Thursday, January 06, 2005

Strong tsunami coverage by Jane Perlez on the front page

In the makeshift recovery room, Dr. Paul Shumack crouched on the floor cradling the head of Novi, 35, who had already lost her husband and only child to the tsunami, and now her right leg.
The doctor had just amputated it to the buttock. Short of supplies, the surgical team had been forced to use what was described as a handsaw. The hour-long operation drained huge amounts of blood from Mrs. Novi, already weak from asthma. There was no blood for a transfusion. Her fingers were turning white.
"She is dying," said Dr. Shumack, the leader of an emergency surgical team of Australian doctors and nurses. Ten minutes later, still holding her head, he softly pronounced her dead. "We gave her what chance we could."
International health officials have warned of soaring numbers of casualties among survivors of the tsunami 10 days ago, but doctors here say that many of the most seriously injured died even before medical teams arrived here near the center of the devastation.

The above is from Jane Perlez's For Many Tsunami Survivors, Battered Bodies, Grim Choices on the front page of today's New York Times. Yes, all over the world people people are donating (and countries) in record numbers to help the relief efforts and that's a part of the story. But as Elaine e-mailed late last night, "This back patting seemed to almost become the story." Generousity should be noted. It is not, however, the story or the "end of the story." Perlez's strong article brings that point home this morning.

Kate Zernike's Newly Released Reports Show Early Concern on Prison Abuse is a strong article that notes the pattern of abuse that was not isolated, nor the work of a 'few bad apples':

When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke last spring, officials characterized the abuse as the aberrant acts of a small group of low-ranking reservists, limited to a few weeks in late 2003. But thousands of pages in military reports and documents released under the Freedom of Information Act to the American Civil Liberties Union in the past few months have demonstrated that the abuse involved multiple service branches in Afghanistan, Iraq and Cuba, beginning in 2002 and continuing after Congress and the military had begun investigating Abu Ghraib.
Yesterday, in response to some of the documents, the Pentagon said it would investigate F.B.I. reports that military interrogators in Guantánamo abused prisoners by beating them, grabbing their genitals and chaining them to the cold ground.
Questions on the handling of detainees will be central to Senate hearings today on the nomination of the White House counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, as attorney general and to the court-martial of the accused leader of the Abu Ghraib abuse, which begins Friday in Texas.
An article in today's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine says that military medical personnel violated the Geneva Conventions by helping design coercive interrogation techniques based on detainee medical information. Some doctors told the journal that the military had instructed them not to discuss the deaths that occurred in detention.

Richard W. Stevenson's G.O.P. Divided as Bush Views Social Security focuses on the split between GOP Congress members on how to best alter (ATTACK -- my term) social security:

One group of Republicans is pressing the administration to make the accounts as big as possible, preferably permitting the investment of all or nearly all of the 6.2 percent levy on wages that individuals contribute to Social Security. (Under all proposals, employers would continue to pay an additional 6.2 percent tax on each employee's wages up to a wage cap that this year is $90,000.)
. . .
That approach is viewed warily by many other Republicans. Those Republicans say that diverting money that would otherwise go to pay benefits into the private accounts would lead to a sharp spike in the budget deficit in the short run. They say the approach would also raise what they say is a false expectation that Social Security's problems can be addressed without any painful steps.

I question the inclusion of Gina Kolata's Two Studies Suggest a Protein Has a Big Role in Heart Disease on the front page. That's not a slam against Kolata's writing or an attempt to say health isn't important enough as a topic to make the front page. I question any story that's lead sentence relies on "may," that's based on new studies and that quickly moves to note:

But other heart disease researchers cautioned that more work was needed to prove that CRP directly causes heart disease. And most agreed that because the new studies involved only people with severe heart disease, it remained unknown whether healthy people would benefit from reducing their CRP levels.

Translation, more peer review needed, results may be inconclusive. It's a story, it deserves to be in the paper (and Kolata has written it very well), but an inconclusive "maybe" without a consenus from researchers doesn't belong on the front page (my opinion).

How appropriate: just now on NPR's Morning Edition someone just joked "I'm going to go eat some doughnuts." That's the sort of "discussion" an article like this inspires. (Even with Kolata stressing cautions.) Which is why I question it appearing on the front page.

A worthy front page story, by contrast, is Gretchen Morgenson's 10 Ex-Directors From WorldCom to Pay Millions :

Investors have become increasingly frustrated as company directors and officers escaped financial responsibility for losses incurred as a result of fraud.
Companies whose executives are accused of engaging in fraudulent practices typically pay those executives' legal bills and the fines that can result when regulatory proceedings against them are settled. And directors almost never pay in such settlements because they are covered by insurance.
"New York State has done a great thing for shareholders everywhere," said Greg Taxin, chief executive of Glass Lewis, an institutional investor advisory service in San Francisco. "This may be one of the most important steps toward reinforcing the importance of performing the directorship duties with fidelity toward shareholders. It's going to be very sobering to board members around the country."
The directors' personal payments were a requirement of any deal from the start of the negotiations, according to lawyers involved in the settlement. Given the size of the WorldCom debacle, the investors who brought the case sought to make an example of the directors, lawyers involved in the settlement said.

This is a strong article and one worth reading. It's also more worthy of "discussion" than silly jokes about "doughnuts" and Atkins. I understand NPR was trying to be funny, I do think they took a serious story, treated seriously by Kolata, and oversimplified it in the interest of "fun." I don't see that as a public service.

That said, NPR deserves credit for their interview this morning (Morning Edition) with Republican Congressman Joel Hefley who, at this point, is still the chairmanship of the House Ethics Committee. "It doesn't serve me well to criticize leadership . . . I'm in enough trouble as it is," declared Hefley. What is bothering him? That the much trumpted "return" to the ethics rule isn't really a return. A majority must agree to pursue an ethics investigation or it will just fade away. The coverage and commentary on the "return" hasn't really underscored that.

Also on the front page is Steven Erlanger's As Abbas Runs, Skeptical Militants Wait and See which Kara has e-mailed asking that people weigh in on. (We'll discuss it this evening.)