Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Times and that Mea Culpa

Front page, this morning's New York Times, Kirk Johnson attempts to summarize Americans' attitudes toward the war in "Fighting On Is the Only Option, Americans Say" (

Americans across the country expressed anguish about the devastating attack on a United States military base in Iraq on Tuesday. But it was the question of where the nation should go from here that produced the biggest sigh from Dallas Spear, an oil and gas industry worker from Denver.
"I would never have gone there from the beginning, but that's beside the point now," Mr. Spear said, his jaw clenched. "We upset the apple cart and now there's pretty much no choice. We have to proceed."
Mr. Spear's sentiment was echoed in interviews in shopping malls, offices, sidewalks and homes on a day when the news from Iraq was bleak. With at least 19 American service members killed and dozens injured, it was apparently the worst one-day death toll for American forces since United States forces defeated Saddam Hussein's regime in spring 2003.

There's no choice? We have to proceed off this cliff and take others with us?

The Times hasn't given much voice to those who say bring the troops home now. Perhaps if those voices were heard, we'd feel differently? As for the idea that we have to stay regardless, this site addressed that in "Should This Marriage Be Saved" (

I'm sure someone will say, "Oh those voices get plenty of time!" Really? Where? Where in the reporting, when average people are spoken to, do we see that sentiment in print?

In today's article, not one person is quoted as saying, "Bring them home now."

Ten people are quoted (from "interviews in shopping malls, offices, sidewalks and homes") and not one says, "Bring them home now."

One woman says that we have to stay until after the elections (scheduled for January 30th if they aren't postponed). Mike Hoffman of Iraq Veterans Against the War might have said that we should bring the troops home now. If he did, he's not quoted on that. He's quoted about the insurgency and makes comments about how things get worse the longer we are over there. But he's not quoted as to having an opinion on what we should do. Can his beliefs be inferred? In an article headlines "Fighting On Is the Only Option, Americans Say" I don't think so.

Get that headline? Grasp it? Americans. People of America. We say there's only one option. And that's to fight on. Must be true, the paper put in the headline.

The paper quotes people saying we should stay. Apparently no one that Lisa Bacon spoke to in Richmond, VA had expressed the belief that we should pull out? Nor anyone that Ariel Hart spoke to in Atlanta, nor anyone Karen Hastings spoke to in Harlingen, TX, nor anyone Gretchen Ruethling spoke to in Chicago, nor anyone Mindy Sink spoke to in Denver?
All these Times reporters, fanning out across the country, and they can't find one person who says "bring the troops home now?" Borders on disbelief.

One wonders how the quotes were chosen. When will the paper allow people to express a sentiment that's held by a healthy percentage of Americans?

Maybe Kirk Johnson played gatekeeper on what could and could not be expressed? I don't know and I don't care. I do care that the same paper that couldn't report the protests leading up to the war accurately now continues to have a problem representing a sizeable chunk of America when they do their "person on the street" interviews.

I'm going to quote Fox "News" from June 18th of this year:

When asked about the "right thing to do," almost twice as many Americans say U.S. troops should stay in Iraq and finish the job (62 percent) as say the right thing is to bring the troops home now (32 percent) (,2933,101722,00.html).

Where is that 32% in the Times report. I mean, who would have thought Fox "News" would do a better job of noting the large segment (32%) that support the troops coming home now? I don't watch Fox or any TV news. ("News.") [I do watch Democracy Now! online.] But who would have thought that Fox could do a better job of delivering the views of the American people than the New York Times?

I think they should be embarrassed at the Times that this continues. They sold this war (along with others) via lazy journalism (and that's being kind). Now that we're over there, they want to play gatekeeper? This is an institutional problem. The prior problem (reporting during the lead up to the war) was an institutional problem as the mea culpa noted. Doesn't appear that problem's been attended to.

Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.

We were given the rah-rah-rush-to-war reporting of Judith Miller and now that we're over there the Times is still limiting the flow of information. If five reporters in five different cities couldn't come across one person who felt that we needed to bring the troops home now, then there's a problem with how they're doing interviews.

If Kirk Johnson decided that a voice representing approximately a third of the people wasn't worth hearing, then there's a problem with his concept of journalism. If a statement or statements for "bring the troops home now" made it into a draft and was killed by an editor, then there's a problem with the editorial staff.

Some critics of our coverage during that time have focused blame on individual reporters. Our examination, however, indicates that the problem was more complicated. Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper.

I don't know where the breakdown is. The Times said it wasn't individual reporters so the implies it's systematic, institutional, blah, blah, blah. I gave them credit for their mea culpa just last week when noting who had and who hadn't expressed misgivings over their 'lead up to the war' reporting. But they call that mea culpa into question when we see the same thing going on again -- when voices who oppose the continued presence of our troops in Iraq aren't allowed to be heard.

Bill Keller, if he wanted to, could easily find out where the ball got dropped. He should do that. He should get to work on that because the paper's credibility is at stake. When it comes to covering Iraq, due to their past performance, judgements will be harsh.

I can hear Keller insisting that this is just people upset with the paper because it doesn't editoralize for what they believe in. That's not the issue. The editorial board will continue to watch the quagmire without insisting that we pull out. That's the board's right. They can express whatever opinion they desire. However, this was a story about the opinions of the public and approximately a third of Americans were not represented in this story.

We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight.

Fox "News" might ridicule those people who want the troops brought home now (of which I am one). I don't know, I don't watch the channel. But if you saw the report (see link above) in June of this year, scoffed at or not, you were aware that almost a third of the public wanted the troops pulled out right now. Yet if you read today's front page of the New York Times, you have no idea those people even exist.

That's a problem, a serious problem. The Times doesn't have to agree that the troops should be brought home but, when reporting on attitudes and beliefs of the American people, the paper needs to be representative. It wasn't today.

When is the time for those voices to be heard? Months from now? A year from now? After the next mea culpa?

Let's be clear, the Times never said we shouldn't be in Iraq. The mea culpa was about a pattern of silencing voices and running with pieces that weren't rounded out with contrasting voices. What just happened today?

It is past time we turned the same light on ourselves. Indeed.

[All statements in bold from "The Times and Iraq" ( published, by the New York Times, May 26, 2004.]

[Note typos have been corrected. Thank you Shirley for catching them.]