May 24, 2003
by David Kopel
If you insist on reading syndicated New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, you might be better off reading her in the Rocky Mountain News rather than in the Times itself.
Consider her May 14 column. She wrote: "Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that al-Qaida was spent. 'Al-Qaida is on the run,' President Bush said last week. 'That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. . . . They're not a problem anymore.' "
Dowd chastised the president for his smug overconfidence about al-Qaida being "not a problem anymore," just days before al-Qaida pulled off a major bombing in Saudi Arabia.
The problem, however, is that Dowd used ellipses to completely change the meaning of the president's remarks. The president never claimed that al-Qaida was no longer a problem. Rather, he said that the al-Qaida leaders who had been killed or captured were no longer a problem. Here's the quote from his May 5 speech in Little Rock, Ark., without the ellipses: "Right now, about half of all the top al-Qaida operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they're not a problem anymore."
In the News' version of the Dowd column (which ran May 15), the paragraph with the distorted quote was not printed, although the phony paragraph did appear in other papers that run Dowd, such as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Kudos to TimesWatch.org, a daily on-line watchdog of the Times, which exposed the fake quote.
The irony of former Times scribe Jayson Blair having been hired and promoted in the name of "diversity" (as both Executive Editor Howell Raines and Blair himself have admitted) is that the Times has so little intellectual diversity. With the exception of token conservative William Safire and foreign policy analyst Thomas Friedman, the Times opinion page columnists are all predictable Upper West Side leftists - a far less diverse bunch than Washington Post columnists (who often appear in the News and The Denver Post), or the collection of the other diverse writers who run every day on the opinion pages of both papers.
The controversy over secondhand smoke is always in the news, and especially recently, since a smoking ban in restaurants is a major issue in the Denver mayor's race, and was the reason for a special election in Pueblo Tuesday. A couple of weeks ago, the British Medical Journal released a major new report on secondhand smoke, examining 39 years of data on more than 30,000 Californians in an American Cancer Society study.
The report found that there was no relationship between secondhand smoke and heart disease or lung cancer.
The Post gave this study appropriate coverage, with a Page 2 story from the Los Angeles Times. The article actually used more space for criticism of the report than for the report itself, but at least readers were informed that the report existed. The News did not cover the story. Readers who want to make up their own minds can read the study and a critique at bmj.com.
Last Sunday's Post carried a story from the Associated Press' Southeast regional writer, Allen G. Breed, headlined "Most charged with lynching in S.C. are black." The thesis of the AP article was a complaint that blacks were 29.5 percent of the state's population, but 63 percent of the people charged with lynching. In South Carolina and a few other states, "lynching" charges are frequently used for ordinary forms of multiple-person violence, such as gangsters assaulting someone.
The article allowed South Carolina law enforcement one sentence in self-defense, claiming that blacks are also charged with other violent crimes at a high rate. The article offered a litany of statistics about black lynching prosecutions in South Carolina.
It is ridiculous to infer discrimination simply because a particular group's prosecutions are not the same as the group's share of the total population. Males comprise about half the U.S. population, yet 83 percent of persons arrested for violent crime are male. Asians comprise more than 4 percent of the total population, but account for less than 2 percent of violent crime arrests, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. This does not mean that U.S. law enforcement is prejudiced against males or in favor of Asians.
Nationally, blacks are about 13 percent of the population, and about 42 percent of arrests for violent crime. I contacted the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, and was informed that, according to the report "Crime in South Carolina" by the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division, blacks accounted for 62 percent of violent crime arrests in South Carolina. Accordingly, there is nothing newsworthy or surprising in the fact that blacks were 63 percent of arrests for one particular type of violent crime.
According to the Tuskegee Institute, the last American lynching was perpetrated in 1964, and the AP article did raise a valid point about why ordinary crimes are being prosecuted as "lynching." An article less obsessed with race might have developed this point more thoroughly.