Tuesday, July 24, 2007

That Dubious Soldier in Iraq

Mediacrity contributor Bruce Kesler reports in The Democracy Project:

Thomas Lipscomb, veteran investigative journalist and publisher, who has debunked many a canard, looks askance at both The New Republic’s gullible inking of absurd invented charges against American forces in Iraq and at the lack of depth in the Weekly Standard’s skepticism.

Lipscomb wrote to the Washington Post’s media columnist, Howard Kurtz, who couldn’t make heads nor tails out of the matter. Lipscomb wonders where are any military veterans among these titans of journalism, who could directly and immediately see through the absurdity of the TNR piece and provide immediate truth.

For that matter, why not let their fingers do the walking, right to the Pentagon, and ask the operator to connect them with someone with military experience. Instead, days pass, until a blogger -- a Marine Reservist and a student at Columbia University in New York City, presently in Iraq interviewing the troops -- gets a Public Affairs officer in Iraq to reply courteously that the TNR piece is BS.

As Lipscomb says, this isn’t about politics; it’s Journalism 101.

Below, Lipscomb’s email to Howard Kurtz:

Looks like The New Republic has been had again. And this time it is so obvious it is embarrassing.

Of course with journalists today being the gentle allergic-to-combat darlings they are on both left and right... they can't be expected to know something as simple as there ARE no "square back" 9mm cartridges... or that anyone who tries cute tricks like the "diarist" describes with a Bradley has a very good chance of flipping his vehicle like a turtle exposing his lightly armored belly or leaving himself an immobile target in enemy country.

And BTW there is a crew aboard this Bradley with him that is not really interested in taking those kinds of risks with the putative "private"

Not really a situation to "enjoy" now... is it?

Perhaps instead of trying get this kind of crap "fact-checked, to the extent possible" (whatever that means) some of these publications could actually take advantage of some expertise available right in their hometown in DC... It is just a local call away.

Many journalists use it all the time. It is called the Department of Defense.


Here is some background on my own military experience:

As a 1203-1204 MOS Armor officer I know a little bit about armored vehicles and I climbed in my first Bradley back in the Fulda Gap in Germany before the Berlin Wall came down.

As a former captain of an Army pistol team as well… I also know more than a little about 9 mm rounds. And there are a lot of reasons why 1) round cartridges which allow equal pressure of the expanding gases in all directions cause fewer jammed weapons and 2) The military is trying as hard as it can to get rid of cartridges all together.

NO ONE wants to screw around with SQUARE cartridges that are far more likely to jam in combat than the ones that already cause enough grief. We learned the hard way with the early models of the M-16 in Viet Nam. We found too many dead soldiers and marines with their rifles partially disassembled to clear an ammunition blockage.

Of course who would EVER expect a New Republic editor or a Weekly Standard editor to check with the Infantry School at Benning or the Armor School at Knox… or the Ordnance testing ground right there in Maryland which are responsible for the capabilities and adoption of weapons systems, when they could “fact check” with Google… or Wikipedia for that matter?

KEEP ON THIS HOWIE… it will be fun… Happy to get you some experts if you wish… .

Where do they GET these kids? Doesn’t anyone know how to report and fact check a source with stories too good to be true anymore?

Lipscomb adds:

Franklin Foer, the editor of The New Republic is so gaga about his pseudonymous “Scott Thomas” that he calls him “an amazing resource—a guy who’s on the front lines, who has a gift for observation and can write,” which may well be true. What is clear from the current controversy is that “Thomas” is a lousy reporter, and Foer’s notion that he had Thomas’s work “"fact-checked, to the extent possible" is either a lie or a confession of terminal incompetence by Foer. However “amazing” Thomas is as a “resource” he is also clearly “incredible” as well. And if Foer had done the most elementary fact-checking on the details of Thomas’s reporting with military experts, rather than Thomas’s buddies, he would never have run the piece currently under fire. Clearly the current Editor of The New Republic doesn’t know beans about how to authenticate the work of his writers… Marty Peretz should give his revolving door over there one more spin and fast.

Meanwhile, The Weekly Standard is full of indignant blather from Editor Bill Kristol, but fails to do a thing to advance the story or blow it by having it gone over by its own experts. Here is an obvious target…as recounted in the Howard Kurtz column today: “The diarist described how soldiers in a mess hall had openly mocked a woman -- he wasn't sure whether she was a soldier or contractor -- whose face was severely scarred from an injury presumably suffered in Iraq: "The disfigured woman slammed her cup down and ran out of the chow hall, her half-finished tray of food nearly falling to the ground."

The fact is that the military today is almost as infested with “politically correct” monitoring as an Ivy League college. That incident would not have gone unnoticed or unreported by commissioned or noncommissioned officers and it would have occasioned a pile of paperwork. This incident could in no way be regarded as a normal event in a mess hall with hundreds of people present, any number of whom spend their nights worrying that they too might be horribly disfigured in Iraq.

Making jokes about the disfigurement of a man, or particularly a woman, in a mess hall is about as unlikely an event as might be imagined, as Scott Johnson correctly noted in Powerline. There would have been a paper trail with a lot of asses to cover and if Foer had the mess hall identified correctly, this would have been an easy thing to authenticate.

The Weekly Standard contents itself with a blog posting from a PAO officer at Falcon Base in Iraq, where the offense supposedly took place. It simply passes on this official communication and does no work on its own.

Great!... The New Republic can’t fact-check, The Weekly Standard can flounce indignantly, but it doesn’t do any fact-checking either, and now The American Spectator employs a staffer who likes to get his name in the papers who thinks fact-checking in looking something up on Google.

With the policy question of American involvement in Iraq squarely on the table, this is the kind of reporting we are supposed to rely upon? Is it any wonder that periodical circulation is collapsing and advertising is drying up?

Bruce Kesler

'Quetions of Justice'?

A New York Times article in the Sunday edition is headed "Charge Against a Player Raises Questions of Justice." Obviously we have a serious miscarriage of justice brewing here, according to the headline.

In fact, what you have is an allegation of child molestation handled in as gentle a way imaginable. Seems that a football player at Oklahoma State was accused of molesting a 12 year old girl.

Okay, a person is innocent until proven guilty and all that. But what's the "question of justice?" If you read down through the article, you see that the defendant is black and the victim is white, and then the following:

Benjamin Dennis, president of the N.A.A.C.P. in Texarkana — whose population is roughly 60 percent white and 37 percent black — said that some of the city’s black residents were concerned about the handling of the case, particularly the delay in trying the four men.

“If they were guilty, then the evidence should have been presented in a timely fashion,” he said. “They should have been tried, and if convicted, sentenced. Justice should have been administered at least.”

Huh? That's it?

Interesting to compare the Times's handling of this case with its famously misguided handling of the Duke lacrosse rape case, where it branded the defendants guilty before they were tried. Here a defendant has been pronounced railroaded without a scintilla of evidence.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The New Times Ombudsman is a Bad Joke

Mediacrity contributor Bruce Kesler writes as follows on his Democracy Project website:

I interrupt my summer vacation (wife & boys in Europe for a month, while I relax/zone-out at San Diego beaches) to bring you this unsurprising newsflash: The New York Times’ ombudsman is another bad joke. Clark Hoyt, of distinguished Leftward-bias MSM background, continues the sad record of major newspaper ombudsmen failing to research their opinions, thus failing to fulfill their function of being an independent check upon the quality of their newspaper’s journalism, instead just adding another layer of incompetent journalism.

I’ve made a minor hobby of dissecting the pretense of ombudsmen as protectors of journalistic quality, dealing with some of its most prominent. (My latest, here, also has links to the previous.)

Minneapolis’ John Hinderaker of Powerline blog, not having the lotusland weather of my home San Diego to lull him, applies his sharp lawyerly eye to Clark Hoyt.

…The administration is blaming al Qaeda for violence in Iraq, to the "virtual exclusion of other sources;" al Qaeda is the "single villain." Hoyt doesn't seem to have done any research to bolster this claim….

I decided to test that claim by reviewing the press releases that the Multi-National Force has put out so far in July. There are a total of 87 press releases, which I thought would be a representative sample, as well as, obviously, an up to date one.

I found that only 29 of those 87 press releases mentioned al Qaeda at all; 58, or two-thirds, made no reference to that organization. Further, of those that attributed violent acts to some enemy of the U.S. and the Iraqi government, 37 mentioned persons other than al Qaeda; e.g., "insurgents," an "extremist group," an "IED cell," etc. So, far from focusing on al Qaeda to the "virtual exclusion" of other groups, 55% of the time, the military does not mention al Qaeda at all.

The factual statements on which the Times' Public Editor premised his entire analysis were simply false, and easily shown to be so.

However, it appears that no one at the Times thought it was worth taking two hours (as I did) to review IOF press releases to see whether the Public Editor's assertions could withstand scrutiny. It's odd: they have a huge budget, while we have no budget at all and don't even do this for a living.

Hinderaker continues to dissect and expose Hoyt’s ignorant and incompetent bias. The post should be archived for its documented indictment.

Hoyt ends his column with the admonition:

Military experts will tell you that failing to understand your enemy is a prescription for broader failure.

Allahpundit does an excellent job of doing that, missed by Hoyt’s left-eyed perspective, and the New York Times’ editorial for withdrawal regardless of consequences.

A distinguished journalist friend, with whom I sometimes agree and sometimes not, contacted me about the above post. His experience with Hoyt speaks to a careful and scrupulous editor of my friend's columns. My friend disagrees with my characterization of Hoyt as having a "Leftward-bias." Hoyt's friends prefer to view him as a "skeptic."

That may be so, or just reflect that "skeptic" is a new short-hand for bias against the administration, particularly when a similar skepticism is not applied toward the Left.

Regardless, Hoyt's column could have done with careful fact-checking and editing, which in his new position as NYT's ombudsman is not applied. Skepticism is either a two-way, indeed omnidirectional, street, or it's a euphemism for bias.

Bruce Kesler

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Israel, 'Colonialism,' and 'Reality' in the Times

The New York Times Magazine has a cover article today on Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, and it is an outstanding example of the newspaper's anti-Israel bias. It was a perfect companion piece for the full-page Times editorial today. calling for unconditional withdrawal surrendering the country to al Qaeda and Iran.

The author is Roger Cohen, a former Times foreign desk bureaucrat now exiled to the International Herald Tribune, noted for his anti-Israel bias and he lived up to that reputation in the article. His bias colors the entire article.

Thus Hezbollah and Hamas, the former being the "A Team" of terrorism and the latter being the originator of dozens of suicide bombings, are not terrorists at all but merely have been "branded" as such.

Thus Resolution 242 demands "total withdrawal" to the pre-'67 lines (which it does not, as CAMERA pointed out today).

Even though Cohen acknowledges that "a Palestinian return en masse would condemn the Jewish state" (to extinction, though he doesn't use the word), and even though he acknowledges that "Livni is only stating the obvious," he asserts that "Whether such bluntness is helpful is another question. Palestinians are not about to trade one of their biggest chips up front."

In another words, the problem is not that the Palestinians are making an unreasonable, ridiculous demand that they should drop, but that it is Israel that is being unreasonable and ridiculous by refusing to negotiate its own descruction. He reinforces that nonsensical point with a quote from a Palestinian propagandist that "Livni wants us to do is give up before we start negotiations.”

Obviously the Palestinians are living in a dreamworld and cut off from any semblance of reality. Any fair-minded journalist would have pointed that out. But we are not dealing with a fair-minded journalist here. We are dealing with the New York Times. "

"But Livni can be relentless," Cohen says immediately after the Palestinian quote, using the Yiddish expression "nudnik" or nudge. He clearly means that it is Israelis like Livni, and not the Palestinians, who are being unreasonable and stubborn for forcing the Palestinians to "give up before we start negotiations" by dropping an insane demand.

He then uses vague innuendo to lambaste Livni and Condoleezza Rice, saying each "sometimes appears to lack the subtlety of wisdom." So now it "lacks wisdom" to negiate your own destruction.

Then, concluding his disapproving discussion of rejection of this cherished but admittedly impossible demand, comes the coup de grace:

I believed in Livni’s good faith, her energy, her honesty, her determination. What I was not sure about after our first meeting was her grasp on reality.
Isn't this amazing? Remember that what he is talking about here is not Livni's insistence on a Palestinian state--a Utopian goal if ever there was one--but her insistence on stuff like Israel not insisting on self-destruction. "The fact is, Israelis and Palestinians have parted company. I could see little evidence that Livni, for all her lucidity, was any exception to this," says Cohen, driving home the point.

As is commonplace in the Times, Cohen equates Palestinian obstinate rejection of Israel's existence with Israeli obstinate insistence on its existence. To the Times, both are just two coequal forms of "being obstinate," making no distinction between the two. It is not only amoral and hopelessly biased, it is simple-minded and plain stupid.

But you have to remember that this is calculated, malicious stupidity. The malice finally bursts open in a crucial paragraph on the poor poor Palestinians of the West Bank, in which Cohen tearfully describes "checkpoints where Palestinians see themselves reflected in the stylish shades of Russian-immigrant Israeli soldiers. If you are looking for a primer on colonialism, this is not a bad place to start."

This didn't just sneak past the copy desk, mind you. The editor of the magazine proudly took out the "primer on colonialism" quote and used it as a "pull quote" in boldface in the print edition of the magazine, to be sure that we did not overlook that vile display of bias.

Though ending with a quote from unreasonable, reality-starved Livni, the real stars of this article, as usual, are the poor poor Palestinians and their reasonable, "moderate" leaders. This is a splendid example of how the Times skews its coverage of the Middle East, with a bias and a contempt for Israel that is always simmering just below the surface.