Monday, January 24, 2005

The New York Times, afraid to break the news?

Somedays it must be really hard to be Eric Schmitt. Here he is on the front page today (and it's probably one of the strongest stories in the paper) with a story he probably knew something of sometime ago. But only today is he allowed to run with it, after the administration issues a statement.
What's his story? Covering the same thing Seymour Hersh broke last week in The New Yorker:

The Pentagon has created battlefield intelligence units that for the first time have been assigned to work directly with Special Operations forces on secret counterterrorism missions, tasks that had been largely the province of the Central Intelligence Agency, senior Defense Department officials said Sunday.
The small clandestine teams, drawn from specialists within the Defense Intelligence Agency, provide the military's elite Special Operations units with battlefield intelligence using advanced technology, recruit spies in foreign countries, and scout potential targets, the officials said.
The teams, which officials say have been operating in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries for about two years, represent a prime example of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's desire to expand the Pentagon's ability to collect human intelligence - information gathered by spies rather than by technological means - both within the military services and the Defense Intelligence Agency, whose focus is on intelligence used on the battlefield.

When does news become news to the Times? When there's an official statement, when John McCain has gone on TV to talk about it (on Face the Nation yesterday which the story quotes from) and when the Washington Post has already run a story on it.

Somehow, I don't think the three source rule was supposed to mean three sources had spoken of it publicly but that's the increasingly cautious Times that wouldn't dare offend anyone by breaking news. The New Yorker breaks the news. We noted last Monday that Vanity Fair was breaking news. And the Times? "Was it discussed on TV? On the record? Do we have a Senator who's Republican because we just can't take the heat of being called partisan! It was? Okay, then let's put this story on the front page."

That's how it goes at the Times. I'm sure Schmitt knows enough to realize the danger of military intell trumping the CIA. I'm sure he's familiar with the history. The long struggles between the two agencies. But since John McCain hasn't apparently made any remarks on that, it goes untouched in his article. I don't know which must be harder: being a reporter at the Times who wants to break news but is constantly being told to sit on the bench or being John McCain and realizing that the entire mainstream press bases their coverage on the statements you choose to make?

It must be hard to be Dexter Filkens as well. He's got a front page story where he's pushing the line that the elections will result in a secular government. Juan Cole basically refuted some of the main points Filkens is making only moments ago on NPR's Morning Edition.

Filkins also has never been allowed to report on this item that Joshua Holland covered on Common Dreams:

The allegation that Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi shot seven restrained prisoners (killing six) in a fit of anger—with a number of witnesses present—is certainly newsworthy.
But, remarkably, the U.S. media has chosen not to cover it, preferring to accept official denials. The foreign press is not so trusting. The disconcerting result is that we simply aren’t getting the same picture of Iraq that citizens of every other English-speaking country see.
If you haven’t caught the story, here’s how Australia’s leading daily, the Sydney Morning Herald
broke it on July 17th:
“Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, pulled a pistol and executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station, just days before Washington handed control of the country to his interim government, according to two people who allege they witnessed the killings.
They say the prisoners – handcuffed and blindfolded – were lined up against a wall in a courtyard adjacent to the maximum- security cell block in which they were held at the Al-Amariyah security center…

. . . .
But, according to a Lexis-Nexis search, no major papers picked up the UPI story. The Los Angeles Times did run a piece under the headline: “Rumors circulate about Allawi's itchy trigger finger,” which was republished by the Kansas City Star, the Baltimore Sun and the San Francisco Chronicle. This is how those papers’ readers got the story:
“There are many versions of the story on the street. In one, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is driving through downtown Baghdad and sees a frail old man being confronted by three armed men attempting to steal his vehicle.

. . .
At least readers of the LA Times and the other three papers that ran its story knew that a “rumor” about Allawi killing the prisoners was out there. That put them ahead of readers of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and every other major daily. They heard nothing whatsoever of the matter.

Of course The New Yorker is on the story the Times' is still waiting for John McCain to discuss on Face the Nation, Meet the Press or This Week, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported on the 19th of this month:

A former Jordanian government minister has told The New Yorker that an American official confirmed to him that the Iraqi interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, executed six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station last year.

Jon Lee Anderson's New Yorker article covers the story. It's a story that can be found in many places, just not on the pages of the New York Times.

It must be very frustrating to be a reporter for the Times. As was noted on The Laura Flanders Show last night (Air America Radio), Baghdad Burning's reporting that water is out in Baghdad:

Water is like peace- you never really know just how valuable it is until someone takes it away. It’s maddening to walk up to the sink, turn one of the faucets and hear the pipes groan with nothing. The toilets don't function… the dishes sit piled up until two of us can manage to do them- one scrubbing and rinsing and the other pouring the water. Why is this happening? Is it because of the electricity? If it is, we should at least be getting water a couple of hours a day- like before. Is it some sort of collective punishment leading up to the elections? It’s unbelievable. At first, I thought it was just our area but I've been asking around and apparently, almost all of the areas (if not all) are suffering this drought.
I'm sure people outside of the country are shaking their heads at the words 'collective punishment'. "No, Riverbend," they are saying, "That's impossible." But anything is possible these days. People in many areas are being told that if they don't vote- Sunnis and Shia alike- the food and supply rations we are supposed to get monthly will be cut off. We've been getting these rations since the beginning of the nineties and for many families, it's their main source of sustenance. What sort of democracy is it when you FORCE people to go vote for someone or another they don’t want?

But that's from an Iraqi and we noted yesterday how faceless they've been rendered by the Times. Now if John McCain had made the same statements on Face the Nation . . .

Christian Parenti mentioned Filkins last night on The Laura Flanders Show: "Dexter Filkins politics are very different from the Dexter Filkins politics we know in the New York Times. [In person, he's saying] 'Oh it's awful, the situation is totally out of control.'" That's a paraphrase (I've left out a "Dude" among other things).

It must be hard to be Filkins or Schmitt or any number of reporters at the Times who might buck the official-administrative-narrative. Not only did they have to watch no one question Judith Miller's various claims (many of which were proven false) because she parrotted the administration, but things they know are true can't appear in the paper . . . unless John McCain wants to go on Sunday chat TV and talk about them.

The power of McCain. It must be a burden at times. "What will I decide to talk about?" he might wonder. "After all, I know the state of the free press entirely depends upon whether or not I choose to address a subject."

It didn't use to be that way. Now even something as simple as coverage on Johnny Carson's death (three stories in this morning's main section) apparently results in, "Uh, who are the names other people are mentioning? Not Roseanne Barr? Uh, she was kind of a big deal? Wasn't she the first woman to be invited to sit down after doing her stand up . . . What? No, NPR didn't mention her. Okay, we won't either. What about Ellen Degeneres? I mean she's got a successful talk show now and Carson is thought to have made her career by inviting her to come over to the couch and chat after she did her stand up . . . El-len. De-gen-er-es. She was the voice of Dory in Finding Nemo . . . No, no one's mentioning her. Okay, we'll stick with the same names everyone else is using."

Poor timid groundhog that is the Times, still unable to face its shadow.

The Third Estate Sunday Review had a good point re: the Times and their efforts to "save" Judy Miller:

All the poor Judy coverage (including the op-ed from the publisher) are pretty much worthless. Miller's sympathy-proof due to her own actions. But if you spent even half the time you're spending trying to turn this into an "Oh! The humanity!" story instead on something worthwhile like assigning a team of reporters to find out who outed Plame, Miller can be spared a jail sentence, no reporter will be forced to testify, and you'd have an honest to God scoop.
We're sorry. We just realized that it's been so long since NYT had a scoop that they may not know what that term means anymore. A "scoop" is the sort of thing Sy Hersh gets at The New Yorker. It means he breaks a story. He's not just playing stenographer to whatever administration official has decided to speak. A sccop is when you break a story that no one else is covering or you come up with an angle on it that no one else has noticed.
We realize you're used to reporting on stories that have made the Washington Post already or write ups on what got said on Meet the Press. We realize that you probably think a "scoop" is noticing something that's gone up on a governmental website.But those aren't scoops. Breaking the news on who leaked Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak would be a scoop.
Realizing that you have little interest in actual news these days, we'll pitch it to you this way: Picture it, Judy Miller's about to be carted off to jail while people cheer but just when it looks darkest, a little boy charges onto the screen screaming, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it! ___outed Plame to Novak! New York Times exclusive!" We intercut with shots of the official being led away in hand cuffs while Judy attempts to look uplifted. [Hint, wipe the scowl off her face and bring in some soft lighting.] Then just before the credits roll, we see Arthur and Keller popping open a bottle of bubbly with a cheery Judy who says, "Okay guys, now we hit Iran!"
Scroll credits.It's a blockbuster in the making!

, that people are being