Sunday, September 27, 2009

Thomas Friedman Plagiarizes Self! Columnist Lifts Paragraph From July 4 Piece, Tweaks And Inserts In This Morning's Drivel.

Is it plagiarism when you lift your own language, almost word for word, from a three-month-old column and use it again? If it is, then op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman is guilty of journalism's cardinal sin.

This morning's Friedman column, about the greening of China, includes almost an entire paragraph that's essentially identical to one he used in that piece.

From "Can I Clean Your Clock?" published on July 4, 2009:

Well, there is one thing we know about necessity: it is the mother of invention....And when China starts to do that in a big way — when it starts to develop solar, wind, batteries, nuclear and energy efficiency technologies on its low-cost platform — watch out. You won’t just be buying your toys from China. You’ll be buying your energy future from China.

From "The New Sputnik," published this morning:

What do we know about necessity? It is the mother of invention. And when China decides it has to go green out of necessity, watch out. You will not just be buying your toys from China. You will buy your next electric car, solar panels, batteries and energy-efficiency software from China.

We suppose it's possible that Friedman's mind produced the same sequence of words, the same constructions and the same ideas, revised only slightly to make his point this morning.

But we also think it's possible -- we'll even go so far as to say, likely -- that Friedman cut and pasted the paragraph from his previous column and tweaked it slightly for today's piece.

Given that Friedman only has to produce approximately 1600 words of prose a week to earn his substantial salary and prominent op-ed position, it strikes us as awfully lazy to hand his readers warmed-over ideas with near-verbatim language in the span of less than three months.

This should come as no surprise to regular Friedman readers, who've come to expect this sort of flagrant repetition from the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner. His columns often repeat old rants and go back to recurring ideas, without much effort to deliver new points of view. To some extent, that's to be expected from a columnist with strongly-held opinions -- note Maureen Dowd's Sarah Palin obsession -- but even Dowd works to find clever new constructions to express the same points.

Self-plagiarism may not be unethical, exactly. Still, it's sad to see a writer of Friedman's caliber and prominence reveal just how little regard he has for his readers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"I Am Not A Reporter!" NYT's David Pogue Declares, Responding Angrily To Recent Criticism. "Since When Have I Ever Billed Myself As A Journalist?"

Clearly stung by recent attacks over conflicts of interest, the NYT's technology columnist David Pogue used a podcast interview Sunday to respond to his critics, his editors and even his counterparts at the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, declaring defiantly at one point: "I am not a reporter!"

The interviewer, technology writer Leo LaPorte, was sharply questioning Pogue's positive writing about Apple -- and, in particular, a much-criticized upbeat interview with Apple chairman Steven Jobs that was published as a news story -- when Pogue grew defensive.

"Since when have I ever billed myself as a journalist?" Pogue said angrily. "Since when have I ever billed myself as a journalist?....I am not a reporter. I’ve never been to journalism school. I don’t know what it means to bury the lede. Okay I do know what it means. I am not a reporter. I’ve been an opinion columnist my entire career…..I try to entertain and inform."

Recognizing perhaps that the distinction may be lost on his journalist colleagues at the NYT and elsewhere, Pogue added: "By the way I’m suddenly realizing this is all just making it all worse for myself. The haters are going to hate David Pogue even more now."

Evidently angry over a recent NYT Public Editor column by Clark Hoyt that put a spotlight on his conflicts, Pogue also used the forum to disclose that he had been pushing NYT editors for years for better disclosure of his outside work, only to encounter resistance from those editors.

LaPorte had been grilling Pogue on the points raised in Hoyt's column, that the popular columnist might be guilty of an apparent conflict of interest by writing books about new products while reviewing them for the NYT.

That's when Pogue seized the opportunity to point out that his counterparts at other top newspapers -- including one who had criticized Pogue for his conflicts -- were guilty of the same transgression:

In point of fact this is a problem with the industry. And not so much me alone….It’s about context. Dwight [Silverman] admitted to you that he writes for the Houston Chronicle. And he wrote a Windows book at the same time that he was writing about Windows for the paper. ….and Ed Baig, who writes for an even bigger newspaper than I do, he writes for USA Today, the equivalent column, he wrote Macs for Dummies, Palm Pre: The Missing Manual, he wrote an iPhone book at the same time as he was reviewing those. Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal makes, I think The New Yorker said, $1 million a year off of the D Conferences, where Steve Jobs and Bill Gates make exclusive appearances, the very guys whose products he reviews.

So it’s a growing problem. You’d probably have a hard time finding someone who doesn’t have a problem like this. I’m not going to say there’s no visible conflict of interest. Obviously there is one. The only thing I can say in my defense is – our defense – is, does that conflict of interest affect the writing? Does it affect the conclusions?

Pogue went on to discuss the specifics of his recent Steven Jobs interview in the NYT -- a piece that ran in the news pages, and that later became controversial for its failure to push the Apple chairman on seemingly misleading statements he made about the new generation of iPod Touch.

According to Pogue, Apple public-relations executives made Jobs available only to technology columnists, not business reporters. Before explaining his own experience interviewing Jobs, he noted sarcastically to his interviewer that his colleagues -- Mossberg and Baig -- didn't even bother publishing their own Jobs conversations.

POGUE: By the way, what did you think of Walt Mossberg’s interview with Jobs and Ed Baig’s interview with Jobs the same day?

LAPORTE: I didn’t actually – I didn’t actually read them, I read you instead, David.

POGUE: Yeah. Because they didn’t write them, they didn’t write them at all.

Pogue went on to explain that when Apple granted him the ten-minute interview with Jobs, his editors came to him with a request: "So my editors ask me, by the way we’d like to do a news story about this why you were there, can you ask these newsy-related questions and we’ll use quotes from it for a business story. And they gave me some questions that they hoped that I could pass along."

Afterwards, some bloggers criticized Pogue's failure to ask Jobs tough questions in the conversation:

"John Dvorak went on Twitter and said “David Pogue is a disgrace to journalism," Jason Calacanis said “No one in the tech business takes you seriously, it’s a joke that the New York Times employs you.” They were just unbelievably harsh. And one guy on the David Pogue blog said, “You should have nailed Jobs’ ass to the wall." And I’m kind of like, dude that is not how you get – I mean, yeah maybe I should have, but is that my job?

[NOTE: In a Twitter post last night, Pogue acknowledged that the "John Dvorak" he'd mentioned in the interview turned out not to be real: @realDvorak dissed me on Twitter; I scolded him on TWiT podcast; turns out it was an impostor! My apologies to the real @therealdvorak!!]

As for his NYT editors, Pogue revealed that he had suggested to them several times previously that he disclose the fact that he wrote the Missing Manuals, only to have them reject the idea.

"I’ve frequently said why don’t we disclose the book in the column and for nine years that’s been shot down because it’s like, “Dude, you can’t advertise yourself!” It’s like putting a plug in the column," Pogue said. "And you know what? I am sorry to tell you guys this, but now that the plug is going to appear in each column it’s going to raise the book sales."

Pogue also said he had "offered repeatedly" to the NYT that he recuse himself from reviewing the three products he covers in the manuals -- the iPhone, the Mac 0S 10 operating system, and Windows.

"I’ve said I could take those weeks off from the Times, you could get someone else to write it," Pogue said. "Their feeling is that at this point readers are sort of expecting my voice and they know me."

In the wake of Hoyt's column two weeks ago, the NYT has now instituted a disclosure policy that forces Pogue to mention the Manuals when reviewing a product, and added a disclosure statement from Pogue on the NYT website.

As for Pogue's protestation that he is not a journalist or reporter, the Hoyt column was clear on that point -- it referred frequently to Pogue as a journalist, and made clear that the NYT considers him one in its judgements of his ethical standards.

It is a distinction that, apparently, remains yet to be fully worked out between the NYT and one of its most successful contributors. Pogue -- a freelance contributor to the NYT since 2000 -- delivers a weekly column and video that is often among the most widely-read features in the NYT.

But Pogue argues that readers aren't troubled by the conflicts, and respect the independence of his opinions. "Apart from the snarky bloggers, most readers seem satisfied that I’m being evenhanded," Pogue said.

"Look, I have to keep doing the books," Pogue told LaPorte. "That’s how I put food on the table."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Does Thomas L. Friedman Like Rhetorical Questions? Does A Bear Shit In The Woods? We Repeat, Does A Bear Shit In The Woods?

Fourteen rhetorical questions from today's Thomas L. Friedman op-ed column, "Real Men Tax Gas."

1. Do we owe the French and other Europeans a second look when it comes to their willingness to exercise power in today’s world?
2. Was it really fair for some to call the French and other Europeans “cheese-eating surrender monkeys?”
3. Is it time to restore the French in “French fries” at the Congressional dining room, and stop calling them “Freedom Fries?”
4. Why do I ask these profound questions?
5. Do we send more forces to Afghanistan, and are we ready to do what it takes to “win” there?
6. But are we really that tough?
7. How so?
8. How about Denmark?
9. Today?
10. Why?
11. And us?
12. So I repeat, who is the real tough guy here?
13. But sending your neighbor’s son or daughter to risk their lives in Afghanistan?
14. So, I ask yet again: Who are the real cheese-eating surrender monkeys in this picture?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Gray Baby: On This Day In 1851, NYT Launches For The Very Reasonable Price Of One Cent.

Okay, maybe it could have used a Matthew Brady portrait or a cartoon or something, but all in all, not bad for the first day. (For a closer look, click here.)

And at the risk of seeming downright sychophantic, here's a link to a pretty cool piece of fiction by the novelist Michael Chabon, where he imagines the run-up to the NYT's first issue.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

UPDATE: NYT Issues "Postscript" To Peter Applebome 9/11 Column, Noting Its Failure To Report Subject's Previous Arrest Record.

Last week, The NYTPicker reported on what struck us as a significant omission in Peter Applebome's apparent one-interview profile last Thursday of a 9/11 rescue worker who'd bought a firetruck to commemorate fallen firefighters.

We discovered, from a quick search of Google, that the worker -- Michael Bellone -- had been arrested in 2005 for impersonating a firefighter, and for stealing fire equipment from Ground Zero. Bellone had also been accused in press reports of having regularly misrepresented himself as a firefighter, and having falsely claimed to have found the black boxes from American Flight 11 at Ground Zero.

Today, the NYT acknowledged some of those omissions, in what they labeled a "Postscript" alongside the corrections column:

An Our Towns column last Thursday described Michael Bellone, a former nightclub bouncer who worked as a volunteer with firefighters and the police at ground zero in Lower Manhattan for months after Sept. 11, 2001. He helped recover the remains of victims and, as part of an effort to keep alive the memory, now has a fire truck that bears the names of all 343 members of the Fire Department who died that day.

The column omitted one pertinent element of Mr. Bellone’s relationship with the Fire Department. As other news organizations reported at the time, he was briefly arrested in 2005 and accused of misrepresenting himself and using official equipment illegally as part of presentations on the disaster to school children and others. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office decided on the day of his arrest not to prosecute him, and the equipment was returned to the Fire Department.

Since then Mr. Bellone has continued his efforts, and retains the support of many who have worked with him.

We're pleased to see the NYT promptly address the omission from the work of a talented columnist whose work typically doesn't need correction or amplification.

Is MSNBC Looking For A New Political Talk Show Idea? If So, We’d Like To Suggest “Hairball With Gail Collins."

We know you always like to be goofy and fun, but honestly, Gail -- we just don't like reading about those tiny balls of hair that dogs cats and rabbits create with their saliva, swallow and then vomit up. At least not when we're consuming our morning commentary!

This morning, the wacky op-ed columnist has put the somewhat off-putting descriptive to use yet again, this time to label health-care legislation. In the past two years, she has also invoked the term as a metaphor for the war on terrorism, the financial crisis, the legislative bottleneck in Albany and, of course, the farm bill!

Here's a a hairball sampler from the work of Gail Collins, who it's safe to assume has a slight obsession with dogs furry animals and their nasty habits. No question she'd write a far livelier and more descriptive account of raising a puppy than Jill Abramson's popular web weekly serial, "Scout: The Early Years, In Which I Train My New Dog To Transform My Image From Scowling Editor Into Person Who Loves Animals."

It is a great tradition in Albany that no important bill ever emerges by itself. It gets mixed with pork and pet projects and lobbyists’ to-do lists until Bruno, Democratic Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver and the current governor sit down to create one huge hairball of a deal.

Spitzer was supposed to change that. But now here we are. Last week Senator Bruno was striding around the state like Rocky Balboa, while the governor was telling Danny Hakim and Nicholas Confessore of The Times that his wife had started asking, “What was wrong with going into the family business?” (High-end real estate.)

The hairball is back.
--"The Education of Eliot," July 28, 2007

The farm bill is one big hairball of accommodations and trade-offs, and cheers to McCain for taking a principled stand against it.
--"McCain's Superfuture," May 17. 2008

--Let’s also give thanks that we are not widely respected economists ourselves. Because God knows what they’re going to do with this hairball.
--"Count Those Blessings," November 27, 2008

Out of all the problems we have run into in dealing with the giant hairball that is known as the Bush War on Terror, one of the weirdest is the reaction to President Obama’s plan to close down Guantánamo.
--"When Did Cowboys Get Wimpy?" May 22, 2009

The student loan bill actually has very little in common with the great hairball that is known as health care reform. For one thing, so far, it seems to be moving through Congress rather nicely.
--"Someday, A Bill Will Pass," September 17. 2009

Of course, it's always possible Collins is just laying the groundwork for a future MSNBC political talk show. We have to admit, "Hairball with Gail Collins" has a nice ring to it.

UPDATE: Turns out it's cats and rabbits that vomit their hairballs, not dogs. Thanks to commenters -- who apparently know far more about self-licking animals than we do -- for helpfully pointing out the error, corrected above.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Step Right Up, Ladies And Gentlemen, And Feast Your Eyes On The Most Bizarre Magazine Cover In The History Of The World!

Editor: Gerald Marzorati
Creative Director: Janet Froelich
Art Director: Arem Duplessis

Friday, September 11, 2009

NYT Home Page, 9/11/2001, 1:14 p.m.

Was The NYTPicker Unfair To Dan Barry On His Column About The Homeless Man Who Turned Out To Be A Child Rapist?

An anonymous reader offered an eloquent comment this morning on our post yesterday about Peter Applebome, defending columnist Dan Barry and charging that we'd been unfair to him in our July 31 post.

In that post we reported what Barry had not, that the leader of the homeless community he'd written about that day was a twice-convicted child rapist. We also noted that days before Barry's column appeared, the homeless group had already moved away from the spot he'd written about -- and that the entire story had already been widely covered in the local press.

Today's commenter told us something we didn't know: Barry had posted a defense of his decision to omit the background of the homeless leader, John Freitas, as a comment on the NYT's website. Frankly, it never occurred to us that Barry would respond in that forum -- it's extremely rare for a NYT reporter to use the comments section to address questions from readers.

Okay, we admit it. We never even looked.

In that comment, Barry told readers he knew about Freitas's child rape conviction. But after mulling the issue and discussing it with his editor, Barry said he decided that "the nature of his criminal past wasn't relevant to the matter at hand."

"I felt that if Mr. Freitas were a Boy Scout leader or someone seeking public office, then perhaps his past would be relevant," Barry told readers. "But he was a homeless man living under an abandoned bridge in Providence, with this disturbing crime 25 years behind him."

Barry noted Freitas's arguments against including the details, which were that it would change the focus of the story, and that there were no children allowed in the homeless camp.

Barry also said Freitas told him that because the crime had happened so long ago, he was no longer required to register as a sex offender. But according to an article in the Attleboro, Ma. Sun-Chronicle from March 21, 2008, Freitas had turned himself in to authorities after failure to register -- itself a felony crime -- had landed him on that state's list of Ten Most Wanted Sex Offenders.

It should also be noted that according to the Sun-Chronicle account, Freitas was convicted of child rape on two different occasions -- once in the late 1970s, and again in 1985.

But never mind that, or the question of whether Barry's reporting was stale, or whether his references to a singing tea kettle and the blowing March winds were silly and overwrought.

The points raised by our anonymous reader today are more interesting. The commenter calls our criticisms of Barry "gratuitous" and then concludes:

Either this "team of journalists who prefer to work in anonymity" neglected to do its own research and was unaware of Barry's explanation or they discount his words as those of a self-serving liar and take it as a given that the reader would agree. For my own part, I find it hard to believe that Pulitzers and Polk awards flow to sloppy and incompetent journalists and I bear in mind that Barry's reputation for integrity is so highly regarded that he was asked lend it to the Times in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal when it had none of its own.

Well, we've reconsidered Barry's original article, his reasons for not including the reference to Freitas's criminal background, and the points raised by our thought-provoking commenter today. And for what it's worth, here's where we stand.

For one thing, we never called Barry's integrity into question. "Integrity" means adherence to a moral or ethical code, and we never said or implied that Barry had violated the ethics of his profession, or done anything immoral.

At the same time, we don't consider awards -- even the Pulitzer -- as a permanent badge of immunity from criticism or investigation. Many readers may remember the scandal involving Janet Cooke, whose Pulitzer Prize led to revelations that she had fabricated much of the story that won her the award. We're obviously not comparing Barry to Cooke, but we believe no reporter has the right to rest on their laurels, or use them as an excuse for sloppy journalism.

Among other things, our post criticized what we believed was his failure to thoroughly report his story. We stand by that criticism. It's a fact that his column was old news by the time it appeared, and that local news outlets in Providence had reported that the group had moved -- changing the whole point of his piece. We also believe that Barry made a mistake by accepting Freitas's own version of his story, with regard to his need to register as a sex offender.

As a side note -- we stand firmly by our position that too often, Barry repurposes already-reported local news, like this story, for a national audience, instead of finding fresh topics to explore. We're also not big fans of his purple prose, but that's a matter of personal taste.

As for the broader question of whether Barry made the right decision, well, that's a judgment call. We agree with Barry in theory that people ought to have a right to rebuild their lives after serving a prison sentence. But at the same time that doesn't entitle them to have their record wiped clean by the NYT.

Maybe other readers will disagree. But to us, child rapists don't inspire the same spirit of forgiveness we feel for young people who rob banks and convenience stores, and who serve their time. Maybe it's okay to forgive, but it's a hard crime to forget.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Whoops! Peter Applebome Forgets To Use Google, Writes Puff Column On Firefighter Impersonator And Alleged Ground Zero Thief.

Once again, a NYT columnist has neglected to use Google, and ended up writing a puff piece about someone with a shady past.

Peter Applebome's feel-good "Our Towns" column yesterday about Michael Bellone, the "honorary firefighter" who bought a firetruck as a memorial to 9/11 victims, missed a few pertinent details about the supposed hero -- including his 2005 arrest for criminal impersonation, possession of stolen property and grand larceny. Among other things, Bellone was accused of stealing equipment from the NYC Fire Department at Ground Zero in the days after the World Trade Center attacks.

Applebome presented a totally sympathetic picture of Bellone, who he said had been a bar bouncer in 2001 when he went to Ground Zero to offer his help. According to Applebome, Bellone -- who had emergency medical technician training, and who spent many days as part of the 9/11 rescue effort -- now lives in Syracuse on permanent disability with only 13% lung capacity. The story describes in detail Bellone's fond feelings for firefighters, and is pegged to his effort to find a firetruck to "remember the men" by engraving on it the names of the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11.

But in fact, Bellone isn't the good samaritan Applebome presents. Bellone appears to have had an unhealthy obsession with the New York City Fire Department for years that culminated in his 2005 arrest.

Bellone has a history of misrepresenting himself and his charitable group -- TRAC, or "Trauma Response Assistance For Children" -- as affiliated with the Fire Department, and has even been accused of dressing in a firefighter uniform to falsely suggest he was a firefighter himself.

In 2004, the New York Post reported that Bellone and his group was warned by the Fire Department to stop using its name on promotional materials for TRAC, and to stop selling artifacts he was representing as 9/11 souvenirs, such as victims' shoes and eyeglasses.

"The fire marshals have opened an investigation into this group," a department spokesman told the Post, adding it "has no right to imply it works for or acts in any official capacity." The spokesman added that the group's members "are not authorized to wear fire department uniforms."

The Post also reported that TRAC owed $200,000 to a graphics company for printing a Ground Zero book, and had failed to pay more than $20,000 for hotel rooms and airplane tickets in connection with TRAC activities. At the time, Bellone conceded to the Post that he owed money but attributed the problems to "mix-ups."

"We're just a group of guys who want to share our experiences from Ground Zero and show kids that hope can spring from a horrible tragedy," Bellone told The Post. As for the allegation of misrepresenting themselves as firefighters by wearing uniforms, he said: "If someone got that idea, I apologize."

On September 27, 2005, the New York City Fire Department announced that Bellone had been arrested on charges of grand larceny, criminal impersonation and theft of stolen property. An investigation had found a department air tank, harness, regulator and mask in Bellone's possession that had been reported missing from the FDNY's Mask Service Unit on October 1, 2001.

"It's very ghoulish," a fire department source told the Daily News. "[Bellone] may have helped firefighters at the time, but now he's making a living on this." (The NYTPicker hasn't yet been able to learn the outcome of the criminal charges brought against Bellone by the city.)

Bellone has even misrepresented aspects of his involvement at Ground Zero. In a self-published book about the recovery efforts, Bellone and his co-author claimed to have retrieved three of the four missing black boxes from American Airlines Flight 11 at the site, and given them to FBI agents who told him to keep quiet about it. According to Counterpunch, an investigative website, the FBI said those claims were false.

None of these details made it into Applebome's story, of course; it appears that, like his colleague Dan Barry, he neglected to use that popular investigative journalism tool known as Google. However, it should be noted that Google exists only for reporters interested in basing their columns on more than a single interview.

Did Stephen Farrell Ignore Official Warnings On Reporting Trip's Dangers? British Paper Reports Military Anger At Farrell Over Deaths.

Does NYT correspondent Stephen Farrell bear some responsibility for the deaths of his interpreter and a British soldier in the raid that freed him from captivity this week?

That's the implication of an article in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, one of England's most respected daily papers, which raised serious questions about Farrell's decision to report from the Kunduz region last week -- a choice that resulted in his kidnapping and a pre-dawn raid Wednesday by British commandos that freed the 46-year-old NYT correspondent, but resulted in the deaths of his interpreter and a British soldier.

Under the headline, "Army anger as soldier killed saving journalist who ignored Taliban warning," the Telegraph reported yesterday:

Afghan police and intelligence officers repeatedly warned journalists including Mr Farrell that it was too dangerous to go to the site. Kunduz is a notorious Taliban northern stronghold and was one of the last holdouts of the regime when it was toppled in 2001.

Farrell and his interpreter were kidnapped on Saturday on the reporting trip to the Kunduz province, where they were investigating civilian casualties in the wake of a deadly NATO airstrike the day before.

The telegraph quotes two British military officials, both anonymously, suggesting that the operation -- and resulting deaths - could have been avoided if Farrell had heeded the warnings not to report in the Kunduz province that day.

One, described as a "senior Army source," told the Telegraph:

“When you look at the number of warnings this person had it makes you really wonder whether he was worth rescuing, whether it was worth the cost of a soldier’s life. In the future special forces might think twice in a similar situation.”

A second comment from an unnamed "military source" to the Telegraph was even harsher:

“This reporter went to this area against the advice of the Afghan police. So thanks very much Stephen Farrell, your irresponsible act has led to the death of one of our boys.”

Farrell's own extensive account of his ordeal, posted yesterday on the NYT website, makes no mention of advance safety warnings from Afghan officials. He only acknowledges the warnings of one local of an ominous Taliban presence as they worked (emphases added):

A crowd began to gather, time passed and we grew nervous. I do not know how long we were there, but it was uncomfortably long. I am comfortable with the decision to go to the riverbank, but fear we spent too long there.

I said, “We should go,” almost exactly as Sultan said the same thing.

An old man said we should not tarry. The driver went to the car. Even as we were carrying our gear bags to the car, villagers shouted, “Taliban,” and scattered away from the river. Our driver fled, with the keys. His instincts were immaculate — he survived.

Sultan and I fled a shorter distance, stopped and tried to gauge where we were running, and from whom. Should we stay and hope they did not cross the river toward us, or flee straight across unknown fields and run the risk of being cut down by Taliban in the field ahead of us, shooting at anything that moved?

We hovered, and got caught.

As for any advance checks by Farrell regarding security risks associated with the reporting trip, the reporter had only this to report: "The drivers made a few phone calls and said the road north appeared to be safe until mid- to late afternoon."

But the Telegraph article yesterday describes what appear to be previous admonitions from Afghan police and security officials that were apparently ignored by Farrell when he proceeded on Saturday, and that aren't mentioned in any NYT account of the episode.

While stopping short of placing full blame for the deaths on Farrell, the article did quote by name a former special forces soldier with the British Army who had harsh words for the Kabul-based correspondent:

Tim Collins, a former SAS officer, said the journalist had a “big thank you to give to the people who gave their lives to make up for his mistakes”. He said: “These soldiers were doing their job but I would say Stephen Farrell would be wise not to crow to loudly about his experience because his incompetence has cost a life. Unfortunately in journalism you do come across people who believe they are infallible.”

In an interview with NPR's "The Takeaway" on Wednesday, NYT executive editor Bill Keller said that the NYT may re-examine its safety protocols in light of the Farrell kidnapping.

"The first thing we're going to do is have Steven come out and do yet another security review," Keller said. "The situation has gotten more and more perilous, not so much in Kabul but once you get out into the countryside. We had set up some new protocols for reporters traveling out in the field, and we're going to take another look at those now to find out whether they're strict enough."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: NYT's Bill Keller Confirms That Stephen Farrell, NYT Correspondent Kidnapped By Taliban On Saturday, Has Been Rescued.

In an email to The NYTPicker moments ago, NYT executive editor Bill Keller confirmed that Stephen Farrell, the NYT correspondent kidnapped last Saturday by the Taliban, has been rescued.

"We will be posting what we know before long," Keller wrote us in a 12:05 a.m. email, confirming a report from an Afghan news agency first posted by Gawker.

Farrell had been kidnapped on Saturday while in Kunduz, Afghanistan, reporting on the recent NATO air attack. The NYTPicker learned of the kidnapping that day and briefly posted the news on its blog, but removed the post at the NYT's request.

This headline has just been posted on, as a Breaking News alert: "Commandos Free Times Reporter From Captors in Afghanistan." We'll report details as soon as we have them.

UPDATE: The NYT is now reporting that Farrell was freed in a commando raid early Wednesday morning, but that his Afghan interpreter, Sultan Munadi, was killed in the rescue.

"I'm out! I'm free!" Farrell said in a call to NYT foreign editor Susan Chira at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to the just-posted Eric Schmitt story on the NYT website, which described the rescue as a "fierce firefight."

The NYT story also includes a detailed account of the kidnapping from Farrell's driver, who is left unnamed in the piece. It also reports the NYT's efforts to keep news of the abduction quiet while the paper worked to get its reporter released.

Schmitt's story leaves unclear the affiliation of the military forces that freed Farrell, except to refer to them as "commandos." A BBC report identified the rescuers as NATO troops.

In June, NYT reporter David Rohde was released by the Taliban after being kidnapped and held captive for seven months. The NYT did not disclose Rohde's kidnapping until after his release, and made significant efforts to keep the news secret while working to free him.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

NYT'S Jill Abramson Admits NYT Blew Van Jones Story. "We Should Have Been Paying Closer Attention," She Says.

In a late-afternoon posting on the "Talk To The Times" website, NYT managing Editor Jill Abramson admitted that the paper was "a beat behind" on the recent controversy over now-resigned White House environment official Van Jones.

After attributing its failure in part to a short-staffed Washington bureau over the Labor Day weekend, Abramson said that was "not an excuse" and that "we should have been paying closer attention" to the events as they unfolded.

The NYT took a beating on Twitter and from the right for its failure to properly cover the events leading up to Jones' resignation; the story was being widely covered on Fox News, but mostly ignored in the so-called MSM, or mainstream media. Abramson's admission reflects a rare mea culpa for the NYT.

In brief: Jones had become a target of attack this summer after it was reported that he had signed a "9/11 Truth Statement" in 2004, which suggested the Bush administration may have allowed the World Trade Center attack to happen, as a pretext to launch its war on terrorism. It had also been reported that Jones referred to Republicans in Congress as "assholes."

As right-wing commentators ratcheted up their calls for Jones to resign last week, the NYT failed to pick up on the story. It first covered the Jones brouhaha on its Caucus blog on Saturday. The news of Jones' resignation made it to the front page on Monday.

Abramson responded to six questions from readers raising the same question: why so late? She noted that Jones was "not a high-ranking official" as another reason the NYT was so late to the story. But in essence, her reply to readers was a clear admission that the paper missed the mark in its coverage.

Who knows, maybe Abramson has just gotten all soft inside now that she's spending so much time with her new puppy, Scout. Whatever the reason, it's fun to see the usually-boosterish managing editor admit to an actual mistake for a change.

Another Reason To Get The NYT Print Edition: Today's Harrowing Page-One Photograph From Drought-Ravaged Kenya.

The NYT ran an impossible-to-miss photograph from Kenya on page one this morning, by Jehad Nga, to illustrate a story on the effects of drought. The first reproduction is taken from the NYT website. The second is a screengrab from a PDF of the NYT's print-edition front page. The difference is clarity is clear.

From the website:

From the PDF of the print edition:

Either way, it's a disturbing and powerful image.

Monday, September 7, 2009

NYT Front-Page Story Accuses Writer Of Comparing Barack Obama to Saddam Hussein And Kim Jong-Il. Trouble Is, He Didn't.

In a page-one NYT story last Friday on the controversy over President Obama's planned schools speech, reporters James C. McKinley Jr. and Sam Dillon (pictured, at left) accused Canadian author Mark Steyn of comparing Obama to Saddam Hussein and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Trouble is, he didn't.

Here's what the NYT reported:

Mr. Obama’s speech was announced weeks ago, but the furor among conservatives reached a fever pitch Wednesday morning as right-wing Web sites and talk show hosts began inveighing against it.

Mark Steyn, a Canadian author and political commentator, speaking on the Rush Limbaugh show on Wednesday, accused Mr. Obama of trying to create a cult of personality, comparing him to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader.

But here's what Steyn actually said on Limbaugh's show last Wednesday, as transcribed by The NYTPicker:

What [Obama]'s going to do, apparently, is he's going to tell them to write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the President. Which I find slightly unhealthy. It's all part of the cult of personality. Obviously it's not -- we're not talking about the cult of personality on the kind of Kim Jong-il, Saddam Hussein scale.

Clearly, Steyn's actual words convey a meaning quite different than what the NYT reporters represented. While he did raise the notion of a "cult of personality," he was obviously not comparing the president to those leaders, except to suggest a clear, obvious difference in scale.

The implication of the NYT's report is that Steyn was linking Obama to those legendary despots, which seems to us incorrect and unfair. By leaving out the fact that Stein was in fact differentiating Obama from them, the implication strikes us as considerably different than what Steyn intended with his words -- particularly given the context of the article's overall point.

Interestingly, the mistaken McKinley/Dillon reference has been picked up in David Carr's "Media Equation" column today, in which Carr writes: "During the school dust-up, a commentator on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show said the president was building a cult of personality analogous to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il." Clearly that's not correct. It also underscores the point that the McKinley/Dillon story -- Carr's apparent source -- misrepresented Steyn's quote.

Of course, the term "cult of personality" obviously reflects a criticism, which seems to us precisely why Steyn drew the distinction from more infamous such cults. Indeed, the NYT's own Paul Krugman used the same term in reference to Obama during the 2008 campaign, saying, "I"m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality." Obviously, Krugman didn't intend for readers to think he was comparing Obama to Hussein or Kim Jong-il, either.

Mark Steyn lightly tweaked the NYT for the mistake in a weekend column in the National Review, laughing it off with a self-deprecating comment about the pain of being identified as "a Canadian author." We admire his muted reaction, considering the harsh tone of the NYT's reference.

Normally we don't address factual mistakes in NYT articles here. We don't consider ourselves in the business of pointing out basic NYT errors -- plus we just don't have that kind of time on our hands. Besides, we all make mistakes.

But in this case it seems hard to understand how top NYT national desk reporters like McKinley and Dillon could get a quote like that completely wrong, particularly when quoting a national radio show that millions hear.

And when it comes to accusing someone of comparing Barack Obama to widely-reviled foreign leaders in a page-one news story, you'd think -- or at least hope -- NYT reporters (and their editors) would be responsible enough to make sure it was bring reported correctly.

We've emailed NYT national editor Suzanne Daley and NYT spokeswoman Diane McNulty twice in the last 24 hours for comment on how this mistake got made. We'll update if and when they respond.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, the NYT ran a correction on the McKinley/Dillon story:

An article on Friday about criticism of President Obama’s plan to address schoolchildren on Tuesday referred incorrectly to remarks by Mark Steyn, a Canadian author and political commentator, on the Rush Limbaugh show. (The Media Equation column in Business Day on Monday also included the incorrect reference.) Mr. Steyn made extensive reference to Saddam Hussein’s cult of personality in Iraqi schools, and said an attempt to create a “cult of personality at grade-school level” should have no place in the United States, but said he was not accusing the president of a “cult of personality on the kind of Kim Jong-il, Saddam Hussein scale." He did not explicitly compare the president to Saddam or the North Korean leader or say that Mr. Obama’s efforts were “analagous” to theirs.

Labor Day Must-Read: Michael Luo's Wrenching Page-One Account Of Millions Unemployed And Hopeless In America.

Once upon a time, a great newspaper called The Wall Street Journal (not to be confused with the product currently on sale at your local newsstand) regularly published what it called "Column One" stories -- pieces that put social, political and economic trends into human terms. With a combination of global reporting and multiple short profiles, the WSJ gave its readers a uniquely human dimension to a changing American society.

That WSJ is long gone, of course. Its tragically-altered front page now packages news stories and features in a conventional format and reduces stories to bare-bones accounts. The WSJ has all but abandoned its mission to offer unique human-interest journalism on important topics to an audience starved for it.

Today in the NYT, reporter Michael Luo revives the form in eloquent fashion with his look at a painful and growing phenomenon: Americans who have lost hope that they will ever work again. These are people not even counted in unemployment figures because they're not even actively looking for jobs.

To Luo's credit, he hasn't just done the basic talking-to-experts reporting. He has also traveled the country in search of real-life examples, and delivered four powerful portraits that tell his story better than any professor or number-cruncher. It's ground-level reporting we need more than ever right now, and it's to the NYT's credit that it still finances a form of journalism rapidly becoming obsolete.

Luo is a young, Harvard-educated national-desk reporter who joined the NYT in 2003. His beat is to cover the human impact of the current economic crisis. Even as news coverage constricts, Luo -- a star in the making -- should be allowed by his editors to roam the country and continue his exploration. We need his coverage, as an industry and as a nation, just as much as we require on-scene reporting of war zones or politicians.

Read Luo's story in the paper. It will remind you, among other things, that all the slide shows, podcasts and videos in the world don't substitute for the power of the written word.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

We Know It's Not As Important As Woodstock To NYT, But 70 Years Ago Today, Hitler Invaded Poland And Started World War II.

That was the lead headline of the September 2, 1939 NYT front page. Here's an excerpt from the story that followed, by Otto D. Tolischus.

Tolischus covered Nazi Germany for the NYT until he was expelled in 1940, the year he won the Pulitzer Prize for his Berlin dispatches. According to Wikipedia, he then moved to Japan for the NYT, where he was arrested, imprisoned and tortured for five months by the Japanese shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack.