Sunday, November 06, 2005
How to do real reporting: The editors at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer could learn a thing or two dozen from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. While the P-I is more than satisfied to reprint Joseph Wilson's lies "because he was the best person to know," the Post-Dispatch did some serious and critical reporting on a former Marine staff sergeant who is going around claiming to have committed atrocities in Iraq.
For more than a year, former Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey has been telling anybody who will listen about the atrocities that he and other Marines committed in Iraq.
In scores of newspaper, magazine and broadcast stories, at a Canadian immigration hearing and in numerous speeches across the country, Massey has told how he and other Marines recklessly, sometimes intentionally, killed dozens of innocent Iraqi civilians.
Among his claims:
Marines fired on and killed peaceful Iraqi protesters.
Americans shot a 4-year-old Iraqi girl in the head.
A tractor-trailer was filled with the bodies of civilian men, women and children killed by American artillery.
Massey's claims have gained him celebrity. Last month, Massey's book, "Kill, Kill, Kill," was released in France. His allegations have been reported in nationwide publications such as Vanity Fair and USA Today, as well as numerous broadcast reports. Earlier this year, he joined the anti-war bus tour of Cindy Sheehan, and he's spoken at Cornell and Syracuse universities, among others.
News organizations worldwide published or broadcast Massey's claims without any corroboration and in most cases without investigation. Outside of the Marines, almost no one has seriously questioned whether Massey, a 12-year veteran who was honorably discharged, was telling the truth.
Each of his claims is either demonstrably false or exaggerated - according to his fellow Marines, Massey's own admissions, and the five journalists who were embedded with Massey's unit, including a reporter and photographer from the Post-Dispatch and reporters from The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal.
What follows is eerily reminiscent of another member of the Naval service who returned from combat overseas and went around slandering his fellow servicemen. Massey may one day aspire to be the Democrat Party's candidate for president.
Just a few days after the Post-Intelligencer disgraces itself by failing to remember the first rule of journalism -- "If your mother says she loves you, check it out" -- the Post-Dispatch demonstrates what good journalism is all about.
For those of you concerned about Massey's future, worry not, there are plenty of universities and Democrat Party events that will be more than happy to have him speak.
The Post-Distpatch reporter, Ron Harris, also included a sidebar to his piece that posed a basic, but important, question: "Why did the press swallow Massey's stories?" I encourage you to read the whole thing, because it's indicative of so much that is wrong with journalism today. While several newspaper officials who had run stories repeating Massey's tales uncritically were remorseful, others, not so much.
In the latter category falls Rex Smith of the Albany Times Union.
Rex Smith, editor of the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, said he thought the newspaper's story about Massey could have "benefited from some additional reporting." But he didn't necessarily see anything particularly at odds with standard journalism practices.
The paper printed a story in which Massey reportedly told an audience how he and other Marines killed peaceful demonstrators. There was no response from the Marine Corps or any other evidence to back Massey's claims.
Smith said that, unfortunately, that is the nature of the newspaper business.
"You could take any day's newspaper and probably pick out a half dozen or more stories that ought to be subjected to a more rigorous truth test," he said.
"Yes, it would have been much better if we had the other side. But all I'm saying is that this is unfortunately something that happens every day in our newspapers and with practically every story on television."
It is probably true, but sad, that this is something that happens everyday in newspapers and on TV news programs around the country -- but that doesn't make it "standard journalism practice." You can bet that if a Democrat official accused his Republican counterpart of drowning puppies, that a journalist would, at the very least, seek comment from the Republican.
The Post-Dispatch's Ron Harris should be applauded for his work -- those that repeated Massey's stories uncritically and those that have promoted him as a truth-teller should be ashamed of themselves.