Friday, July 07, 2006

NYT: "Facts is hard" Edward Wong demonstrates

Edward Wong has a story in this morning's New York Times entitled "2 American Officials Apologize for Crime." Get your facts right or just give it up already. Here's Wong, see if you can spot the mistake (I think most members will spot it immediately):

On Monday, a recently discharged Army private, Steven D. Green, 21, was arrested in North Carolina on suspicion of rape and murder. Three soldiers, some of whom are reported to have admitted their roles in the crime to investigators, are confined to base in Mahmudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, and their weapons have been confiscated.

When was he arrested?

Friday. Last Friday.

Let's go back to Monday's Iraq snapshot:

Sandra Lupien noted on today on KPFA's The Morning Show, the military had put the age of the female at 20 years-old when they announced their investigation last week (Friday). Reuters reports that the mayor of Mahmudiya declared today that the woman "was no more than 16 years old when she was killed along with her parents and young sister". Lupien also noted the arrest of Steven D. Green. Green, is 21 and was with the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army. Friday, in Asheville, North Carolina, he was arrested and charged with both the four deaths as well as the rape. According to the US government press release, if convicted on the charge of murder, "the maximum statutory penalty . . . is death" while, if convicted on the charge of rape, "the maxmium statutory penalty for the rape is life in prison."

Why does it say Friday in that? Because that's when it happened. Let's go to the government's press release (which is where the links take you):

LOUISVILLE, Ky., July 3 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Steven D. Green, 21, formerly stationed in Ft. Campbell, Ky., with the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, was arrested Friday evening in Asheville, N.C., on charges of killing four Iraqi civilians -- a man, two women and a young girl -- and raping one of the female murder victims, U.S. Attorney David L. Huber of the Western District of Kentucky and FBI Special Agent in Charge Tracy Reinhold of Louisville, Ky. announced today.

The Times knew the press release (as Mike pointed out) Monday afternoon when they posted their first article on Green online. (Knew it rather well.) He was arrested Friday. (Check the BBC here. You can also look at Reuters and any number of news sources.)

Does it matter? Yeah, it does. If you're writing about it and you and your editor can't get it right, there's a problem. Is it casual Friday at the Times today? Are they so casual that it doesn't matter when something happens? That even an editor can't get the story right?

Here's David Stout and Kirk Semple's earlier report in the Times on this:

The charges were announced by the United States attorney for western Kentucky, David L. Huber, who said the defendant is expected to be brought to Louisville after his initial appearance, held earlier today, in Charlotte, N.C. The defendant, who was arrested on Friday in Marion, N.C., was a private first class in the 101st Airborne Division and had been stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., before going to Iraq.

What does it say? ". . . arrested on Friday." This isn't difficult, it's public record. If you don't even know the basics, why are you writing about it? If your editor can't even catch an obvious mistake (the paper has no fact checking department and depends on editors to catch mistakes), then why are you covering a story?

This is very basic, it's when it happened, and if you're showing up late to the story, that's not really an excuse.

It's not minor. If you can't get an arrest date right, one your paper's already reported correctly, how are we supposed to believe a damn thing you write? This didn't require Wong searching his mind and trying to determine the exact date in November of 2005 (or 2004) when something happened before finally just writing ". . . in November." This is very basic and people need to start treating the facts a little bit more seriously.

Green was arrested last Friday. It's basic. It's known. It's what the government says, it's what's been reported (including in the Times).

But it shows you how casual things are in the Green Zone that Wong and his 'big name' editor didn't catch it. It shows you how little oversight the Go-Go Boys are given and how 'creative' they're encouraged to be.

Wong writes:

The United States ambassador and the top American military commander here together issued an unusual apology on Thursday for the rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman and the killing of her family, saying that the crime, in which at least four soldiers are suspects, had injured the "Iraqi people as a whole."

Is it true? Did it happen Thursday? All that's called into question when Wong can't even get the basic facts correct. There should be some yelling today in the Green Zone, something more than, "My drink! Get me my drink!" (For the record, the apology was issued on Thursday. Note: those involved in the alleged rape and murders appear to have dropped from four-plus-Green to three.)

Martha notes Jonathan Finer and Saad Sarhan's "Iraqi Soldiers Clash With Shiite Militiamen in Baghdad" (Washington Post) and asks, "Why is the US military issuing statements on what the Iraqi soldiers did?" That's a good question. It's a supposed independent government and supposedly US forces weren't involved. So why is the US playing press flack? From the article:

Iraqi soldiers clashed Friday morning with Shiite militiamen in the eastern Baghdad slum of Sadr City, killing or capturing 30 to 40 fighters in one engagement, according to a statement from the U.S. military.
While the statement did not name the militia involved, that area of Baghdad is controlled by the Mahdi Army -- a force loyal to firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. One of those taken prisoner was a "high-level" leader of "multiple insurgent cells" responsible for kidnappings and killings, including the deaths of two Iraqi soldiers, the statement said.

Kara notes this, on the Times, from Katrina vanden Heuvel's "Nation and NY Times: Bay of Pigs Deja Vu" (Editor's Cut, The Nation):

Never has the need for a free and independent press been greater. Never has the need for news outlets to inform the public about government abuse and wrongdoing been greater.
The Bush Administration is dedicated to sabotaging the workings of a free press--a cornerstone of a true democracy. The vituperative attacks on the New York Times--a newspaper that, as
The Nation's Washington Editor David Corn points out, "consistently published stories that hyped the WMD threat" and whose reporters "--Judith Miller and others--churned out breathless exposes based on Administration leaks and handouts from Iraqi exile groups angling to start a war"--have little to do with the paper's recent publication of the banking records story. It is part of the White House's larger and long-term game plan to delegitimize the press's role as a watchdog of government abuse, an effective counter to virtually unchecked executive power.
The other day Vice-President Cheney attacked the New York Times' disclosure about illegal wiretapping of US citizens. "I think that is a disgrace," Cheney said, referring to the Times winning a Pulitzer Prize for the story.
What is disgraceful is the conduct of an Administration that engages in press-bashing to score political points at the expense of constitutional principles.

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