This story from the Columbia Journalism Review covers the issue of media uncuriosity about Bush administration incompetence and malfeasance, especially vis-a-vis the Iraq war, so thoroughly that uncuriousgeorge.org has elected to feature it in this special page.
CJR September/October 2006 - Failures of Imagination
Columbia Journalism Review
Failures of Imagination
By Eric Umansky
Eric Umansky, formerly a columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey fellow in the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. CJR gratefully acknowledges support for this article from the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.
This 9,300-word article details the uncurious U.S. media neglect of the many abuse scandals of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody. The entire article could appear right here on this page, but instead we excerpt various sentences that show editorial incuriosity or active media suppression of a huge story.
There is so much more here. Read the whole thing!
- Gall filed a story, on February 5, 2003, about the deaths of Dilawar and another detainee. It sat for a month. . . .
- Doug Frantz, then the [New York] Times’s investigative editor and now the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, says Howell Raines, then the Times’s top editor, and his underlings “insisted that it [U.S. torture-murder of Iraqi prisoners] was improbable;. . . .”
- The skepticism back in 2003 about Gall’s findings wasn’t limited to the Times. The evidence of homicides got only a short mention on CNN and a brief write-up inside The Washington Post. The biggest follow-up came not in any American paper but in the Sunday Telegraph of London.
- “There was no great urge to follow up,” Gall says. “Nobody went to the doorstep of the pathologist or anything like that, until of course Abu Ghraib.
- . . . in the post-9/11 days, some reporters offered detailed accusations and reports of abuse and torture, only to be met with skepticism by their own editors. Stories were buried, played down, or ignored. . . .
- What’s striking, though, isn’t simply the lack of follow-up but that so few tried. Unlike the ACLU, for example, almost no reporters filed FOIA requests about the detainee system. (The one apparent exception was an enterprising reporter at The New York Sun named Josh Gerstein, who actually beat the ACLU to the punch but had his FOIA request dismissed on a technicality.)
- [AP special correspondent Charles] Hanley’s story [based on interviews of six former Abu Ghraib prisoners, before the photos were published] garnered almost no notice when it appeared in November 2003, except overseas. The most prominent attention, Hanley recalls, was in Stern, the German weekly. “After I published,” he says, “I assumed other people would follow up. That’s what really surprised me.”
- When the [Abu Ghraib] photos did surface, they couldn’t be ignored. But they weren’t immediately treated as big news, either.
- What came next was less a media storm than scattered sprinkles. The New York Times covered the story of the photos on page 15, the Los Angeles Times on page 8, and The Washington Post on page 24, though none chose to publish the photos themselves. The photos should have made for compelling TV coverage, but there was no avalanche of coverage there either. Only NBC and, obviously, CBS had segments on the photos the day after.
- The morning after that [Graham-Levin-Kyl] amendment passed, only one major paper, The New York Times, gave it front-page treatment, and it simply wasn’t mentioned on the network news.
- “I don’t think the media were connecting the dots,” says Marc Falkoff, a law professor at Northern Illinois University who represents seventeen Yemenis detained at Guantanamo. “They never realized” that the McCain bill “gave the detainees a right, but without a remedy.”
- . . . most news outlets, with the notable exception of The Boston Globe, ignored [the implications of President Bush’s signing statement on the McCain bill].
- It’s true that the existence of a “number of secret detention centers overseas” was first revealed by the Post — but the revelation came three years earlier.
- Coming just six months after 9/11, Chandrasekaran says the article [he wrote in 2001 about a secret CIA plane that was used for “extraordinary rendition”] “got very little interest. A year, two years later, I started getting calls saying, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ And that includes my own paper [The Washington Post].”
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