These days, finding New York Times lies and cover-ups is like shooting fish in a barrel, but Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mike Beidler has told me about one fish story too obnoxious to pass up.
Beidler, on his way to Iraq in January, was walking with his family toward the end of Naval Station Pier 2 in San Diego when the Times' Charlie LeDuff asked him for his view of war protesters. Beidler recalls offering a couple of sentences defending the rights of protesters and stating his hope that they offer reasonable solutions.
The article LeDuff wrote, though, had Beidler attacking a complacent United States: "It's war, Commander Beidler said, and the nation is fat. ‘No one is screaming for battery-powered cars,' he added." The journalist then turned in his article to Beidler wife, Christal: "'I'm just numb,' she said as she patted down his collar. ‘I'll cry myself to sleep, I'm sure.'"
Beidler was at sea when he discovered how far at sea the Times' reporting was, but he sent off a letter to the editor stating what he had said and arguing that the quotes about national fatness and battery-powered cars "were completely fabricated by Mr. LeDuff in order to connect our nation's dependence on oil with the current military buildup in the Middle East."
Beidler also stated, "Mr. LeDuff continued his shameful behavior by attributing words and actions to my wife that were not her own. Not only did she not say she would cry herself to sleep, but she didn't pat down my collar, either, which was impossible for her to accomplish with my civilian shirt hidden under my jacket and a duffle bag hanging on my shoulder closest to her."
In February, Times senior editor Bill Borders informed Beidler that he had "thoroughly looked into your complaint." He passed along a note from LeDuff, who wrote that he was disturbed that Beidler is "carrying bad feelings about me ... but I remember things very differently."
LeDuff's note stated: "I asked Mr. Beidler if he had heard of anyone screaming about battery powered cars, and he said no he hadn't heard anyone screaming about battery powered cars. Next, I don't quote him as saying America is at war or fat, but I rightly characterized our conversation as such. Perhaps his anger lies there. Finally, I asked his wife if she had cried that morning, she said no, that she was numb and would probably cry herself to sleep that night."
What to make of this dispute? One minor detail: LeDuff does not deny making up Mrs. Beidler's collar-patting. Another minor detail: LeDuff quoted Mrs. Beidler as saying, "I'll cry myself to sleep, I'm sure," but LeDuff in his defensive memo substitutes "probably" for the emphatic "I'm sure." A major detail: The most LeDuff can say in his own defense is that he asked Beidler a question about battery powered cars and Beidler didn't rise to the bait.
When reporters and those they quote disagree about what was said and in what context, here's a useful test: See whether the disputed quotations and characterizations fit neatly into a publication's agenda. The neater the fit, the more likely the reporter used real people as stage props. In this case, the Jan. 18 LeDuff story mirrored the anti-Iraq-war position of the Times' editorial pages, which suggested the war was a war for oil that is not even truly needed.
Senior editor Borders concluded that LeDuff "thinks that he accurately represented his interview with you and your wife, and therefore so do I. ... If you have another encounter some day with The New York Times, I hope its outcome is more satisfactory to you."
Beidler wrote back: "I will never again allow a reporter from The New York Times to interview me or a member of my family. There will be no opportunity for ‘another encounter' and no chance for your paper to rise above the reputation you've established in my eyes."