Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Evading the Questions

Rod Dreher, author of Crunchy Cons, is on the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News. The paper's editors recently had a meeting with representatives of the Dallas Muslim community which Dreher reports on here.

Dreher tried to get his interlocutors to answer a set of simple questions, but all he got in reply, according to him, were obfuscations and evasions. The Muslims simply would not deal with the questions to which Dreher, and, I expect, most Americans, would like to hear answers.

According to Dreher, the Muslim spokespersons avoided direct answers to the repeated question of whether the US should live under sharia law which mandates punishments like hand-chopping and stoning, and instead repeatedly challenged the motives of the journalists for asking those questions. They also defended having Muslim youth read the writings of radical Islamists who advocate the imposition of a world-wide Islamic caliphate and retorted to Dreher and his colleagues that the only thing wrong with this is thinking that there's something wrong with it.

The article is both interesting and important, and I urge readers to give it a perusal.


Distrusting the Times

Why don't people trust the mainstream media to present the news objectively? Well, here's an example of the sort of thing that seems to happen with alarming frequency and which causes people to shake their heads at the apparent willingness of those who present the news to waive journalistic standards when the story supports their ideological preconceptions:

The cover story on abortion in El Salvador in The New York Times Magazine on April 9 contained prominent references to an attention-grabbing fact. "A few" women, the first paragraph indicated, were serving 30-year jail terms for having had abortions. That reference included a young woman named Carmen Climaco. The article concluded with a dramatic account of how Ms. Climaco received the sentence after her pregnancy had been aborted after 18 weeks.

It turns out, however, that trial testimony convinced a court in 2002 that Ms. Climaco's pregnancy had resulted in a full-term live birth, and that she had strangled the "recently born." A three-judge panel found her guilty of "aggravated homicide," a fact the article noted. But without bothering to check the court document containing the panel's findings and ruling, the article's author, Jack Hitt, a freelancer, suggested that the "truth" was different.

The issues surrounding the article raise two points worth noting, both beyond another reminder to double-check information that seems especially striking. Articles on topics as sensitive as abortion need an extra level of diligence and scrutiny - "bulletproofing," in newsroom jargon. And this case illustrates how important it is for top editors to carefully assess the complaints they receive. A response drafted by top editors for the use of the office of the publisher in replying to complaints about the Hitt story asserted that there was "no reason to doubt the accuracy of the facts as reported."

The Times had a story which, they evidently thought, would make the forces arrayed against abortion look very bad and they ran with it without bothering to check its accuracy. With how many other stories have they done the same thing?

The New York Times does deserve some credit, though. The above article was done by their ombudsman, Byron Calame, and appeared in their pages last Sunday.

Read the rest of it at the link.