Sunday's column by Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell shows the first small fruit of a long correspondence between Howell, myself and PostWatch reader Chris Alleva about a Nov. 4 story by Ann Scott Tyson, Youths in Rural U.S. Are Drawn To Military. The story's flavor was better conveyed in the subhed: Recruits' Job Worries Outweigh War Fears. Basically the nefarious military taking advantage of poor job-worried recruits.There are a number of ways to mangle a story like that, and I focused on one-- the fanciful description of a group called the National Priorities Project as:
a nonpartisan research group that analyzed 2004 recruiting data by Zip code.
As I said at the time, a quick check of NPP's website showed them to be anything but neutral, which is what the average reader would take from the word "nonpartisan." Hints included a Cost of War Clock, still ticking, with helpful links on what war funds could have otherwise been spent on including Pre-school, Kids' Health, World Hunger and Fluffy White Kittens.
I see this stuff all the time in the Post, which is why I started a blog, so I didn't pursue it further. Alleva did, writing Howell and sharply objecting to this misrepresentation. Alleva found other antiwar links, as did I, and though I can't do them justice at the moment they include the fact that NPP's data was acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request by one Peacework magazine, one of many non-nonpartisan factoids omitted from Tyson's story.
But I digress. I have to say two things: Howell has been nothing but cordial to yours truly, which I appreciate given the critical nature of PostWatch. And she's put a lot of work into this issue, regardless of whether we see any more explicit references to it in the Post.
But secondly, her brief reference to NPP is, as I say, pretty weak tea considering the nature of the Post's omission. And the original story stands without any kind of correction, clarification, or Editor's note.
We did not identify the National Priorities Project in a Nov. 4 front-page story about military recruiting, other than to describe it as a "nonpartisan research group." When I checked its Web site, it was clear that the group questions the war in Iraq. I called its public relations person and asked if the group is "liberal, left-leaning." "Sure," she said.
Look, NPP isn't just sitting in the corner by the fireplace, saying Gee, what about that war in Iraq? Good idea? Bad? They're campagining against it. Howell tells me in her conversation with NPP and a look at the website, she didn't see anything that justifies my description, but even my old Nov. 4 links would argue otherwise. Not to mention comments like this one from NPP Outreach Director Pamela Schwartz:
In the long tradition of the National Priorities Project turning data into action, NPP has just announced a major expansion of the NPP Database. With the addition of military recruitment data, we are once again highlighting the cost of war and militarism for local communities.
You know. She's just sayin.
I probably would have praised this column more than I am today--and perhaps I should, because for Pete's sake, PostWatch, she's saying "nonpartisan" wasn't right in a column titled The Sins of Leaving Something Unsaid--but for the following:
Several Post stories were written about Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and the resolution he offered in the House on withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Most of the stories used the word "immediate." I received a number of calls and e-mails -- perhaps politically motivated -- saying his statement did not call for immediate withdrawal.
An editor and I checked Murtha's Web site. While Murtha did use the word "immediately'' in his news release, both his House resolution and his news release had qualifiers. This was Murtha's language in the resolution: "The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date."
The news release said his plan calls for the Bush administration "to immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces."
While "immediately" wasn't wrong, it wasn't quite right, either. It would have been better to say "at the earliest practicable date" somewhere in the stories or to add the qualifiers.
But as I said to the ever-patient Howell in another email, the main problem in the Post's characterization of Murtha isn't calibrating exactly how immediate "immediate is," especially since Murtha's own statement at House.gov ends with IT IS TIME TO BRING THEM HOME. .
The problem is, instead, the false narrative of Murtha as a reliable Hawkish Democrat suddenly opposing the war.
And that will have to do before my battery dies at my Remote Secure Panera's.
Snow is falling, think Happy Christmas Thoughts. I was kidding when I said NPP's Cost of War Clock tells you how much could have been spent on Fluffy White Kittens, but I think it would be a fine addition.