In a profile of Washington Post editor Marcus Brauchli this week in the Columbia Journalism Review, NYT executive editor Bill Keller offered one of his characteristically snide comments about his competitor.
“Bless them for continuing to take foreign coverage seriously," Keller condescended about Brauchli's Post, "but it hews more closely than before to stories that fit a Washington agenda, which sometimes has the odd effect of making the Post’s world feel like an appendage of the State Department.”
Keller's words ring a bit hollow today, as we read Craig Whitlock's stunning story about atrocities committed by soldiers in the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade in Aghanistan. His piece reveals charges that rogue soldiers formed a "kill team" that targeted innocent cilivians for death in a "months-long shooting spree."
Three soldiers have been charged with murder in the investigation. The story documents charges that the soldiers dismembered and photographed their innocent victims, and reports that the U.S. military ignored warnings from the father of one soldier that the killings were taking place.
It's a first-class piece of foreign reporting that fits no Washington agenda whatsover. Kudos to the Post for publishing this terrifying and important look into the dark side of the American war effort in Afghanistan, to be found nowhere in today's NYT.
UPDATE: NYT associate managing editor Jim Roberts has just tweeted that today's Washington Post story was first reported in August by The Seattle Times, and has helpfully provided a link to the original piece.
This public effort by the NYT brass to undercut the Post's scoop -- which added significant dimension to the Seattle paper's version -- strikes us as the height of hypocrisy. The NYT reports stories on an almost-daily basis that have appeared elsewhere first, and almost always without credit; The NYTPicker has long since ceased noting these uncredited lifts, for fear of boring our readers with repetitive critiques.
Yesterday's NYT contained two such stories that we passed up on writing about: the story of the closing of the Liberace Museum by Adam Nagourney, and Katie Zezima's account of a debate over the fate of the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. Both had appeared in other newspapers first, and neither piece offered NYT any significant new detail.
Should today's Post story have acknowledged the Seattle Times for breaking the first account of the case? Probably. But it doesn't take away from the Post's enterprise in developing and expanding the story into one of national significance. It would be interesting to hear Keller, Roberts & Co. explain why they so freely borrow ideas from other newspapers to fill its pages every day, yet left this one to the Post to pick up.
UPDATE #2: We're now getting sent links to suggest that this story had been building in the media over the last few weeks since the Seattle Times first reported it. Extensive articles in Army Times and Stars & Stripes, and fresh reporting by the Associated Press -- picked up in the Daily News and elsewhere -- had advanced the story to the point where the Washington Post's page-one piece served mostly to give it a national newspaper platform for the first time.
All of which still goes to the heart of our first question: why didn't the NYT go after this story, too? Or were its reporters at work on advancing it, and only to get scooped by the Post? With a scandal of this potential magnitude, the question of "ownership" ought to recede as reporters zero in on its details. We still applaud the Post for putting this important story on its front page, where it belonged.