Distortions of The Times
August 21, 2005
Seymour Hersh reportedly once said that you’ll never know where you’ll find a front-page story in The New York Times.
I’d like to amend that: You’ll never know where you’ll find the “lede”—the opening paragraph with the most important information.
Here are a couple of recent examples, all from Iraq, and they show how the Times is distorting what’s going on there by burying crucial facts, a trend I reported on earlier.
August 17, a front-page story by Richard A. Oppel Jr., entitled “A New Police Force Emerges from Mosul’s Chaos.”
Not until paragraph 44, deep on page 10, does Oppel let on that American troops are “in the position of using information beaten out of detainees by the policemen they mentor.” In paragraph 46, he writes: “A detainee said he was strung to the ceiling while an iron pole was knocked into his rectum.”
Seems like that information should have been just a tad higher up in the story.
August 19, a page 8 story by Craig S. Smith, entitled, “4 U.S. Soldiers Killed by Roadside Bomb as Deadlock Persists on Draft of Iraqi Constitution.”
Not until paragraph 19 does Smith go into a whole separate but newsworthy story: the U.S. killing of civilians in Iraq. He did not flag this information in his opening, nor did the headline convey that this information would be in the story.
In paragraph 21, he writes: “Charges of indiscriminate killing by American and Iraqi forces have eroded good will toward coalition forces.” That’s a story unto itself, not one to be tucked in the back somewhere.
August 20, a page 8 story by Dexter Filkins, “3 Sunni Election Workers Seized and Killed in Mosul.”
In paragraph 19 of this story, a separate discussion begins about how the negotiations for the Iraqi constitution are going. Included here is the crucial nugget that a tentative agreement “would prohibit the passing of any legislation that contradicted” Islam.
The next paragraph says that tentative agreement would “relegate marriage and family matters to adjudication by clerics,” a concession that would be devastating to women’s rights in Iraq.
And paragraph 21 notes that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad brokered the agreement and backed “a more expansive role for Islam.”
Now that’s news: U.S. Ambassador Sides with Islam over Women. But that’s not the headline you read in The New York Times.