200 of us were already lined up by the time the polling place doors opened at 7 a.m. The queue moved quickly. At the sign-in table, the election judge found my name on her screen and handed me a smartcard.
"Do you want to see my I.D.?"
Frown. "We were told not to ask for identification."
"How do you know if am who I say I am?"
She looks up. "Please sign this slip. Bring it and the card to the official by the booths."
I print the letter "A" followed by a straight horizontal line. "This isn't a real signature."
A sigh. "I could go on for hours about the procedures we've been instructed to use this year, but there isn't time, you know..."
On to the booth. I inserted the smartcard into the hack-prone, no-audit-trail Diebold machine. Part of the matched set that our county bought at such expense a few years ago, and that will proceed to its well-deserved place on the scrapheap after today. Made my choices and touched "Cast Your Ballot."
I was back outside by 7:30; there were 150 more voters waiting to take their turns. Maryland will see a heavy turnout, because of--or despite--its deep Blue color.
We, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Education Alumni Board, write to champion our colleague Prof. William Ayers.
Mr. Ayers is a Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a nationally known scholar and Vice President-elect of the American Educational Research Association. Throughout his 20 years at UIC, Mr. Ayers has taught, advised, mentored and supported hundreds of undergraduate, masters and Ph.D. students. Helping educators develop the capacity and ethical commitment to promote critical inquiry, dialogue, and debate; to encourage questioning and independent thinking; and to value the full humanity of every person and to work for access and equity are Prof. Ayers's essential commitments.
We reject the recent and ongoing derogations of his character, and stand beside Prof. Ayers, an advocate for education devoted to human enlightenment and liberation. That goal is also ours.Patrick O'Reilly
The UIC College of Education Alumni Board, Chicago
O'Reilly, a pre-kindergarten teacher in the Chicago public schools, is not alone in his adulation of Dr. Ayers. Over 3,200 educators and academics have endorsed this petition of support.
Ayers stands out as an admirable character in this year's carnival. He's never been coy about his passions, never engaged in with-a-wink reformulations of his core beliefs. He didn't achieve his professional eminence (Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at UIC, V.P.-elect of the American Educational Research Association, Founder and Co-Chair of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge's Collaborative, 1995-2002) by soft-pedaling his hard-left, authoritarian agenda.
It's true that some politicians see Ayers' embrace as electoral poison. Long-standing professional relationships? No, he's just some guy in the neighborhood. Raising questions about the depth and breadth of that relationship: slime.
Bill Ayers: obscure ivory tower denizen with slightly daft ideas victimized by sliming, and beloved, accomplished, mainstream-accredited powerhouse leading the Good Fight against Patriarchy and Hegemony.
There is cognitive dissonance lurking nearby. Not with the unrepentant Dr. Ayers or Paddy O'Reilly's fellow fanboys and fangirls flocking to the Ayers-Ward Churchill-Hugo Chavez banner. They're rail-straight. Nor is this a cross for the ambitious and calculating Barack Obama to bear: ends, not means, are what matter.
In a little-visited graveyard in the Italian countryside, the shade of Antonio Gramsci is chuckling. With the Tanning Bed Media, or at it? Perhaps Columbia's Professor Rashid Khalidi has insight into this question.
- - - - - - - - - -
UPDATE, 24 Oct 2008 -- Valued commenter Chris challenges the premise of this post and offers extensive critiques in the Comments, culminating in #103.
UPDATE 2, 12:25 pm on 26 Oct 2008 -- Steve Diamond of the Santa Clara School of Law and the 'Global Labor and Politics' blog is one of the foremost researchers on the nature and extent of the connections between Sen. Obama and William Ayers. He contributes to the Comments, starting with #110.
UPDATE 3, 28 Oct 2008 -- Comment thread re-opened. New comments (past #123) limited to 300 words.
With controversy swirling around the veracity of The New Republic's "Baghdad Diarist" accounts, it's hard to know very much for certain. But this can be said:
If the accounts of embedded journalist/bloggers like Michael Yon, Michael Totten, and Bill Roggio are to be believed and taken as representative, Coalition forces are taking on difficult, dangerous, and stressful tasks. While they screw up, sometimes badly, the moral core of the great majority of soldiers is holding up.
I even got this sense from the interviews by fervently "anti-Occupation" journalists Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian in The Nation. (The names Hedges and al-Arian will both be quite familiar to many readers. For a scathing review of their article, see Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette.)
In his dispatches from Baghdad, Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp has painted an entirely different picture. He portrays the unit he serves with as having lost its moral compass. If this is true, it should matter a great deal to those of us at home. If it is a misrepresentation that speaks only to Beauchamp's psychological issues, political stance, or literary ambitions: we should know that, too.
The extended entry reprints an email from a sergeant in Beauchamp's unit.
[UPDATE 8:30 pm on Jul 29, 2007 -- I cut the text of the email, at the request of its recipient--AMac]
To review, in his third dispatch, Shock Troops, Beauchamp offers three anecdotes. These are:
Beauchamp uses these stories to shine a light on the behavior and beliefs of the soldiers he serves with.
The choices are few.
On Beauchamp's outing (or self-exposure), I made the unremarkable prediction that other voices from Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, 2nd BCT, 1ID would soon be heard.
Blogger (and retired Sgt.) Cheryl McElroy posted on July 27 that she had emailed the 1st Sergeant in Beauchamp's unit. She vouches for the authenticity of the reply she received:
[UPDATE 8:30 pm on Jul 29, 2007 -- I removed this message at the request of its recipient. The one-paragraph email claimed overall honorable conduct on the part of the company's soldiers.--AMac]
(Hat tip: commenter mesablue at Confederate Yankee.)
I think it's likely that other individuals from Beauchamp's unit will enter the fray. (In that regard, this is reminiscent of the Civil War, when private soldiers corresponded often and at length about their experiences, good and bad.) Insights from additional accounts should help us to judge whether depravity has become the norm in that unit, or whether Beauchamp is some mixture of fabulist and headcase.
Winds has featured many first-person accounts of post-invasion Iraq. While anecdotal, the picture they paint are useful in appreciating conditions on the ground. Besides Michael Totten's dispatches, Callimachus has presented "Kat's" two part account of operations at a Baghdad-based Western firm working on reconstruction projects. We've recommended this 2/06 IEEE Spectrum article on the Iraqi electrical grid.
Adventure writer Jon Evans has posted Blood, Bullets, Bombs, and Bandwidth on his website. Best I can tell, this is an expanded and updated account that he originally wrote for Wired. The linked version seems to date from mid-2005.
Ryan Lackey wears body armor to business meetings. He flies armed helicopters to client sites. He has a cash flow problem: he is paid in hundred-dollar bills, sometimes shrink-wrapped bricks of them, and flowing this money into a bank is difficult. He even calls some of his company's transactions "drug deals" – but what Lackey sells is Internet access. From his trailer on Logistics Staging Area Anaconda, a colossal US Army base fifty miles north of Baghdad, Lackey runs Blue Iraq, surely the most surreal ISP on the planet. He is 26 years old.
And Evans' conclusion:
One of the few things Ryan and Tyler agree on is their scorn for America's attempt to secure and rebuild Iraq. Tyler rages that the US military "couldn't bother to protect" the road between Baghdad and Anaconda, or even the four-kilometre stretch between Baghdad International and the Green Zone. And he found that when most other Americans dealt with Iraqis, "they were very insulting, they were often very condescending, and in many cases I felt that they treated them like subhumans."I was struck by the picture Evans paints of the U.S. reacting to the successful initiatives of our enemies. In the run-up and the aftermath of the invasion, planners did not mind Gen. Franks' oft-used aphorism, the enemy gets a vote. Of course, most of the U.S. media never knew, and still don't care. Note, for example, the routine use of the passive voice ("a minibus rigged with explosives detonated on a busy street") in this typical AP account from April 17th. Bombs "go off" in Baghdad for inscrutable reasons--rather than as the organized centerpieces of mercilessly crafted political campaigns.
Both of them lament the sorry state of the electrical system. "Not having power was probably the single biggest problem that created animosity among Iraqis," Ryan says. "The US tried to rebuild it in the Western industrialized-country model. The way Iraqis install a power system is, they put a bunch of small generators on neighbourhood blocks, with power cables running to everyone's house, and just sell them access directly. And it's easy to have a market-driven pricing mechanism. But the US solution was to give large US companies business here … If they'd had electricity working within a month or two of the invasion, there probably wouldn't have been near as much violence."
Iraqis desperately want to work. "You don't see people begging for money. You see people selling gas for money, selling cigarettes by the side of the road," Ryan says. Tyler agrees: "I interviewed a lot of people, and I never met one that wasn't so painfully eager it almost hurt to turn them away." But their economy remains paralyzed.
"The best way to deal with terrorism in the long run is to fix the underlying conditions that create terrorism," Ryan says. "It's difficult to fix their ideology, but it's easy to fix their infrastructure. But the US has done a bad job … It's like a feedback loop. They got on the wrong side of the feedback loop." Iraqi frustration breeds insurgents; insurgent violence cripples reconstruction efforts; and the resulting lack of power, communications, finances, and jobs breeds more frustration.In the face of this feedback loop, American forces have withdrawn into heavily guarded enclaves. SSI's modern, globalized, best-of-both-worlds strategy, bringing Americans and Iraqis together to help rebuild the shattered country, has faltered. Blue Iraq's neo-colonial approach, living and working exclusively on military bases, continues to thrive. The seeds Tyler has helped to plant – a team of crack engineers still erecting dishes around the country – may someday help drag Iraq into the 21st century, one satellite link at a time. But not until the rain of insurgent bombs and bullets has ended. And neither Ryan nor Tyler expects that to happen for years.
Blog readers can, if they choose, read about the battle space as it appears to Westerners and Iraqis in Iraq. They can discern the not-very-hidden hands of Al Qaeda and elements of the Iranian government in shaping that space. I suspect that narratives of mystifying, terrible, and depressing carnage obscure this basic point to many newspaper readers.
Accounts like Evans' won't tell us what the least-bad policy options are for Iraq. But they do help to inform us about the realities of the situation there.
Here's a neologism that's likely to gain a lot of traction between now and 2008.Dog-whistle politics noun
Expressing political ideas in such a way that only a specific group of voters properly understand what is being said, especially in order to conceal a controversial message.
During the UK election campaigns in spring of 2005, a new phrase entered the Westminster lexicon: dog-whistle politics. A dog-whistle is used to create a special high-pitched sound which only attracts the attention of a particular dog rather than all the dogs around. The analogy then is to put across a political message in such a way that it will only be understood by potential supporters rather than voters in general...--The Macmillan English Dictionary, 'Word of the Week' archive
Hat tip: Blog hooligan 'Alan,' at the 'Liestoppers' Board (Jan 16 2007, 08:58 PM).
The Duke Lacrosse Rape Case is in the midst of a turnaround in media-sponsored public perception. At first roundly vilified for their brutal gang rape of a black dancer, the three indicted Duke University lacrosse players are now being viewed as underdogs suffering from ill-treatment at the hands of a rogue District Attorney. Last Night's 60 Minutes segment emphasized this point.
When the scandal broke in March and April 2006, there was no shortage of Duke faculty willing to take a stand. Well over eighty-eight of them contributed to an atmosphere of outrage, as if to seek a pre-trial conviction in the court of public opinion. One of the dogs that hasn't barked has been the voices of professors cautioning against a rush to judgement. Until the case was turned on its head by December 15th's bombshell admission of the head of a DNA testing lab that he conspired with the D.A. to hide exculpatory evidence, only five of Duke's faculty had come out publically in support of the Due Process Rights of the accused ( Coleman Baldwin Kimel Gustafson Munger ). And only a subset of the five had ventured so far as to proclaim that the felony charges lodged against the lacrosse team were in all likelihood concocted by a false accuser in league with a corrupt prosecuter.
Does the imbalance of public pronouncements in favor of a politically-correct fairy tale reflect the numerical dominance of the Hard Left on campus? Is it a consequence of the implied threat of dogmatists at the levers of power to the social standing or career prospects of open-minded academicians? Or do the pressing professional demands of most of the professoriate mitigate against them taking the time to state in public what they privately believe? Given the importance of Bad Philosophy to the future of our society, it's a question worth asking.
In the Extended Entry, I present the anonymous opinion of one Duke faculty member from the Reasonable Center.
In mid-September, Winds covered the shoddy work of the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun. By far the most insightful and complete coverage of the Hoax has been provided on a daily basis by Brooklyn College Professor of History K.C. Johnson, at his web-log Durham-in-Wonderland. Johnson has been unparalled in keeping the spotlight on the maneuverings of many participants in the affair, as they attempt to toss their contributions to Injustice down the 'Memory Hole.' Recently, the author of an extensive writeup of the case aptly characterized Johnson as the Emile Zola of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Hoax.
I heard in early January that Professor John Doe (a pseudonym) of Duke University believed:
* that D.A. Mike Nifong was acting unscrupulously,
* that virtually all of his faculty colleages recognize that the events of the spring amounted to a rush to judgement, and
* that there is a widespread desire to set things right with the two suspended students.
Date: January 5, 2007
I wanted to share a few observations you might find helpful...
- [The bloggers and blog commenters who assume that there is] some kind of university-wide strategy to come out in favor of the LAX players to avoid liability are just wrong. Universities are very decentralized organizations (largely as a result of tenure). I have taught at [numerous prestigious universities] and never seen or heard of a central administration telling faculty what they can or can't say on matters of public importance. I am not aware of any direction by the Duke administration on what we should or shouldn't say about the matter.
It definitely is not the case that the hard left has intimidated anyone. The main issue behind the lack of a "counter petition" [to the 'Group of 88's' Listening Statement' ], I suspect, is two-fold.
- First, most of the faculty, like most people in America, are not political activists. We don't draft and circulate petitions in our private or in our professional lives. There was a petition circulated a few months ago, right before the general election, that properly decried the lack of due process protections, but it also denounced a number of other tangentially related issues that, in my view and likely in many others, were too over-the-top to sign.
In terms of public statements by the faculty once questions started to be raised about Nifong's conduct, all I can say from my own view is that [Duke Law School professor] Jim Coleman is a national expert on criminal procedure and has done a great job speaking out on the issue. This struck me as entirely appropriate. I make public statements on issues I know a lot about, that Jim is publicly silent about. Now that the econ department has distributed [ their early January letter ] in support of the return of the accused students, it will be interesting to see if other departments do so, as well.
- Second, [there has been intense focus by bloggers on the above-mentioned "Listening Statement."] I certainly didn't view it as a defining event nor, I suspect (though I can't be sure) have many others on campus. Indeed, I had never even heard the term "Group of 88" until [recently reading blogs on the case]. I was aware that a group of faculty had published a critical open letter early on, but then heard no more about it. I assumed at the time (and still do) that this was a diverse group -- some signed because the event satisfied their ideological bent (the hard left you refer to), some because of a preexisting concern over the role of athletics within the university, and many because they were genuinely outraged by what [District Attorney] Nifong said had occurred. While you may find this view surprising, you need to understand that it was published at a time of frenzied media coverage. This story went from a local item to international news in a matter of days. The main parking lot was literally overflowing with news media trucks and the story was being debated every night by talking heads such as [CNN host] Nancy Grace and others. The open letter was simply one more blur along with protests of banging pots and pans (mainly by local residents angry about off-campus parties, not students or faculty as some of the posts seem to assume), denunciations by many media figures, release of the inflammatory email by the student about skinning the strippers (not known until later to be a paraphrase from a book [sic-actually, a parody of American Psycho, studied in class-AMac]), etc. People on campus do talk about the small number of faculty who publicly condemned the players in a rush to judgment, but they are definitely not viewed as a monolithic group.
In an ideal world, where professors from across the political spectrum undertook to speak as "public intellectuals" about matters of concern to the Academy and the Citizenry, this post would be superfluous. While Duke's Hard Left has often been inane, sometimes vicious, and all-too-often disingenuous ( revisionism / critique ), nobody can doubt their willingness to proclaim their beliefs. During the criticial first nine months of the Hoax, it's was the Decent Left, the Center, and the Right that were largely missing from the the fray. Perhaps the Economics Department's welcome-back to the falsely accused students will be the harbinger of a change, as this travesty approaches its paper anniversary.
2006 is turning out to be another anillus horribilis for many of the companies that publish major American Newspapers. The multi-year stock chart for The New York Times Company ( NYT ) tells part of the tale. In some measure, this unhappy story is a consequence of trust withheld by increasingly skeptical subscribers. Many Winds readers are familiar with one recent episode, Reutersgate. A smaller domestic scandal may be--in one sense--in its final week: The Duke Lacrosse Rape Case. It offers lessons in the vulnerability of individuals to abuses of authority, and in the reluctance of some members of The Fourth Estate to let go of a story line they've become attached to--facts be damned.
Coverage of the Case
From the onset, much newspaper and wire service coverage has favored the prosecution, as has Time (Newsweek stands out for its fair coverage). "60 Minutes" is scheduled to air a piece on the case next Sunday (9/24/06). The authors of numerous blogs have speculated that the show will assume a "contrarian" position, and outline the accumulated body of evidence exonerating the accused (yes, some might find irony in "60 Minutes" playing this role). Thus, this week may be the last chance to view this affair from the "before" vantage point.
Complete and factual coverage of the Duke case has been compiled by a few outstanding web-loggers. Two of them are K.C. Johnson and John in Carolina; the hyperlinks in their posts and sidebars will carry the reader to a wealth of other resources.
The Lacrosse Team's Party on March 13th
The alleged victim is a 27-year-old African-American woman... She served in the United States Navy, is a single mother, and a student at North Carolina Central University, a state-owned and historically black college located in Durham, North Carolina. She claims that, on March 13, 2006, three white members of Duke University's lacrosse team beat, strangled, and sexually assaulted her anally, vaginally and orally.
What is widely accepted is that over 30 members of the Duke lacrosse team gathered for a party at the off-campus house where its three co-captains were living. There was underage drinking, and enough noise to bother the neighbors. The highlight of the party was to be a strip-tease show put on by two dancers hired for $800 from a local escort service. The alleged victim and another woman arrived at 11:30 pm, started dancing around midnight, but drove off around 1:00 am, after ugly verbal altercations during and after the truncated show. At 1:30 am, Durham police were called to assist the seemingly-intoxicated alleged victim in the second dancer's parked car (with the latter driving), about a mile from campus. Police took her to a halfway house/emergency room, where she told the staff nurse that she had been raped.
The unfolding of this case has been marked by changing stories, ambiguities, deviations by police investigators from standard operating procedures, inflammatory and misleading statements by the prosecuting District Attorney. This contributed to a rush to judgment by law enforcement, by prominent Duke faculty, by the Durham community, and by the local and national news media. In early May, D.A. Mike Nifong secured the indictment of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty for forcible rape, followed two weeks later by the indictment of David Evans, a third player. The three men are free on bond pending a 2007 trial.
The narrative presented to the public by the Durham Herald-Sun, the NYT, the Washington Post, Time magazine, and other publications is replete with errors. Notable print media exceptions are the
Durham(Raleigh) News & Observer (but see here) and Newsweek.
The sources of my assertions in the preceding four bullet points are:
In perhaps the shoddiest piece written on this case, New York Times reporters Duff Wilson and Jonathan Glater soft-pedaled these and other concerns in their 8/25/06 front-pager, "Files From Duke Rape Case Give Details but No Answers." (This lengthy article resides safely behind the TimesSelect wall ). Wilson and Glater's errors of comission and omission were savaged by Stuart Taylor in Slate.com, K.C. Johnson, and blogs such as Liestoppers.
An shortened form of this article was distributed by the NYT News Service to the Baltimore Sun and other papers. As a companion to the linked critiques, here is a fair-use extract of the first half of the Sun's Page A2 version. I've marked up the text to highlight passages that aid the prosecution by misleading the reader (italics) or by omitting key facts (underlines). Passages that might err in favoring the defendants are bolded.
Aug 25, 2006: "Policeman's Notes Support Accuser In Duke Rape Case; Material Is Last To Be Turned Over To Lawyers For 3 Lacrosse Players"
DURHAM, NC--On March 21, a week after a black woman charged that she had been raped by three white Duke University lacrosse players, the police sergeant supervising the investigation met with the sexual-assault nurse who had examined the woman. The sergeant, Mark D. Gottlieb, reviewed the medical report, which said little: some swelling, no visible bruises.
But Gottlieb's case notes also recount what the nurse told him in response to his questions: that the woman appeared to be in so much pain that it took "an extended period of time" to examine her and that the "blunt force trauma" seen in the examination "was consistent with the sexual assault that was alleged by the victim."
About a week later, Gottlieb met with Durham County District Attorney Michael B. Nifong to review the case. Nifong had been beseeching Duke lacrosse players to break their silence about what had happened at a team party March 13. Now, he turned up the pressure, telling Fox News that there was "no doubt in my mind that she was raped."
Whether the woman was in fact raped is the question at the center of the case.
Defense lawyers, amplified by Duke alumni and a group of bloggers who have closely followed the case, have portrayed it as a national scandal: that there is only the flimsiest physical evidence of rape, that the accuser is an unstable fabricator and that Nifong, in the middle of a re-election campaign, was summoning racial ghosts for political gain.
By disclosing pieces of evidence favorable to their clients, the defense has created an image of a case heading for the rocks. But an examination of the 1,850 pages of evidence gathered by the prosecution yields a more ambiguous picture. It shows that while there are weaknesses in Nifong's case, there is also evidence to support his decision to take it to a jury.
Crucial to that portrait of the case are Gottlieb's 33 pages of typed notes and three pages of handwritten notes, which have not previously been revealed. His file was delivered to the defense July 17, making it the last of three batches of investigators' notes, medical reports, statements and other evidence shared with the defense.
In several important areas, the full files, reviewed by The New York Times, contain evidence stronger than that highlighted by the defense: Defense lawyers have argued that the written medical reports do not support the charge of rape. But in addition to the nurse's description of injuries consistent with the allegation, Gottlieb writes that the accuser appeared to be in extreme pain when he interviewed her 2 1/2 days after the incident and that signs of bruises emerged then as well.The defense has argued that the accuser, who had been hired to perform as an exotic dancer, gave many divergent versions of what happened, and she did give differing accounts of who did what at the party. But the files show that aside from two brief early conversations with police, she gave largely consistent accounts of being raped by three men in a bathroom.
We All Make Mistakes
On August 30, I sent the following email to The Baltimore Sun's Public Editor and News Editor (minor edits for web legibility):
SundayFriday, The Sun ran a New York Times news service piece on the Duke Lacrosse Team Rape story. That story was a condensed version of a lenthy Page One piece by NYT reporters Duff Wilson and Jonathan Glater.
As someone who has followed developments in this case, I recognized some quite serious omissions and distortions in the Sun's version of the Wilson-Glater piece on my first read-through. The full piece turns out to have been significantly longer and thus significantly worse. Within a day of its publication, its claims and assumptions had been reviewed on a number of the web-logs that provide commentary on this subject.
Rather than review these journalistic shortcomings, I will refer you to two web sites. The first link is to an open letter to Bill Keller and Jill Abramson of the NYT from K.C. Johnson, a history professor who has written eloquently about the irregularities of the prosecutor's office in this case.
This link is to a Slate.com piece by former Times reporter Stuart Taylor, published yesterday.
I hope that the editor who chose to cover the Duke Lacrosse Rape case by reprinting the Wilson-Glater article will review these two relatively short pieces. They, in turn, contain links to additional essays that document each claim of journalistic misconduct by Wilson and Glater.
The Baltimore Sun has not, thankfully, been a leader in marshalling public opinion to support the extensive prosecutorial and police wrongdoing that lie at the heart of the Duke Lacrosse Rape case. On the other hand, a review of Lexis-Nexis shows that what the Sun's reporters wrote in April and May was generally reflective of Distict Attorney Nifong's stance. If that was, conceivably, a plausible stance in the Spring, that ceased to be true many months ago.
For the Baltimore Sun to end a three-month hiatus on reporting on this case with a reprint of Sunday's misleading NYT piece is a disservice to your readers. You have replaced Silence with the flawed work product of two reporters who were either credulous or driven by ideology. I refer you, again, to the Johnson and Taylor articles for the specifics of the distortions, omissions, and mischaracterizations in the wire service piece that you published.
By this point, the key question for you should be quite obvious: having erred, what amends will the Sun make?
Fortunately, this is not a case of having painted yourselves into an ideological corner. Rather, it looks like a simple and honest mistake; reasonable people might reasonably expect "news that's fit to print" rather than "agenda journalism" from The New York Times.
A suggestion: balance the distortions of the Wilson-Glater hit piece by assigning a reporter to interview Professor Johnson, who has become an authority on this case. His thoughts on the broader implications of the conduct of the authorities, Duke administrators, and the media should be of interest to many of the Sun's readers.I would, of course, welcome any thoughts you might have in response to this email. I would ask that you consider them to be "on-the-record"--as is this letter.
I received no answer. However, a follow-on email on Sept. 7 detailing four major errors of fact in the unabridged NYT piece garnered this response from the Sun's Public Editor on Sept. 11th:
The Sun's deputy national/foreign editor has examined the original New York Times version (complete with subsequent corrections) and the version of the article that ran in The Sun. None of the problematic material appeared in The Sun's version of the article. [On the four narrow points I had raised in my later email, the Public Editor was correct--AMac] Again, as for our policy, anything that we confirm is factually inaccurate is corrected as soon as possible --- no matter if it is a wire story or staff produced.
The Baltimore Sun has not acknowledged any of the errors in the wire service piece it printed. The New York Times' corrections have been limited to two near-trivial errors.
In the midst of witnessing this demolition-derby-style episode, it can be hard to remember that editors and reporters at institutions like the NYT and the Baltimore Sun are smart, conscientious, hard-working people. Despite that, this sort of self-inflicted damage to institutional credibility is a recurrent theme of the mainstream media.
What goes wrong?
My guess is that the worst misrepresentations of the news take place when both ideological flexibility and intra-industry criticism are needed to make sense of a story. It's hard for anybody to surrender the notion that their world-view provides the proper lens for viewing a given set of events. At the start of the Rape Hoax Case, it was easy to set up the conflict in terms of Poor Black versus Wealthy White: a culture of sleazy, lazy jock entitlement running roughshod over victims' rights and equality under the law. An unscrupulous and power-hungry District Attorney worked with the material at hand to craft a narrative that many reporters -- and at least 88 Duke faculty members -- found irresistable.
We all grasp the small-scale personal benefits of "professional courtesy." The cop who lets an 'on the job' speeder go, the physician who declines to testify for the plaintiff in a local malpractice case, the reviewer who goes easy on another author's novel: odds are, each will find their work lives were smoothed by their decisions. By calling out Glater and Wilson, Newsweek reporter Stuart Taylor may have made lifelong enemies in his field. Perhaps as important: how enjoyable will the next Newspaper Guild convention be for him? Maybe the proper posture should be grateful amazement that any reporters swim against this current.
Lastly: what happens if next week's "60 Minutes" does cause the mainstream media's herd mentality to shift the conventional wisdom from "loathsome preppies run amok" to "power-crazed prosecutor run amok"? Will the NYT and the Baltimore Sun belatedly apply their stated corrections policies ("anything that we confirm is factually inaccurate is corrected as soon as possible") so that their published record is consistent with an updated, realistic view of the case?
There is sure to be a temptation for editors to shun the unwelcome attention that would result, trusting instead that The Memory Hole will soon turn these embarrassing performances into a dusty curiosity, of interest to very few.
Thanks to the efforts of a few independent-thinking reporters and bloggers, we will probably have an answer in short order.
UPDATE September 19, 2006 05:40 PM -- In response to the concerns raised by Gib (see comments #2 through #7), I have modified the text of this entry to remove the name of the alleged sexual assault victim. --AMac
UPDATE September 28, 2006 -- On team cooperation: During the initial police investigation, the three team co-captains cooperated fully, talked to police for hours without lawyers, gave DNA samples, and offered to take polygraph tests. A week later, their teammates declined to meet to answer further questions and submit to identification procedures in the absence of counsel (3/30/06 Raleigh N&O). The police then got a (remarkably broad) warrant to collect DNA, and the players complied rather than contesting it.
On "60 Minutes": Their story on this case is now scheduled to air in October, probably Sunday, 10/1/06. --AMac
ABC sent L.A.-based critic Justin Levine a preview DVD of "Path to 9/11," a made-for-TV movie that the network will be broadcasting next week. Levine's very favorable review is at Patterico's Pontifications.
According to ABC (the US network, not the Aussie one), the first part of this 5-hour mini-series will be shown Sunday, September 10 at 8pm/7pm Central. The conclusion will be the following night in the same time slot.
Reviewer Levine appears to be knowledgable about the events surrounding the 9/11 attack, and is properly critical of most of the dramatizations that have been released to this point. This newest effort is, unsurprisingly, a dramatization of the 9/11 Commission Report. That's good in some ways and bad in others--Dan Darling wrote contemporaneously at Winds on some of the report's numerous shortcomings. Then there's the glaring omission of Able Danger. Other analysts, including Stephen Hayes, have also been unkind to the Report that the movie is based on.
Still, for all its failings, the report did provide a timeline and a narrative framework in which to locate events and people. Its faults appear to lie mainly in errors of omission and interpretation, rather than in outright misstatements of fact.
The IMDB entry on "The Path to 9/11" will be here.
With the Israel-Hezbollah War well into its sixth day, most of us have figured out which mass media outlets provide breathlessly unenlightening commentary, and which prefer to channel Rodney King with return-to-the-peaceful-status-quo-ante editorial material. With such realistically low expectations in mind, it was thus of interest to read columnist Amir Taheri in Asharq al-Awsat. This London-based newspaper's Arabic and English websites are widely read by elites throughout the Arab world. It's useful to know that a succinct, pro-Western analyis is on offer at this Saudi-royal-family owned source in English, though perhaps not as an Arabic translation.
Iraninan-born Taheri is based in Europe and has written for The Wall Street Journal, The National Review, and many other periodicals. Further background at this spiteful Wikipedia biographical entry.
In his July 15 "Asharq al-Awsat":http://www.asharqalawsat.com/english/default.asp column, Taheri wrote:
[Hamas and Hezbollah] are capable of pursuing a low intensity war against Israel virtually forever. And that, like all low intensity wars, would aim at breaking the spirit of the enemy, persuading more and more Israelis that their homeland is not a place in which to have a normal life and raise children, and that their best bet is to head for safe havens elsewhere. Low intensity war is also bad for any nation's economy. People cannot think of long-term investments when they see missiles raining on them.
At the opposite side of the fight, Hamas and Hezbollah are also facing existential threats... If Hamas ends up by tearing up its own charter and recognising the legitimacy of Israel's existence, it would spell its own doom as a radical Islamist movement. If, on the other hand, it persists with its no compromise stance it will be seen by many Palestinians as responsible for all the hardship they now suffer...
[Hezbollah's prestige] is based on the myth that it defeated the Israelis and drove them out of occupied southern Lebanon... Hezbollah without arms would become just another Lebanese political party, garnering around 20 per cent of the votes.
The Hezbollah faces another, perhaps bigger, problem: it must develop its policies within a broader strategy worked out by the Islamic Republic in Tehran and the Baa'thist government in Damascus. As a result, it cannot simply decide to defuse the situation in the hope of keeping its military organisation intact. Iran, coming under growing pressure on the nuclear issue, is desperately looking for a diversion. And what better diversion than a mini-war that could keep international attention focused on the Israel-Lebanon-Palestine triangle? Syria, for its part, could profit from a limited war, between Israel and Hezbollah, by pointing out that its own presence in Lebanon had been a stabilising force and that efforts to exclude it from the Lebanese scene have generated greater instability.
In a sense, therefore, what we are witnessing is the opening shots in a proxy war between the Islamic Republic and Syria on one side and Israel on the other.
The rest of Taheri's essay is here.
London-based, Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reporter Ali Nouri Zadeh reports an excusive: Iran is the supplier of Hezbollah's weaponry! The unnammed Revolutionary Guards officer added that
more than 3,000 Hezbollah members have undergone training in Iran, which included guerilla warfare, firing missiles and artillery, operating unmanned drones, marine warfare and conventional war operations. He said they have also trained 50 pilots for the past two years.
It's good to see confirmation of basic facts from an unexpected angle--even those facts that few reasonable people thought were in dispute.
At this writing (1605 GMT 28 April 2006), a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on Hosting Matter's servers appears to have been going on for a couple of hours (hat tip Charles Johnson ). Access to a number of high-traffic websites is being affected.
UPDATE 1810 GMT 28 April 2006: Stacy of Hosting Matters reports that the attack has been thwarted. The affected blogs all seem to be back.
Last week saw some spirited debate on Winds about the Iranian mullahs' progress towards fielding atomic weaponry. Many of the what-should-the-West-do dilemmas would qualify as Wicked Problems. There are awful and unknowable costs to each possible alternative--doing nothing, focusing on negotiations, bombing, invading. Worse, the deeper problem--the increasing ease with which aggressive, repressive, murderous regimes can acquire nuclear bombs--is refractory to all of these approaches.
That said, perhaps it's odd to make a single mistake by The Baltimore Sun, a single newspaper, into a case study--but I don't think so. With Global Security or Arms Control Wonk a click away, it's easy to forget that most Americans get their news from their newspaper and the TV. Can good decisions come out of policy discussions and elections when simple facts are misstated and allowed to pass into the record, uncorrected?
On April 14, The Baltimore Sun published an article on Page A3. Its conclusion:
[Negroponte's deputy Michael] Hayden tried to counter the criticism that the Iraq war has diverted resources from possible threats such as Iran, saying he couldn't recall "being forced to make a trade-off." The officials said that although Iran announced this week that it had produced 164 centrifuges to enrich uranium, it would take years to produce the 54,000 centrifuges needed to build a nuclear weapon.
"The assessment of the timeline was broad enough that the recent events, particularly until they're well understood ... won't be affected," said Kenneth Brill, head of the new National Counterproliferation Center. Iran could be exaggerating its accomplishments, as it has in the past, he said. Asked whether there had been any disagreement among U.S. analysts about Iran's nuclear timeline, [analyst Thomas] Fingar said there had not.
Alert readers of Winds of Change will immediately recognize that the bolded clause is downright false, and very misleading. But most newspaper readers would not. Trusting this reporting and editing would lead them to conclude that, yeah, a nuclear-armed Iran might possibly be a threat--but if it is, government intelligence officials are confident that it is a distant one.
That evening, I wrote to the reporter, copying the <i Sun's managing editor and public editor:
Today's story "Officials confident about data on Iran" is troubling for the picture it paints of high-ranking Americans who think they have a good grasp of the state of the Iranian nuclear program. Among other lessons, the past few years of the Iraqi experience should have taught these officers that modesty about the limits of their knowledge is rarely misplaced.
Well, the press' job is to report such official foolishness, not correct it, so fair enough.
Unfortunately, the fourth-to-last paragraph of your article is a misstatement of fact that will be very misleading to readers trying to understand the progress of Iran's Manhattan Project for themselves. Here's your paragraph:
"The officials said that although Iran announced this week that it had produced 164 centrifuges to enrich uranium, it would take years to produce the 54,000 centrifuges needed to build a nuclear weapon."
The naive reader would calculate that Iran has 0.3% of the needed number of centrifuges to enrich enough uranium for one weapon.
Here's one recent story on the subject. Quoting, [Asst. US Sect'y of State] Rademaker said the technology to enrich uranium to a low level could also be used to make weapons-grade uranium, saying that it would take a little over 13 years to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon with the 164 centrifuges currently in use...Iran has informed the IAEA that it plans to construct 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz next year, Rademaker said. "We calculate that a 3,000-machine cascade could produce enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon within 271 days," he said.
Even these presumably-correct calculations make two assumptions.
1. The starting feedstock is unenriched uranium, i.e. Iran does not have hundreds of kilograms of reactor-grade material already. Material that might (or might not) have been obtained from Pakistan, North Korea, China, or Russia.
2. There are no relevant undeclared Iranian programs. IAEA director el-Baradei stated this week that he thinks that Iran does have secret programs. Western officials have said much the same thing. [AMac note: like the Green Salt Project, unreported by The Sun.]
In short, an intelligent but uninformed reader will actually have a worse understanding of the state of the Iranian nuclear program after reading your article. I hope that, at a minimum, The Sun will correct the glaring factual error I outlined above.
I heard back from the reporter: I'm convinced this was an honest mistake on a complex topic. But, more than a week later--not one word from the editors or ombudsman, to this email or others. Including one asking specifically about how The Sun's handling of this factual error squares with their stated policy, that "The Sun is committed to providing fair and accurate coverage."
And no correction.
This might not matter except on principle: but for the support that the tainted article lends to The Sun's own editorial position on Iran, Don't Go There. First line--"Leave it to a diplomat to offer the most candid assessment so far of the idea that the United States would attack Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions: 'completely nuts.'" Echoed two days after the article by Fariborz Fatemi's letter, Open real dialogue with Iran's leaders.
It's one thing to urge putting all our marbles in good-faith negotiations with a country that is, say, 0.3% of the way to building a bomb--with US Intelligence Officials confident that that is the case.
Quite another thing to steer that course in the world as it actually is: a world that is being hidden from the view of the readers of this newspaper.
Posts on the misbehavior of mainstream media institutions sometimes prompt commenters to suppose that this is the result of some dark conspiracy. Aside from being both unlikely and unprovable, this explanation is unnecessary. Jeff Jarvis has blogged about how coverage suffers when a diversity of viewpoints is absent from the newsroom. Hugh Hewitt and others opine regularly about how mistakes such as this one stem from absence of "genuine intellectual diversity" from many newsrooms and studios.
That--and the self-regard that comes from being the
only best paper in town--is what causes the national and international coverage of The Sun to suffer. This is not the first time that ideological blinders have hampered The Sun's reporting on a politically-charged topic, and it will hardly be the last. Cori Dauber has commented knowledgably about the NYT and Washington Post. Patterico has occasionally had things to say about The Los Angeles Times. Second-tier papers deserve brickbats (and praise) as well. In one form or another, the mainstream media will be around for a long time to come. The more honest and nimble they become--and the more willing they become to correct their missteps--the better for all of us.