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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Rex Smith responds re: Jimmy Massey 
The publisher of the Albany Times Union has graciously forwarded me the text of this column by Rex Smith, the editor whose resignation I had called for on this blog.

Unfortunately, the link they sent me is broken, and I can't find it by Googling text phrases or by searching their Website (it doesn't have a search function, apparently.)

Because I believe Rex Smith deserves the chance to defend himself on his own terms, I'm taking the liberty of posting his column below:




Section: Main / Page: A15 / Date: Sunday, November 6, 2005

Massey misled, and newspapers followed

By REX SMITH

When Jimmy Massey spoke at Siena College eight months ago, he seemed to
present a powerful argument against the war in Iraq. In fact, though, he was
offering a lesson in journalism, one that many news organizations, including
the Times Union, clearly need to hear.

As the accompanying story reports, Massey, who spent 12 years in the Marine
Corps, told sensational stories about American atrocities in Iraq - all of
which are apparently untrue. Ron Harris, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter
who has tracked down Massey's claims, found that the former Marine
recruiter's words were reported by media outlets worldwide, including this
newspaper, without attempts to verify them.
Not one reporter called the five journalists who were embedded with Massey's
battalion, including Harris, to check his claims. The Associated Press, for
example, filed three stories about Massey, but no one checked out his tales
with the AP reporter who traveled with Massey's unit.

How could this happen? What does it say about journalism?

When Massey spoke March 8 before some three dozen people at Siena, a young
reporter spending a few months in our newsroom on a Hearst Fellowship was
dispatched to file a report on deadline. His 629-word story essentially
accepted Massey's words at face value, although it noted Massey's
"incendiary rhetoric" linking torture in American-run prisons with Nazi
death camps, and reported some listeners didn't buy Massey's view. There was
no comment from the Marine Corps, which might have disputed Massey's
accounts.

Was that journalism to be proud of? Certainly not. But it is typical of
stories filed every day by journalists confronting deadlines, whether they
are reporting on anti-war activists or members of the president's cabinet.
The false prewar claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as well
as the false accounts of Jimmy Massey about warriors' misdeeds, both make it
clear that not every deception is caught. Sometimes the first rough draft of
history, as journalism is often characterized, needs revision - which,
fortunately, Ron Harris is doing.

We owe our readers more than stenography, but that's all a story reporting
just what somebody said amounts to. The young reporter who covered Massey's
appearance here gave readers an account of what he saw and heard that was
factual, but facts alone don't comprise journalism. That's why people who
urge journalists to simply tell them the facts, then stand aside to let
readers draw conclusions, miss the point: Facts often lie.

By failing to dig beneath the surface of Massey's story, the Times Union,
along with so many other news organizations, didn't deliver the full truth.

Unfortunately, neither did Ron Harris, the reporter who has exposed Massey's
lies.

Harris interviewed me, as he apparently did a lot of other editors. I spoke
with him at length. In a separate story on how the press handled the Massey
matter, however, he has quoted me in a way that makes it seem as though I
accept such slipshod journalism as inevitable. Anyone who has read my weekly
column in the Saturday paper would think otherwise, I hope.

Yet I am left to wonder: Given more time to produce our story or deeper
thinking before publication, would we have offered a more truthful account,
one that raised questions about Massey's presentation?

I hope so. But a story that simply quoted Massey describing atrocities and a
Marine Corps spokesman denying them wouldn't have presented a full view of
the truth, either. That sort of back-and-forth leaves readers to scratch
their heads and wonder where reality lies.

Journalists are obligated to perform deep reporting, of the sort Harris did
to disprove Massey's claims. That's hard to do on deadline, but it's
ultimately what readers need. And while more of that kind of reporting is
done nowadays than ever before, the Massey matter shows us that the truth
remains, as always, an elusive commodity.

When we fail to deliver that truth, we owe readers an apology, which I offer
you today.

Comments:
That's why people who urge journalists to simply tell them the facts, then stand aside to let readers draw conclusions, miss the point: Facts often lie.

The problem with this statement is that there were no facts in Massey's story - they were unsubstantiated assertions. Had the reporter goten the facts, that Massey's stories were uncorraborated, and flatly disputed by other sources, then the reader would have come to the correct conclusion, that Massey would be a Democrat Presidential contender in 2024.
 
" In a separate story on how the press handled the Massey matter, however, he has quoted me in a way that makes it seem as though I accept such slipshod journalism as inevitable."

And that's precisely the impression he gives with this apologia, right up to the point where he lamely asserts that he doesn't. Twonk.
 
'Harris didn't tell the whole truth about me not telling any of the truth. Massey was in Iraq!'
Big-ass Crybaby.
 
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