Sunday, January 27, 2008

NYT Public Editor: We're Totally Inept, But Stand By Our Stories Slandering the Troops

The New York Times Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, is in the unenviable position of trying to defend the outrageous series of stories, which continue today, that portray our troops as bloodthirsty, psychopathic killers.

Naturally, he takes a swipe at the New York Post (Ralph Peters demolished the original story here) and conservative bloggers who shredded the initial story for its outrageous portrayal of troops who've been charged with crimes since returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The original piece was immediately taken apart and unwittingly showed those who served in the military were five times less likely to commit felonies than the average citizen.

Now Hoyt continues to compound the error today.

Stories That Speak for Themselves
But The Times made some missteps at the beginning of the series, and critics have pounced, accusing it of demonizing veterans and exaggerating the problem even as some mental health professionals have thanked the newspaper.
Well, Clark, the critics pounced because the story was blatantly misleading.

How difficult is that to understand. If there weren't any missteps, like you say, maybe nobody would have pounced.

Are you really that dense?
The Times was immediately accused — in The New York Post and the conservative blogosphere, and by hundreds of messages to the public editor — of portraying all veterans as unstable killers. It did not.
Really? Then why was there such outrage across the board? He gives it away in the very next sentence.
But, the first article used colorfully inflated language — “trail of death” — for a trend it could not reliably quantify, despite an attempt at statistical analysis using squishy numbers.
So in one breath, Hoyt claims they were not trying to portray the troops as killers, then admits to using colorfully inflated language with squishy numbers.

What else is one to convey from this? That it was a fair and honest portrayal using statistically valid methodology?

Of course not. It was what it was, a vile hit piece beyond the realm of responsible journalism.
Finally, while many of the 121 cases found by The Times appeared clearly linked to wartime stresses, others seemed questionable. One involved a Navy Seabee accused of arranging her ex-husband’s murder during a bitter child custody battle, and another involved a soldier who was acquitted of reckless homicide in a car crash after a jury concluded that his blood alcohol level was below the legal limit and that many other accidents had happened on the same stretch of road.
So other seemed questionable? This begs the question: Where were the editors to vet this story? Apparently, they couldn't be bothered to read the story in advance.

Purdy urged me not to get lost in the numbers as I looked at the first two articles. I agree with that, but I believe The Times tangled itself in numbers right at the start. Bill Keller, the executive editor, said the newsroom’s computer-assisted reporting unit normally screens articles with statistical analyses. Some of the problems might have been avoided if someone in the unit had read the first article before it was published. But Terry Schwadron, the editor who oversees the unit, which created a database for the 121 cases, said that did not happen. “I read the story in the paper, and I shared some concerns” with Purdy, he said.
At the least, Terry Schwadron should be dismissed from his job.

As for Keller, he long ago forfeited any credibility and if the New York Times Board of Directors is content seeing the paper hemorrhage money and readers and still keeps him on, that's their problem.

In the end, Hoyt is reduced to a mealy-mouthed defense.
But the questionable statistics muddy the message. A handful of killings caused by the stresses of war would be too many and cause for action. Sometimes, trying to turn such stories into data — with implications of statistical proof and that old journalistic convention, the trend — harms rather than helps.
Yes, Clark, and that's why today the New York Times has so little credibility.

You folks would be better off scrapping this insulting series now.

Sadly, the two hacks with their bylines on this slander will probably wind up with Pulitzer Prizes.

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