In case you thought the Blair debacle was the only indicator of the Times’ slide, you obviously haven’t been reading Maureen Dowd. Today featured a classic, well, distortion. Here’s Dowd’s dumb-as-a-post take on Bush’s conduct of the war on terror:
Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. “Al Qaeda is on the run,” President Bush said last week. “That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated… They’re not a problem anymore.”
Here’s what Bush actually said:
Al Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly, but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they’re not a problem anymore.
It’s perfectly clear that the president is referring, sardonically, only to those members of al Qaeda who are “either jailed or dead,” not to the group as a whole. Everything we know about this president tells us that he has always warned of the permanent danger of groups like al Qaeda, has always talked of a long war, and would never say the words that Dowd puts in his mouth. So this is a wilful fabrication. Will they run a correction? Don’t count on it.
You say, “comparing Shalit’s errors to the vast, conscious fraud of the Blair or Glass cases seems to me to be a very big stretch.” Actually, comparing even the Stephen Glass case to Jayson Blair is a stretch– a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card for the management, who can just say, “people determined to lie are hard to catch, no matter what your fact-checking system.” The problem with this is that Glass was a lot more careful than Blair about not getting caught. In his book (which I reviewed for TechCentralStation.com Monday), his fictional alter-ego goes to great lengths to thwart the fact-checking system; because he knows how it works, he makes sure never to raise any red flags (faking notes, etc.). That this is true-to-life is corroborated by his 60 Minutes interview, in which he both talked about this and pointed out that, since his sources were fabricated, they never complained.
In contrast, Blair quoted real people, did many more stories (big, important stories, in the case of the sniper investigation), and his editors knew about his problems a long time ago. Unlike Glass, Blair had raised many red flags that were consciously ignored– indeed, he was promoted.
If Blair had been as crafty as Glass, Raines might have been forgiven for overlooking his problems. But he wasn’t that crafty– he was caught, and promoted anyway. I’d say it’s well past time for Pinch to start “demonizing [his] executives.”
Shafer, who’s been spinning for Raines for a year now, needs to face reality. One more addendum: Shafer continues to imply that my criticism of the Raines Times was due to my being fired. That’s the opposite of the truth. My criticisms began when I was still under contract. I felt I owed my blog readers the truth, not my attempt to suck up to the Times’ new management. I was sent veiled warnings to stop the criticism or face the music. I kept criticising. Raines fired me. And the obvious truth is that I was right from the beginning, and saw this problem sooner than most others. Shafer, purportedly a media critic, missed the boat on this huge story. So he’s lashing out at those who didn’t.