February 25, 2004

NYT Columnist Watch

David Corn is writing about sloppy columnists and, incidentally, posing some pretty good questions:

"If a newspaper columnist writes articles that defy the reality reported by the paper's own correspondents, how should the paper's editors and publisher respond? Should they question the columnist's judgment and powers of evaluation? Should they print corrections? Columnists are certainly entitled to their views. They are free to speculate and suppose. They can draw--or suggest--connections that go beyond just-the-facts reporting. But [insert NYT columnist here] recent work--unburdened by factchecking, unchallenged by editors--shows he is more intent on manipulating than interpreting the available information."

Who is Corn talking about?



No, Safire!

Corn, playing gotcha with Safire, writes:

"But the last laugh (of derision) was on Safire. According to whom? The New York Times. Ten days after Safire's "smoking-gun" column, a page-one story by Douglas Jehl (the same Jehl whom Safire had hailed), reported that Ansar al-Islam "appears to be operating mostly apart from Al Qaeda, senior American officials say." Whoops.

Jehl's report continued: "Most significantly, the officials said, American intelligence had picked up signs that Qaeda members outside Iraq had refused a request from the group, Ansar al-Islam, for help in attacking Shi'ite Muslims in Iraq." Double whoops.

It seems that Zarqawi had asked for help, and bin Laden had said no. Is this how inseparable comrades-in-terrorism operate? Jehl's sources noted that al Qaeda's rebuff was "an indication of a significant divide between the groups." Now, as Jehl's sources said, it would be a mistake to consider al Qaeda's refusal to provide assistance as definitive evidence that the two outfits were at odds and unable to hook up in the future. "But, officials said, there are growing indications," Jehl wrote, "that the two groups are distinct and independent, and are embracing different tactics and agendas."

Corn's main beef? That Safire's op-ed runs afoul of his own paper's reporting, ie. Jehl's report showcases that there is no compelling evidence of an al Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam link.

Say it ain't so!

But, as this NYT article makes clear, it's Corn (not Safire) that appears to be ignoring some NYT reporting:

"Ansar al-Islam, whose name means Supporters of Islam, started in northern Iraq in 2001 as a merger of several militant Kurdish groups dissatisfied with the mainly secular policies of the two leading Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

After the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, in December 2001, many members of Al Qaeda working with the Taliban fled across Iran and eventually linked up with Ansar fighters in northeastern Iraq." [emphasis added]

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