Observations on the world today.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Brit Hume's Distortions and Missteps 

FOXNews.com - Special Report w/ Brit Hume - Political Grapevine - Distorted Times?
The New York Times' ombudsman, public editor Daniel Okrent, says his paper's headline a week and a half ago saying "9/11 Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie" was a — "distortion" and a — "misstep." As we noted at the time, the 9/11 Commission said there were links, though no evidence of any Iraqi involvement in Al Qaeda attacks on this country.

And so, Okrent says, — "good reporting and careful presentation are ... needed" at the Times. But, Okrent insists, the distortion was not intentional.
Okrent, even according to what Hume writes, only said the headline was a misstep and a distortion. He does not say the story was wrong in any way. And here is what Okrent actually said, and how he used the words "distortion" and "misstep" which are the only words Hume chose to quote in his apparent assertion that the Times retracted the story. First, here is how Okrent used the word "distorion":
Stretching across four columns of the front page, the June 17 headline "Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie; Describes a Wider Plot for 9/11" caused some readers, including Vice President Dick Cheney, to accuse The Times of "outrageous" (Cheney's word) distortion of the 9/11 commission's staff report. I don't buy "outrageous," but "distortion" works for me - specifically, the common newspaper crime of distortion by abbreviation (Emphasis mine; Mister). The staff report was largely concerned with attacks on United States soil, whereas the headline bore no such qualification. The headline also leaned on two of those words whose brevity makes them dear to all newsrooms: the resolute "no," and the imprecise "tie." Assistant managing editor Craig Whitney, who oversees the front page, argues that "tie" in the headline is "a correct shorthand summary" of the report's conclusion that there appeared to be no "collaborative relationship" between Al Qaeda and Iraq.
Now here is how he used the word "misstep":
While headlines may be short, their impact is large. Willful distortion? I don't see it. Misstep? Sure. Is an apology needed, as Internet columnist Bob Kohn, one of the paper's most forceful (and, often, most incisive) critics on the right, demanded by e-mail? No. Good reporting and careful presentation are what's needed. If out-of-tune headlines required apologies, the newspaper business would soon turn into a cacophony of confession.
And note the sentence which I italicized. It's the sentence that Hume suggests is the Times Ombudsman saying they need to fix their reporting (although he substituted elipses for the telling word "what's".) But that's not what Okrent is saying at all. He's saying that since the reporting was good there is no need to apologize for a headline which utilized shorthand. Brit Hume now needs to admit that he lied distorted the actual gist of the story. Further, he should acknowledge this blatant attempt to gull his audience of idiotic sheep misstep.


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