A Well-Informed Critique of Seven Major Errors in a Single New York Times Editorial


A former legal affairs analyst on The Washington Post‘s editorial page now blogs at www.lawfareblog.com, and often turns his attention to correcting the never-corrected-in-the-newspaper errors in New York Times editorials.  Benjamin Wittes wrote a most satisfying critique of one such editorial based on false, checkable premises, that reached— as reached it must— erroneous conclusions:


I am not sure how I stumbled into the role of unpaid fact-checker for the New York Times editorial page on matters of law and security. But as long as the Times keeps publishing editorials like this one, there needs to be some correction mechanism somewhere. And since the Times itself insists both on making serial factual errors and on not ever correcting any of them, the sad burden seems to fall on me…I count at least seven erroneous statements in today’s editorial–most of them variants on the same theme I have been pounding on since last year. In the order in which they appear in the editorial, here they are:

1) “Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, who was seized by American forces in international waters, was secretly held in extralegal detention on a United States naval vessel.”

To read the other six egregious errors, click here: most satisfying critique.  Wittes concludes:

These sort of mistakes are altogether avoidable. There is nothing about the Times’s normative position against non-criminal detention that requires that it serially publish statements that are not true. Plenty of detention foes manage to express their opposition to the practice without making up facts. And the Times needn’t misinform its readers about basic facts either in order to argue its points. But its editorial writers don’t seem remotely interested in exploring how they can make their points in a fashion consistent with the realities they are supposedly bound to report. A couple of months ago, I wrote a brief email to Andrew Rosenthal, the Times’ editorial page editor, suggesting that his board and I should be in touch on these subjects. “I’m not sure if engagement on detainee, trial, and AUMF issues between your board, on the one hand, and me and my crew, on the other, would be fruitful or not,” I wrote. “But it seems like we at least ought to find out.” I never got a response.


It is a scandal that however many readers still turn to The New York Times for news and opinion (like there’s a difference at The Times) they’re completely unaware of the seriousness of the errors they read seven days a week.  And if you try to tell them that they’re not reading the Gospel, they say that you’re wrong and the Times is the newspaper of record.  Does the Columbia Journalism Review take note of this?  Of course not.  They’re too busy gloating over the death of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World to notice the flagrant disgrace closer to home.



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