It takes some real doing to make the way The New Republic handles questions about its stories look journalistically responsible. It’s a bar that the Los Angeles Times has cleared with ease.
The other day I published a link-filled post about a report in the Times by media writer Tim Rutten on the TNR-Beauchamp affair that identified some pretty basic errors in Rutten’s reporting. Responding to letters outlining these errors by The Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb and Los Angeles deputy D.A. Patrick “Patterico” Frey, Times
Public CYA Editor Jamie Gold has determined that there are no errors to correct.
That little pop you just heard is the last tiny bit of credibility and journalistic ethics at the Times disappearing into the ether.
The letters to Patterico and Goldfarb are slightly different, but I want to republish them here as evidence of the jaw-dropping sophistry and dishonesty of Gold.
The letter to Patterico:
Thanks for your follow-up notes.
L.A. Times columnists, Rutten among them, are encouraged to use their columns as forums for their fact-based assessments of news events. His assessments might not match yours, but that doesn’t mean that his assessments warrant correction.
Regarding the first point that you raised: With all due respect for your analysis, I don’t think that readers were misled on that point. Even an individual who wasn’t as careful a reader as you couldn’t fail to note that much of Rutten’s column was about the communications between the editors and the soldier. To your other points: While the disfigured woman was not specifically described as being Iraqi, the columnist infers from the fact that she was there (vs. being sent home as a U.S. soldier or civilian would be) that she is Iraqi. Rutten referred to the Bradleys as trying to run over stray dogs, vs. kill the dogs, but I’m not seeing that point as warranting correction (I can’t imagine that a reader thinks that a Bradley trying to run over dogs is any different from a Bradley trying to kill dogs); re: whether, as the column said, the magazine “determined that the incident involving the disfigured woman was concocted and corrected”: The columnist’s point is that, as a scene in Iraq, it was “concocted” in that it never happened there. The magazine corrected it, which means editors admit it never happened there.
Thank you again for raising these points,
Her letter to Goldfarb:
L.A. Times columnists, Rutten among them, are encouraged to use their columns as forums for their fact-based assessments of news events. His assessments might not match yours, but that doesn’t mean that his assessments warrant correction. (By the way, you might disagree with his opinion column but he did base it on having read the materials that you suggest he was unfamiliar with.)
The chief allegation of error that you seem to make is that Rutten erred in writing that “Drudge provided links to the transcripts and report but not to the purported ‘Memorandum for Record.’” You wrote that this is wrong because “the memorandum was appended to the second portion of the transcript.”
Rutten’s assessment is that it was not clear that the memo at the end of the military officer’s report/summary is the same one to which Drudge’s original post referred. The columnist’s thinking: Drudge lists it apart from the final document, but — as Rutten wrote — Drudge provides no link, nor does he say it can be found at the end of the report, seeming to indicate possession of another document, but providing no link. I don’t believe that Rutten’s column warrants correction on that point.
As to points made by Bob Owens: The July essay did not refer to the disfigured woman specifically as Iraqi. However, Rutten inferred from the fact that she was there (vs. being sent home as a U.S. soldier or civilian would be) that she is Iraqi. Rutten referred to the Bradleys as trying to run over stray dogs, vs. kill the dogs, but I’m not seeing that point as factually wrong (I don’t believe that a reader thinks that a Bradley trying to run over dogs is different from a Bradley trying to kill dogs). As to whether the magazine “determined that the incident involving the disfigured woman was concocted and corrected” it, as the column said: Rutten’s point is that, as a scene in Iraq, it was “concocted” in that it never happened there. The magazine corrected it, which means editors admit that it never happened there.
Obviously this is a controversial issue that has given rise to a good amount of interest and greater number of opinions. I’m sorry that you feel so strongly that your differences in interpretation are points that need correcting, vs. points of interpretation of various facts.
Thanks again for writing.
Let’s not do the complicated issues here. I want to focus on two.
First, no one ever — ever — said the disfigured woman in Beauchamp’s diary was an Iraqi. Beauchamp didn’t say it. TNR didn’t say it. The military didn’t say it. My imaginary friend didn’t say it.
Gold refuses to correct this error because Rutten “inferred” that because the incident took place in Iraq, that the woman was Iraqi. Would Gold allow a reporter to “infer” that a plane taking off from LAX is going to Louisiana because the word “Delta” is emblazoned on the side of the plane? Is that what reporting is nowadays, are you seriously allowed to infer? If I visit Columbia University’s J-School, will I find that they’ve replaced Reporting 101 with Inferring 101?
Do you, Ms. Gold, expect anyone to ever take you seriously ever again?
It gets better. You see, at the same time Gold is defending the “inferation” — I just made up a word, thanks Ms. Gold, I couldn’t use the word “fact” — that the mystery woman is Iraqi because the incident reportedly happened in Iraq. She’s also defending Rutten’s characterization that TNR acknowledged that same story was “concocted and corrected.” While TNR has merely said the incident in question happened in Kuwait, Rutten has said — and Gold refuses to correct — that the incident never happened at all.
Rutten can infer that the woman is Iraqi due to the fact that the incident really happened in Kuwait but that it didn’t happen at all.
Gold must’ve gone to graduate school.
Second, is Gold’s laughable assertion that critics are claiming that “trying to run over a dog” is the same thing as “trying to kill a dog.” The problem: there is no “try.” According to Beauchamp’s diary, the driver of the Bradley ran over three dogs, splitting them in two. (That’s six pieces for the mathematically challenged.)
There is no “trying” here. There is “doing.” Because I try to get a date with Kristen Bell is not the same as me actually meeting the lovely Ms. Bell at a romantic beachfront restaurant, impressing her with my rapier-like wit and then taking a romantic walk along the beach and … but I digress.
Thanks, Ms. Gold for taking aim at maintaining the fiction of journalistic integrity and shooting yourself in the kneecap.
Journalism. Wound. Self-inflicted.