers and in TV news. I do think that's important, in that much misinformation is passed along as a result.

But I've found the responses to Richard more interesting. Ron says he "decided to do a little research". As a result he made some interesting claims that I believe to be false or misleading. For example:

Not long after 9/11 Special Forces began recruiting civilians for which he provides a link.

Well, SF was recruiting "off-the-street" from inception until the late 80s. They stopped with the changes in organization that created their own branch and command structure.

Restarting this option was in the works before 9/11 (18X). You can read more here, here, or here.

Ron also states, "In civilian you might have heard of...Pat Tillman took advantage of this."

Uh, no.

Ron continues with, "... explain why even though there's a 63 week training period - from what I've read - Pat Tillman went from enlisting in May of 2002 to being sent to Iraq in March of 2003."

Since this is based on a false premise, that Tillman enlisted into the Special Forces rather than into the infantry (graduating from the Ranger Indoctrination Program in December 2002), what's to explain?

It seems clear that the NYT's changed their story online from "boot camp" to "training camp" without a correction notice. Important? I guess it depends who you are and what discussion you are involved in at the time. It certainly was important enough for you to use to "correct" Richard and provided much fodder for ami.

Do I think it proves an anti-military (or liberal) bias at the Times or on the part of the reporter and/or editors? No. I think the story reflects the global narrative available at most news outlets on the advent of US military fatalities (from all causes) in Iraq reaching 2000.

I find it interesting that gnats have so many adversaries and defenders.

Posted by: Sisyphus at November 3, 2005 1:00 PM | Permalink

Substitute for gnat "troll." Troll behavior always causes reactions; that's the whole point of being a troll. You find that interesting? To me there is nothing less interesting online than that. Just another "liberal bias" troll who tricked people into thinking he had a genuine question.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 3, 2005 1:24 PM | Permalink

I agree with his larger point, that there's little military expertise or knowledge among journalists working at newspapers and in TV news.

This is likely true, as there's little knowledge/expertise, generally speaking, on military affairs among bankers, accountants and other occupations in the U.S. Particularly among the younger folks. It's the reality of a professional military in an age of reduced forces.

Military experience is helpful in journalism, but not necessarily. I know very few physicians who are also reporters. That doesn't mean the media can't write effectively about medicine. They simply have to seek out those who do know. Which is what they do on military affairs. Reporters routinely talk to soldiers, commanders, retired generals, defense policy strategists ad infinitum. It doesn't necessarily result in stories that appeal to a particular political viewpoint, but then, it's not supposed to.

As for a "global narrative available at most news outlets on the advent of US military fatalities (from all causes) in Iraq reaching 2000," well, I didn't get the memo on that. The reporting of 2000 dead was, despite the Pentagon's protestations, newsworthy as a signpost of the continuing cost of the war, a measure of success or failure as the war moves on. If we're going to talk about Iraq's efforts to create a constitution, we can damn sure talk about the price.

I'm outa here. Work to do, minds to bend, truths to subvert. Maybe when I get back, we can return talking about the Times' learning disability.

Posted by: Dave Mclemore at November 3, 2005 1:30 PM | Permalink

Dave, it isn't that the truth is bent successfully. It's that people keep trying.

Frank Shaeffer wrote a moving book about his son's decision to join the Marines. The reactions of his (dad's) precious friends were beyond parody.
Shaeffer himself said that, until that point, he'd not thought at all of or about military people. Had no clue. No empathy. No curiosity.
It took his son's decision to rescue him from his cluelessness.
This is strange. He's not a mechanical engineer with a case of Asperger's Syndrome. He's a WRITER for heaven's sake.
To his credit, he didn't do as some navel-gazers do, which is to think their sudden enlightenment is the first in the world and the rest of us must hurry to follow their example. He clearly knows he was lacking.
Sounds like the East Hampton influence.
Put somebody like this in charge of a story on the military and you have the potential for a problem.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 3, 2005 2:01 PM | Permalink

This is a silly argument.
1) A reporter is assigned to profile a military recruiter working an unlikely turf, an antiwar community in an antiwar city.
2) The reporter turns in an interesting and, in the end, sympathetic piece, a window into the life of a man doing pretty damned well at a difficult task.
3) At one point in passing, the reporter makes the not-particularly-orginal observaton that infantrymen are more likely to be hauled off to Iraq right after training than, say, clerk-typists, or a dozen other military occupational specialties.
4) Once the online version of the story is posted, a sharp-eyed editor goes into the piece and changes the words "boot camp" to "training camp." We don't know if that happened two minutes after the story went online, or two hours, or two days. The point is, someone spotted and corrected some careless language.
5) And all this is supposed to prove ... WHAT ??

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at November 3, 2005 3:43 PM | Permalink

Steve. It proves that a reporter doesn't know jack about something everybody else knows.
Not only that, she put it on paper, and not just paper, but paper some call the paper of record.
The first thing it proves to a reader is that the entire story is suspect. If she got that simple thing wrong, that I know about (thinks the reader) what else that I don't know about and would like to know did she get wrong?
In other words, she screwed up the story by being ignorant, while, moreover, in the presence of the font of all knowledge, an Army recruiter.
So there was a correction. As you say, we don't know how long it took. The longer, the more people were in a position to decide not to believe.
Corrections don't actually correct the readers' misimpressions, nor, at the NYT are supposed to. The NYT once reported that US soldiers killed a family in a car. After a deal of effort by their commanding officer, the NYT admitted the car was blown up by an IED. The admission was in a paragraph numbered in the double digits in a story on an unrelated issue.
So don't go claiming that a correction fixes things.

Then there was some speculation on how she could be that ignorant. She doesn't need to set out to be that ignorant. She could have been sheltered among the Right Sort all her life. Or perhaps she was deliberately lying. Doesn't really matter. Fact is, she, and the NYT screwed up. This one doesn't hurt many people except the NYT and, to address Ron's original question, demonstrates that the NYT has a learning disability.

The next question is how often does the NYT screw up like this.

Each iteration can be dismissed with a disgusting glottal noise that passes for debate, but the cumulative effect of the cumulative effect doesn't just go away.

Journalism can fix it, or not.
But they can't expect to be treated as if they've fixed it if they haven't.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 3, 2005 4:02 PM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady: "And all this is supposed to prove ... WHAT ??"

That the NYT can learn. That progress, perhaps very small, has been made.

This seems to me to be a painless correction for the NYT. I would be interested in the what (or whom) instigated the correction.

For example, when I read that - "send volunteers straight from boot camp" - and again when I read what you just wrote - "the reporter makes the not-particularly-orginal observaton that infantrymen are more likely to be hauled off to Iraq right after training than, say, clerk-typists, or a dozen other military occupational specialties", it signals to me someone probably operating with a WWII or Vietnam era meme. A concept of the military that is at least 30 years outdated. A military based on conscripts. A military that had not yet gone through the professionalization of the 80s and 90s.

In the all-volunteer professional military, such a statement seems wrong because the training requirements, both in schools and in the unit, don't sync with such statements.

I wonder if, in today's military, combat support troops are in greater demand in Iraq. Perhaps as likely if not more likely to be deployed.

I think that the change from "boot camp" to "training camp" might represent a process at the NYT - either intra-NYT or inter- (between the NYT and their readers) that worked.

It's certainly not the Jayson Blair scenario where nobody, at the NYT or externally, bothered to try.

Posted by: Sisyphus at November 3, 2005 5:13 PM | Permalink

This was discussed on other blogs and I got the impression that somebody contacted them.
I recall somebody saying, "no correction yet". So apparently the editor wasn't doing the electronic equivalent of triple bankshot wastebasket shooting with a complaint.
That's progress, albeit the sort of progress one hates to admit, it demonstrating how things were before.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 3, 2005 5:40 PM | Permalink

Jay Rosen: You find that interesting?

I did find this interesting. You see, the "gnat" bothering Richard was what the Siegal report called (in my mind) a "garden-variety factual error".

Initially, the bias debate over why the NYT made such a garden-variety factual error was not particularly interesting. However, the debate over whether it even was a garden-variety factual error, or didn't matter because it was a garden-variety factual error - and the expansion into other more egregious errors - did.

Here's what the Siegal report stated:

We must reduce the garden-variety factual errors that corrode our believability.

Posted by: Sisyphus at November 3, 2005 5:59 PM | Permalink

um okay...I went directly to the Guzman article which says "training camp" but as Sisyphus points out when you google "boot camp to the front lines you can see that The Times made a correction.

So...yes...they were wrong not to have a correction on that particular is a "garden-variety factual error" that may corrode their believability.

But turning this into something far more than it is just plain silly.

And I got the post/9/11 info straight from the article I linked...and there are countless stories in the press, including the one I linked to, that just described Tillman as special forces...I pretty much agree with Jay - who once said it here I believe - that the MSM could use more journalists or editors familiar with the i said...I'm certainly no expert.

So...yes...this particular story does qualify as another example of "learning disorder." Which The Times should learn from...but if critics from the right like Aubrey could learn how to keep things in perspective - without just screaming "Bias" - perhaps we could get somewhere.

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at November 3, 2005 7:20 PM | Permalink

We must reduce the garden-variety factual errors that corrode our believability-- Siegal Report.

The Siegal report made a big deal of that for good reason. Because it's not the size of what the Times gets wrong (these are "little" errors) but the size of the user's discovery:

You mean they don't know that? And if they don't know that, such an elementary thing, how could they know the more advanced things that depend on mastering basic terms and facts? What else don't they know the first thing about?

And so on. Trust unwinds from moments like that. Now the industry isn't totally dumb. They picked this up in their research with readers and ex-readers. Every single credibility committee the newspaper biz has ever convened (a lot over the years) has come to the same conclusion: garden variety factual errors are killing us.

Number of new ideas the industry has had for slicing the error rate: basically zero. Instead, the answer has been to be more open about the errrors and corrections.

But that invites more and more corrections if you aren't fixing the error rate itself.

Plus, if you do more and better journalism you might well make more errors, but not because you're failing-- you're expanding.

I believe Andrew Heyward was onto this, and that's why he agreed to write his PressThink post. His solution is the wise one: reduce the harm from each error and each slippage from the objective news ideal by reducing the majesty of your claim to know.

"This is the best we could do in figuring out what's happening today" (his recommendation for the Digital Age) is a shrunken claim to authority. But there's a better chance of meeting that standard, so it works. As against, "ABC News: We bring you the world." There is no chance of meeting that standard. It no longer works.

Ah, but there The Note, which solves the problem. The Note works by saying: this isn't the view from nowhere, this is the (narrow) view from somewhere: inside the consensus-making machinery of the Gang of 500.

And with that giant caveat, trust of a kind is restored. The product itself actually is the best ABC News could do in figuring out what's happening in the Gang's natural habitat-- without, of course, disturbing it one bit.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 3, 2005 7:34 PM | Permalink

Jay --
You're right, of course.
But look what happened to Heyward since he wrote that.
He's gone.
Les Moonves of Viacom -- the guy who showed Heyward to the door -- is looking for more radical change than Heyward was willing to embrace. And who knows -- maybe he will get that change. And maybe it will be for the better.
But I wouldn't bet on it.
And that is the great advantage the blogosphere has; it isn't profit-based. Few bloggers worry about whether profits for the past 90 days exceed profits for the preceding 90 days. Whereas many an editor and producer for the MSM worry about nothing else. Because in CW (corporate world), that, and that alone is what they are measured by.
I know; I've been there.
That's the part of the equation that is seldom discussed here.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at November 3, 2005 7:57 PM | Permalink

Steve: I think Heyward knew he was leaving CBS News when he wrote it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 3, 2005 9:48 PM | Permalink

C'est moi. I'm forced to disclose.
Well, well, well.
After consulting a tickle in my extremely random access memory, I did some checking.
On Rantingprofs, Oct 31, 3:06 pm, I mentioned that I had earlier--don't recall how much--contacted the NYT on the SF issue.

On 11-1, at 8:33 am, a poster said, no correction as yet.

Those of you who know your way around the NYT might like to see whether the correction preceded my contact. If so, it might be spontaneous, or it might be another individual who caught it.

I don't say Mascia lied, since I have no proof. I say her template and her ignorance of such things, which I contend are related, allowed her to stumble on this.
The result is not much different than if she had lied.

The correction is, as far as I can tell, a rowback. None of the readers of the error are notified by some formal correction in the paper that they were misled in the first place. The correction only affects those who came late to the article. Which is how many? Looks to me as if the correction is for posterity.

You don't see the problem, if you're a journalist.

One of the reasons I've gone after this particular issue as hard as I did is to make the case that out here in readerland, what looks important is not, apparently, very important to the mages of the media.
The problem is that if the mages of the media aren't in a position to purchase, say, twenty thousand copies of the NYT each day, they're useless. Reproaching us isn't a substitute.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 3, 2005 10:20 PM | Permalink

This seems to have ended with a conclusion, rather than exhaustion, which is an improvement over some extended discussions.

I would take exception, though, to the characterization of the original error as being "garden variety". It may be that in terms of being simple, or, unfortunately, common.

Consider, though, what it purports to tell the reader. It tells, not implies or leaves room for believing, that green recruits with only eight or nine weeks of training are being sent into the inferno, the cauldron, with the horrid results left unspoken. This is terrible, or would be if true.
In addition, it is a huge divergence from reality.
These are the considerations that affect the reader.
That such errors are easy to make or common, or hard to avoid given the structure and pressures of publication may make them "garden variety" to journalists.
But that's not the point.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 4, 2005 12:06 PM | Permalink

One other note I'll toss in from the NYT Public Editor Column linked in Ron's essay:

Several editors, including Suzanne Daley, who just became national editor after a stint as education editor, noted that they must keep two kinds of readers in mind. "One is an expert on whatever subject we are writing about, someone who will read this story no matter what, but who will be highly judgmental. ... The other is your basically curious person, but without a lot of time, who is, in my mind, the real challenge. He or she might read the story. But it has to hook them. The game in my head is: Okay, how do we write this so that it is accurate and has weight, but is still fun to read for someone who really doesn't care much about say, college dorms or tutoring?" [my emphasis]

Posted by: Sisyphus at November 4, 2005 3:10 PM | Permalink

I was the one who first called attention to the error, to my knowledge.

Simple mistakes are no big deal. Names get misspelled, numbers transposed. It's all human error, and forgiveable.

THIS mistake, however, was more significant. This country has been at war for four years already. How can it be that the New York Times editorial staff, after years of war reportage, has refused to educate itself on something so basic?

There is no one, I dare say, at the Times, who would argue that a diverse newspaper staff contributes to quality coverage. A healthy staff will include people from all sorts of communities, who act as a healthy check and balance when it comes to reportage on, say, minority communities, gays and lesbians, the handicapped, etc.

Remember, this is the same paper who hung on to Jayson Blair, in the name of newsroom diversity, long after it became clear to his immediate supervisors that this kid was poison.

So why is it that after four years of war, the New York Times has not sought to diversify their staff to include military veterans? Because anyone who had ever had a four-year hitch as an E-1 to E-4 would have immediately recognized this glaring error.

This is not the first such error the Times has made - there is a long litany of bonehead plays that could have been identified had they just had one military veteran glance through the story before press time.

Now, consider demographics: Seven of the ten zip codes with the lowest enlistment rates in the country are in and around the NYC area. The Times, of course, must recruit from this demographic. (I don't see them placing help-wanted ads in Stars and Stripes or Military Times).

This demographic challenge is part of the reason that the New York Times (and other Manhattan media outlets) are so incompetent in their coverage of military affairs. Incompetent. (Much of the best reporting is being done by hometown newspapers who send their own reporters - many of whom grew up in military communities or in military families in Clarksville, Killeen, Fayetteville, Columbus, San Diego - to cover units from their own communities.)

The Times' error is compounded here by the knee-jerk reactions of still more militarily incompetent journos who yap off at their keyboards who don't even know the difference between the Ranger Batts and the SF Groups. Two wholly different communities with wholly different cultures and missions.

Steve Lovelady might have had access to a clue, but unfortunately, Columbia University has seen fit to exclude ROTC from its campus. Which is part and parcel of the militarily clueless echo chamber that Manhattan has become.

Furthermore that even the "correction" is not really a correction at all, because even with the sentence amended to "training," the passage is still clearly false.

The correction just replaces one rank error with another just as obvious one: Support specialties are just as deployable after MOS Qualification Schools as infantry.

For the record, Bill Borders of the NY Times has written me and assured me that a correction will run in the Sunday version, since the error was made on a sunday.


Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at November 5, 2005 10:40 PM | Permalink

Let's respect Jason's charitable impulses and presume the boneheaded plays are solely accidental.
Jason's a far nicer guy than I.

The other side of this--and by extension others--boneheaded play is to convince the rest of the country which has a clue that the NYT doesn't.

This brings up the CBS excuse mantra. We're not crooked. We're stupid. After a certain run of stupid, crooked begins to look more likely.
"How can anybody be that dumb?"
It would be one thing if it were one error. This is not the case. It would be one thing if people who had a clue were not ceaselessly offering it and suggestions for repair to the NYT.

Stupid looks progressively less likely.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 6, 2005 9:45 AM | Permalink

To close the loop, from the corrections page:

The City

A front-page article last Sunday about an Army recruiting sergeant who works in Harlem and East Harlem incorrectly described the training given by the Marines, Army infantry and Special Forces. After basic training, or boot camp, recruits undergo further specialized training before they are assigned to combat duty. (Go to Article)
Here is the now corrected paragraph:
Unlike the Marines, Army infantry and Special Forces, which send volunteers straight from training camp to the front lines, the Harlem Knights Army unit signs potential recruits up for more than 200 noncombat jobs, everything from laundry and textile specialist to flute player to dental specialist. Sergeant Guzman cannot guarantee that his recruits will not go to Iraq; in fact, he acknowledges, about half of them will probably end up there, though not necessarily on the front lines. But the higher a recruit scores on the basic military aptitude test, the more noncombat specialties are available. "Pulling a trigger is not technically complicated," he said.
I'm curious how readers that are unfamiliar with their military understand that paragraph. Steve Lovelady and others have already provided some insight on the "boot camp" vs. "training camp" issue, but there's much more than just that.

For example, what does the "Harlem Knights Army unit" refer to?

Does Sergeant Guzman recruit for the Marines?

Can you enlist for the Army Infantry and Special Forces at Sergeant Guzman's recruiting station - or - you can only sign up "for more than 200 noncombat jobs" but not "the Marines, Army Infantry and Special Forces"?

Do the Marines have "noncombat jobs" ("everything from laundry and textile specialist to flute player to dental specialist")?

What, or where, are the "front lines" in Iraq?

And so on ....

Posted by: Sisyphus at November 6, 2005 10:49 AM | Permalink

I'd also like to invite Dave McLemore back to discuss this more:

Military experience is helpful in journalism, but not necessarily. I know very few physicians who are also reporters. That doesn't mean the media can't write effectively about medicine. They simply have to seek out those who do know. Which is what they do on military affairs. Reporters routinely talk to soldiers, commanders, retired generals, defense policy strategists ad infinitum. It doesn't necessarily result in stories that appeal to a particular political viewpoint, but then, it's not supposed to.
I'm interested in Dave's thoughts on Mascia's interaction with Guzman to "write effectively about" recruiting in Harlem.

Posted by: Sisyphus at November 6, 2005 11:03 AM | Permalink

Well, it's now come to light that reporters frequently DON'T talk to people who know what they're talking about.

Or practice any verification whatsoever.

For instance, the "corrected" version of the Times article is STILL wrong.

Had they paid more than lip service to newsroom diversity, they'd have had one or two staffers who had had some military experience themselves.

"Hey, does this pass the smell test to you?"

They haven't, they don't, and it doesn't.


Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at November 6, 2005 1:05 PM | Permalink

For the record, you CAN sign up for the infantry, armor, artillery, and any other combat arms or combat support branch at Guzman's station or any other recruiting station. Qualified enlistees can enlist into any vacancy in the Army, provided they have the test scores and meet gender-specific requirements.

So the New York Times continues to screw it up.

My point isn't to pick on a single general assignment reporter assigned to write a profile who got in over her head. My point is that the New York Times is simply not institutionally capable of identifying and correcting these gaffes on its own. Its newsroom staff is too homogenous, and too inbred to even recognize the problem: Insufficient newsroom diversity.

Time to recruit some scribes from the heartland. You won't find many qualified military writers in New York.

Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at November 6, 2005 2:54 PM | Permalink

Is the story correct? Has anybody checked to see if troops go straight from training camps to the front line?
Or do they go to Stateside units which then deploy?

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 6, 2005 5:28 PM | Permalink

They can, in theory, be assigned to the rear detachments of units which are deployed. The S-1 and G-1 staff section may then ship them forward, if needed (pending available transportation space), or keep them stateside or in Europe or wherever that division, brigade, or regiment is based.

This is equally true for infantry soldiers and noncombat specialties.

The rear det. commander messages the forward deployed unit and says "I have 10 x 11B10s, 3 x 11B20s, 4 x 88M20s, 2 x 92Y10s."

The forward deployed unit gives the order to the rear det. commander to have them shipped forward or doesn't. The process is exactly the same, regardless of occupational specialty.

This is yet something else the Times got wrong.

It's amazing how many falsehoods can fit into a single paragraph, huh?

They coulda fixed it with a phone call or email to someone who had a clue. Hell, my email's on my site. They didn't bother to check with anyone, though, either at the manuscript phase or at the correction phase. Manuscript phase I can understand. But to blow corrections?

That's a horse of another shoe.


Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at November 6, 2005 6:23 PM | Permalink

From the Intro