Fat Steve's Blatherings

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Yet Another Comment I Made at Simon's Blog

      In answer to Question #2.

Jay Rosen:

      While I'm not at all certain that 'Just the facts' is THE answer, or even AN answer, I think you exaggerate the difficulties of getting them.

      You wrote: "I noticed among the right side bloggers commenting on the Newsweek Koran story that very few of them mentioned Gen. Richard Myers statement that the Newsweek article had little to do with the riots and were not a cause."

      Let's look at Myers's statement.  The transcript is available here (go to the end, then scroll up slightly).

      GEN. MYERS: It's the -- it's a judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eikenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran -- and I'll get to that in just a minute -- but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his Cabinet is conducting in Afghanistan. So that's -- that was his judgment today in an after- action of that violence. He didn't -- he thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.

      That Gen. Myers said this seems established beyond a reasonable doubt.  That Gen. Eikenberry made an after-action report is unsupported assertion from Myers, but I'm inclined to believe it.  That Myers summarized the alleged report correctly is hard to believe, since he contradicts himself: "not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran" transforms to "it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine" in the course of a few sentences.  Eikenberry's statements in the report, whatever they are, would appear to be pure judgment on Eikenberry's part, even making the assumption that his report is an honest attempt at finding the truth.  The nub of it all, that the riots weren't tied to the Newsweek article, is utterly unsubstantiated.

      So, putting it in purely factual terms: 'At a press conference on base closings, Gen. Myers was asked about violent "demonstrations" in Afghanistan supposedly sparked by a Newsweek story.  Gen. Myers claimed that he had received a report from Gen. Eikenberry on this, which he characterized both as saying the riots weren't "necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran," and "not at all tied to the article in the magazine."  There were no apparent direct quotes from Gen. Eikenberry, and no copies of the report were made available.  No evidence was offered to confirm whatever it was Gen. Eikenberry said.  Neither was any question asked or comment made about riots in countries outside Afghanistan, or about why, if the riots were not "tied to the article" at all, they happened so soon after the publication of the story in Newsweek.'

      Do you find anything in my summary that is non-factual?  The last sentence, saying what didn't happen, is perhaps pushing the boundaries, but I think I stayed within them.

      Meanwhile, another release from the U.S. government says:
      According to initial reports, the situation in Jalalabad began on May 10 with peaceful student protests reacting to a report in Newsweek magazine that U.S. military interrogators questioning Muslim detainees at the Guantanamo detention center "had placed Qurans on toilets, and in at least one case flushed a holy book."  By the following day the protests in the city had turned violent with reports of several individuals killed, dozens wounded, and widespread looting of government, diplomatic and nongovernmental assets.

      That story, IF accurate, would seem to undercut at least the strong form of Myers's assertion about Eikenberry's judgment.  In the absence of corroboration, I see no reason to pay much attention to Myers's statement -- but that's a matter of opinion.  If you disagree, I'd be interested in hearing why.

      Now, concerning Kerry vs. the Swift Boat Vets, which you also raised.  As I wrote the day before yesterday, :
      Fair, balanced, accurate, honest journalism is tough.  In my arrogant opinion, making sure you know what story you're trying to write will aid the effort immensely.

      If the story you were trying to write was 'What do Kerry and his supporters from the Swift Boat crews say about his Viet Nam service, and what do the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth say?', then I don't see much of a problem.  Classic 'he said/she said.'  If the story you're trying to write is, 'What is a 100% accurate account of what Kerry did in Viet Nam?', then I think you're in over your head.  But there's a middle story, 'What can we definitely determine about what happened, and what remains uncertain?', and there things seem manageable.

      To avoid taking this post from 'too damn long' to 'ridiculously too long,' I'll summarize by saying that in the first action for which Kerry received a Purple Heart, the Whaler voyage, most things remain utterly opaque.  For the incident in the river where he got his third Purple Heart, the disputes mostly seem to be the kind of confusion thing you expect from people in combat.  However, he shouldn't have received the third Purple Heart, because aside from a bruise on his arm when his boat lurched, his wounds were accidentally self inflicted.  Concerning his secret missions to Cambodia, they didn't happen, and he was either lying or crazy.  The bottom line was that Kerry spun his Viet Nam service hard, it wasn't as heroic as he made it sound, but it wasn't obviously disgraceful

      Again, I don't see it as particularly hard to do.  Whether it's the right approach for PJM is another question.


Monday, May 30, 2005

How to Completely Miss the Point

      Short answer: be Kevin Drum.

      The long answer will come as we fisk Drum's post.  He gives us a road map of things to do wrong.

      MEA MAXIMA MAXIMA MAXIMA CULPA....Newsweek's editor-in-chief, Richard Smith, engages today in yet another public mea culpa over the Koran desecration story: "Trust is hard won and easily lost," he writes anxiously, "and to our readers, we pledge to earn their renewed confidence." And make no mistake: procedures will be changed to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

      This is like watching Darkness at Noon in real life.

      If you haven't read Darkness at Noon, you should.  For now, suffice it to say that it is about a prisoner in Stalin's USSR being physically and psychologically pressured into confessing to things that the prisoner and his interrogators know are not so.  In the Newsweek case, everything the magazine has apologized for is something the magazine actually did.

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 1: Convince yourself that apples are oranges.

      Newsweek made a small error in a 300-word blurb a couple of weeks ago,

      OK, let's stop and fisk the Newsweek story.

      Newsweek May 9 issue - Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year.

      This is bad writing.  It should say something like 'investigators probing charges of interrogation abuses.'  The reporting is bad because it doesn't give you a source for the e-mails, or quote any allegations that they contained, or tell you which allegations the "investigators" have now confirmed.  Neither does it go into the other allegations, the ones that were not allegedly confirmed -- were they proven false, dropped as unimportant, left hanging as undecidable?  Are they still being investigated?  We aren't told.  Nor are we give any information on the identities, competence, or background of the investigators.  (In justice to Newsweek, space limitations excuse some of this.  But not all -- if you don't have room for the story, don't run a fraction of it).

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 2: Be oblivious to bad writing and bad reporting.  Concentrate on something else besides the content of the story, and the evidence supporting it.

      Among the previously unreported cases

      More bad writing and reporting.  You can't "confirm" a report never made (confirm: To support or establish the certainty or validity of; verify).  Should be something like 'In addition to the now confirmed allegations, which we decided not to tell you about, some new abuse reports have arisen.'  And why aren't they telling us what the allegedly "confirmed" reports are, and why are they telling us about the new charges?  I can only speculate, but I think the hunger for a scoop overrode the need to inform.

      sources tell NEWSWEEK:

      A lie.  'One source, who won't let us identify him, said something we will paraphrase' is what actually happened.

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 4: Don't worry about honesty in reporting, especially when the story advances your political agenda.  Be very indignant when some people demand honesty and accuracy, regardless of politics.

      interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash.

      Bad reporting, again.  A good reporter would have asked for a copy of the report.  Or he would have had it read to him over the phone, with page citations, title, name(s) of author(s), etc.  Isikoff was not a good reporter that day.

      Oh by the way, what happened to the "dog collar and leash?"  Seems to have dropped into the memory hole.  Thinking about it (something Isikoff didn't do), it sounds like Ms. England, doesn't it?  Thinking might have alerted Isikoff that the sole source was likely confusing things he'd heard other places with the upcoming report.

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 5: When a process that's supposed to find the truth produces falsehood, don't ask why, and don't seek to correct it in the future.  Instead, just brand it a minor error.

      An Army spokesman confirms that 10 Gitmo interrogators have already been disciplined for mistreating prisoners, including one woman who took off her top, rubbed her finger through a detainee's hair and sat on the detainee's lap. (New details of sexual abuse --including an instance in which a female interrogator allegedly wiped her red-stained hand on a detainee's face, telling him it was her menstrual blood -- are also in a new book to be published this week by a former Gitmo translator.)

      Were the interrogators disciplined because of the contents of the upcoming report?  Did the report confirm that particular charge by the translator?  It seems the only connection between these sentences and the beginning of the paragraph is the fact that they contain allegations of misconduct.  This suggests that publishing charges against the detention center was more important to Isikoff than the contents of the report.

      But I don't want to jump to conclusions.  Maybe it's just bad writing.

      And given the public nature of a spokesman's job, why didn't Newsweek name said spokesman, and quote him directly?

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 6: Only think about motives when you disapprove of someone.

      These findings, expected in an upcoming report by the U.S. Southern Command in Miami

      "Expected?!"  That sounds like Isikoff isn't sure what the report will say.  If he's not, why not?  The authority of the "sources" isn't doing so well here.

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 7: When confronted by weasel words, take them at face value, rather than thinking about them.

      could put former Gitmo commander Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller in the hot seat.

      Rank speculation.  Where's the evidence?

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 8: Confuse assertions that are potentially checkable with stuff the reporter just makes up.

      Two months ago a more senior general, Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, was placed in charge of the SouthCom probe, in part, so Miller could be questioned.  The FBI e-mails indicate that FBI agents quarreled repeatedly with military commanders, including Miller and his predecessor, retired Gen. Michael Dunleavy, over the military's more aggressive techniques.

      So what?  Lots of people quarrel about lots of things.  Why should I believe "quarrels" will hurt Miller's career?

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 9: Don't recognize non-sequiturs in a story.

      "Both agreed the bureau has their way of doing business and DOD has their marching orders from the SecDef," one e-mail stated, referring to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

      Again, so what?  The military is not the Justice Dept., war is not a criminal investigation, and different ways of "doing business" may be equally valid.

      And why was it necessary to raise Rumsfeld's name, but not, say, the director of the FBI, or any of the allegedly abusive interrogators?

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 10: Be oblivious to political bias, both blatant and subtle.

      Sources familiar with the SouthCom probe say investigators didn't find that Miller authorized abusive treatment. But given the complaints that were being raised, sources say, the report will provoke questions about whether Miller should have known what was happening -- and acted to try to prevent it.

      OF COURSE Miller should have known what is command was doing, or at least been taking steps to find out.  That's S.O.P for all branches of the military.  Did Miller take such steps?  If so, what were they?  Without know this, we can't say anything about Miller's probable future.

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 11: Be ignorant of your subject matter.

      An Army spokesman declined to comment.

      Which Army spokesman?  The same as the one mentioned above?  Why can't we have names?  "Declined to comment" about what, specifically?  What exactly was the spokesman asked?  What's going on here?

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 12: If the writer of a "news" story has your political opinions, trust him blindly.

      OK, those are the problems in the Newsweek piece.  It's vague, biased, has little information, doesn't give us any way to easily check even publicly available sources, lies to us, is biased, and oh yes, it's wrong.  That's what made the story so controversial.  It would appear Drum missed all those flaws.  Now, back to his post.

      and since then the right-wing media hate machine, like a jackal sensing a rare opportunity for blood,

      Ad hominem is not a valid argument.  The existence of a "right wing media hate machine" is not proven, or even argued.  If it does exist, the politics and motivations of the "machine", if any, are irrelevant to the accuracy of its charges.

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 13: Delude yourself that people you don't like have nothing of value to say.

      has somehow managed to convince them [Newsweek] they bear responsibility for riots in Afghanistan that were staged by extremists who obviously used the Newsweek article as nothing more than pretext.

      Mencken once said that something like 'For every problem there is a solution, neat, simple, and wrong.'  We don't know much about the riots, or the "extremists" alleged to be behind them, or whether they would have been able to cause any riots if Newsweek hadn't printed it's story.

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 14: Defend against charges of getting the facts wrong, and publishing after inadequate investigation, by using assertions with even less evidence to support them.

      This is really pissing me off. For the record, let's recap what we've learned over the past year or so:

      Pictures from Abu Ghraib showed naked prisoners being stacked like cordwood and mocked by female guards — and there's worse stuff in Pentagon files that Congress has decided not to allow out of its locked vaults. There have been confirmed reports from Guantanamo of beatings, shacklings, and lighted cigarettes being stuck in prisoners' ears. 36 prisoners have died during interrogations. The Red Cross wrote detailed reports documenting abusive conduct in Iraq and was laughed off. The officers reponsible for overseeing abusive interrogations weren't punished, they were lauded for their work and transferred to other prisons. Hardened FBI agents wrote emails expressing their disgust at what they had seen. Innocent men have been tortured to death in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The White House counsel wrote memoranda justifying torture as an inherent right of the president. Rendition of suspects to other countries that have long histories of torturing prisoners is routine. Reports of Koran desecration have been circulating for a long time, and recent investigations have confirmed that mockery of religious symbols is common. The Red Cross warned the Pentagon about this years ago.

      The italics are mine.  I highlighted the sentences because they're the only ones that might apply to Gauantanamo, the subject of Newsweek's story.  The rest is pure guilt-by-association.

      Additionally, no sources for these charges are given.  Many of the allegations are dubious.  Some areirrelevantt (such as legal opinions written by White House counsel, if the opinion was not then circulated to military interrogators to tell them what they were allowed to do).  The bit about rendition is rather hypocritical, seeing that Clinton used the practice. And the failure to mention that the information about many of these alleged abuses started with internal military investigations, or that people have been or are being prosecuted for them, is yet another example of editing-as-lying.

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 15: Defend misdeeds by the press with accusations of different sorts of misdeeds by people who aren't in the press.

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 16: Start out by accusing one group of something unspecified ("the right wing hate machine"), then swing around to attack another (the military).

      How to Completely Miss the Point, lesson 17: Use abundant double standards, so that the alleged crimes of the military are an excuse for Newsweek, but the murders of thousands by terrorists don't excuse the alleged crimes of the military.

      Needless to say, this isn't exhaustive. In the light of this, Newsweek's offense, which was pretty minor to begin with, is about the equivalent of jaywalking across a busy city street.

      Newsweek and the rest of the media need to get up off their knees and start fighting back. They've done enough apologizing.

      First, any sentence that begins "Needless to say" should be deleted in its entirety.  Second, if jaywalking causes a fatal accident, its pretty serious.  Third, the job of the press is supposed to be accurate reporting of the news.  If they can't do that, they don't need to fight, they need to find different careers.

      Newsweek and the rest of the media need to learn to get the story correct in the first place.  They need to think about the impact of their actions on their country.  And they have to learn that making these kinds of mistakes will kill them as businesses.

      Congratulations, Kevin Drum!  You win this weeks prize for cluelessness.  As someone who despises the MSM, I sincerely hope they follow your advice.


Not Necessarily the Facts

      Over at Roger Simon's blog, the latest question is about how to do strictly factual reporting.  Here's something I posted there:
      As with Question #1, there's been a lot of good comments.

      I'd like to offer the following five suggestions for making factual reports.  The masochistic among you can then go to my blog, and read a humongous post about the Newsweek screwup, and how these rules were NOT followed.

      a) Learn the English language thoroughly, so that you know what your sources actually said and meant.

      b) Learn to think, so that you know whether your evidence supports your conclusion.

      c) Cite and quote your sources, if only to keep you from making stupid errors.

      d) Get as close to the primary source as possible.  As with the old game of telephone, every link in the chain further distorts your information.

      e) Learn to write accurately.

      Fair warning: I'll have more thoughts later. ;-)


      And now, the stuff I spared them:

      In the May 9th issue of Newsweek, a "Periscope" item appeared about the detainee camp at Gauntanamo.  It started out:
      Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year.  Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash.

      In the second and last paragraph of the item, Newsweek said that these findings would be in an upcoming military report.  Hold that thought, because it will be important: ACCORDING TO THE NEWSWEEK STORY, INVESTIGATORS CONFIRMED THAT A KORAN HAD BEEN FLUSHED DOWN A TOILET BY ONE OR MORE INTERROGATORS, AND THIS INFORMATION WOULD BE IN AN UPCOMING REPORT FROM SOUTHCOM.

      Later, Newsweek retracted their story.  Their source (note singular) isn't sure what he saw where.

      Then, over the past few days, some new stories.  FBI documents released to the ACLU show that prisoners interrogated by the FBI in 2002 and 2003 alleged a Koran flushing, as well as other abuses Koranic and non-Koranic.  The opening paragraphs of both The New York Times's and The Washington Post's versions make clear that, aside from the unsupported word of those detained, there's no evidence a Koran was actually flushed.  Also, what may have been the report referred to in the original Newsweek story will reveal:
      . . . instances in which guards or interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba mishandled the Koran, but found "no credible evidence" to substantiate claims that it was ever flushed down a toilet, the chief of the investigation said on Thursday.

      Of the five "mishandlings," four seem to have occurred in 2001 and 2002, with only one taking place "recently."  Two of the "mishandlings" were "accidental or unintentional," three "deliberate," and two service members have been "punished for their conduct."  The report does not detail what the "mishandling" was, but since its been reported that merely touching a copy of the Koran can 'defile' it, there may not be much to the "mishandlings."  In any case, "mishandling" the Koran is a punishable offense at Guantanamo.


      Since there are some people who seem to have trouble thinking clearly about this issue, let's smash the gnat with the sledge hammer.  If, at any time, there had been a question as to whether a) prisoners at Guantanamo had alleged a Koran flushing incident, even if the allegations were not believed credible, or b) a dispute whether any members of the Executive Branch had ever heard about the allegations, then these documents would settle the question once and for all.  The prisoners did most certainly make such allegations, and the FBI knew of them.  But nothing in the documents indicates the flushing incident really happened.  In fact, the FBI reports show that many abuse allegations were phony, exaggerated, or rumors, as Michelle Malkin points out.

      But I'm not aware that anyone in the U.S. government ever said 'We haven't heard a single allegation of any kind of Koran abuse from any prisoner at Guantanamo.'  The nearest I've found is this item by Andrew Sullivan:
DI RITA'S CREDIBILITY: The military spokesman said categorically last week that there had been no "credible allegations" of Koran abuse at Gitmo. Money quote:

      Q: Larry, just to be clear, there have been numerous allegations by detainees who have been released --

      MR. DI RITA [Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs -- St.O.]: Mm-hmm.

      Q : -- by attorneys who have talked to detainees, alleging mistreatment of the Koran, including instances where it was supposedly thrown into a toilet.  Are you saying that none of those allegations were credible, and that none of them have -- have any of them been investigated, and were any substantiated?

      MR. DI RITA: We've found nothing that would substantiate precisely -- anything that you just said about the treatment of a Koran.  We have -- other than what we've seen, that it's possible detainees themselves have done with pages of the Koran -- and I don't want to overstate that either because it's based on log entries that have to be corroborated... When we have received specific, credible allegations -- and typically that's not what we see when we see a lawyer speaking on Al- Jazeera -- but when a specific, credible allegation of this nature were to be received, we would take it quite seriously.  But we've not seen specific, credible allegations.

      That's close, but the rambling nature of Di Rita's response makes it unclear to me whether Di Rita meant 'no credible charges of Koran mistreatment by anyone working for the U.S. at any time,' or 'no credible allegations of a Koran in the crapper, by either guards or a prisoner.'  Note also that the reporter turned one allegation of flushing a Koran down a toilet into multiple instances of throwing copies of the Koran into the toilet.

      So how has the reporting on these new documents been?

      Last Friday, Howard Kurtz wrote:
      So the newly declassified FBI documents showing allegations of U.S. guards abusing the Koran have made a huge splash in the media, right?

      Uh, no. . . .

      Now I don't contend that these FBI papers, unearthed in an ACLU lawsuit, get Newsweek off the hook.  Newsweek made a bad mistake.  But you'd think they would be getting more attention.

      Why?  We knew allegations had been made.  All the documents add is that the FBI, specifically, had heard them.

      Kurtz again:
      Let's parse the wording.  Newsweek erred by saying in its ill-fated Periscope item that a forthcoming military investigative report would cite an allegation of the Koran being flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo.  That was wrong, and Newsweek's anonymous source backed off.

      Stop!  Mr. Kurtz, the Newsweek story said the Koran flushing had been confirmed by investigators, and that this information would be in a forthcoming report from Southern Command.  Both of those claims were false.  The story did not say that the investigation report would "cite" the allegation, unless you're using "cite" as a synonym for confirm.  It isn't clear whether you wrote sloppily or made an error, Mr. Kurtz, but in either case your claim about the Newsweek item is wrong.

      The FBI documents don't prove [Kurtz's emphasis] that these Koran incidents took place--indeed, it may be impossible to prove one way or the other.  The papers simply say that detainees have alleged to FBI interrogators about a dozen instances of defiling the Koran since 2002 (some of which have been written about before).  It's possible that the detainees are all making this stuff up.  It's also possible that Newsweek's source was onto something, but just confused about which document said what.

      In any event, after the pummeling that Newsweek took, this would seem to be moderately important news.

      So, maybe Newsweek's source mistook 'two year old documents that are about to be declassified' for "an upcoming report," mistook 'repeated some complaints, while noting they were unconfirmed, and none of the prisoners said they saw it themselves' for "confirmed," and mistook 'the Federal Bureau of Investigation' for the military's "Southern Command."  Possible, but if so, it suggests the source was utterly unreliable.  Aside from that speculation, just what, specifically, would this "something" the source was possibly "on to" be?

      Kurtz then mentions the military investigation report (Note: if the report had been mentioned at the same time as the FBI documents, I think the story line would have been clearer).  He goes on to quote and link to various pieces concerning these stories.  Ari Berman, Marc Perkel, and We Move to Canada, all claim, incorrectly, that the documents show the Koran-was-flushed incident happened. John Cole shows he doesn't understand what the fuss is about, namely, reporting information that isn't accurate because you're eager to believe bad things about your country (but then, Cole shares that eagerness).  And Andrew Sullivan offers the interesting epistemological principle that the sheer number of times the allegation has been repeated, and the number of people who have heard it, is enough to make reasonable people believe:
      . . . desecration or abuse of the Koran was deployed as an interrogation technique at Guantanamo.

      Or at least, it's enough to make Andrew believe it.  It isn't clear whether he buys the toilet story, or expects anyone else to.  No one cites new evidence showing a Koran was flushed, because there isn't any.

      So, what have we learned about reporting facts?  To me, five lessons stand out:

      a) Learn the English language thoroughly.  Sullivan came closest to finding something significant, but his unwarranted inference undercuts his point.

      b) Learn to think.  Finding out that some unidentified people did some unspecified things at some unspecified dates does not establish that what they did was known to their employer, or in accordance with their employer's policy.

      c) Cite and quote your sources.  If Kurtz had incorporated the original Newsweek item in the story, he might have gotten what the magazine said right.  If some of the people Kurtz linked to had quoted Newsweek and the specific document passages, they might not have falsely claimed that the FBI memos confirm the flushed Koran story.

      d) Get as close to the primary source as possible.  If Isikoff had demanded to see a copy of the report his "sources" supposedly saw, the erroneous story would never have happened.  The original story said allegations in FBI e-mails had been confirmed, but didn't tell us what those allegations were, or give a source where we could read the e-mails.  The "Periscope" item says "An Army spokesman confirms that 10 Gitmo interrogators have already been disciplined for mistreating prisoners," but doesn't name him or use his own words.  These things contributed to the original debacle.

      e) Learn to write accurately.  "Investigators . . . have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails" and "Among the previously unreported cases" contradict each other.  In some respects, the story was so bad that it wasn't even wrong.

      And I repeat the fair warning: I'll have more thoughts later. ;-)


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Another Nice Insight From Kaus

      Why are McCain and so many other senators so hyped on keeping the filibuster?  Kaus suggests it's all about power and money.

      The filibuster gives individual senators a lot more power than individual House members, and more attention, jobs for ex-aides, and other perks.  So they don't want it eliminated.

      Dang, why didn't I think of that?


What Makes a State Republican?

      I seldom bother with VDARE, a site run by people I consider racist, but Kaus pointed out a very interesting post over there.

      Steve Sailer says the answer to the question in the title of this post is: AFFORDABLE FAMILY FORMATION.  Red states tend to be inland (more land), have cheaper housing, have (white) women who've been married a long time, and have a high (white) fertility rate.  The last two are particularly significant:
      As I first reported in VDARE.COM last December, the single best correlation with Bush’s share of the vote by state that anybody has yet found is: the average years married by white women between age 18 and 44: an astonishing r-squared = 83 percent.

      (This has to be one of the highest r-squareds for a single unexpected factor ever seen in political science.)

      Bush carried the top 25 states ranked on "years married."

      For example, white women in Utah, where Bush had his best showing with 71 percent of the total vote, led the nation by being married an average of 17.0 years during those 27 years from age 18 through 44.

      In contrast, in Washington D.C., where Bush only took 9 percent, the average white woman is married only 7.4 years. . . .

      Bush carried 25 of the top 26 states in white total fertility (number of babies per white woman), while Kerry was victorious in the bottom 16. In Utah, for instance, white women average 2.45 babies.  In the District of Columbia, white women average only 1.11 babies.

      The correlation between white total fertility and Bush’s share produced an impressive r-squared = 74 percent.

      While the Marriage Gap appeared to be somewhat more important than the Baby Gap, together they proved extraordinarily powerful in explaining Bush’s performance—their combined r-squared = 88 percent.

      If I were a Democrat, this stuff would scare me crapless.  The thought of being the party of old farts, the non-white, and young people who won't have children, is truly terrifying.


Questions for my Reader(s?)

      How does this site look to you?  Any problems reading it?  Anything about the template you think I ought to change?

      I ask because there are some otherwise good sites (Patterico's Pontifications come to mind), where I can't read them because the site owner decided that his purpose in life was to put up something he liked the looks of, and if you don't, too bad.  This generally involves making it impossible to view comfortable unless the type is set on 'So teeny, you can just barely read it.'

      I aim to communicate, and if anyone has suggestions that will make communication easier, I'd like to hear them.

      And if anyone has Patterico's e-mail, I'd like that too.  Sheesh, do you really think I find your stuff so interesting, I'll view it through a magnifying glass?


Breaking News!

      John Kerry has signed form 180 -- unless he hasn't. (Hat Tips: Polipundit and Mickey Kaus).

      Oh, by the way Senator, some helpful advice, sincerely meant.  When Boston Globe columnists regard you as a weasel who won't give anyone a straight answer, you have a much bigger problem than Republican attacks.


Another Comment at Roger L. Simon

      I did another comment on Simon's Question #1:

      Above, I set out some ideas on why "fair and balanced" is difficult, especially for the MSM, and said I'd try to give some suggestions for achieving fairness and balance.  Time to do that.

      But first, one more philosophical point.  In discussing religious revelation in The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes says:
      So that though God Almighty can speak to a man by dreams, visions, voice, and inspiration, yet He obliges no man to believe He hath so done to him that pretends it; who, being a man, may err and, which is more, may lie.
      Reporters have templates filled with "reliable" and "unreliable" sources, with people who aren't trustworthy because of their political opinions, and people who are because they say they are 'advocates for the disenfranchised,' or are 'speaking truth to power,' and with other preconceptions as to motive and accuracy.  This biases the reporters view of the story in advance.

      A final word on templates: many stories do fit various templates: 'Gang related shooting accidentally kills toddler;' 'Famous country singer had hard struggle to get noticed;' 'All politicians are crooks;' 'MSM misreports important story because of left-wing bias.'  But not all stories fit a template, and therefore one should question whether this particular story fits into the pre-conceived framework, and if it does, how well?  It helps immensely to look at the context here, for instance 'Just how common are gang related shootings nationwide?  In this city?  Have there been any discernible trends?  What makes me think this was an accidental death anyway?'

      Now, let's look at a couple of recent stories, especially the Linda Foley story, and consider how to be fair and balanced in view of what I said about templates.

      Since the tendency is to fit stories into preconceived frameworks, the first thing to do is to be aware of said frameworks and question them.  In the Foley case, I'd start with asking 'What is the story?'

      I can see several possible stories here.  One is 'What did Foley say?'  When I looked into it, I find that Foley was speaking of the alleged ill effects of conglomerate media ownerships, and that was most of the speech. She also related the alleged killings to the main theme:
      This is all part of the culture that it is OK to blame the individual journalists, and it just takes the heat off of these media conglomerates that are part of the problem.

      So if the story is what Foley said, we need to look at everything she said, not just the part about targeted journalists.

      The Dusty Attic has a transcript, incomplete but the longest I've seen.  In it, Foley is quoted as saying all journalists need to make restoration of credibility a top priority.  Then she says:
      The other thing, ah, I would just like to mention, the other trend that I think needs to be reversed, ah, that isn't talked about very much, is the targeting of journalists.

      Foley says journalists are being targeted by
      . . . the right side of the political spectrum, ah, journalists are blamed, ah, for many ills, that they just report on.

      What is happening in the media is not the fault of individual journalists. Yes, there are some bad individual journalists in the mainstream media.  There are also some very good individual journalists in the mainstream media, and it's probably, on balance just like any other profession.

      But what's wrong is that there is a systematic corporate, ah, corporate, ahm, dissolution of what we know is credible reporting and journalism.  And that what's really wrong and that's what we need to focus on, and that's what we have to fight.

      Then come the charges about killing, followed by:
      So, um, so, I would, I'm working with you, my members want to work with you, to try and change this. We do have to have other alternatives to corporate media out there, so that people... real people's voices can be heard, but you also have to help us change from within.

      I don't have enough interest in Foley's ideas to listen to and transcribe all she said, but a "fair and balanced" story would need to take it into account.  Since she made public charges, one would also allow those accused to answer her.  But the question of the truth or falsity of her charges would not, and should not be addressed.  This is a classic 'he said, she said' story, and who said what is all that a "fair and balanced" report would include.

      Closely related to the 'What did she say?' story would be a 'What did she mean?'story.  A "fair and balanced" version of that story would attempt to interview Foley and ask why she thinks there's a connection between conglomerate media ownership and the killing of journalists.  Again, the truth or falsity of her charges would not be at issue.  The reporter would strive to achieve what Herman Kahn called "second order agreement," in which the reporter can say 'Foley's position is . . .' whatever, and have Foley agree that the reporter's words adequately describe her thoughts.  I am personally surprised that no one has, apparently, asked her "What do you mean when you distinguish the 'military' from the troops?'

      Yet a third story would be 'Why does Foley think that the "U. S. military," whoever they are, targets and kills journalists, deliberately?'  The focus of this story is not on the facts of charge, but the psychology and epistemology of Linda Foley.  It's also a much more difficult story to do in a "fair and balanced" way.  To find out what Foley said, I listen to the tape, or ask people who were there.  To find out what she thinks, and why she thinks it, I need to talk with her, and then make judgments based on her behavior.  She may lie about what she thinks, or why she thinks it, and she may not be consciously aware of why she believes whatever it is she believes.  Unraveling her ideas could be very complex.  A particular pitfall is the temptation to believe that once you find out how someone came to hold an idea, you've shown the idea true or false.  E.g., I know something of how my brother became a 'born-again Christian,' but not whether his faith is correct or not.

      Yet another story could be 'Why do some people find Foley's charges interesting, and others not?'  As Thomas Lipscomb noted, there only seem to have been a few stories on this: by Mark Hyman of Sinclair Broadcasting; by O'Reilly on Fox; by Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher; and
the Chicago Sun-Times story I wrote, a St. Paul Pioneer Press column by Mark Yost, and a Washington Times column item.[Lipscomb]
      In the blogosphere, though, Foley's a fairly big story.  The 'Who's interested and why' story would look at these disparate reactions.  Again, as a story about psychology, it would be harder than the first two possible stories.

      The toughest story of all would be the 'Does the U.S. Military deliberately try to kill journalists?' story.

      One difficulty: what does 'Deliberately try to kill journalists' mean?  There was a cameraman who was shot by a soldier or marine (I'm too tired to look this up), and the shooter claimed he thought the camera was a rocket-propelled grenade launcher?  True?  Regardless, the shooter deliberately fired at the man, intending to wound at least, and perhaps kill.  It would be important to distinguish between "I deliberately intended to kill that guy," "I deliberately intended to kill that guy, because I thought he was an armed enemy combatant trying to kill me," and "I deliberately intended to kill that guy, knowing he was a journalist, because I hate journalists."

      And how would you go about establishing the shooter's state of mind anyway?  We could ask him, but being a man, may err and, which is more, may lie.

      Or consider the 'air attack on the al-Jazeera studios' that took place during the invasion of Baghdad.  A bomb or rocket hit the generator on top of the studios (accounts differ on the weapon used ).  A reporter and cameraman were on that roof, or the roof of the building next to the one with the generator (I've seen both said).  When the bomb or rocket exploded, the cameraman was wounded, and the reporter killed.  Everyone agrees on this.

      What isn't clear is what was intended.  Al-Jazeera claims that they gave the location of their building to the Pentagon.  Did they?  If so, what was done with the information?  The plane that attacked was reported to have been an A-10.  Does the A-10 pilot or weapons officer have a convenient way to aim radar or a laser at a building, and get it's GPS coordinates back?  Did the plane crew know they were attacking a TV studio?  If so, whom did they think was occupying it, and what did they think they were doing?  Whatever weapon was used struck the generator.  Was this intentional?  If so, it suggests the attackers wished to shut off electric power to the building.  True?  If true, what was the motive?

      Here also, 'deliberately targeting journalists' is an ambiguous phrase.  The al-Jazeera crew was reporting on the location of U.S. forces as they fought their way into the city.  The information was being broadcast live by satellite, if I recall correctly.  It's conceivable, and perhaps probable, that Iraqi forces were watching that broadcast, and using the information tactically.  Does this possibility make al-Jazeera a legitimate target?  If the plane crew knew they were hitting al-Jazeera, and did so with the intent of taking it off the air, how does that affect their moral culpability, if any, for killing the reporter?

      On second thought, there's a story that's much tougher than the 'Does the U.S. Military deliberately try to kill journalists?' story.  It's the combined story, which tries to answer that question, and what Foley meant, and why Foley and other journalists believe it, and why people react to it the way they do.  That looks like it would turn into a book if it was long enough to do justice to the combined story.  More likely, it would end up a muddle.

      Fair, balanced, accurate, honest journalism is tough.  In my arrogant opinion, making sure you know what story you're trying to write will aid the effort immensely.


On Question #1

      I made my own contribution to Roger Simon's first question, and here it is:

      First, I want to say to Roger that I'm in awe at your ability to attract intelligent commenters.  Only one insulting comment, only one off topic.  How do you do it?

      Now, let me sneak up on the "fair and balanced" question.  Did you ever here of Sir Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn?  They were both philosophers of science.  Popper was born in 1902, just as the quantum physics revolution was getting under way.  As a young man, he noted that the physical sciences hadn't proved a lot of the things they thought they'd proved.  He also noticed that Marxism, Freudianism, and Adlerianism all purported to be scientific, and true, but all differed.  What was going on?

      Popper eventually came to the conclusion that science can't prove universal propositions.  But it can sometimes disprove them.  The sciences, he said, were distinguished by dealing in universal ideas that were subject to experimental disproof.  He also decided that the ideas of Marx, Freud, and Adler weren't science, because nothing could conceivably disprove them.

      Thomas Kuhn was born twenty years after Popper.  As a student of physics who switched to philosophy, and as a man with a strong historical bent, he said that Popper was a bit too simplistic.  Some things can be definitely disproven in science, but in other cases disproof is a long, drawn-out affair, with no clear line where you can say "This idea has now been shown to be false."  Kuhn argued instead that there are usually big theories, which he called "paradigms," that sum up a field and guide research.  Paradigms are usually in a state of uncertainty, he said, explaining some things but not all things.  "Normal science" consists of doing research that seeks to explain phenomena in terms of the reigning paradigm, and adjusting said paradigm a little to fit it closer to the observed facts.  "Revolutionary science" occurs when hard data comes in that can't be explained in terms of the current paradigm.  As such data accumulates, adjustments to the paradigm get so extreme that people begin to doubt it.  New paradigms are proposed.  Eventually, one works very well and becomes the new general paradigm, guiding research in the field.  But some adherents of the old paradigm never 'convert.'  You just have to wait for them to die off.

      Now, consider moral philosophy.  In A Treatise of Human Nature, book III, Section 1, David Hume observes:
      In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not.  This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence.  For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ’d and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.

      Hume was right, 'is' and 'ought' are very different relations.  But people seem to have inborn difficulties in distinguishing these two ideas.

      Last, did you ever study Euclidean geometry?  If you did, every single "proof" you learned was probably invalid.  Why?  Because geometry, as it is usually taught, is full of unstated assumptions, such as 'When you draw a geometric figure on a plane, the plane is not distorted by the process of drawing.'  In The Left Hand of the Electron, Isaac Asimov notes that there are more than forty such hidden assumptions in Euclid.  It wasn't that the ancient Greek was dishonest, it was rather that he didn't realize he was making them.

      Now, what does all this have to do with being "fair and balanced?"  As Susanna Cornett, has frequently noted, reporters tend to approach stories with "templates."  These are the equivalents of Kuhn's paradigms.  But where scientific paradigms deal with 'is/is not' relationships exclusively, reportorial templates contain mixtures of 'is/is not' and 'ought/ought not' propositions.  Where scientific paradigms are very explicit in their terms and assumptions, reportorial templates are vague and filled with unconscious assumptions, but far more so than Euclid.  And while scientific paradigms are supposed to be subject to test that will potentially disprovable them, and frequently are so tested, reportorial templates are never questioned.  Reporters assume their templates are always true.  The key word is "ass/u/me."

      "Fairness and balance" requires a constant awareness that you are carrying these assumptions around with you; that they might be generally false, or true in some cases but not all; and that any time you fit a story into a template, you need to consciously test the fit.

      In a later post, I'll suggest ways of doing this.


Oh, by the Way

      In reference to the last post, it is, as Joe Bob might say, truly surprising that you should have to point out such things.  Especially in a world with journalism schools.

      Or is it?  Maybe the existence of journalism schools and a "profession of journalism," is precisely why members of the public have to point such things out?


How to be "Fair and Balanced" -- a Preliminary Report

      Roger L. Simon has started a discussion on what the upcoming Pajamas Media should be and do.  Question #1 is: What is "fair and balanced?"  After giving some thoughts of his own,
      Trouble is - it's not so simple.  Many established media companies across the political spectrum have asserted they were "fair and balanced" or something similar only to get pie in the face, figuratively and literally.  And is "fair and balanced" even possible from a human endeavor?
he asks for comments.

      There are some extraordinarily good suggestions over there, and it's worth reading in full, if you have time.  So far (I'm in the process of cataloging them), I'd say the the ideas fall into three overlapping categories:

      1) Be honest.  Explain what you're trying to do, and why you're trying to do it; correct mistakes, but leave the old mistakes visible rather than erasing them; don't determine what cause or conclusion you want to advance, and then leave out facts that undercut that cause; tell the whole story; advance equal portions of all sides to a proposition; don't cherrypick sources or quotes to slant a story; rigorously distinguish facts and opinions; ; don't use scare quotes; keep and open mind; always remember and admit that you may be wrong.

      2) Be accurate.  Report without fear or favor; always seek to inform; tell who, what, where, when, why, and how upfront; don't weasel or spin; follow the evidence; give "just the facts," as Sgt. Friday says; repeat a person's own words.

      3) Be transparent.  Seek to identify all sources; describe sources as fully as possible, especially anonymous sources; don't call a single usource "sources"; tell us your own biases upfront; support everything in the story; make decision criteria public; be self-critical; use peer review and feedback; guard against groupthink; track and publish the accuracy of reporting and analysis.

      This is a conversation well worth taking part in, and I urge you to do so.


Friday, May 27, 2005

And in Case You Didn't Notice

      In the last post, the author of the E&P article refers to the "MSM."

      When you control the way the debate is framed, you almost always win.


Someone Gets It

      The Blogfather points out a story in Editor and Publisher about Linda Foley, the Newspaper Guild President who said that "being targeted for real" in Iraq by the U.S. military" in Iraq.

      The author, Thomas Lipscomb, points out that hardly anyone in the MSM has called Foley on her statement.  Why should we believe her?
      Foley had the advantage of seeing what happened to Jordan and, as the head of a powerful union of 35,000 journalists and media workers, she knew anything she said about targeting journalists would likely be scrutinized.  So one would expect that she has a pretty solid case for her revival of the discredited Jordan charges?  But one would be wrong.  Her spokesperson, Candice Johnson, told me Foley can provide “no evidence” to support her charges either.

      So what's the reaction, to an explosive charge with no evidence to support it?  Nothing:
      Sherlock Holmes’s key clue to who stole the racehorse in “Silver Blaze” was a dog in the stall that didn’t bark.  And something equally odd happened on the way to the Foley firestorm: To date, not a single pundit, editorial writer, or newspaper ran anything, with the exception of the Chicago Sun-Times story I wrote, a St. Paul Pioneer Press column by Mark Yost, and a Washington Times column item.

      Clearly Foley was correct in assuming the Right was the only danger to her repetition of the statement that got Eason Jordan canned.  The Mainstream Media couldn’t be bothered to cover “Easongate: The Sequel.”  And positioning Foley as the gallant defender of the lives of journalists targeted by the U.S. military was inspired PR.  After all, Sherlock Holmes’s dog didn’t bark because he was good friends with the thief.

      The end of the piece gets right to the point, in a way even the dishonest can understand:
      The average circulation decline among 684 US daily papers is averaging 1.9% in the past year.  In some places it is catastrophic.  This is the biggest drop in the last five years.  And no one is forecasting a turnaround yet.  In case it hasn’t occurred to anyone, that means fewer slots for Newspaper Guild workers.  Media credibility is in the toilet, even if the Koran isn’t.

      The Manchester Guardian’s Peter Preston explains where the circulation is going—-“the defectors are packing up and moving out of newsprint: to broadcasting in tiny measure (though radio and TV news are losing customers, too) but overwhelmingly to the Net.”  And it isn’t the Right or the blogosphere that are doing this to us, although that is what the MSM would prefer to believe.  We are doing it ourselves.

      If the most basic tenets of Journalism 101 are now no longer important enough for the media itself to honor and defend against their own members who violate them, where is the professionalism and the authority that is our main claim to writing the indispensable “first draft of history” – much less its value for sale?  And if we lose sight of that irretrievably, who needs us?  There are bloggers out there today with more credibility than Dan Rather, Mary Mapes, Eason Jordan, and Linda Foley combined, and their audiences are growing.

      If Foley is allowed to walk unchallenged from what Mencken might have called “a clear, simple, and” unproven statement, it will only accelerate the speed at which her members lose what is left of their credibility--and then their jobs.  (Look at The New York Times newsroom downsizing this week.)  If the press isn’t going to take its own standards seriously, it is hard to think of why anyone should take the press seriously enough to pay for it.  In the meantime, Rupert Murdoch’s and Roger Ailes’s success offers a constant unpleasant reminder: the media market prefers dogs that bark.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Accuracy Last, or Newsweek is Still Digging

      Newsweek still doesn't understand what went wrong.

      The editor attempts to explain in the next issue.  Let's fisk him:

A Letter to Our Readers


      May 30 issue - In the week since our Periscope item about alleged abuse of the Qur'an at Guantanamo Bay became a heated topic of national conversation, it will come as no surprise to you that we have been engaged in a great deal of soul-searching and reflection.

      If that were true, I'd be encouraged.  But real soul-searching would start from the idea 'We got the wrong result because we used the wrong process.'  Newsweek can't seem to grasp that idea.

      Since cutting short a trip to Asia on the weekend we published our account of how we reported the story, I have had long talks with our Editor Mark Whitaker, Managing Editor Jon Meacham and other key staff members, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you and to affirm—and reaffirm—some important principles that will guide our news gathering in the future.

      As most of you know, we have unequivocally retracted our story. In the light of the Pentagon's denials and our source's changing position on the allegation, the only responsible course was to say that we no longer stand by our story.

      It would have been a nice gesture, there, to say 'When we published it, we thought it was true.  We now believe it was false.  We were wrong.'  Or maybe you still believe it was true?  Or what?  Some clarity would be appreciated.

      We have also offered a sincere apology to our readers and especially to anyone affected by violence that may have been related to what we published. To the extent that our story played a role in contributing to such violence, we are deeply sorry.

      A frank admission that the story was part of a process that led to riots would be nice, rather than trying to equivocate.  As for the 'sincere apology' to the dead, that's just disgusting.

      Newsweek also might have explained why they are so ignorant of Muslim culture that they had no idea the story might provoke riots.  Or perhaps they could explain why they did know, but went ahead anyway?  Either would be interesting.

      Let me assure both our readers and our staffers that NEWSWEEK remains every bit as committed to honest, independent and accurate reporting as we always have been. In this case, however, we got an important story wrong, and honor requires us to admit our mistake and redouble our efforts to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

      That's the tone they should have had throughout.  But I can't help noting that accurate reporting is honest by definition, and I wonder why you put accuracy last?  And what is "independence," how does it differ from "accuracy" and "honesty", and why, apparently, is it more important than accuracy?

      One of the frustrating aspects of our initial inquiry is that we seem to have taken so many appropriate steps in reporting the Guantanamo story. On the basis of what we know now, I've seen nothing to suggest that our people acted unethically or unprofessionally.

      A "profession" that gets things wrong so easily needs far better standards.  'Everybody else does it that way' is not a defense, it's an indictment of yourself and everyone else.  A forthright statement that 'There is something wrong with our standards of verification' should have been made.  And since "veteran investigative journalist" Isikoff fouled up so easily, how about a story on "investigative journalism" in general, starting from the question "Is there really any reason to ever take this stuff seriously?"

      Veteran reporter Michael Isikoff relied on a well-placed and historically reliable government source.

      We here see Newsweek's first mistake.  Would Isikoff have been prepared to stake his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor on the proposition that this official would never lie or make a mistake?  If so, I would like to see an argument about why he believed that.  If not, then all the 'historically reliable' stuff is intellectually irrelevent, and dishonest in intent.

      And by the way, Newsweek, why didn't you ask for a copy of the report?  Or a title, author, and page reference?  Or at least ask the source to read this to you over the phone?

      We sought comment from one military spokesman (he declined) and provided the entire story to a senior Defense Department official, who disputed one assertion (which we changed) and said nothing about the charge of abusing the Qur'an. Had he objected to the allegations, I am confident that we would have at the very least revised the item, but we mistakenly took the official's silence for confirmation.

      The fact that Newsweek showed the article to others means that they didn't trust Isikoff's source.  So, if you honor is important to you, why don't you say, clearly, 'WE THOUGHT ISIKOFF'S SOURCE MIGHT BE WRONG.  WE TRIED TO CONFIRM THE SOURCE, AND FOULED UP.'

      The way Newsweek fouled up was by not asking, explicitly, 'We are informed a certain report is in the works, saying such and such? Is it true that such a report is being prepared?  Have you read it?  Can you confirm or deny or information as to its contents?'  The failure to get explicit answers to these questions was where they Newsweek went off the rails.  And the fact that this was considered "professional reporting" is appalling.

      It now seems clear that we didn't know enough or do enough before publication, and if our traditional procedures did not prevent the mistake, then it is time to clarify and strengthen a number of our policies.

      A better way to put this would be "It is now evident that we don't know how to investigate properly.  We intend to learn.'

      In the weeks to come we will be reviewing ways to improve our news-gathering processes overall. But after consultations with Mark Whitaker and Jon Meacham, we are taking the following steps now:

      We will raise the standards for the use of anonymous sources throughout the magazine. Historically, unnamed sources have helped to break or advance stories of great national importance, but overuse can lead to distrust among readers and carelessness among journalists. As always, the burden of proof should lie with the reporters and their editors to show why a promise of anonymity serves the reader. From now on, only the editor or the managing editor, or other top editors they specifically appoint, will have the authority to sign off on the use of an anonymous source.

      The fact that the source was anonymous was almost irrelevent.  The problem was, the source was wrong.  "For being a man he may err, and what is more, may lie."  The same story, with a named source, would have been almost as embarassing.

      We will step up our commitment to help the reader understand the nature of a confidential source's access to information and his or her reasons for demanding anonymity. As they often are now, the name and position of such a source will be shared upon request with a designated top editor. Our goal is to ensure that we have properly assessed, on a confidential basis, the source's credibility and motives before publishing and to make sure that we characterize the source appropriately. The cryptic phrase "sources said" will never again be the sole attribution for a story in NEWSWEEK.

      If you'd put in the original story 'A confidential source who we believe is in a position to know, and who we don't think would lie to us, told Michael Isikoff . . .", the story still would have been wrong.  What was important was not the source's name, or motive, or position, but the source's quality of information.  Nothing you've written yet says how you'll make sure of getting more accurate information.

      When information provided by a source wishing to remain anonymous is essential to a sensitive story—alleging misconduct or reflecting a highly contentious point of view, for example—we pledge a renewed effort to seek a second independent source or other corroborating evidence. When the pursuit of the public interest requires the use of a single confidential source in such a story, we will attempt to provide the comment and the context to the subject of the story in advance of publication for confirmation, denial or correction. Tacit affirmation, by anyone, no matter how highly placed or apparently knowledgeable, will not qualify as a secondary source.

      Ah, at last the issue of corroboration comes up.  But how about a policy that says such stories will say, "An anonymous source we can't corroborate or refute claims . . ." whatever?  That would make it clear that there really isn't a whole lot of reason to take the story seriously.

      These guidelines on sourcing are clearly related to the Guantanamo story, but this is also a good time to reaffirm several larger principles that guide us as well. We will remain vigilant about making sure that sensitive issues receive the discussion and reflection they deserve. While there will always be the impulse to get an exclusive story into the magazine quickly, we will continue to value accuracy above all else. We are committed to holding stories for as long as necessary in order to be confident of the facts. If that puts us at a competitive disadvantage on any particular story, so be it. The reward, in accuracy and public trust, is more than worth the price. Finally, when we make a mistake—as institutions and individuals inevitably do—we will confront it, correct it quickly and learn from the experience.

      Since they still haven't learned much from what happened, permit me to say that I am not impressed.

      I have had the privilege of being part of NEWSWEEK's proud editorial tradition for nearly 35 years. I can assure you that the talented and honorable people who publish NEWSWEEK today are dedicated to making sure that what appears on every page in the magazine is as fair and accurate as it can possibly be. Based on what we know now, we fell short in our story about Guantanamo Bay. Trust is hard won and easily lost, and to our readers, we pledge to earn their renewed confidence by producing the best possible magazine each and every week.

Richard M. Smith
Chairman and Editor-in-Chief

      Since the talented, honorable, dedicated people of Newsweek have now demonstrated that they don't know how to do their job properly, they have lost my trust.  Until you realize that you don't know how to collect information accurately, you won't regain it.

      As a suggestion: send your reporters to law school classes, and have them learn about what is and is not admissible evidence in court, and why it is or isn't admissible.  Then let them learn what "Proof beyond a reasonable doubt" means, as well as "Preponderance of evidence."  Then let them explain whether their story reaches either threshold, and why it fails to reach the highest (if it does), and why, if it fails to reach "Proof beyond a reasonable doubt," you think the story should be published.  Procedures like this might clarify much intellectual confusion.

      But me, I won't be holding my breath.  For what is needed above all is a realization on the part of reporters of "I may be wrong.  In fact, I may be so ignorant or unintelligent as not to be competent to deal with this story at all."  And they don't seem to have such attitudes.


A Man of Principle

      Sometimes, I understand why the Left gets so angry at alleged right-wing hypocrisy.

      A lot has been said about the judicial filibuster issue, and I have nothing to add to those questions.  I can see arguments on both sides, though in the end I come down on forcing the issue and making the Democrats give every nominee an up-or-down vote (or, alternatively, get every Democrat to say that if they ever recapture control of the Senate and White House, the Republicans may legally and morally filibuster any Democratic judicial nominee for any reason at all; and if that happens, any Democratic Senator who protests should be voted out of the Senate, and ANY Republican challenger voted for, the next time the Senator goes up for re-election).  Still, I could make a principled defense of the filibuster.

      But Glenn Reynolds take on the issue is: 'Constitution, schmonstitution, who cares about principles, the only thing that matters is, will anyone I like get blocked?'

      Feh, indeed.


Outrage at the Main Stream Media

      Some people can't understand why does it get so many of us enraged?  Let us count some of the ways.

      1) Just plain incompetence.  Here's a small example from the "newspaper of record," the premier newspaper in the United States, The New York Times, in an article by Jonathan Miles:
      By Nascar's estimate, stock-car racing now counts 75 million fans -- more than a quarter of the United States population -- and, to put that in broader context, more than the entire populations of Britain, France and Iran.

      From the CIA's World Factbook, Population (July 2005 est.)

      United Kingdom                               60,441,457
      France                                                 60,656,178
      Iran                                                      68,017,860

      The total is 189,115,495, rather more than 75 million.  Of course, what the author meant was 'Britain, France, OR Iran.'  Is it too much to expect correct usage from people who are PAID to write?

      2) Bad writing. In the story mentioned above, the very next sentence is:
      [75 million is] also, coincidentally, the number of anthrax vaccine doses that President Bush ordered a few months ago.
      A decent writer would either have left that out, as irrelevant, or made a joke of it.

      3) Sneering contempt for all those who differ.  The start of the article is:
      For a certain segment of the population, Nascar's raid on American culture -- its logo festoons everything from cellphones to honey jars to post office walls to panties; race coverage, it can seem, has bumped everything else off television; and, most piercingly, Nascar dads now get to pick our presidents -- triggers the kind of fearful trembling the citizens of Gaul felt as the Huns came thundering over the hills. To these people, stock-car racing represents all that's unsavory about red-state America: fossil-fuel bingeing; lust for violence; racial segregation; run-away Republicanism; anti-intellectualism (how much brain matter is required to go fast and turn left, ad infinitum?); the corn-pone memes of God and guns and guts; crass corporatization; Toby Keith anthems; and, of course, exquisitely bad fashion sense. What's more, they simply don't get it. What's the appeal of watching . . . traffic? It's as if ''Hee Haw'' reruns were dominating prime time, and the Republic was slapping its collective knee at Grandpa Jones's ''What's for supper?'' routine. With Nascar's recent purchase of a swath of real estate on Staten Island, where it intends to plop down an 80,000-seat racetrack and retail center for the untapped New York City market, the onslaught seems poised on the brink of full-out conquest. Cover your ears, blue America. The Huns are revving their engines.

      Me, I don't get NASCAR either.  But if I were trying to write an article explaining the appeal of NASCAR, I certainly wouldn't start by insulting its fans.  That would be true even if I weren't a big fan of fossil-fuel bingeing,run-away Republicanism, the corn-pone memes of God and guns and guts, crass corporatization, Toby Keith anthems, and moderately bad fashion sense (for "exquisitely" bad, you need to look at the golf courses that many liberals may be found on).

      Perhaps the author felt that he had to start with a sneer, otherwise his audience wouldn't read it?  If so, that says a lot about the attitudes of those who find the MSM congenial.  And probably a lot about the MSM itself.

      By the way, the sneers get worse later in Miles's piece.
  Record that URL, and the fact that it's the position of the New York Times that NASCAR fans are Republican anti-intellectuals who support racial segregation and have a lust for violence.  Use it against them until they apologize, and prominently inform their readers that anyone who thinks that is a narrow-minded, willfully ignorant bigot.

      4) Anti-Americanism.  The recent Newsweek flap illustrates that fairly well.  But if you need more, take a look at Frank Rich's latest NY Times op-ed(reg. req.):

It's All Newsweek's Fault
Published: May 22, 2005

      IN the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Fareed Zakaria wrote a 6,791-word cover story for Newsweek titled "Why Do They Hate Us?" Think how much effort he could have saved if he'd waited a few years. As we learned last week, the question of why they hate us can now be answered in just one word: Newsweek.

      "Our United States military personnel go out of their way to make sure that the Holy Koran is treated with care," said the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, as he eagerly made the magazine the scapegoat for lethal anti-American riots in Afghanistan. Indeed, Mr. McClellan was so fixated on destroying Newsweek - and on mouthing his own phony P.C. pieties about the Koran - that by omission he whitewashed the rioters themselves, Islamic extremists who routinely misuse that holy book as a pretext for murder.

      That's how absurdly over-the-top the assault on Newsweek has been. The administration has been so successful at bullying the news media in order to cover up its own fictions and failings in Iraq that it now believes it can get away with pinning some 17 deaths on an errant single sentence in a 10-sentence Periscope item that few noticed until days after its publication. Coming just as the latest CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll finds that only 41 percent of Americans think the war in Iraq is "worth fighting" and only 42 percent think it's going well, this smells like desperation. In its war on the press, this hubristic administration may finally have crossed a bridge too far.

      Uh, Rich, do you have a different explanation for the deaths of 17 in riots, other than Newsweek?  If so, I'd like to read it.

      I especially note that the second paragraph seems to blame everything on Muslim fanatics.  But it doesn't explain what set off this series of riots.  If not Newsweek, just what was it, Mr. Rich?  And you seem to making the Administration the goat for this incident.  Care to explain that?

      Rich goes on:
      Let's stipulate flatly that Newsweek made a serious error.
      OK, now that that is stipulated, shall we discuss press errors, or what the White House should say when a newsmagazine fouls up this badly?

      I guess not, because the rest of the next two paragraphs go:
      For the sake of argument, let's even posit that the many other similar accounts of Koran desecration (with and without toilets) by American interrogators over the past two years are fantasy - even though they've been given credence by the International Committee of the Red Cross and have turned up repeatedly in legal depositions by torture victims and in newspapers as various as The Denver Post and The Financial Times.

      Even with all that evidence off the table, there is still an overwhelming record, much of it in government documents, that American interrogators have abused Muslim detainees with methods specifically chosen to hit their religious hot buttons. A Defense Department memo of October 2002 (published in full in Mark Danner's book "Torture and Truth") authorized such Muslim-baiting practices as depriving prisoners of "published religious items or materials" and forcing the removal of beards and clothing. A cable signed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez called for interrogators to "exploit Arab fear of dogs." (Muslims view them as unclean.) Even a weak-kneed government investigation of prison abuses (and deaths) in Iraq and Afghanistan issued in March by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III of the Navy authenticated two cases in which female interrogators "touched and spoke to detainees in a sexually suggestive manner in order to incur stress based on the detainees' religious beliefs."

      So much for the "Islamic extremists" who were in paragraph two, the lying, murderous, Jew haters who make up most of the detainees at Guantanamo.  They must be treated with great respect, and only questioned in such a way that refusing to cooperate is easy, for otherwise the great goal of tearing down the Administration while our country is at war will not be advanced.  FEH!

      You can fisk the rest of the lies and nonsense in that drivel yourself.

      5) Hypocrisy.  Go look here at the covers of various editions of Newsweek, the Japanese, the International, and the U.S.  Just make sure you've taken your anti-anger meds.

      Other great examples of press hypocrisy can be found in the books The Taming of the Press: Cohen v. Cowles Media Company, and in Anonymous source :at war against the media; a true story, which relate how my local excuse for a newspaper got it in the neck.  You see, during the 1982 gubernatorial campaign, some Republicans decided to attack the Democratic ticket.  To that end, they arranged for Dan Cohen, a Minnesota Republican activist, and former Minneapolis City Council member to act as their go-between.  He in turn contacted, the Associated Press, WCCO (a local TV station), and the two Twin Cities newspapers, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.  In exchange for confidentiality as to his identity, readily granted by all four reporters, he gave them copies of court records showing that Marlene Johnson, the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, had been arrested twice, and convicted once, for "unlawful assembly" and for "petit theft," the theft charge being the conviction.

      The AP ran the story, letting people know that it was from an opponent of Johnson's.  The TV station decided it wasn't newsworthy.  But the papers were run by friends and partisans of the Democrats, and they decided that the world had to know Dan Cohen's name.  Cohen got fired from his job by a cowardly employer, then lost his next job when the Strib attacked him again.

      The paper's always insisted that the outing of Cohen had nothing to do with the fact that they favored Democratic candidates Rudy Perpich and Marlene Johnson.  It was a matter of principal.  The public had to know who was attacking Johnson.  But Cohen sued, and during the trial, the papers couldn't explain why this case was different from the cases of the past, where they'd used material from anonymous sources against political candidates without revealing who gave it to them.  (One case the Strib ran was reported by the same woman who Cohen later talked to, and also involved court documents.  In that case, the reporter noted, the "source" of the story was considered the documents themselves, and the question of who gave them to her, or why, was not important.  She was, by the way, furious that the Strib made a liar of her).  As for the fact that all those other candidates were Republicans, strictly a coincidence.  One editor, after insisting on the public's right to know who peddled the documents, said that if the Strib had been offered to them exclusively, he'd have been in favor of keeping Cohen's name secret.

      The suit was eventually appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, who ruled 5-4 in favor of Cohen.  The arguments for the papers made for outing sources whenever they felt like it, and keeping them secret whenever they felt like it; for considering their employees their agents in everything the employees did, EXCEPT when they making promises of confidentiality; and their general we can do whatever we want, we're the Press, we're constitutionally protected from consequences illustrates people drunk on power and self-righteousness.  Now, the power is fading, but they're still legends in their own minds.

      Of course, such failings are human as well as institutional.  John Cole of Balloon Juice had a long post recently in which he demonstrated he had no idea why many we're angry at the MSM.  One of Cole's targets was Hugh Hewitt, not exactly an obscure personage.  But, apparently, at no time did it occur to Cole to just call Hewitt up, or e-mail him, and try to get some clarification from Hewitt.  Nope, Cole was right, everyone who disagrees with him is wrong.  Gee, maybe he can get a job as a MSM reporter! (Hat tip to Jeff Goldstein, who bashes Cole some more).

      Well, John Cole can do as he likes, but I'm staying angry.


Political Progress

      One of the things in this world I really, truly, like is the way the Left has taken over nearly all institutions of higher learning, and uses them in attempts to indoctrinate the student population.

      No, I'm not being sarcastic there.  Or at least not much.

      Back in the day, H. L. Mencken remarked somewhere that he didn't agree with socialism, but spent a lot of time reading left-wing professor's political thought.  Why?  Because back then, when a lefty spoke out, he risked losing his job on campus, and he, Mencken, had to respect that kind of courage and commitment.

      Yeah, I admire it myself.  And I think one of the reasons the Left came so close to taking over the world, intellectually, was precisely that courage and commitment.  Plus of course, most righties didn't reply to them effectively.  Intellectual argumentation over how to run society was not the Right's thing, precisely because so much of right-wing doctrine was based on respect for tradition and organic evolution.  The very idea of deciding how a society should be structured, using pure reason, was a left-wing idea.  It was only after centuries of getting its collective ass kicked, intellectually and politically, that the Right fought back on the intellectual plane -- and even then, most of the combat seems to have been in the Anglosphere, particularly the U.S.A.

      Now, the situation has reversed.  Consider the following from Roger L. Simon, who excerpts a post of K. C. Johnson (with a hat tip to Dr. Sanity for calling attention):
      The program at my own institution, Brooklyn College, exemplifies how application of NCATE's new approach [NCATE = National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education -- Fat Steve] can easily be used to screen out potential public school teachers who hold undesirable political beliefs. Brooklyn's education faculty, which assumes as fact that "an education centered on social justice prepares the highest quality of future teachers," recently launched a pilot initiative to assess all education students on whether they are "knowledgeable about, sensitive to and responsive to issues of diversity and social justice as these influence curriculum and pedagogy, school culture, relationships with colleagues and members of the school community, and candidates' analysis of student work and behavior." . . .

      Must prospective public school teachers accept a professor's argument that "white English" is the "oppressors' language" in order to enter the profession? In our ideologically imbalanced academic climate, the combination of dispositions theory and the new NCATE guidelines risk producing a new generation of educators certified not because they mastered their subject but because they expressed fealty to the professoriate's conception of "social justice."

      Pardon me, Professor, but I think this is great.  The Soviet Union tried this, and the result was to create a nation of cynics who paid lip service to whatever the Party said, while sneering behind the masks.  It was the intellectuals who were most anti-Communist at the end of the USSR.  (OOH! I just LOVE to type "at the end of the USSR"!  Hah, we got you, you bastards!)  And the now deceased USSR had the power of a totalitarian state to use to crush the opposition.

      Keep up the bad work, lefties!  All you'll do is ensure that more and more of the rising generation mouth your platitudes till they get tenure, while the Left's ability to make a case for itself declines from lack of practice.

      "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."