Accuracy in Media

Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller is on the lecture circuit, pulling down $15,000-$20,000 a speech plus first class airfare. When she left the paper, after spending 85 days in jail, she wrote that ?In my future writing, I intend to call attention to the internal and external threats to our country?s freedoms-Al Qaeda and other forms of religious extremism, conventional and W.M.D. terrorism, and growing government secrecy in the name of national security-subjects that have long defined my work.? Those are noble sentiments. But it?s the Times, more than any other media organization, which has prevented the government from solving the case of the post-9/11 anthrax attacks.

At the Times annual shareholders meeting on Tuesday, April 18, at 10:00 a.m. at the New Amsterdam Theater, I intend to ask Times Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. about this. I also intend to ask him why the Times violated the law in publishing classified details about the NSA terrorist surveillance program.

In the anthrax matter, the Times had published a series of columns by Nicholas Kristof falsely implicating former government scientist Steven Hatfill in the attacks, and dismissing the evidence that Al Qaeda was involved. Now the Times faces a full-blown trial over Hatfill?s lawsuit against the Times and Kristof for defamation. The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the trial in a recent ruling.

Incidentally, the federal media shield law, now being pushed by Miller and her former employer, would make it easier for the media to smear innocent people like Hatfill, using anonymous government sources. That?s the aspect of the media shield law that the media don?t like to discuss. They want the public to think all of these secret ?sources? are honest and courageous whistleblowers who provide factual information. The Times and other Big Media have completely blacked out AIM?s extensive and substantial critique of the proposed law. I challenge Judith Miller to debate the issue, and I won?t demand $15,000-$20,000 to do so.

I also intend to ask company executives about Miller?s controversial severance package. The paper reportedly paid her as much as $3 million, but the Times won?t discuss the matter publicly. One might assume that Times shareholders would have a right to know. We shall find out at the annual meeting. Frankly, I anticipate more stonewalling from Sulzberger & Company.

For those unfamiliar with the antics of Big Media executives at annual meetings, such an approach would be par for the course. The fact is that the rules that the paper applies to the government do not necessarily apply to the paper. At last year?s annual meeting, also at the New Amsterdam Theater, security guards temporarily confiscated my tape recorder, saying that theater rules prohibited the use of recording devices. Those rules, of course, were designed to prevent people from taping ?The Lion King? or other productions, not annual meetings of companies using the facility on a one-time-per-year basis.

AIM founder Reed Irvine pioneered the idea of purchasing several shares of stock in major media companies so we could confront the top brass. We have continued this tradition.

Regarding the tradition of the Times, I can testify to the paper?s continuing influence. Traveling through South Carolina with my oldest son, on a college tour, I discovered that students in the Department of Political Science at Furman University receive their own special copies of the Times. At Clemson University, students accepted into the Calhoun Honors College get the Times each day. Administrators say this is ?in keeping with Clemson?s mission of encouraging students to be responsible and informed citizens.? Really?

On April 7, the Times ran this correction:

?An article on Feb. 9 about the military?s recruitment of Hispanics referred incompletely to the belief of some critics that Hispanics in the Iraq war and blacks in the Vietnam War accounted for a disproportionate number of casualties. Statistics do not support the belief. Hispanics, who are about 14 percent of the population, accounted for about 11 percent of the military deaths in Iraq through Dec. 3, 2005. About 12.5 percent of the military dead in Vietnam were African-Americans, who made up about 13.5 percent of the general population during the war years. The error was pointed out in an e-mail in February; the correction was delayed for research after a lapse at The Times.?

Notice the use of the phrase ?referred incompletely? and the claim that the correction ?was delayed? after ?a lapse.?

The article had claimed, ?Critics also say that Latinos often wind up as cannon fodder on the casualty-prone front lines. African-Americans saw the same thing happen during the 1970?s and 1980?s, an accusation that still reverberates. Hispanics make up only 4.7 percent of the military?s officer corps.?

Regarding the correction, the Mediacrity website comments, ?What happened was simple. The Times was wrong. The Times published a lie. This once-great newspaper?s fast-diminishing credibility might be aided if it could occasionally use those two words when they are appropriate-as they sure are in this instance.?

Meanwhile, the Times ran a long April 9 story about executives of big companies making too much money. Two full pages were devoted to listing the 2005 compensation and accumulated wealth of 200 CEOs ?for large public companies.? Craig A. Dubow of Gannett was listed. But there were no listings for Times executives.

About a week earlier, the New York Post had cited a report from Glass, Lewis & Company, a watchdog group, on the bulging executive pay packets of Times executives. It said that while the Times company had eliminated a plan that gave employees a 15 percent discount to purchase stock through payroll deductions, huge stock awards were made in 2005 to Times CEO Janet Robinson and Times Chairman Sulzberger. The Post reported that Robinson?s stock awards increased nearly fivefold from a year earlier to approximately $2 million, while Sulzberger?s own stock awards nearly doubled to approximately $817,500.

Don?t expect any stories about that in the Times. Clearly, there are some rich executives who escape scrutiny at this paper. We?ll see what-if anything-they have to say about this on Tuesday. To the rest of the media I say-come and join the party. You might even find something newsworthy during the festivities.

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