The Times Buries Detainee Death
July 26, 2005
You never know what you might find in the middle of a story in The New York Times.
You might even find a totally unrelated story.
So it was on Sunday, July 24, in a piece by Edward Wong entitled “Clerics’ Group Say It Won’t Urge Sunnis to Boycott Votes.”
Paragraph six of this article had absolutely nothing to do with the Sunni clerics’ decision on upcoming elections.
Instead, it concerned itself with a wholly separate matter: the death of another Iraqi detainee in U.S. hands.
Here is the paragraph in its entirety: “The American military said in a statement that a male Iraqi detainee died in a medical center at a Marine base near Mahmudiya, a town south of Baghdad. The detainee, captured on July 10, was discovered by a guard in his cell on Friday ‘unresponsive and breathing shallowly.’
The detainee died after being brought out for treatment, and though ‘initial indications are that there was no wrongdoing in the incident,’ an investigation is under way, the military said.”
The story gave no more context.
It didn’t mention that more than 100 detainees have died while in U.S. hands, with more than two dozen ruled as homicides, according to the Pentagon itself.
Wong just dropped the paragraph in the middle of the story, and then returned to the main topic. The subsequent paragraph begins: “In the interview about elections. . . .”
This grab-bag approach to journalism is hard for the reader to follow, for one thing.
And more importantly, it gives short shrift to a story that deserves much more attention.
The Times did it again on July 28. A front-page article entitled "Rumsfeld Presses Iraqi Leaders on Constitution and Insurgency" discussed a new topic in the very last paragraph inside on Page 8: "recent deaths of Iraqi civilians at the hands of the American military."
Doesn't that merit a story all its own?
Richard C. Paddock of the LA Times did such a story on July 25. In great detail, he showed how innocent Iraqi civilians "are increasingly being killed by U.S. troops." And he noted: "The continued shooting of civilians is fueling a growing dislike of the United States and undermining efforts to convince the public that American soldiers are here to help. The victims have included doctors, journalists, a professor—the kind of people the U.S. is counting on to help build an open and democratic society."
The LA Times story ran for 51 paragraphs. The New York Times gave it one paragraph at the end of an unrelated story.