August 30, 2013

The NYT public editor has "found that The Times sometimes writes about the administration’s point of view in The Times’s own voice..."

"...  rather than providing distance through clear attribution. This is a subtle thing, and individual examples are bound to seem unimportant, but consider, for example, the second paragraph of Friday’s lead story. (The boldface emphasis is mine.)"
The negative vote in Britain’s Parliament was a heavy blow to Prime Minister David Cameron, who had pledged his support to Mr. Obama and called on lawmakers to endorse Britain’s involvement in a brief operation to punish the government of President Bashar al-Assad for apparently launching a deadly chemical weapons attack last week that killed hundreds.
"With the use of the word 'apparently' – rather than directly attributing the administration, The Times seems to take the government’s position at face value."

ADDED: The quoted sentence is bad for another reason. There's way too much happening in that sentence ,and phrases end up saying things that are not intended and that we're supposed to straighten out in our heads. Specifically, Cameron didn't call for punishing Assad "for apparently launching" the attack.

Cameron called for punishment for launching the attack, which Cameron believes happened. You only impose the punishment if you're satisfied that the thing deserving punishment happened. It's a separate issue whether it happened. The writer of the sentence and the editor who accepted it realized they don't know, so they wedged "apparently" into the sentence.

That's a type of error that you see all the time, often with the word "allegedly," as in: "John Smith was charged with allegedly murdering Joe Blow." No! Smith was charged with murdering Blow. Whether he did it or not may be in question, but the charge is murder, not alleged murder. You could say that it is alleged that Smith murdered Blow, but no one is charged with alleged murder.

Quite aside from the problem of journalists psychically merging with the government, there's flat out bad writing. Write better sentences that say only exactly what you know. Words like "allegedly" and "apparently" can help, but pay attention to where you put them and whether you're creating new, unintended inaccuracies.

23 comments:

David said...

That's a pretty subtle example. Perhaps the more embarrassing ones got edited out.

30yearProf said...

PRAVDA on the Hudson.

Propaganda (n) ... manipulation the news by act and omission so that the reader is lead to believe, based on the "information' presented, a false proposition. Colloquial: LYING.

Sam L. said...

Noooooooooo. I never woulda thunk it!

Transcribers, they are. Beholden press, they are. Believable only to those of the progressive faith, they are.

Michael said...

While I am happy to pile criticism on both the Obama administration and the NYT -- even when it is for fairly partisan reasons -- is there any good reason to think that the Assad government wasn't behind these chemical attacks?

We can, and should, debate whether military entanglement by the US would be wise policy, and I have seen a notable US politician who ("apparently") called the use of chemical weapons a false flag operation, but is there any real question whether they were used against civilians, or who used them?

Lem said...

“The positive vote in Britain’s Parliament was a boost to Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had pledged his support to Mr. Bush and called on lawmakers to endorse Britain’s involvement in an open ended operation to punish the government of President Saddam Hussein for apparently launching a deadly chemical weapons attack years before that killed thousands of Kurds.”

That would have been pro Bush.

Henry said...

From the article:

Syria is not another Iraq, [managing editor Dean Baquet] said – one of the major differences, he said, is that the Obama administration has no enthusiasm for this conflict in the way that President George W. Bush’s administration did a decade ago.

Tipped your hand there, Mr. Baquet.

"We don't need to be skeptical because it's Obama" is not the defense you seem to think it is.

Were you skeptical of Senator Obama's clearly stated enthusiasm to go into Afghanistan in the 2008 election? Many more American soldiers and Afghan civilians have died in that country since the Obama administration took over than in the entire Bush administration. Did you notice those deaths? Or was it more convenient to ignore them? Are you an idiot or a tool?

Michael K said...

"is there any good reason to think that the Assad government wasn't behind these chemical attacks?"

I have read some discussion about whether the attack might have been conventional and struck a rebel WMD site. The point is that anyone with any sense does not trust this administration, except, of course, for the true believers. They are the ones who called Bush "lying."

Smilin' Jack said...

"The NYT public editor has "found that The Times sometimes writes about the administration’s point of view in The Times’s own voice..."

That never happened during the Bush administration. So it's all Bush's fault.

Levi Starks said...

They should spend a few days getting their news only from NPR.
It might ease their conscience.

hoyden said...

Fortunately Britain's Parliament dissuaded Cameron from joining Obama in another excellent example of Obama's "smart diplomacy".

Given Obama's prior treatment of Britain as an allay, Obama's handling of Benghazi, and Democrat's Iraq support skedaddle, only a fool would join Democrats in any military action.

FleetUSA said...

NYT's CYA

tim maguire said...

I agree with David. But that's usually true of publc editors--they rarely go for the jugular, even when the paper richly deserves it.

In fact, the only time I can recall where the criticism fit the offence was in Daniel Okrent's goodbye post at the end of his term, in which he criticized Paul Krugman's fundamental dishonesty--his carelessness with facts and his deliberate misrepresentation of opposing arguments.

Paul Krugman is, of course, still employed by the New York Times.

Bob Boyd said...

Somebody wrote that Gramsci wouldn't like it and alarm bells went off.
If the reader had mentioned a founder's name or the US Constitution, his letter would've gone into the waste basket.
But Gramsci? Oh my goodness gracious! What if the guy's right?! Could we really have gone so far astray?

hoyden said...

The Liberal Media successfully sells the government's position at face value for a lot of things; "Recovery Summer"; the new normal: 8% unemployment and $3.85/gal gas; trillion dollar deficit spending; green energy and glowball warming; Obamacare and the government benefits bubble.

All portrayed as brilliant or pragmatic leadership on the domestic social and economic front.

I count as a little victory that the MSM cannot make the lipstick stick to Obama's foreign policy. Folks living outside America are apparently not so easily fooled by the Obama clown show.

bpm4532 said...

Wow, it sounds like someone is actually starting to read "Fundamentals of Journalism".

Big Mike said...

@Michael, I can easily think of two alternate scenarios where Assad is not guilty of a chemical weapons attack. The first is where the al Qaeda fighters had their own stock of chemical weapons and some were accidentally exploded by conventional artillery shells fired by Assad's troops. The second is where al Qaeda deliberately used chemical weapons on the civilians in an effort to draw the West into the war on their side.

I have been told by a former co-worker who had been a member of the team destroying Saddam's chemical weapons that their team was ordered to stand down and leave Iraq before all of the stocks had been destroyed. I think al Qaeda got its hands on chemical weapons either before the US invaded Iraq (which borders on Syria after all) or in the immediate period following our invasion.

So there is no question that the chemical weapons were used on civilians. Who used them is easy to assume but much harder to prove.

Big Mike said...

@Smilin' Jack, very well said, sir.

Skipper said...

Bad thinking and bad writing go hand in hand.

Bruce Hayden said...

“So we’re bombing Syria because Syria is bombing Syria? And I’m the idiot?” - Sarah Palin

* President Obama wants America involved in Syria’s civil war pitting the antagonistic Assad regime against equally antagonistic Al Qaeda affiliated rebels. But he’s not quite sure which side is doing what, what the ultimate end game is, or even whose side we should be on. Haven’t we learned? WAGs don’t work in war.

* We didn’t intervene when over 100,000 Syrians were tragically slaughtered by various means, but we’ll now intervene to avenge the tragic deaths of over 1,000 Syrians killed by chemical weapons, though according to the White House we’re not actually planning to take out the chemical weapons because doing so would require “too much of a commitment.”

* President Obama wants to do what, exactly? Punish evil acts in the form of a telegraphed air strike on Syria to serve as a deterrent? If our invasion of Iraq wasn’t enough of a deterrent to stop evil men from using chemical weapons on their own people, why do we think this will be?

* The world sympathizes with the plight of civilians tragically caught in the crossfire of this internal conflict. But President Obama’s advertised war plan (which has given Assad enough of a heads-up that he’s reportedly already placing human shields at targeted sites) isn’t about protecting civilians, and it’s not been explained how lobbing U.S. missiles at Syria will help Syrian civilians. Do we really think our actions help either side or stop them from hurting more civilians?

* We have no clear mission in Syria. There’s no explanation of what vital American interests are at stake there today amidst yet another centuries-old internal struggle between violent radical Islamists and a murderous dictatorial regime, and we have no business getting involved anywhere without one. And where’s the legal consent of the people’s representatives? Our allies in Britain have already spoken. They just said no. The American people overwhelmingly agree, and the wisdom of the people must be heeded.

* Our Nobel Peace Prize winning President needs to seek Congressional approval before taking us to war. It’s nonsense to argue that, “Well, Bush did it.” Bull. President Bush received support from both Congress and a coalition of our allies for “his wars,” ironically the same wars Obama says he vehemently opposed because of lack of proof of America’s vital interests being at stake.

* Bottom line is that this is about President Obama saving political face because of his “red line” promise regarding chemical weapons.

* As I said before, if we are dangerously uncertain of the outcome and are led into war by a Commander-in-chief who can’t recognize that this conflict is pitting Islamic extremists against an authoritarian regime with both sides shouting “Allah Akbar” at each other, then let Allah sort it out.

- Sarah Palin

Big Mike said...

@Bruce, Sarah Palin has basic common sense. No wonder the top people of both parties hate her so much.

SeanF said...

Althouse: You could say that it is alleged that Smith murdered Blow, but no one is charged with alleged murder.

I don't know - I once got pulled over for "attempted speeding." The cop said, "We know what you were trying to do - and if you didn't have such a POS car, you might've gotten away with it."

(Yeah, I stole that joke. Sue me.)

SeanF said...

Althouse: You could say that it is alleged that Smith murdered Blow, but no one is charged with alleged murder.

I don't know - I once got pulled over for "attempted speeding." The cop said, "We know what you were trying to do - and if you didn't have such a POS car, you might've gotten away with it."

(Yeah, I stole that joke. Sue me.)

viator said...

Gee, ya think?