Accuracy in Media

On the heels of the Jayson Blair scandal, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd added to the paper’s problems with accuracy in her column of May 14. Miss Dowd, who loves to ridicule President Bush and his administration, devoted that column to evidence that al Qaeda continues to be a serious threat, as shown by the car bombings in Saudi Arabia two days earlier that killed dozens, including seven Americans. She quoted from a speech Bush made on May 5, writing,”‘Al Qaeda is on the run,’ President Bush said last week. ‘That group of terrorists which attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated…They’re not a problem anymore.'”

Those three dots showed that she had omitted something. She had deliberately omitted this: “About half of all the top al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they’re not a problem anymore,”. Clearly Bush was saying that the ones in jail or dead already were the ones who weren’t a problem anymore. He was not referring to al Qaeda in general.

Dowd made other comments in her column that reinforced her misinterpretation of what Bush had said. She referred to the “administration’s lulling triumphalism about al Qaeda.” She said, “Buried in the rubble of Riyadh are some of the Bush administration’s basic assumptions: that al Qaeda was finished.” Bush has never said nor implied that.

But other Bush critics were taken in by Dowd’s misrepresentation. Bill Press of MSNBC, Paul Begala of CNN, and others repeated it. It was picked up by newspapers all over the world. And Bush was condemned in editorials. Fox News and a number of Web logs, such as, have exposed the dishonesty of Dowd and the Times. As we record this, two weeks have passed and the Times has made no correction.

Accuracy in Media has criticized its failure to make important corrections for many years. We thought this would change as a result of the Jayson Blair plagiarism and fabrication scandal which has focused unwanted attention on other journalistic transgressions. The “big black eye,” which is what Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, has called the Jayson Blair scandal, has become an open wound. And if the New York Post is right, it’s only going to get worse. The Post says that four unidentified Times reporters are being investigated for Jayson Blair type abuses, and are threatening to sue if their names are leaked. It is no longer an honor to be a New York Times editor or reporter.

Chris Hedges, a prominent war correspondent at the Times, was booed and forced to cut short his commencement address at Rockford College. He had delivered a diatribe against the United States and Israel that was not appreciated by the seniors graduating from this conservative Illinois college or by their parents. His microphone was turned off after he had spoken only three minutes, but he continued to speak to the audience which made its disagreement with his remarks evident. Hedges was subsequently interviewed by a left-wing Pacifica radio station, where he called the hostile Rockford students “morons.”

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