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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 fact...one civilian you might have heard of...Pat Tillman took advantage of this."
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.
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.
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.
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.