Tuesday, March 14, 2006

NYT: How to grab glory but spread blame

The online magazine Salon is challenging the identity of a man profiled by The New York Times in a front-page article on Saturday who says he is the iconic hooded figure in a published photograph who was abused by Americans at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004.

The above is from "Web Magazine Raises Doubts Over a Symbol of Abu Ghraib" -- a brief article in this morning's New York Times buried on A16 and not credited (in the paper or online) to any writer (not even "by THE NEW YORK TIMES"). So the Times may or may not have misidentified Ali Shalal Qaissi in Hassan M. Fattah's "Symbol of Abu Ghraib Seeks to Spare Others His Nightmare" article Saturday?

How do they respond to that possibility? It's worth noting, even spotlighting, because it gives you a look into the way things work at the Times. Susan Chira ("foreign editor of The Times") is on record in the story making a statement, that some will find laughable, about how seriously the paper takes charges of possible mistakes. Hassan M. Fattah, who received credit in the byline? He's nowhere to be found. He's not quoted nor is he named. But Chira can attempt to hide behind human rights organizations (Amnesty and Human Rights Watch -- neither of which appear to have confirmed that the person was the hooded man in the famous photo -- only that Shalal was at Abu Ghraib).

What's even more interesting is that suddenly they are aware of Vanity Fair. As we noted Saturday, they're "exclusive" (which got widely circulated online) wasn't. Over a year ago,
Donovan Webster's "The Man In The Hood: And New Accounts of Prisoner Abuse in Iraq" ran in Vanity Fair. When it was time to grab credit and glory, Fattah and the paper couldn't be bothered acknowledging Webster or Van Fair. Now that the paper may have erred, they offer this:

The man identified by The Times, Ali Shalal Qaissi, often called Haj Ali, was also interviewed and described as the hooded man forced to stand on a box attached to electric wires in an article in Vanity Fair and a broadcast on PBS.

The blame they can spread, the credit they can't share. For the record, Webster's article, unlike the one that ran in the Times, maintained that the man claimed to be the one pictured in the infamous photo but raised, within the article, the issue that he may or may not have been. Such a qualifier was noticably absent from Fattah's article the paper ran.

So what have we learned this morning? When it's time to grab (false) credit, the paper's unaware of the work of those who came before. When a story's facts or "facts" are questioned, suddenly they're quick to credit the work of others. To repeat, Webster didn't maintain that this this was the man -- only that the man claimed he was in the photo, that he was in the prison and that he could be the man pictured. The Times had no such qualifiers.

This morning, they want to hide behind Van Fair because, apparently, they don't have much else to back up their story with. The article's unsigned and they don't name Fattah of the author of Saturday's piece that's now being questioned. The man may prove to be the one in the photo. He may not. That's not the issue of this entry. The issue is the response of the paper.

Be sure to listen, watch or read (transcripts) of Democracy Now! today.

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