Saturday, November 26, 2005

NYT: "Even Supporters Doubt President As Issues Pile Up" (Kate Zernike)

Oh the Times, the New York Times.

Sarah Vaughn informed us that "The Time for Love is Anytime" (lyrics by Cynthia Weil, music by Quincy Jones), but when is the time for the New York Times?

Judging by the very vocal reactions of house guests to this morning's Times, it's not today.

Here's another question, when is the time (for the Times) for the voices against the war?

It sure wasn't during the lead up. We've noted repeated articles, often of the survey sort, that have "addressed" the war without ever being able to find a voice opposed to the war.

The Times did their infamous mea culpa which pinned the problems as "institutional" (at the paper and the mea culpa was correct about that). But during the lead up to the war, the voices of opposition to the war were nowhere to be found and that's not really changed at the paper.

Today we get an article on Bully Boy supporters who may or may not be turning against Bully Boy for the war or for the outing of Valerie Plame or for the non-leadership with regards to Hurricane Katrina or for . . .

Exactly when does the paper recognize the voices opposed to the war and how about something on those that were opposed from the start?

The "hook" on the latest survey article (Kate Zernike's "Even Supporters Doubt President As Issues Pile Up") is the turning against the Bully Boy. So here's the question, should peace activists begin rallying for the Bully Boy's next war of choice? Is that the only way the Times (and other media, but we'll focus on the Times) is going to ever recognize them?

Does Medea Benjamin need to carry a banner saying "Bomb the hell out of 'em" in the lead up to get in the paper then and then, months and months later, announce she's turned against the Bully Boy to get more coverage from the Times?

Because that's honestly what it's looking like.

I'm all for survey articles by their very nature. Anytime the paper can get one more voice in the paper that's not an "official source" -- often unnamed -- it's a good thing. And I personally usually enjoy Zernike's survey pieces.

I can even enjoy this one.

But it goes back to the question of when does the paper cover the people who opposed the war from the start?

In the midst of this discussion this morning, a friend called, who works at another paper, and gave the knee jerk response. I called him on the fallacy of that argument (and to his credit, he owned up to it).

Fallacy: This is "newsworthy" (today's piece) because it's about people who have "doubts."

That's probably how the pitch for this went too. If that's a selling point, it's hardly a timely one. Regardless of the poll or the insitution, polls have consistently indicated an erosion of support for the occupation of Iraq. When polls consistently arrive at the same finding over time, it's a real trend. (As opposed to a media created one.)

This might have been "newsworthy" in September (or before). In September, we did a piece for The Third Estate Sunday Review, "'Why Are You Here' and 'What's Changed.'" ("We" was credited as The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and Jim, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man, C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Mike of Mikey Likes It!, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, Ruth of Ruth's Morning Edition Report and her granddaughter Tracey.)

There were many problems in pulling that piece together. There was the original completed version which no one (including me) thought to save a copy of before posting and it was lost during posting. There were Blogger problems repeatedly. And it was a hassle and a pain to finish it (even the first version that was lost). There were enough problems going on that I didn't need to add to them. But I did and freely cop to it.

There was a value (news and otherwise) in including the voices that had started out with some sort of support for the war and had changed their position, no question. But my issue (and I wasn't the only one who argued this point, but I'll let other's name themselves) was always, "Let's not make it about that." They are a part of the story of the DC protest events of the weekend of September 23rd; they are not the whole story. And with the mainstream media having ignored the voices who were against the war from the start, I wanted no part in a piece that once again sidelined those voices.

So whenever anyone pushed a voice telling the story of how they had recently come to the decision that the war was wrong, I questioned everyone of those inclusions. What this person is saying is unique because? This voice is a better inclusion than others that you spoke to because?

Few, if any, of us had any sleep as we tried to redo the lost piece in spare moments (we were participating in Sunday's activities) and complete it. We were all tired. I know my eyes were running and all I wanted to do was to go to sleep. (I believe the last of us still participating before it posted logged 42 hours without sleep when the piece finally was completed -- which is probably why we accidentally left out one person's statement and had to add that mid-week.) But to do a piece, for the record, and not give voice to the voices who had been silenced by the mainstream media for two years was not something that I would go along with. (Again, I wasn't the only one who felt that way and Elaine just said I could note that she was another one making that point.)

Obviously, the Times (as an insititution) grapples with no such issues.

They're perfectly content to still cover the same group of people who supported the war then. Sometimes, as with today, they'll include a few from that group who've now started to have some doubts. But it's still the same group.

The ones who cheerleaded then are still given a platform. The ones who were opposed are still ignored.

Here's a survey pitch for the Times: a group who was opposed then and is opposed now. Here are your "hooks:"

1) In the face of nonquestioning media and a Bully Boy who was going to have his war regardless of the costs or the opposition, how were you able to speak out then?

2) When every news program and newspaper in the mainstream media were running cooked intel as "fact" and people were being arrested at malls for just wearing a t-shirt that said "Give Peace A Chance," how were you able to come out against the war?

3) With the mainstream media silencing voices of dissent, where were you able to get your information?

4) While papers were hailing Colin Powell's UN presentation (what he now refers to as "a blot" and others call "a lie"), how is it that you knew a college student's paper (from the early nineties!) and other questionable assertions ("lies") had made into it into his speech?

Those are your hooks. How was it that some people (a significant number actually, though you'd never know it from the mainstream media) weren't fooled despite the Judith Miller & Michael Gordon reporting?

'The Times should have been more skepitcal' was the tone of the infamous mea culpa. Here's another thought, the Times could have just done what it prides itself on (and what, historically in this country, they're largely responsible for): presented two sides. Two sides to war are not "We should go to war with Iraq this way!" and "No, we should go to war with Iraq this way!"

The institution's position on the war was quite clear, they were for it. That shouldn't have effected the "balance" in reporting that the Times is largely credited for creating.

Today's survey piece could have been written in September. It's not "timely."

And it once again pushes the myth that "everyone" supported the war, that "everyone" was wrong. Everyone wasn't wrong.

The administration's attempts to hide behind that lie are assisted by pieces like today's when voices opposed to the war from the start are still unheard by the paper.

We weren't all wrong and the intel wasn't wrong, it was fixed and it was slanted by an administration eager to have their war of choice at any cost. That cost includes the lives lost (for example, 2106 American troop fatalities) but there are other costs as well and they go beyond the voices found in the survey piece in the paper today.

The career diplomats who resigned ahead of the war understood the long term costs to the nation. The Times wasn't interested in that story in real time and, post mea culpa, they apparently still aren't.

There are long term costs to Bully Boy's actions and ignoring them won't make them go away. But maybe the Times figures that when those costs surface they can just pen another weak mea culpa?

The paper was quite happy to run with every assertion (no matter how questionable, sourced or unsourced) supporting a war. With the exception of the op-ed pages (especially Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman) and the occasional editorial the lies aren't acknowledged, they're dimissed or offered up as "we were all wrong." There's another part of this story and the Times is unwilling or unable to cover it. (I criticized a reporter -- Stevenson? Purdum? -- for using that phrase in a report. I've long used it here. It's a way to "fair.")

If the mea culpa means anything, if the sacrificial departure of Judith Miller means anything, if we're supposed to pretend that she was the only one abandoning journalism at the paper, then the Times needs to be striving towards covering what they refused to cover in the lead up to the war, in the invasion and in the occupation to this day.

I slammed a piece by Scott Shane on Monday (and stand by that slam) but I also noted that at least it gave credit to Democracy Now!* I stand by that. It's the only mainstream article to note that a Pentagon spokesperson admitted to the use of white phosphorus on America radio and television. That's part of the story and I'll give credit to the Times for acknowledging it. That's the sort of approach that the Times needs to be taking now, going beyond the obvious sources (who have too often burned them -- but the paper wanted to play with fire) and making an effort to to dig a little deeper than they have in the past. If the mea culpa meant anything on their end, other than an attempt to cover their own asses, that's the sort of thing they need to be consistently doing.

The focus of Zernike's article (in the absence of other voices) doesn't do that.

Benedict Carey has a front page article as well (Zernike's runs on the front page) entitled "The Struggle to Gauge a War's Psychological Cost." There are a number of problems wrong with that article. One huge problem is the assertion quoted by Captain Willilam Nash who's billed as "a Navy psychiatrist" but, as Elaine pointed out, appears confused as to his profession. There's more I could say on the Times approach but everyone's sitting in here ranting and listening to me rant. Elaine's got a point worth making, so I'll close here so she can stop being a good friend and get to work on her entry. But the story of this war includes more than "official sources" and people who now have a few doubt (maybe have a few doubts).

Closing thought, though the policy implications and strategic implications of what we've done may go beyond the areas of knowledge for many reporters at the Times, the editors (if only due to the positions they hold) should be well aware of them and the paper needs to cover those issues.

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[*Note: Many times here I make a point to say "Smith or 'Smith' writes. . ." to indicate that articles, despite their byline, are often reworked by someone other than the credited author or authors. E-mails to this site, which I take with a grain of salt, from people at the paper as well as conversations with friends at the paper, which I take more seriously, indicate that Scott Shane's Monday article had some reworking by someone other than Scott Shane. It should always be remembered that this does happen but I honestly don't have the time to note it everytime. Nor do I always remember to. This has been the largest criticism from people at the paper who've e-mailed -- that they take the fall for something that does not reflect what they wrote. Due to conversations, which I do take more seriously, I'll note that the word is Shane's story was reworked by someone other than Shane. I'll also add this note to Monday's entry due to the amount of e-mails on this, from people at the paper, and due to the conversations with friends at the paper. However, noted or not, criticism here should always factor in the "Shane or 'Shane' writes . . ." issue.]

[Note: Typos noted by Shirley have been corrected.]