Skip to comments.The New York Times Is Still Dead
Posted on 08/15/2003 9:48:38 AM PDT by Davis
On Thursday, August 7 at the end of a column of miscellaneous corrections, the New York Times published this small bombshell:
Editors' Note An article on Sunday about attacks on the American military in Iraq over the previous two days, attributed to military officials, included an erroneous account that quoted Pfc. Jose Belen of the First Armored Division. Private Belen, who is not a spokesman for the division, said that a homemade bomb exploded under a convoy on Saturday morning on the outskirts of Baghdad and killed two American soldiers and their interpreter. The American military's central command, which releases information on all American casualties in Iraq, said before the article was published that it could not confirm Private Belen's account. Later it said that no such attack had taken place and that no American soldiers were killed on Saturday. Repeated efforts by The Times to reach Private Belen this week have been unsuccessful. The Times should not have attributed the account to "military officials," and should have reported that the command had not verified the attack.
Please note that the Times calls this an "erroneous account." Does the Times mean by this to call into question the existence of the single source it identifies, one Pfc. Jose Belen of the 1st Armored Division? Is the Times suggesting that Pfc. Belen made up this erroneous story? Or did its reporter create Pfc. Belen and the story?
A week has gone by since this Editor's Note was published. I've checked the Times assiduously since then but I have found no further mention of the elusive Pfc. Belen, so I conclude that all the vast resources of the Times have been unequal to the task of finding him. One would have thought that by now a crack reporter of unimpeachable integrity, Murine Drowd or Frank Rich--or equivalent, if such there be--would have been put in charge of the case and swiftly got to the bottom of it. Alas, to the best of my knowledge and belief, that hasn't happened.
So, we are left standing hip deep in a quandary. Was there actually a wily Pfc. Belen who duped a NYTimes reporter? If there was a Pfc. Belen, why didn't the reporter note his particular unit, battalion, company, platoon? Why didn't the reporter seek verification of the event from one of Pfc. Belen's comrades in arms or, heaven forfend, his commanding officer?
The Times's Editor's Note doesn't make clear why this erroneous account escaped the attention of an editor in New York. It wasn't picked up for days. How come? Is there something about the culture in the Times organization that makes such erroneous accounts worthy of publication?
One may reasonably speculate that the political climate of the Times newsroom is affected by the Times editorial stance. How handy to be able to scoop Centcom on the death of two soldiers and their interpreter! Doesn't that give credence to the Times's anti-war, pro-quagmire position? Doesn't it lend veracity to the Times's anti-military culture?
Of course, if your newsroom is undiversified, staffed only with people who despise the military, who find it crude and disgusting, its officers brutes and simpletons, you may do well covering musical comedies but you're going to run into trouble covering wars. Your editors are likely to be taken in by a fabulist. If tall tales from short privates place the object of their scorn in a bad light, your reporters will tend not to bother to check them out with his comrades and officers, and your editors will let it pass. Lacking this valuable diversity, not the irrelevant, dishonorable racist nonsense of a sprinkling of black faces, your reporters are likely to lie about an informant's low rank, his lack of authority, and attempt to disguise it by referring to a lone private as "military officials."
Any newspaper is bound to make mistakes. The mistakes involved here are serious. They are a symptom of mortal illness at the Times. The Editor's Note is inadequate. It glosses over deep problems of truthfulness and responsibility, even patriotism. Coming on the heels of the Jayson Blair affair and a noticeable dip in Times circulation, it is ominous.
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