Accuracy in Media

The New York Times is being somewhat more forthcoming about acting as a house organ for Senate Democrats against John Bolton’s nomination as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. With a vote on the nomination scheduled for May 12 in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Times reporter Douglas Jehl’s story acknowledged that some anti-Bolton information for his May 10 story was “provided by a Congressional Democrat opposed to Mr. Bolton’s nomination.” It must be nice to know that you can leak information to the New York Times and that the paper will rush to print it.

Even if it had not been specified that a Democrat was the source of the information, many would have suspected it. However, we still don’t know the name of this particular leaker. That would be disclosing too much.

Another fascinating example of this journalistic trend of using openly partisan sources occurred in stories about accusations made by Lynne D. Finney against Bolton. For example, Barbara Slavin of USA Today reported on April 24 that Finney, “a former legal adviser to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID),” had sent a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif, a member of the committee, saying that Bolton had “screamed” at her more than 20 years ago. Slavin added that a copy of the letter had been “e-mailed to USA Today.” Slavin added that, “Boxer’s office verified that Finney sent the letter.”

Slavin, the paper’s senior diplomatic correspondent, reported, “Finney, who is now a motivational speaker, said in the letter that she cared about world peace and wanted to help defeat Bolton’s nomination. She did not return phone messages left at her home.”

The story ran under the headline, “U.N. nominee faces new allegations of verbal abuse.”

Consider how USA Today determined this story of allegations more than 20 years old to be newsworthy. It receives a copy of a letter from Finney to Barbara Boxer, who opposes Bolton. The paper reports that Boxer’s office had verified that Finney sent the letter but that USA Today itself was not able to reach her. In the letter, Finney declares that she cares about world peace and wants to defeat Bolton.

Something struck me as suspicious. A person comes up with old allegations to defeat Bolton and provides them in the context of declaring her commitment to world peace? I decided to do some research and AIM released my findings in a press release on April 25.

We easily discovered that Finney is much more than a “motivational speaker.” She is a specialist on the subject of “recovered memories” and charges $90 an hour for “conversations” on how to find “inner peace.” Finney proclaims on her website that “We are becoming One” and that “Like popcorn, we are all popping faster and are reaching enlightenment at a rapid rate.” She also claims to have been taught by “Tibetan monks and Master Nome in Santa Cruz, California.” Master Nome is a Hindu religious teacher.

“In this new millennium, we entered an era of human evolution where we can reinvent ourselves and create new realities,” the Finney website declares. “We all have the ability to clear out our limiting beliefs and behaviors and tap into the infinite power of Consciousness.” The website described her “many realities,” including as “diplomat” and “United Nations policy advisor to the Agency for International Development.” The latter is apparently a reference to the position in which Finney claims to have been yelled at by Bolton, then the top lawyer at USAID.

I reached Ms. Finney by telephone but she refused to comment because she was scheduled to be interviewed by the Senate Foreign Relations committee about Bolton. I therefore couldn’t ask about that part of her biography, also advertised on her website, disclosing that she was a political appointee in the Democratic Jimmy Carter administration.

Since there have been no orchestrated leaks to the press about Finney’s additional “revelations,” we can only assume she is not being taken seriously as an anti-Bolton “witness.” But that doesn’t get the press off the hook for running her letter to Boxer as a hot news “story.”

In an April 26 message to USA Today editor Ken Paulson, I noted that “It appears that your story on the new Bolton accuser left out some important facts. Slavin failed to do some elementary research into Lynne D. Finney. Can we count on a correction or a clarification?” He replied, “I’ll share your note with our news department. We’ll get back to you.”

Here we are two weeks later and USA Today editors have not gotten back to me. How can they defend the sympathetic coverage of Finney’s allegations against Bolton and the failure to do elementary research into her controversial background?

A basic Google search would have disclosed a fascinating February 25 story by Edward Wyatt of the New York Times which identified Finney as “a leading practitioner of recovered-memory therapy, including the use of self-hypnosis, a practice that some studies have shown can result in the creation of false memories.” The identification was made in the context of reviewing questionable sexual abuse allegations made against a Mormon scholar.

In fairness, USA Today editor Paulson may have had other things on his mind. On May 5, the paper announced that Pentagon correspondent Tom Squitieri resigned after being confronted with evidence that he had “violated USA Today’s standards on sources and attribution.” In short, Squitieri was accused of plagiarism.

The Finney case shows that even when sources are identified, the journalism can be seriously deficient. It’s lazy partisan-pack journalism. Paulson should do something about that, too.

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