NY Times Goofs Again

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Mar 23, 2006 8:16 AM

Even Editor&Publisher is writing about the NYT these days with a tone of incredulity that matches many conservative bloggers:

For the second time in less than a week, The New York Times today admitted to a serious error in a story. On Saturday it said it had misidentified a man featured in the iconic "hooded inmate" photograph from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Today it discloses that a woman it profiled on March 8 is not, in fact, a victim of Hurricane Katrina--and was arrested for fraud and grand larceny yesterday.

As it did in the Abu Ghraib mistake, the Times ran an editors' note on page 2 of its front section, along with a lengthy news article (this time on the front page of Section B). Again mirroring the Abu Ghraib episode, the newspaper revealed a surprising and inexplicable lapse in fact-checking on the part of a reporter and/or editor.

You can just hear, "can you guys please pull it together? You're embarrassing us," behind the prose.

This was the sob story the Times was trying to sell (That is, conveniently for the Times, a $ link. I'm trying to paste the rest of the story into the extended entry for you so you can appreciate the enormity of the mistake, but I can't get it to work. I'll keep trying.):

Donna Fenton no longer consults the scrap of paper in her pocketbook when she needs the phone number for the Red Cross, or New York City's welfare office, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. ''I know them all by heart,'' said Ms. Fenton, 37, who left Biloxi, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home there. ''I call them every day. That's my job.''


She starts in the morning, calling from the rooms she and her family share at a Ramada hotel near La Guardia Airport, or from the hotel's basement conference room. She knows what numbers will lead to someone helpful and the ones that will plunge her into a thicket of indifference or incomprehension. She keeps going for hours, sometimes until 3 o'clock the next morning.

The days and nights can blur together, a fog of dial tones, beige wallpaper and overly cheerful automated voices. ''Everything they asked for, I sent in,'' she said. ''I sent it in the second time, and then I sent it in a third time.''

What she wants, she says, is enough money to move into a new apartment in New York, so she can begin anew the life that Katrina ripped apart. ''It wasn't like we had any luxuries,'' she said. ''But we were scraping by.''

Oops:

The police arrested a Queens woman yesterday, saying she had falsely claimed to be a victim of Hurricane Katrina and had taken thousands of dollars in aid from state and federal agencies.

The woman, Donna Fenton, 37, was charged by Brooklyn prosecutors with several counts of welfare fraud and grand larceny, the latest additions to a long record of fraud, arrests and legal disputes stretching from Mississippi to New York...

Ms. Fenton was the subject of an article in The New York Times on March 8, more than a month after Brooklyn prosecutors, prompted by suspicious officials at the city's welfare agency, began investigating her...

The Times did not verify many aspects of Ms. Fenton's claims, never interviewed her children, and did not confirm the identity of the man she described as her husband.

The NY police had been investigating her for a month. She had a string of other offenses and arrests that could easily have been discovered in public records. The Times didn't even go so far as to verify that the woman had the children she claimed she did. Why check the story if the narrative already, so conveniently tells the story you want told?

This would be considered an extraordinary screw-up and embarrassment at any newspaper. The tiniest weekly would discipline its reporter, mourn for the credibility lost, and apologize profusely to its readers.

At the NY Times, this is commonplace. And, they let the same reporter who goofed on the original story write the follow-up. That seems like a bad practice. So much for any disciplining.

They should really start listening to advice:

Third, I'd stop insulting readers. As Malone notes, many newspapers lean left; they're out of touch, as numerous surveys demonstrate, with the attitudes of most Americans. Often, like George Clooney (spokesman for another declining industry), they celebrate this disconnect. They shouldn't. People don't like being preached to, or manipulated, and they are increasingly unwilling to pay for that now that they have alternatives. So stop; give them the news, with as little bias as possible.