Accuracy in Media

At 2:15 a.m. on April 7, two Cincinnati police officers spotted Timothy Thomas, 19, who had fourteen misdemeanor warrants outstanding for his arrest. As they reported his description, Thomas spotted them and took off. Within a few minutes a dozen officers joined in the search. Officer Steve Roach, arriving in his squad car, saw Thomas running. He pursued him on foot, and a few minutes later Roach shot and killed Thomas, who turned out to be unarmed. The only living person who knows what happened in those few minutes is officer Roach, and his story has not yet been made public. But that has not stopped the media from giving various versions.

Byron Pitts, a black CBS correspondent, described on the CBS Evening News on April 12, a simple and unique version of what happened. He said, “According to witnesses, Thomas was confronted by Roach, the teenager ran and the officer shot him.” Presumably in the back, but the Cincinnati Police Department says Thomas was shot in the chest. The CBS version eliminates the two officers who recognized Thomas, and called in his location and described him as wearing a red bandanna. It eliminates all the officers who responded, except Steve Roach, and it produces anonymous witnesses who, it says, saw Roach confront the victim and shoot him when he bolted.

Pitts appears to have obtained his information from those who, without waiting for an investigation, have demanded that Roach be tried, convicted and sent to prison. The next morning, Bryant Gumbel, host of the CBS Early Show, elicited precisely that demand from the victim’s mother, Angela Leisure. He asked, “What do you want to see happen to officer Stephen Roach, the man who shot your son?” She replied: “I want to see him treated in the same manner I would have been treated if I had unjustly killed someone. I would face charges. I would go to court and if convicted I would be sent to prison. That’s what I want to see happen to this man….I want him to be charged and convicted.”

Cincinnati Mayor Charles Luken followed the mother, saying that he couldn’t answer the question of whether or not there was any justification for officer Roach shooting Timothy Thomas, but that Ms. Leisure and Bryant Gumbel had correctly described the facts as known at the time of the interview. That was immediately after Gumbel had said that Roach had said he feared for his life even though Thomas was unarmed and running away from him. Unless the mayor knows that the claim that Thomas was shot in the chest is wrong, he can’t say that Thomas was running away from Roach when he was shot. When Gumbel asked about the 15 blacks who had been killed by Cincinnati police in six years, the mayor said those killings included some in which the officers were fired upon first.

Appearing on NBC’s Today Show the same morning, responding to a similar question, he said, “It is true that 15 African-Americans have been shot, and in many cases the circumstances have been questionable. We have acknowledged that, and we have been trying to make fundamental changes in the way we do business. But let me also point out that in some of those cases, many of those cases, the officers were fired upon before they returned fire. So I would be careful about that 15 statistic because it is somewhat misleading.”

Mayor Luken was correct in telling the journalists that the number of blacks killed by police was misleading. The way it was being used gave the impression that there was no justification for the police to shoot any of those 15 black men. A thumb-nail description of each of the cases published by the Cincinnati Enquirer and the New York Times showed that the mayor’s description of the statistic as “somewhat misleading” is an understatement. A little additional research shows that it is a gross understatement.

One case involved a female police officer whose police cruiser was car-jacked with her in it. She was shot in the legs and abdomen and was forced to let her assailant take the wheel. She shot and killed him with her gun. She survived, but she was seriously disabled. Mayor Luken cited this case in one of his television interviews, but his description of what happened was garbled. In an even more horrible case, Kevin Crayon, a black officer, asked to see the license of a 12-year-old boy who was about to drive off in a car parked in front of a convenience store. The boy started the car. When Crayon reached in to grab the keys, the boy put it in gear and hit the gas. With his arm caught, Crayon was dragged 800 feet. He grabbed his gun with his free hand and shot the boy in the chest before falling free and dying in the street. The boy made it home, where he died.

Missing: The Context Of The 15 Deaths

These cases clearly do not belong in a list used to explain or justify the rioting. Of the other 13 cases, 7 involved officers who were wounded, fired upon or threatened by individuals who had a gun or were struggling to get a gun. Three others involved officers who were being threatened by black men who were holding (1) a knife, (2) a nail-studded two-by-four and (3) a brick. In the remaining three cases, one being that of Timothy Thomas, the men who died had no weapon. It is legitimate to raise questions about the cases where the victims had no weapon, but as the dragging death of officer Crayon shows, the absence of a weapon in the hands of a victim does not prove that the police had nothing to fear.

It was wrong for anyone, and especially the news media, to repeatedly bring up the 15 deaths as explaining or justifying the Cincinnati race riot without ever providing the context that explains why the use of deadly force could be justified in nearly all of the cases. ABC’s World News Tonight did report that Keith Fangman, the head of the Fraternal Order of Police in Cincinnati, “had passionately argued that virtually all the police shootings in recent years were clearly justified.” It did not report the facts he presented to prove that point. It only showed him concluding, “Once and for all we’ve made it clear that our police officers are not some band of rogue Nazis roaming Cincinnati hunting down and killing black men.”

ABC’s answer to that was to immediately follow Fangman’s statement with footage of three white police officers, one of them pointing a rifle, yelling at blacks, “Get out of there or you’re going to be shot.” Correspondent Aaron Brown then commented, “It has been three decades since this city focused so much on race; it was not what happened on Saturday night (when Timothy Thomas was killed),or the 15 black men killed in recent years that has caused the attention here and from the Justice Department as well. Not the shootings, something else.”

The something else, Brown concluded, was the violence of the riot, ignoring the role the constant reminder that 15 blacks had been killed by police played in provoking it. Ted Koppel acknowledged the importance when he introduced Nightline’s report on the riots on April 12. He said, “Tension has been rising in Cincinnati because 15 black men have been killed by police since 1995, four of those since last November.”

Nightline didn’t show that in nearly all of those cases the police had good reason to fear for their lives. Koppel put on Kenneth Lawson, the attorney for Timothy Thomas’s mother, who said that young white officers are afraid to go into the black neighborhoods after dark and that “most of the shootings are based on subjective fear of blacks as opposed to objective factors to justify your shooting for fear of your own life.”

Fox News Channel Shows The Other Side

The selectivity of the national coverage of the rioting was exposed to viewers of the Fox News channel on April 12, when Bill Cunningham, the veteran radio talk-show host on Cincinnati’s WLW, was interviewed on the Hannity & Colmes show. Cunningham said, “Over the last three nights, it’s been especially dangerous for white Americans to be anywhere in downtown Cincinnati. There have been dozens and dozens of assaults of specifically white Americans, male and female, pulled out of their cars, pulled out of their trucks, and assaulted by roving gangs.”

Mayor Charles Luken said the violence was “like Beirut” and that “white citizens are targeted in their cars.” That statement was aired on ABC’s “World News Tonight,” along with a 3-second shot of a white woman sitting on a curb weeping, with the left side of her face covered with blood. That was followed by an even briefer glimpse of a white man in his car looking at his bloodied left arm. That was the only footage shown by any of the broadcast networks of whites who had been attacked by blacks. Bill Cunningham said that is because this is racially explosive. Alan Colmes, the liberal co-host of Hannity & Colmes, told Cunningham his remarks were “very divisive.”

Ray Ruberg, public relations officer of the Cincinnati police department, told Accuracy in Media that the police had over 30 reports of such assaults. Ruberg said he believed that there were many more that had not been reported. The Cincinnati Enquirer, not wishing to appear to be divisive like Bill Cunningham, said little about those assaults. We found only one report of an assault on a white motorist in its coverage. A woman had been dragged from her car and beaten in a black neighborhood. She was rescued by some of the residents. It didn’t report her name or what injuries she suffered.


This is a letter Reed Irvine sent to Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. on April 23, edited to fit the space and the AIM Report format.

Dear Arthur:
Attached is a correction of the serious error that I made in the e-mail sent to some of your editors and others and which I repeated at your annual meeting. I want to be sure that you see it because it is an example of how corrections should be made, i.e., promptly, with enough context to make it clear what the error was and in a way that reaches those who may have been misled by it. If there were any way I could get this to all those who heard my remarks at the annual meeting, I would do so because accuracy is important to me. I believe my reputation is enhanced, not diminished, by correcting errors of fact and judgment.

I haven’t persuaded you and your editors that they should approach this problem with that attitude. As I said at the meeting, your correction box is slightly improved since you included the directions on how to report errors. One occasionally finds corrections of substance that are clear enough to make it unnecessary to go back to the article to understand their significance. I regret that you did not give me enough time to cite some examples of that. I would also have liked to point out examples of persistent errors that appear in the Times that reflect badly on the reporters and editors. Your severe limits on the time you allow for discussion leads me to think that you have no interest in this matter. You seem to be more interested in the business end, and you believe that you have editors that you can trust to handle the news end properly.

You don’t welcome information that suggests that your confidence in them is not always warranted. You take great pride in the awards and the praise that the Times gets, but those who offer praise are not necessarily aware of the most serious flaws in the news coverage, your most important product. I will risk boring you and cite a few examples.

Nearly six months after the Times admitted that it had exaggerated the number of deaths caused by the Chernobyl nuclear power accident, it again ignored the most comprehensive study of its impact. Patrick Tyler’s Dec. 8, 2000 article correctly said the number of deaths in the immediate aftermath was “dozens.” But he added that “thousands of children contracted thyroid cancers” and “tens of thousands of residents of Ukraine and Belarus have attributed a host of cancers and adverse health ailments over the years to the catastrophe.”

Both the 1996 Vienna conference on Chernobyl and the U.N. Scientific Commission on the Effects of Atomic Radiation concluded that the increase in thyroid cancer among children was about 1,800 cases. They said that resulted in only three additional deaths. Many people blame all manner of illnesses on the Chernobyl accident, but the Vienna conference and UNSCEAR found no increase in cancer except for thyroid cancer among children exposed at the time of the accident.

On Dec. 22, 2000, Randal Archibold had a story in the Times about litigation to curb pollutants that contribute to acid rain in the Northeast. He said that power plant emissions in the Midwest “are widely tied to acid rain that has scarred mountainous areas like the Adirondacks and the Catskills with ‘dead lakes’ and dying forests.”

The editors seem to have forgotten the $537 million NAPAP study, which concluded in a report issued on Sept. 5, 1990 that there was no evidence that acid rain had caused a general decline in our forests except for red spruce in the eastern mountains at high elevations. It found that only four percent of the lakes in areas where acidification might be expected were “dead.” The director of this study said acid rain was not even near the top of environmental priorities, but Congress ordered a 10-million-ton reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions. The cost was estimated to be as much as $4 billion a year.

Global Warming Hot At The Times

At the meeting, I mentioned the inaccurate reporting on global warming by the Times. On August 19, 2000, you ran a front-page story about the ice cap at the North Pole melting, citing it as evidence of global warming. You later acknowledged that the melting was not unusual and was not necessarily an indicator of global warming. You ran an article in the Science Section reporting on interviews with four climatologists, none of whom linked the melting to global warming. But on Dec. 20, a story by Kenneth Chang said, “Effects of the warmer temperatures have been detected worldwide C including the melting of Arctic permafrost and sea ice…” He said that scientists are increasingly convinced that our emissions of greenhouse gases are “at least partly to blame.” Claire Parkinson, one of the four climatologists quoted in your Science Section article last fall, tells me that the satellite data show that the decrease in the polar ice cap was greater in the 1980s than in the 1990s and that submarine data show little thinning of the ice cap in the 1990s and a great deal from 1958 to the early 1970s.

Your editors always ignore the global temperature as measured by the satellite data. These data cover areas where surface stations are few and far between. They correlate very well with the surface data where the coverage is good and with the data gathered by weather balloons. The series began in 1979. Until 1998, when the temperature was exceptionally elevated by a very strong El Ni?o, the average temperature of the entire globe showed a slight downward trend. The spike in 1998 moved the trend upwards, but the lower temperatures since then are pulling it down again. The April 10 report of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville puts it at +0.04 degrees Celsius per decade since 1979 or + 0.8 degrees Fahrenheit per century. This is less than the rate of increase in the 100 years beginning in 1880.

If the editors had any real interest in investigative reporting they would tackle the relationship between government grants and the efforts of the many professionals who are doing their best to keep the global warming theory alive by predicting imminent disaster if we don’t curb emissions of CO2. They were greatly encouraged by the spectacular warming in 1998. They saw it as the beginning of the rising trend they had been predicting for a decade. Tom Karl, the director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, said in February 2000 that the trend then was consistent with a rise of 3 to 3.5 degrees Celsius in this century. The reports of the satellite data issued by the Earth System Science Center show graphically how wrong Karl’s assumption was.

Dull Letters, No Complicated Corrections

You said that you get many more letters from readers who “simply wish to express their opinions on the news.” That is all you now print, and as a result your letters section has become borrrrrrring. Rarely does one learn anything of value by reading it. Old timers like me can remember the day when the letters to the Times were so interesting and informative that a book of them was published. (One of mine was included.) Compare the Times letters now with those of the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Washington Times and many other papers and you will see what I mean.

I regret that you have yet to answer my question about how one can get a correction of an error about a complicated subject into the Times without buying the space. Please give this some serious thought, along with making your letters column and your op-ed page more interesting and informative.

Reed Irvine


The following e-mail was attached to the above letter. It was sent on April 18, 2001 to all recipients of my April 13 e-mail about what we were hoping and expecting to hear from the FBI about the identity of those who had requested NCIC searches on the serial number of the gun found in Vince Foster’s hand.

This is being sent to all who got my message of April 13 regarding NCIC searches of a gun bearing one of the two serial numbers on the gun found in Vince Foster’s hand on July 20, 1993. The FBI informed me today that of the four requests received by the NCIC, the requests on March 3, 1993 and March 7, 1993 were from the Richmond County, N.C. sheriff’s office and the police department in Rockingham, the county seat. Both were routine checks on pawn tickets for the same gun with no description of the weapon.

The search on April 29, 1993 was requested by the San Diego police department. It was for a JEI (Jennings) .22 caliber gun (model not given). The fourth request was made by the U.S. Park Police on the night of Foster’s death, July 20, 1993. While it is conceivable that the North Carolina gun could have been the one found in Foster’s hand, I think it is very unlikely. The San Diego gun shows that serial numbers are not unique to a single gun and that it is unwise to jump to conclusions based on serial numbers alone.

I, like Chris Ruddy of, had been warned of this by Marilyn Walton, who ran the search, but the fact that there were four requests for the one serial number so close together and none in 1993 after Foster’s death and none in all the years before convinced me that this had to be the gun planted in Foster’s hand. Chris wisely played it more cautiously, saying there was a possibility of duplication.

The FOIA request was made for all records, and I assumed that the search had been made for all requests since NCIC was started in 1967. I thought that if only four requests for searches on that number had been found in 26 years, and those four were all made in the space of five months, this was overwhelming evidence that all four requests were for the same gun.

But today I was told that NCIC keeps the tapes for only 10 years and they only searched 1993. If I had known that, I would have been more cautious. They should have searched 1991 and 1992, and they have told me they will do so if I request it. I will do so, and perhaps a match for the numbers on the gun in Foster’s hand will be found, but I’m not counting on it.

I retract and apologize for my claim that we had found proof that the gun found in Foster’s hand was in the possession of a law enforcement organization or someone in contact with law enforcement. I was by no means alone in reaching that conclusion on the basis of the evidence then available. I invited comments on my April 13 message, and so far I have not heard from anyone to whom it was sent, including many journalists, who said I was climbing too far out on a limb. I will probably hear from some of them now, perhaps in print.

Those of us who have studied the evidence did not reach the conclusion that the gun was a plant because of the information Craig Brinkley’s FOIA turned up. We thought that it would help focus attention on the evidence we already had and convince the skeptics. The fact that the FBI letter does not prove anything does not diminish the evidence that it was not Foster’s gun and that it was not the gun used to kill him. That evidence was, and still is, very strong.

I regret having ignored the adage never to assume anything but a 6 percent mortgage, but those who assume that the official Foster investigations found the truth are making an even greater unwarranted assumption than I did. They are assuming that the investigations were conducted competently and honestly, but they haven’t studied the evidence carefully and with an open mind. I hope they will quit assuming and visit If they click on Archive Search, check the boxes for AIM Report; 1996-2000; Key words: “May B 1998” and click on Search, they will find a review by Hugh Sprunt, a lawyer and C.P.A., that should open their eyes. They might then go to other AIM Reports on Foster. I recommend October AB 1997; January A 1999; and February A 2000.

Those who still think the official investigators found the truth, should visit, where they will find them exposed by their own reports. The page is the product of the most important eyewitness in the Foster case, Patrick Knowlton, his attorney, John Clarke, and their volunteer collaborator, Hugh Turley, an outstanding lecturer on this subject.

Regretfully but hopefully yours,
Reed Irvine

What You Can Do

Send the enclosed cards or your own cards or letters to Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., Chairman and Publisher of the New York Times, to Ted Koppel of ABC’s Nightline and to an editor of your choice.

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