New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt has written a dissection of the paper’s front-page story on Guantanamo “recidivism,” concluding the May 21 piece was “seriously flawed and greatly overplayed.”
The story, which originally ran under the headline “1 In 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds,” was the subject of an “editors’ note” Friday walking back several of its claims.
Hoyt writes today: the story “demonstrated again the dangers when editors run with exclusive leaked material in politically charged circumstances and fail to push back skeptically.”
He adds the errors in the Gitmo story — which has been cited by Dick Cheney — are “especially unfortunate” in light of the Times pre-Iraq war reporting record.
Times DC Bureau Chief Dean Baquet rejected any argument that the two episodes were of equal significance in an interview with TPMmuckraker last week, calling such a comparison “ludicrous.”
We learn a few new facts from Hoyt about the tick-tock of the Times’ editing and reporting process. For example, Executive Editor Bill Keller ordered the alterations to the online version of the story, removing the prominent use of the “returned” phrasing, after a colleague disputed that language.
And the reporter, Elisabeth Bumiller, only got a temporary look at the study (which we’ve posted here), and she didn’t think the distinction between suspected and confirmed cases of “recidivism” among Gitmo detainees was a “big issue.” That accounted for the difference between a rate of 5% (confirmed) and a rate of 14% (the two categories combined).
Finally, there’s this choice detail dug up by Hoyt, which gives a sense of just how flimsy these DOD reports can be:
In 2007, three men were listed because they participated in an anti-Guantánamo film. … Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the reports represent the best information the government has at the time and that it changes. He said that just appearing in a film would no longer be considered a return to the battlefield.