Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Time's Known Unknown Unknowns 
Here’s another good example of how major media outlets can get stung by what Don Rumsfeld would call their “unknown unknowns: the things they don’t know they don’t know.”

Time Magazine’s Brian Bennett and Michael Ware went above and beyond the call of duty to bring us this revealing look at the faces behind the insurgency in Iraq. It’s good, informative, well-reported stuff.

Again, though, Time apparently suffers from a lack of veterans in its fact-checking ranks back in the States. Otherwise they might have caught this:

“Encased in a green storage tube with a flip-lock lid, the weapon [apparently an 82mm mortar round] has liquid sloshing inside a bulbous head reeking with a putrid odor that burns the nostrils. The Russian markings on the weapon identify it as a TD-42 liquid, high-explosive mortar…[Abu Ali] is convinced that the mortar contains a highly lethal gas.”

Attention Time, Inc. editorial employees! Put down your complimentary lattes, folks, and listen up: A round is not the same thing as a mortar. You cannot use the two terms interchangeably.

These are the same guys who didn’t understand that helicopter flares don’t do anything to disrupt a shoulder-fired, unguided weapon like an RPG-7 or RPG-14.

This is a minor quibble with a really good piece, to be sure. But there’s no getting around the fact that Time’s man on the ground is no weapons expert. Or even a respectably knowledgable layman.

But this is the second time that he's been let down by a reporting and fact-checking staff in their mid-town Manhattan editorial offices Center that doesn't seem to include any military veterans, who would have caught and corrected the error in a heartbeat.

We know that. But it’s unknown if that’s unknown to Time. But it’s pretty clear that whether it’s a known unknown or an unknown unknown, they act as though they don’t know that they don’t know that.

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