Washington's other, crappier newspaper

All right Times, I gave you a week off to recover from running that forged letter. Time to take you to task again, I'm afraid.

This time, for an article headlined "Criticism of Iraq policy seen hurting U.S. troop morale." It apparently took three people to write this jingoistic article, in which several Republicans imply that opposing the Iraq troop effort puts you on Saddam's side. You're not on Saddam's side, ARE YOU?

Well, I guess I am, since I opposed the war in the first place. You can't be anti-war and anti-Saddam at the same time, right? I might as well go spit on Jessica Lynch.

Anyway, the important thing to note about this article, "Criticism of Iraq policy seen hurting U.S. troop morale," is that no troops are actually quoted as saying their morale is low. There is exactly one quote from an actual military person, relayed vicariously through a Republican Congressman:

"He looked me in the eye, with tubes coming out, and he simply said, 'Congressman, the only thing I worry about is that we will pull out early and we will not finish the job and it will mean all of the sacrifices we made over there were for nothing,' " the Indiana Republican recalled.
OK, huh? I don't recall anyone saying, "Don't finish the job in Iraq." It's more like, "There was no reason to rush into invading in the first place." And from the quote, this unnamed Marine doesn't appear to have low morale, or at least no lower than you ordinarily would have if tubes were sticking out of you.

All the reports on low morale I've seen have nothing to do with opposition to the war, and everything to do with the fact that the troops will have to stay in Iraq indefinitely, without seeing their families, all while getting killed by guerilla ambushes at a rate of about one per day. And they're pissed at Rumsfeld for jerking them around. (This is by the reporter who was later outed by the White House Press Office as being openly gay and openly Canadian.)

Maybe it's too much to ask to have the smallish Times actually interview troops in Iraq, but then why print this article in the first place? If you can't get any actual quotes from actual troops, then what's the point?

So was this one of those "stories" that was initiated not by public outcry, but by an editor? Not long ago the Times editors took it upon themselves to craft a story out of the shocking scandal that Metro employees get to ride Metro for free. Erik Wemple from the Washington City Paper summed it up nicely (scroll down to see the story):

[Times editors] sent reporter Jon Ward after Metro officials to ask the following question: Why aren't you revoking free fares for the 10,000-plus Metro employees? The paper's jihad against area transit workers led to some odd-sounding copy: "Metro officials have increased fees for parking and riding buses and subways to reduce a $48 million budget deficit, but will not discontinue such perks as free rides for its more than 10,000 employees..." read the June 24 piece.

Traditionally, newspapers write about such perks when they come under attack from public officials. In this case, the lone attacker was the Washington Times. "They brought [the issue] to me," says [Ward 1 Councilmember] Jim Graham, chair of Metro's board of directors. "I wasn't aware of it."
In fact, it wasn't really an issue; nobody else anywhere had a problem with the free rides. The Times even exaggerated the cost of the free rides via some poorly done calculations, estimating in the story that the perk cost Metro up to $18 million a year. The actual cost: $675,000. Wemple:

Ward assumed that all of Metro's employees take the train to and from work and pay the maximum fare. Perhaps those fumes from the New York Avenue overpass are seeping into the Washington Times HQ: Just 41 percent of trips into D.C.'s downtown core on weekday mornings come via Metro. No organization bigger than a vending kiosk has 100 percent subway usage.

A Metro source reports that Washington Times editors ordered up the story on the perk, an account confirmed by Metro Editor Carleton Bryant. "We don't know all the perks that Metro board members and workers receive. This is just one of the ones we were aware of, and so we just asked the question," he says.
Anyway, this strikes me as a similar situation; an editor probably said, "Hey, I'll bet we could find some people to say that U.S. troop morale is hurt by the war opposition," and sent these reporters on a mission to dig up some quotes. The problem is, it's not news, and yet it's played like a news story.

If the editorial board thinks that opposition hurts morale, then they should go ahead and write themselves an editorial. But inventing these news stories out of thin air is simply bad journalism. You're not here to make the news yourselves; you're here to report on it.

Unless it's about that awful public menace, Spider-Man. Then it's OK.

No comments:

Post a Comment