Friday, April 07, 2006

The Times Softpedals a Lie

Way back in February, the New York Times published a completely unsupportable statement -- no let's call it what it was, a lie -- to the effect that Hispanics were used as "cannon fodder" in the military. Here's a link to the article, and here's exact quote:

"Critics also say that Latinos often wind up as cannon fodder on the casualty-prone front lines. African-Americans saw the same thing happen during the 1970's and 1980's, an accusation that still reverberates. Hispanics make up only 4.7 percent of the military's officer corps."

In a correction today, the Times said as follows:

"An article on Feb. 9 about the military's recruitment of Hispanics referred incompletely to the belief of some critics that Hispanics in the Iraq war and blacks in the Vietnam War accounted for a disproportionate number of casualties. Statistics do not support the belief. Hispanics, who are about 14 percent of the population, accounted for about 11 percent of the military deaths in Iraq through Dec. 3, 2005. About 12.5 percent of the military dead in Vietnam were African-Americans, who made up about 13. 5 percent of the general population during the war years. The error was pointed out in an e-mail in February; the correction was delayed for research after a lapse at The Times." [emphasis added]

Well, at least the Times issued a correction -- which is more than it usually does when caught with its pants down, as I have pointed out time and time again. The Times also commendably noted that a "lapse" took place (and how) that prevented this boner from being fixed for two full months.

Still, I think the Times's handling of this was pretty creepy for a couple of reasons:

First of all, as is standard practice with many non-minor boo-boos, the Times stuck this gaffe in its "for the record" corrections space, which is supposed to be allotted to minor stuff like getting an address wrong or omitting a middle initial.

More importantly, the correction glosses over the editorializing in the piece, in which the reporter hid her bias behind unnamed "critics." Such "weasel words" are a violation of Journalism 101. What "critics" said that? If there were any "critics," they were spouting sheer bull.

Rather than point out this journalistic shortcoming, the correction accepts at face value that there were "critics" and says that the reporter "referred incompletely to the belief of some critics."

Excuse me. What happened was simple. The Times was wrong. The Times published a lie. This once-great newspaper's fast-diminishing credibility might be aided if it could occasionally use those two words when they are appropriate -- as they sure are in this instance.

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