Thursday, March 10, 2005

New York Times Working From a Summary Wants to Scream "Scoop!" even though the LA Times covered this yesterday (and covered it better)

This morning's New York Times features Eric Schmitt's "New Interrogation Rules Set for Detainees in Iraq." Prepare to hear a great deal about it because this is news . . . the Times says.
Of course it was news yesterday as well since when Mark Mazzetti's "Lack of Oversight Led to Abuse of Detainees, Investigator Says: A Pentagon review finds higher-ups were not directly responsible for the mistreatment" appeared in the LA Times. (And we noted Mazzetti's article yesterday.)

So what does Schmitty bring to the table? Another green bean salad (that we didn't need) which is underseasoned and rather bland.

See the LA Times made it about the report. The New York Times knows it has a bland report, but the Grey Lady knows that since it didn't appear in the all mighty New York Times a lot of people haven't paid attention. So how do they take a report and "heat it up." Check out this opening paragraph:

After clashing with Afghan rebels at the village of Miam Do one year ago, American soldiers detained the village's entire population for four days, and an officer beat and choked several residents while interrogating them and trying to identify local militants, according to a new Pentagon report that was given to Congress late Monday night.

Oh my goodness, it sounds positively explosive. The Times saw a summary and by God, they're going to own this story no matter how they hard they have to work to hype it.

Chortle as you read that " The new procedures approved by the officer, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., on Jan. 27, have not been publicly disclosed, but are described in the the Church report, a wide-ranging investigation into interrogation techniques used at military detention centers in Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq." Why? The Times hasn't seen the report. They've only seen a summary but watch them weigh in on what's in the report without qualifiers where needed.

Yes, the paper of record notes that: "The episode, described only briefly in a summary of the report reviewed by The New York Times, was one example of how little control . . ." That's the second paragraph. And later on, they note:

These findings are in an unclassified 21-page executive summary of the classified report, which runs 368 pages, according to a Senate Republican aide. A copy of the summary was reviewed by The Times.

So why do they continue to act as though the paper had access to the full report in the rest of the article? (Did someone train with Rudith Miller?)

"These conclusions track with those in a draft summary of the inquiry's findings that The New York Times described in an article last December. " That statement can be read as "No, the LA Times didn't scoop us!" Of course, they in fact did but don't injure the pride of the New York Times.

Oh, C.I., you're far too skeptical of the Times! Why, right there in the story they give credit to another paper!

Indeed they do: "The report's disclosure of the abuse at the village in Afghanistan was described in The Boston Globe on Wednesday." When your the New York Times Co., it's easy to be generous in your big paper (the Times) to the smaller one you also own (The Boston Globe).
And Bill Keller wanted to lecture about circle jerks?

The Times tell you it's postively explosive! The LA Times noted (yesterday):

"It's a 'mistakes-were-made' kind of report, instead of a 'these-people-are-responsible' report," said a congressional aide who has read the Church document. "The passive voice is used a lot."

We can also note that "Vice Adm. Albert T. Church" gets a promotion midway in the New York Times story where he suddenly becomes "Admiral Church." Check his official bio at the United States Navy page. Here are the first two paragraphs:

Vice Adm. Church commanded USS Excel (MSO 439) from August 1979 until October 1981. From April 1983 to April 1985, he served as Executive Officer onboard USS Fox (CG 33). He served in the Surface Warfare Program and Budget Office (OP 30) and the General Planning and Programming Division (OP 80) of OPNAV from May 1985 through October 1987.
Vice Adm. Church commanded USS DeWert (FFG 45) from April 1988 through April 1990, completing a deployment to the Persian Gulf. He next served in OPNAV N81, then in BUPERS as the Director, Officer Plans and Career Management Division (Pers 21).

Note that in those two (as well as the next two which make up the four paragraph bio) he's never "Admiral Church." There's no sudden promotion. He's always "Vice Adm." One would think the Times, with their concern for titles and their notorious style guidelines, would be a little more careful about that.

Let's remember too how the LA Times closed their article:

Some Pentagon officials, congressional staffers and rights activists who learned of the report's contents were critical of the findings, saying the report failed to thoroughly examine the role civilian policymakers in Washington may have had after the Sept. 11 attacks in "setting the tone" for abuses that eventually occurred thousands of miles away.
"The report is underwhelming, to say the least," said one senior Defense official who criticized the various investigations for punishing mainly low-level soldiers.
Others criticized the fact that the Church investigation apparently based its conclusions on only 70 cases.
Rights groups have been calling for an outside investigation of abuses, but the Bush administration has refused.
"That the Defense Department is suggesting that number constitutes the universe of abuse cases demonstrates the inadequacy of the investigations," said Lucas Guttentag, a senior lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union who last week filed a lawsuit against Rumsfeld and three senior Army commanders, charging that the military authorized illegal interrogation techniques.

Working from a summary, the New York Times crotch grabs and growls, "Dig my package!" We saw something a little less hyped (and a little more impressive) in the LA Times yesterday.
Of course, all this hyping could deflate public calls for more investigation and oversight. But the New York Times isn't in the business of managing public opinion. Is it?

[Note: This post has been corrected for spelling and italics. Also "also" was changed to "all."]