Wednesday, March 21, 2007

NYT: The officials' story, if not the official story

Kirk Semple's "Iraq Bombers Blow Up 2 Children Used as Decoys" suffers from extreme New York Times damage. How so?

The first 14 or so paragraphs are what? Anything that can be verified? Anything that Semple himself saw?

No, it's all official statements.

For instance the US military put forth the claim yesterday that 'insurgents' were now using children in bombings. When?

When did they do so?

If the US military wants to put forth that claim, they should be able to back it up. Semple quotes the official statement and then quotes AFP who cited an unidentified US military person who stated the bombing took place on Sunday. Did it happen? If it did, why can't the US military say when? If they're wanting to talk about it -- and they obviously are if they are issuing statements and trying to make it the big point of the news cycle -- then they should be willing to say when it happened.

Supposedly, some day, unnamed, a car made it through a US checkpoint and was waived through because children were in the back seat. There's an attempt by the US military to present that as standard (which Semple doesn't question). That's not standard. I've been on the phone all morning, it's not standard. Having children in your car does not get you waived through. So that alone should have made Semple question that aspect of the story.

An individual service member may have waived through, but that is not policy, that has never been policy -- whether in Baghdad or at any checkpoint or on any of the borders.

The official story, which Semple repeats, is that then, after being waived through, the car was parked and the adults got out (or fled) leaving the children behind in the car which soon exploded. When did it explode? If the US military wants to put this out, there's really no reason not to say when the bombing took place. (Or allegedly took place.) Now supposedly, the adults were seen running from the car. Running from the car?

"Red flag" was what I heard on the phone over and over this morning. But in the story/myth being told, that was apparently an "Oh, how strange. Adults are fleeing that car at a fast pace and leaving their children in it."

On the phone this morning, the big question was did the bombing really take place? After that, the question was, if it took place, did anyone leave the car? People have been in cars loaded with explosives that did not know they were loaded. It's become very common and it's why we don't use "suicide bomber" here unless it's a direct quote we're noting.

Did it happen? It may have. Or it may another attempt to rally support -- "Look at the evil doers! They'll even use children!" If it happened and the US military wants to talk about it, why won't they name the day it took place? If it happened, why is the news coming out of DC and not Baghdad? From the article:

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a top American military spokesman in Baghdad, said late Tuesday that his office had no record of the bombing but that it was researching it. "I don't know what event he's talking about," Colonel Garver said.

That and the fact that Semple wasn't present for the Pentagon briefing (since Semple was in Baghdad) should have meant that Semple didn't lead (and go on for paragraph after paragraph) about what was said in DC. But this is the New York Times. After Semple's done with that portion of the article, his next paragraph reads:

The American command on Tuesday gave its account of a disputed raid on a Shiite mosque in Baghdad late Monday that infuriated many in the Shiite community and led some to question their cooperation with the latest American-led security plan.

It might be a good idea to open with what was in dispute -- at any paper but the Times. At that paper, you always bend over backwards to go with whatever officials say.

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