Saturday, January 29, 2005

What the Fluff Patrol (Sanger, Stevenson & Bumiller) left out of Thursdays with Bully Boy

Beth e-mailed asking that a section of the post on Democracy Now! be highlighted because I'd made a note that "reduced to an aside something very important."

Here's the entry (we're starting with a link to the Democracy Now! segment and after it and the section from yesterday we'll be commenting on a story in today's New York Times):

U.S. Claims Maher Arar "Extraordinary Rendition" Lawsuit Jeopardizes National Security
The U.S. government is attempting to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Canadian citizen Maher Arar, claiming the litigation would jeopardize national security. Arar was jailed by the U.S. and secretly deported to Syria where he was held for almost a year without charge and repeatedly tortured.
---------------------------------------------------[I'm editing this line to shorten it]

Note, our government claims it jeopardizes national security and today in the New York Times, page A7, Bush says: "Torture is never acceptable. Nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture." And the Times prints it with no comment. A lot of sucking up went down to get this interview -- David E. Sanger, Richard W. Stevenson and Elisabeth Bumiller conduct the interview -- but what good is it when statements like that aren't questioned -- during the interview or in print?
The Times demonstrated extremely poor judgement in running the article on the "interview" -- as well as the pull quotes section -- today. But they finally got their "access" and perhaps that's all they care about?
The Times had access to Maher Arar's story but they don't appear overly interested. A year ago (almost to the day) they offered us this national briefing (

World Briefing Americas:
Canada: Inquiry In Deportation Case
Published: January 29, 2004, Thursday
The government announced a public inquiry into what role Canadian officials played in the detention and deportation of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen detained in New York in 2002 and deported to Syria, where he has said he was tortured. Since Mr. Arar's return to Canada in October, the government had firmly resisted calls for a public inquiry. Colin Campbell (NYT)Published: 01 - 29 - 2004 , Late Edition - Final , Section A , Column 4 , Page 6

They're aware of the story. Presumably at least one of their three reporters conducting the "interview" was aware of it and an editior should have noticed it.
But they just put in the Bully Boy's quote and provide no context or, for that matter, reality. And this is reporting?

That section comes in the middle of the Democracy Now! post from yesterday ( Beth wanted it in a seperate post to highlight it because "this Bush nonsense doesn't belong in a paper!"

No, it doesn't, not as it was "reported." The Bully Boy can write an op-ed if he wants to give his opinion, but when three New York Times reporters interview him and then write it up, they can damn well get their facts right.

The three were David E. Sanger, Richard W. Stevenson and Elisabeth Bumiller.

There's an attitude here of "he said it so it's news!" No, he said it so it was said. News is made when something is newsworthy. And bragging in the locker room that you got access to the Bully Boy may just get approving towel snaps for Sanger, Stevenson and Bumiller, but outside the locker room, we'll ask what your access resulted in?

Yesterday, not a damn thing. The Bully Boy (to go back to the thing highlighted above) gave three reporters for one of nation's best selling newspapers a story that it is in direct conflict with reporting from organizations and publications that still traffic in real news (among others, Democracy Now!, The New Yorker, The Nation and Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive have addressed reality). Instead of noting that in their long, boring article (or making that the thrust of an article) the Times triplets (and editors) decide not to let that ugly reality intrude upon the Bully Boy's glory moments.

Maybe the Times is content to bask in the fact that after four years, the Bully Boy finally gave them a sit down interview. Maybe they are proud to be able to brag about their access. But the access came with a cost.

The Bully Boy and his people may not have insisted that his version of events be printed without question. He might not have had to insist upon that. But what ran read like a wet dream of Pat Kingsley and any other p.r. hack who's been able to set the rules for any coverage of their celebrity clients. The Times should be grossly ashamed.

It wasn't reporting and if they justify it to themselves in any way by saying "it's official record" -- don't kid yourself. To be part of the official record, it needs to be correct. There was nothing truthful or honest in the way Thursdays with Bully were reported yesterday.

Coverage elsewhere and court documents refute large portions of what the paper printed yesterday. The official record refutes what the paper reported.

Today, buried inside the paper (A4), you'll find a long article by Raymond Bonner entitled "Australian's Long Path in the U.S. Antiterrorism Maze." Here are the opening paragraphs:

For more than three years, Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian with a volatile temper and an intense devotion to radical Islam, was in American custody, transported from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Egypt to the prison at Guantánamo Bay.
The Americans designated him an "enemy combatant," saying he had admitted to having prior knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks and to having trained some of the hijackers. He said he confessed while in Egypt only to stop the waves of torture.
But Mr. Habib's journey came to an unexpected end on Friday afternoon at Sydney's international airport when he stepped off a white executive jet and was set free.

Another section of the article:

. . . what distinguishes Mr. Habib's case are the severity of the accusations on both sides - the Americans' allegations of his connection to Sept. 11, and his charges, in legal papers made public earlier this month, that he was subjected to a process called "rendition," under which the United States sent him to Egypt. There, he says, he was tortured with beatings and electric shocks, and hung from the walls by hooks.
In a statement, the Department of Defense said, "There is no evidence that any Australian detainee in D.o.D. custody was tortured or abused." United States officials have acknowledged using renditions but say they do not condone torture.
Australian officials confirmed that Mr. Habib was indeed taken to Egypt, and added that when they interviewed him at Guantánamo, he told them of being beaten and given electric shocks in Egypt.
In separate interviews, three senior Australian officials agreed to discuss the case on condition of anonymity, in part because they were discussing intelligence material and sensitive diplomatic negotiations. Moreover, some of what they said went beyond what has been asserted publicly.
. . .

In early October, Mr. Habib was heading to Karachi to catch a flight home when his bus was stopped by Pakistani police officers, who seized two Germans wanted in Germany in connection with a terrorism investigation. When Mr. Habib protested to the officers about the arrests, they took him away, too. Within weeks, the Pakistanis turned Mr. Habib over to the Americans, but not before they, too, tortured him, Mr. Habib told his lawyer, Joseph Margulies.
One form of torture in Pakistan, Mr. Habib said, involved hanging him on hooks with his feet on the side of a large drum. Wires from the drum ran to what seemed to be a battery. When the interrogators were not satisfied with his answers, they threw a switch and a jolt of electricity shot through the drum, causing it to rotate and leaving him "dancing" on it. When he slipped off, he said, he was left hanging.

. . .
Australian officials said this week that consular officials had sought access to him in Egypt, although at the time the Egyptian government said repeatedly that he was not being held there. When Australian investigators visited Mr. Habib after he had been taken to Guantánamo, he told them he had been tortured with electric shock and beatings in Egypt, an Australian official said.
The Egyptian Embassy here declined to answer any questions about Mr. Habib.
Mr. Margulies's affidavit contains further statements by Mr. Habib about his time in Egypt.
For almost six months, the affidavit says, Mr. Habib was kept in a small, roach-infested, windowless cell, roughly 6 feet by 8, with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. He slept on the concrete floor. He was taken out for interrogations, sometimes in the middle of the night. Sometimes he was hung from hooks on the wall, he said. He was "kicked, punched, beaten with a stick and rammed with what can only be described as a cattle prod," Mr. Margulies wrote.

I want to stay on the torture for a moment to note the Democracy Now! segment and what Michael Radner (Center for Constitutional Rights) noted while discusssing Maher Arar:

MICHAEL RATNER: He was never charged with anything. He’s completely – I mean whether he was charged or not, we took him over there to be tortured, but the guy is completely innocent of everything. It was nothing. He has a couple of kids sitting up in Canada. It was devastating for his family. He was never charged. They never gave him an attorney. We’ve said Syria's tortured for the last 10 years in our State Department reports and then Ashcroft said, “I received assurances from the Syrians that they wouldn't torture the guy,” and we send him to the very branch of security that does the torture, and we fed them the questions. I mean this is set-up. This is Arar in Syria, this is Habib in Egypt. This is x number of people, hundreds of people possibly, really in detention facilities in other countries that the U.S. is implicated deeply in their torture. This is what's going on right now. These are memos we haven't seen.

So today Raymond Bonner's left to not just do his job but also do the job Bumiller, Sanger and Stevenson abdicated doing yesterday? Also on mop up duty is Benedict Carey with "Experts Dispute Bush on Gay-Adoption Issue" (page A12). Carey's opening:

Are children worse off being raised by gay or lesbian couples than by heterosexual parents?
Responding on Thursday to a question about gay adoption, President Bush suggested that they were.
"Studies have shown," Mr. Bush said in an interview with The New York Times, "that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman."
But experts say there is no scientific evidence that children raised by gay couples do any worse - socially, academically or emotionally - than their peers raised in more traditional households.

Carey's left to mop up and provide the reality that Sanger, Stevenson and Bumiller were too busy to bother with. Common sense alone should have led the elite threesome to realize that their Bully Boy was once again weighing in on something he knew nothing about. In a country where many children still go unadopted, being raised by one or two persons who care about them is the "ideal" regardless of the person (or persons) sexuality.

(Maybe in a day or two we'll also get an article refuting that a child raised by one parent is harmed since the Bully Boy also implicated them as being at bad at parenting. I'm honestly surprised there isn't an outcry over that since that goes to widows and widowers and since we are at war that includes a number of families who've lost one parent who was sent to Iraq.)

The Elite Fluff Patrol got their access at the expense of context, reality and anything resembling reporting. The Times has nothing to be proud of regarding running Stevenson, Bumiller and Sanger's article Friday. And the three of them should be assigned to do mop up duty for themselves. More importantly, having front paged that interview with the Bully Boy, these realities that weren't addressed by the Fluff Patrol need to be front paged, not buried inside the paper.