Wen Ho Sloppiness
September 27, 2000
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You might expect that, after running a highly unusual and lengthy editor's note that publicly regretted aspects of its handling of the Wen Ho Lee story, the New York Times would take extra-special care to make sure that its next news story about the Lee case was letter-perfect. Well, the Times waddles back into the story today with a front-page dispatch that is riddled with sloppiness.
Most outrageous is a headline that runs with the continuation of the article inside the paper. The headline reads, "Reno and Freeh Still Insisting That Los Alamos Scientist Committed Crime." Beyond the redundancy of "still insist" (someone call William Safire's Squad Squad), the headline suggests that that there is still some doubt about whether Lee committed a crime. In fact, that point is settled. Mr. Lee pleaded guilty to a felony. What is the Times getting at here? It sounds like the Times editors wanted the full headline to read, "Reno and Freeh Still Insisting That Los Alamos Scientist Committed Crime, Even After Yesterday's Editor's Note In The Times Acknowledging Regrets About Newspaper's Coverage."
Even if the Times editors are still insisting that there's nothing wrong with the "Still Insisting" headline, they've got to acknowledge it is sloppy in today's story to keep switching the honorific for "a former top government nuclear weapons designer," John L. Richter. The first four times Richter appears in the story, he is "Mr." Richter; the final two references are to "Dr." Richter. What, was the guy awarded a medical degree exactly two-thirds of the way through his interview with the Times?
The Times story in my New York edition also contains the following glitch: "Mr. Richter's comments came after pullback came after T.J. Gauthier, the deputy Energy secretary, said at the hearing. . ." The sentence needs either the word "comments" or the word "pullback" but not both, and it only needs the words "came after" once.
Other than the headline, this stuff is fairly minor, and would be unexceptional, except for the fact that, the day after running the long self-flagellating article about its own coverage, you might expect that the Times would take extra-special care to get everything right the next day.
Smoke 'Em With Your Parents: A column on the New York Times education page today criticizes school programs designed to educate students against illegal drugs. Here is the Times columnist's parenting advice: "Parents should insist that children have safe places to go with friends and that they know not to drive when 'high.' But threats of parental suicide and heartbreak may lead to secret experimentation in risky settings or with friends that parents neither know or approve."
This is a classic. How would the Times like children to experiment with drugs, if not in "secret"? Does it want the kids to toke up at the kitchen table with mom watching? Does the Times's attitude toward such experimentation extend to tobacco smoking or only to illicit narcotics? Times editorials and news stories have demonized the tobacco industry for encouraging tobacco use among children, but now we have a Times columnist encouraging parents to encourage their children to smoke dope, as long as the children don't drive and as long as it is in the company of friends that the parents approve of. How are the parents supposed to make sure that their children's drug use is done in the company of approved friends? Should mom invite the child's "approved" buddies over to get high around the kitchen table? At what age should this parentally endorsed drug-use start? There may be problems with drug abuse prevention policies in this country, but the Times-Cali Drug Cartel approach to parenting seems a less-than-ideal solution.
Wrong Photos: The business section of the Times today miscaptions the photos of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judges Harry Edwards and David Sentelle, thus accomplishing an implicit race and ideology transplant, since Judge Edwards is black and liberal while Judge Sentelle is white and constantly under fire as too friendly with Jesse Helms. Walter Olson of Overlawyered.com noticed this and pointed it out to Smartertimes.com.
Wrong Wattage: A story in the metro section of today's Times reports on a new Spanish-language news radio station launching in New York. The story reports that the station will broadcast at 5,000 "megawatts," and that other, larger stations, transmit at 50,000 megawatts. As an astute Smartertimes.com reader, Bill Schweber, in Newton, Mass. points out, "No way! A megawatt is a million watts, and the maximum allowed for any station is 50,000 watts." The Times should have said watts, not megawatts.
Late Again: The Times national section reports today that the American government is suing Harvard University for damages in connection with a project in Russia by the Harvard Institute for International Development. That's old news to readers of the Wall Street Journal, which carried an article about the planned suit yesterday on page A4.
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