May 24, 2003


The WashPost's Richard Cohen draws many of the same conclusions drawn here earlier about the whole Lynch affair.

NB: And yes, Bill, Cohen's column from yesterday, finally giving his own paper its due criticism, is wholly different from that wishywashy earlier piece by the WashPost ombudsperson saying only that the facts could still be in doubt, and the Post was still standing by both stories in the meantime. The ombudsperson piece certainly doesn't "detail the mistakes," as you say: exactly the opposite, in fact.

Bill also evidently wasn't aware of a non-advertised feature of the WashPost website, that most if not all of its newspieces are kept, unindexed, on the main free access website for months after they've become available on the for-pay archives. If you know the headline, you can almost always Google and go right to the original. With the curious exception (apparently unique for pieces filed from that week) of this one.

As to the rest, the best interpretation is that Bill's just being argumentative now. It's real simple... I said in essence, "interviewing the Iraqi doctors on May 5 was a necessary and important corrective (what I mean when I say "scoop") to the most recent stories about Lynch that we had heard (ie, out of her hospital in Germany)." First Bill established that the first interview with the Iraqi doctors was actually by the Post on April 14... fine, sure, same source (and hence the same scoop), just on a different day. The point still stands. Bill also cited a bunch of similar stories that came before the stories out of Germany, on April 4, as evidence that the rest of the journalistic establishment had already corrected its early mistakes. Since the mistakes in question hadn't actually been made at that point (the "small calibre gunshot wound" stuff out of the German hospital first showed up in Newsday April 6) those citations were irrelevant. They certainly didn't in any way change that in the couple days before the April 14 Post story first ran, every paper and newsweekly in the country had just run what we now can be nearly certain was inaccurate information about Lynch's injuries. Some outlets, like FoxNews, then still took weeks to get around to providing the new information... many others (Newsweek, Time, etc.) haven't yet. Many bloggers, like biased-bbc, still believe the discredited version, saying it's the Iraqi doctors who must be lying. A necessary and important corrective, as I said. (And PS: I never once said "over a month." Sloppy, sloppy...)

Bill focusses on my choice of the word "definitive," almost as if it's talismanic. The question is not whether these major news organizations, like Newsweek and People, will someday set their records straight... the story of Private Lynch will be with us for some time yet, and some day a follow-up story will no doubt include the later information. The narrow question, again, was whether the journalists who travelled to the Nasariyah Hospital managed to develop our understanding, or just told us what we already knew or should reasonably have known. I'm not saying that every paper is required to print a correction every time new contrary facts come to light... otherwise a paper would be nothing but corrections. (Giving Richman's honest story the same prominence as Schmidt's sensationalist story would have been nice, though.) What I'm saying is in the ABSENCE of a definitive telling of the true facts of a story, this extra little puzzle piece, perspective, what have you, that we got from the Iraqi doctors was by definition still valuable. I know Bill agrees with this, so I really have no idea why he continues to assert the contrary position, other than his own sheer contrariness, I guess.

Bill also says I should give FoxNews' Hunt more credit until the facts are in. I find it interesting that faced with one of only two logically exclusive possibilities (A -- that an unnamed soldier had lied to Hunt; B -- that Hunt had lied on-air about what he'd heard), Bill automatically assumed the retired colonel on the tube was the truth-teller. Maybe it's all those years in army PR, but I'll always go with option B, and, when it comes to the media, presume the serving soldiers innocent. Every time.

Posted by BruceR at 12:05 PM