by A Letter to the Ombudsman of the New York Times – Ed Mainland (member: EAW Sterring Committee)
To: Arthur Bovino
Office of the Public Editor
The New York Times
FOR NEW YORK TIMES OMBUDSMAN DANIEL OKRENT
MARIN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA (January 26, 2004) — Here is what reporter Katharine Q. Seelye wrote about Bush’s absence from National Guard duty in today’s New York Times, Jan. 26, 2004, p. 1 ff. (“With the Race Changing Fast, Clark Adjusts”):
But General Clark has spent much of his time here explaining controversial statements. Perhaps most damaging has been his failure to repudiate comments by Mr. [Michael] Moore, who called Mr. Bush a deserter for his unexplained absence from the Air National Guard between April 1972 and September 1973.
Mr. Bush’s actions did not meet the technical definition of desertion.
“President Bush was not a deserter,” said Eugene Fidell, a Washington expert on military law. “To desert in wartime is a serious offense, potentially punishable by death. It requires an intent to remain away permanently.”
General Clark has said that Mr. Moore has a right to free speech. But that has not stopped reporters and voters from asking him about Mr. Moore’s allegation. On Sunday on Meet the Press when Tim Russert asked if he would disassociate himself from Mr. Moore’s characterization, General Clark said, “Well, I can’t use those words and I don’t see the issues in that way.”
This NY Times text breaks the rules of objective reporting and cries out for public correction and sanction through the Times’ ombudsman.
As in previous Times’ coverage of Bush’s alleged AWOL, this story:
1) assumes with no proof that the charge is not valid,
2) assumes Clark should repudiate Moore and by not doing so forcefully enough has committed a gaffe, when it is the Times, with other media, that should be reprimanded for never investigating Moore’s charge thoroughly, and
3) defends Bush by presenting a sole source who claims that Bush’s absence was not technically desertion while omitting other sources who would contend otherwise,
4) ignores whether Bush might have been guilty of AWOL, disobeying a lawful order, or other infractions short of desertion.
The Times has consistently covered up for Bush in respect to his unexplained military absence. To the best of our knowledge, the Times has never asked Bush, in press conferences, interviews or elsewhere, to publicly and comprehensively explain his absence and present witnesses or corroboration in support of such an explanation.
There have been reports — never picked up by the Times — that Republican officials have purged and shredded records that pertain to Bush’s period of service. Also, the Times has consistently portrayed Moore, and by association Clark, as somehow guilty of perpetrating “controversial statements” while at the same time doing nothing — along with the rest of corporate media — to clear up the controversy.
This is the same newspaper [that] virtually shanghaied Wen Ho Lee on treason and espionage charges, which later turned out to be bogus.
This is the same newspaper that devoted thousands of tons of newsprint to investigating to death and recirculating various spurious charges about President Clinton and Whitewater-gate.
This is the same newspaper whose editors have never been called to account for publishing reporter Judith Miller’s series of phony exposes of Iraq’s alleged unconventional weapons, as it turned out mostly retailed to Miller by the disreputable Chalabi clan backed by neocons and US military officers eager to misrepresent any shred of information that might justify the US subjugation of Iraq.)
In fact, the Times has consistently implied that any US politician or public figure even mentioning the Bush AWOL “controversy” should be “repudiated” and that any inquiry into it is illegitimate. As seen by how Gen. Clark felt obliged to back off, Times‘ pressure has clearly caused Democratic politicians to shy away from the “controversy” and fail to nail Bush on one of his chief vulnerabilities and hypocrisies (a smirking, swaggering commander in chief — “Bring ’em on” — who didn’t show up for a year of military service in time of war).
The Times, for whatever reason, is helping Bush “frame” the issue. In fact, this is arguably one of the most blatant classroom examples of “media framing” that one can find.
Our Foundation believes that Mr. Okrent, as ombudsman, should deal forthrightly with this “controversy” on the op-ed page of the Times lest the newspaper’s contested journalistic credibility take still another serious hit.
Edward A. Mainland, a member of the EAW Steering Committee, wrote this letter to the Times on behalf of the Whited Sepulchre Foundation, an organization “Dedicated to Recognizing America’s Outstanding Examples of Hypocrisy in the Fields of Politics, Media and Public Service.”