Friday, April 21, 2006

NYT: A columnist can tell it's news -- why can't the reporting section?

It's news. That's what Clyde Haberman tell us via "What Did You Do In The War, Grandma" in this morning's New York Times. It's news that the Granny Peace Brigade got busted in October. He paints a visual of grandmothers in the court room yesterday, photos hanging from their necks of grandchildren and great grandchildren, but his news judgement is about the arrest, about the women being hauled off in a paddy wagon:

Grandmothers being hauled away in a police wagon is what we in the news business call a story.

I'm not disagreeing with his call. He's correct, it was a news story. Where was the Times? The arrest was in October. If it was big news (and it was news, we agree on that), why didn't the Times have a story on it when the arrest happened? It took place in Time Square, so where was the Times?

It was a one pargraph brief . . . on March 3, 2006. That was the arraignment. Eighteen women, ranging in age from fifty to in their nineties. Arrested on October 17, 2005. The brief appears, what, over sixteen weeks after the arrest? (Do the math, I'm too tired this morning to even try.)

So Haberman and I can both agree it was news then. I'd assume we'd agree it was news today (I could be wrong). Haberman's a local columnist for the paper. Why is the he the only one covering it? He appears to cover it the way anyone at the Times would: phone calls -- as Ava and I enjoy commenting in our TV pieces at The Third Estate Sunday Review whenever we can remember too, after working the phones to call people we know, "what the Times would call reporting."

If that was the 'method,' that might explain why the name Amy Miller isn't in the article. Who is Amy Miller? The Assistant District Attorney prosecuting the case in court. I'm trying real hard to be fair here and would prefer not to cover the columnist at all. We try to stay away from the columns here. But when that's the only news of a story that is news (Haberman admits it and anyone with any grasp of news would as well), that's all we're left with.

Haberman gets a column out of it. It's good that it's in the paper. It's too bad it's not reported as news. I've avoided commenting on Haberman's tone and point of view since it is a column. But this was news. The arrest was news. The court appearance yesterday was news. (CNN carries an AP report here.) The arrest took place in Time Square, the trial's taking place in their own backyard -- as opposed to all the way across the country the way a trial that resulted in in five articles each week (frequently front paged) did -- the Michael Jackson trial. Yesterday, I said we could grade the paper by how they covered it and noted that it was news (it is) and that it could also be a feature story. It's neither today. It's a column, a local column that most will never see. (In the country, yes, but I'm referring to readers of the paper -- print and online.) Haberman's column is appreciated but it doesn't make up for the fact that the paper's failed.

Presumably, Haberman made his own decision to turn it into a column because he (rightly) realized the topic was good for a column. It's too bad the reporting section (as well as the features section) couldn't grasp that it was actually news. The paper fails.

The facts? The women turned down a plea proposal that would have dismissed the charges if they weren't arrested again in six months. They want to make their case in court (as they should). It'll be interesting to see how they can make their case if the paper of record continues to ignore the case. Yesterday, KPFA's Evening News covered it and went to it right after news of Iraq (including David Enders' report). They grasped (like Haberman) that it was news.

Walk on, walk

Iraq snapshots. From Kirk Semple and Richard A. Oppel Jr's "Shiite Drops Bid to Keep Post as Premier:"

On Thursday, gunmen in camouflage in six pickup trucks stormed two bookstores in Baghdad and kidnapped six people, according to an official in the Interior Ministry. Seven bodies were also found around the capital, the official said.
American and Iraqi security forces continued to come under attack on Thursday. An improvised bomb exploded near a police convoy in the Yarmouk neighborhood in Baghdad, killing a civilian and wounding four policemen, the Interior Ministry official said. An American military convoy in Baghdad was hit by a homemade bomb, wounding two soldiers and seriously damaging a tank, the official said.
In Kirkuk, a convoy belonging to an electricity company traveling between Kirkuk and Tikrit was ambushed by insurgents firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, killing five people, all foreigners, and wounding three others, a police official in Kirkuk said.
In Basra, a car bomb killed two civilians and wounded five others, including three traffic officers and a border guard, the police said.

Though it's left unstated, Iraqis continued to come under attack on Thursday. Including from security security forces. Martha notes this snapshot, from Nelson Hernandez, Bassam Sebti and K.I. Ibrahim's "Iraq Leader Cedes His Nomination As Premier" (Washington Post):

While the talks drag on, Sunnis and Shiites have continued killing one another on the streets. At least 11 Iraqis died Thursday in shootings and bombings across the country, according to police officials and news reports.

Rod notes the scheduled topic for today's Democracy Now!:

Democracy Now! broadcasts live from Chicago: Author Stephen Kinzer joins us to discuss his new book, "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq"

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