Sunday, July 31, 2005

Editorial: NYT's Lavery, is he joking or unfit for the assignment?

So the e-mails this morning revolve around three questions:

1) Is Brian Lavery an actual idiot?
2) Is he not an idiot but he thinks readers are?
3) Is he trying to have "fun" in his reporting?

Good questions all.

As the Times continues to wage what many see as it's war on Irish-Catholics, today's the day they finally, kind of, sort of, get around to addressing a tiny slice of issues that anyone even slightly informed on the area long ago noticed was conspicuously absent from their coverage. Lavery's fable, er article, is entitled "As I.R.A. Backs Off, Loyalist Gangs Battle One Another."

Let's be real honest, in terms of news, there's no point to the Sunday paper. You might get a Shane Scott, Douglas Jehl, Felicity Barringer or Raymond Bonner piece the paper's sat on but that's prety much it. The highpoint (yes, there are a few) today is probably Amy Waldman (back on the front page with "Seething Unease Shaped British Bombers' Newfound Zeal" after apparently being exiled for the strong writing she did during the immediate after effects of the tsunami). But most of the time, you're left with a lot of reports that don't pass the news test and features that don't belong in the hard news, main section.

But apparently since none of them focus on Britney Spears, we're all supposed to shut our mouths and pretend like they are stories that truly, truly matter and are executed in hard news style. The underscored message here is "Nobody wants to work weekends! And we have to get the Sunday paper to bed early!" What's the excuse going to be when the Times switches completely to an electronic medium? Right now they're able to justify the dead main section on Sundays (followed by the anorexic one on Monday) with the "excuse" of print deadlines. When they switch to 100% electronic will we see a stronger main section, possibly even one that's really newsworthy?

I wasn't expecting real news this morning, but I also wasn't expecting the "work" of Lavery on the issue of paramility Protestants.

While working all night and a good portion of the morning, Jim had a few suggestions on how we could all get some sleep for a change -- all being Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess and Ava (Third Estate Sunday Review), Mike (Mikey Likes It!), Kat (Kat's Korner), Betty (Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man), Elaine (subbing for Rebecca at Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude) and myself. They included no breaks (we'd work straight through -- which we did for thirteen hours), killing any piece that none of us could think of a way to fix within fifteen minutes (which led to three being axed), inviting Jess' parents who are up late on Saturdays to determine what are the five biggest stories breaking by midnight, letting others assemble the transcriptions Ava and I took of the roundtable (that should really be "decipher") so Ava and I had some additional time to put in on the TV review, and things I've honestly forgotten. The result was we could all get some sleep.

My own selfish hopes were: Ava and I could have a solid TV review (we both hate, loathe and despise the one we did last week and hate it with such intensity that time will not change our minds on that), I could have a Sunday that consisted of more than two hours of sleep and going through the day dragging with a headache and watery eyes, and I could enjoy the Sunday paper by going through it rested. So little happens in the Sunday paper that any minor irritants could actually lead to a humorous entry (like "Clubbing With the New York Times").

Lavery's article, his clowning, apparently beats us to the humor.

In Ireland, is he really that closed off that he thinks his examples in the morning paper suffice?
Is he truly unaware of the acts of violence against Catholics that's been going on recently? Or does he, as we wondered last night, think they've attempted to bomb their own churches in the last few days as some sort of sympathy bid?

The high point of "humor" (or maybe it's just self-amusement in a jerking off style) is most likely this statement:

But loyalist groups, referred to by a bewildering array of three-letter abbreviations that are still daubed in spray paint across much of Belfast, are unlikely even to be able to respond in any formal way to the new I.R.A., in part because there is no one to speak for them.

There is so much that is wrong with that sentence but let's note the "bewildering array of three-letter abbreviations." Coming off like an old grump still complaining that Eritrea's independence meant redrawing the maps, Lavery (who's stationed in Ireland) can't make any sense of the "bewildering array of three-letter abbreviations." Is that something a Times reporter should be joking about (let alone admitting -- if true)? Can we next expect Sheryl Gay Stolberg to turn in a report where she notes, "Congressional committees are like confusing. I just can't keep track of them. And why do they use names like 'Ways and Means' anyway?"

Maybe he's truly bewildered. If so, the Times should consider his article today a cry for help (if not for reassingment).

Maybe that's how he missed this news last week:

If they are openly and brazenly stating that that they are no longer engaged in moving away from paramilitarism and criminality and instead are intent on escalating their killing spree with the LVF, Peter Hain (Northern Ireland Secretary of State) is now under a moral obligation to declare their ceasefire to be at an end. If he fails to do so he jeopardises the basis of the entire political process.

That statement was made by the MLA's Naomi Long. ("MLA!" Yes, Lavery, more "three letter abbreviations.") And she made the statement in Belfast, the location from which so many of Lavery's pieces are filed. She even sits on the city council of Belfast. So she should be easily reachable by Lavery. But maybe phone directories, like "three letter abbreviations," also confuse Lavery?

(She graduated from Queen's University, which is in Lavery's rolodex or programmed on his speed dial since he quotes Adrian Guelke "a professor of comparitve politics at Queen's Univesity in Belfast.")

As he rushes to tell readers that "it almost seems the loyalists have already switched their focus, from fighting the I.R.A. to fighting one another" he somehow missed the following:

The Associated Press reported that loyalist extremists planted a homemade grenade outside a Catholic family's home in Ballymena. The bomb detonated, causing minor damage. Arsonists badly damaged one Catholic-run pub in the village of Martinstown, and caused minor fire damage to the outside of another pub in nearby Rasharkin with two gasoline-filled bottles. In addition, two Catholic churches in Ballymena were vandalized with paint-filled balloons and painted-on anti-Catholic slogans. No injuries were reported.

That apparently ancient history was reported July 27th, Lavery's dateline for this article is July 30th, three days later.

As members blame the paper in total for the slanted coverage that's repeatedly presented the IRA as the only paramilitary force in Ireland and as the only one involved in any and all violence, maybe the fault actually lies with their "man in Ireland" Lavery? Maybe they're not running reports on the above incidents and many other similar ones because Lavery's not filing any? And maybe, if he's not joking, the reason is because LVF and other "three letter abbreviations" bewilder and confuse him? Maybe he just can't get it straight in his hand so he passes on reporting on their actions?

If so the brand name that is the IRA may account for Lavery's continued focus on them. Or as Mike said when I called him this morning to get his take on Lavery's report, he's like someone trying to pass himself off as a sports fan who nods along while the talk is of the Lakers but gets a dazed, confused look when someone brings up the Cavaliers. (A sports analogy so surely the Times can grasp that.)

Is the joke not a joke? Is Lavery seriously owning up to not being up for the job? That would certainly explain the reporting. It would also read a little better for the Times since having done such a poor job reporting on the conflicts, Lavery's not earned the right to crack wise and the main section (with the exception of the floating op-ed by Bumiller) isn't supposed to be the pages from which someone auditions to be the next Dave Barry.

Maybe his reference to "bewildering array of three letter alphabet groups" is actually a confession that the bewilderment may be on the part of some Times readers (not all, Saturday's letter page demonstrated that many readers are more on top of the situation than is Lavery)?
Maybe he's confessing that since he's done so little in the past to report on those groups, introducing them into the discussion today would prompt head scratching on the part of the readers?

While the paper's come down hard on the IRA (and on Sinn Fien and on Catholics not willing to play good token and denounce Gerry Adams), it's left readers with the impression that violence comes from only one direction. Lavery's taken part in that so if "bewildering array" was his attempt at a joke, let me repeat, he hasn't earned the right to make jokes about an area he's done such a poor job of reporting on.

And while there's never been an innuendo Lavery hasn't been willing to pin on Adams, note the reassuring statement he offers for Ireland's own Jerry Falwell:

. . . Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionsit Party, which has no criminal connections, . . .

As long as he's on the stand as a character witness for Paisley, would Lavery like to address whether or not Paisley in fact created the paramilitary group Third Force? And explain to the jury what happened to the imported arms from South African?

Wait, Lavery, we're not done yet. What of Paisely's repeated remarks, public ones, that Pope John Paul II was the anti-Christ? Now we realize you were too busy cracking wise to report on actual events, but maybe while sending hearts and flowers to Paisely, you might have thought twice about that considering his infamous public remarks? Then again, maybe thought's not Lavery's strong suit?

Could you explain also why some critics suggest that Paisely violent rhetoric has aided in the recrutiment of paramilitary Protestant organizations?

And, if we can drop back to 1968, since you're vouching for Paisley, could you interpret for us his cry at a rally of "I will kill all who get in my way" which seems to beg for a reporter to hold off on the hearts and flowers, don't you think?

David Ervine is quoted in the article, is Lavery unaware of Ervine's 1997 allegation that the Democratic Unionist Party Lavery's vouching for attempted to prevent unionist paramilitaries from engaging in a 1994 ceasefire?

We could go on and on (the January 27, 1999 reading of names by Paisley which was seen by some as issuing death warrents, for instance). But maybe the sad truth came out in the paper today: Lavery's assigned to cover an area that he finds "bewildering" and it's all so over his head that he can't function?

Maybe the one-sided reporting has not resulted in bias but in ignorance? Maybe it's spread through the paper as everyone assumed that if anything were happening other than the IRA, Lavery would surely be reporting on it?

The imposed narrative at the Times has led to many questions (still unanswered is why they felt they could get away with no correction for their referring to Sinead O'Connor as "Mr. O'Connor") because it's come off petty and uninformed. Lavery's reporting, as he bends over backwards to vouch for questionable people (non-Catholics only get vouched for), has led to a great deal of anger. Before they next begin applying terms like "bullies," they might want to take a serious look at the coverage they've provided. There's been no rumor they haven't been willing to tar Adams or Sinn Fien with. Somehow actual facts don't stick to Paisley. It's interesting the way that's worked out. The Times might want to look into how that happened?

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[Note: The plan is for another morning entry as well as to post Isaiah's latest; however, I've spent several hours on this entry and will have to resume posting in a bit due to a scheduled event already in place. My apologies.]