Jewish World Review May 30, 2003 / 28 Iyar, 5763
NYTimes has a bigger problem than Blair and Bragg Dowd
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | In the town where I live, you can turn in a criminal by calling (800) 898-TIPS. The New York Times now offers a similar service to its readers. They can finger crooked stories by sending an e-mail to The Times at email@example.com.
Jayson Blair is the proximate cause of this humiliating hotline. But some of the TIPS coming into The Times aren't about Blair.
Nobody knows exactly who's under investigation. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rick Bragg was suspended last week for letting an uncredited intern do his reporting. He's quitting.
And at least one other internal review is taking place. It concerns Pulitzer Prize columnist Maureen Dowd.
I'm not a certified Timesologist, but I can't say I'm shocked by what's happening at the Newspaper of Record. I've been expecting a blowup since August, when The Times ran a front-page story misrepresenting Henry Kissinger's views on war with Iraq. A newspaper willing to lie so boldly in pursuit of its editorial agenda is a newspaper out of control.
In fact, after the Kissinger incident, I stopped reading The Times' news section. But because I'm in the column-writing business, I continued looking at the editorial and op-ed pages. It was there, this month, that I came across an article by Dowd titled "Osama's Offspring."
Dowd famously dislikes President Bush. She often calls him names and says mean things about him. This time, she accused him of flimflamming the country. Two bombs had just gone off in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, presumably detonated by al-Qaeda. According to Dowd, this gave the lie to the president's assertion, delivered in a speech in Little Rock, Ark., that al-Qaeda was "spent."
Here's what she wrote:
"'Al-Qaeda is on the run,' President Bush said last week. 'That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated ... they're not a problem anymore.'"
Here's what Bush actually said:
"Al-Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. RIGHT NOW, ABOUT HALF OF ALL THE TOP AL-QAEDA OPERATIVES ARE EITHER JAILED OR DEAD. IN EITHER CASE, they're not a problem anymore."
The words in ALL CAPS were replaced in Dowd's column by three little dots. Those dots say to the reader: Trust me, I'm abbreviating here, but what I'm leaving out doesn't change the meaning.
But the dots did change the meaning. In fact, they turned it upside down.
Far from declaring al-Qaeda "spent," Bush was warning the country against complacency. The only terrorists the president declared "no longer a problem" were the ones already jailed or dead.
New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis says the paper is "looking into" the column. If Dowd intentionally misrepresented the president's words, she is guilty of a journalistic offense much worse than Bragg's intern problem, or even Blair's fantasies.
Blair is a kid, after all, who made things up for fun and profit. Dowd is a major figure at The Times, a role model. A syndicated role model.
Other journalists, including Andrew Sullivan and Greg Pierce of The Washington Times, have noted Dowd's dot trick. But as far as I know, I'm the first to turn her in to the TIPS hotline.
If The Times finds her guilty, it can send my reward money to the Home for Wayward Columnists.
And it should send Dowd there, too.
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05/27/03: Political and literal suicide