Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Washington Post this morning gives major play this morning to an attack of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) on the website of the (until now) obscure Cybercast News Service. It accuses
Murtha-- who had won eight military awards, including a Bronze star, and a Distinguished Service Medal of the United States Marine Corps, for his 37 years of military service-- of purportedly saying that he had not deserved to win two Purple Hearts also awarded him for his service during the Vietnam war.

The Post story, by reporters Howard Kurtz and Shallagh Murray, quotes extensively David Thibault, the editor in chief of the (who ever heard of them before the Washington Post decided to give them such prominence?) Cybercast News Service, as saying that Murtha's medals from 1967 are relevant now "because the congressman has really put himself in the forefront of the antiwar movement."

But the article tells us very little about Thibault himself. Had the reporters done a simple Internet search, they would have discovered this biography of Thibault posted online which describes him as a "senior producer for a televised news magazine" broadcast and sponsored by the Republican National Committee. I dunno, but I for one, would have wanted to know that.

Thibault's background and those engaging in the Swiftboating of Murtha would be relevant to any news story on this issue, I would think.

And so would some independent examination by the Post as to whether there is even any veracity to the charges.

The New York Times takes a day or two, or longer, before doing stories like this, as do other papers. They tend to examine the motives and backgrounds of those making such charges, and whether or not they have any basis in fact. That's how the Times handled the allegations that swirled around John Kerry's war service.

The Post's news ethic tends more towards that simply because an allegation is made it should be reported. To do otherwise, some editors of the newspaper argue, would mean putting aside one's objectivity. But simply giving prominent play to allegations that might or might not turn out to be true at some later day seems to me to be subjectivity by some other name.

Update: 5:20 P.M., Saturday night: The Post article in amplifying the allegations of the Cybercast News Service, also, in turn quotes an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

The article included a 1996 quote from Harry Fox, who worked for former representative John Saylor (R-Pa.), telling a local newspaper that Murtha was "pretending to be a big war hero" Fox, who lost a 1974 election to Murtha, said the 38-year old Marine veteran had asked Saylor for assistance in obtaining the Purple Hearts because the office believed he lacked adequate evidence of his

What the Post leaves out of its story is that Saylor is deceased, and well, has been for some time now. (Saylor died way back in 1973, something that the Cybercast "News" Service, noted in their news story-- not to impugn their reporting practices.) In short, the Washington Post is relying on something said by a person with an axe to grind (Fox), who is quoting someone who is deceased (but who the newspaper forgot to tell you is deceased.) But it is even somewhat worse than that: the Post is quoting the ever-so-reliable and unbiased Cybercast News Service, which is quoting a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, which includes an allegation by Fox... who is citing someone now deceased.

Makes you want to drop a dime to Howie Kurtz! But alas, Kurtz wrote the story. Oh well.

Second update, 10:50 P.M., Saturday Night: In my original post, I mistakenly reported that Rep. Murtha won a Silver Star and two Bronze stars. Instead, he won a Bronze Star; a Distinguished Service Medal of the United States Marine Corps, and six other military awards for his 37 years of service with the Marine Corp. Apologies to my readers. A complete list of Murtha's military awards can be found here.

Third update, 12:43 P.M.: It gets worse. At a blogger, I am only an amateur at best. Jane Hamsher who knows how to do it right, and better than anyone else, has some new information. A natural born blogger! Jane very importantly points out that Cybercast never even actually interviewed Harry Fox.

Jane quotes the website as saying: "Cybercast News Service attempted to contact Fox for this article, but learned that the health of the 81-year-old was too poor to allow him to communicate."

So if I understand this correctly, regarding the purported allegations by the late Rep. Saylor that Rep. Murtha did not deserve his Purple Hearts, the Washington Post is relying on the reporting of the Cyercast News Service, which is in turn is relying on comments made years ago by Harry Fox, who is in turn is quoting the late Congressman Saylor-- who died all the way back in 1973. The Post should have done a much better job of making this clear in their story-- in my humble opinion-- if they should have even published a story at all.

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