Monday, June 08, 2009

NYT saga on detainees who 'rejoined' Jihad wraps up

NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt took top editors to task on Sunday for the May 21 lead story, "1 In 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds." (No sense in linking to the story because it's been changed from the original version).

The central problem in the May 21 article: it's unclear how many of these prisoners were 'rejoining' jihad -- in fact, there's plenty of evidence that many of them were not 'fighting' in any way before they were imprisoned at Gitmo, but then fought afterward because of their Gitmo experience. Minor difference! Also, there's the problem that the figure is actually 1 in 20; 1 in 7 includes cases that even the Pentagon isn't alleging are confirmed. And then there's the problem that the Pentagon has put out these kinds of numbers many times before, and been easily disproved. For example, three of the people the Pentagon once listed as leaving Gitmo and then fighting were, in fact, not fighting at all, but simply involved in the production of a documentary critical of Gitmo.

The Times also issued an editors note about the issue on Friday.

The primary hero of this tale is TPM's Jutin Elliott, the blogger most responsible for taking on the NYT on this for the past weeks; his coverage is here.

The other hero is Clark Hoyt, who has sometimes been oddly defensive of the paper, but came out swinging here, hard:
But the article on which he based that statement was seriously flawed and greatly overplayed. It demonstrated again the dangers when editors run with exclusive leaked material in politically charged circumstances and fail to push back skeptically. The lapse is especially unfortunate at The Times, given its history in covering the run-up to the Iraq war.

Ouch. Those are wounds that need to be re-opened, and often, but rarely are.

Elisabeth Bumiller -- the reporter who wrote the Gitmo story -- comes out looking like, well, Elisabeth Bumiller. She points out that this wasn't something the Pentagon handed to her, but rather a document she had to convince a Pentagon-critical source to hand over. That's relevant to know, but doesn't change the fact that she got the premise wrong.

The other folks who come out of this saga looking not-so-good are Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet and standards editor Craig Whitney, each of whom rushed to defend the story after it was initially criticized.


At 9:37 PM, Blogger doyle said...

I enjoy reading your blog--it's consistently fine.

Just sayin'....


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