Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (CJR Daily Jumps the Shark Edition)
How Bad Is Wal-Mart's Image?

Eric Umansky on Journamalism and Torture by American Soldiers in Iraq (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

In comments, Nathan points out that true balance requires that--in the middle of trashing Columbia Journalism Review for economic illiteracy and shoddy reporting practices--I point to the highly-intelligent and reliable Eric Umansky's truly excellent "Failures of Imagination" in the September/October 2006 Columbia Journalism Review:

CJR September/October 2006 - Failures of Imagination: Carlotta Gall was curious. It was early December 2002, and Gall, the Afghanistan correspondent for The New York Times, had just seen a press release from the U.S. military announcing the death of a prisoner at its Bagram Air Base. Soon thereafter the military issued a second release about another detainee death at Bagram.... Gall started calling the governors of provinces, she says, "asking if a family had received a body back from Bagram in their province." None had, but Gall did learn that U.S. forces had detained some suspects near the eastern border town of Khost.

She visited Khost and left empty-handed, but a few weeks later, she got another tip and traveled back. The body of one of the detainees had been returned, a young taxi driver known as Dilawar... a death certificate, written in English, that the military had issued. "It said, 'homicide,' and I remember gasping and saying, 'Oh, my God, they killed him,'" says Gall.... The press release announcing Dilawar's death stated that the taxi driver had died of a heart attack, a conclusion repeated by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, then-Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, whom Gall later cited as saying that Dilawar had died because his arteries were 85 percent blocked. ("We haven't found anything that requires us to take extraordinary action," McNeill declared.) But the death certificate, the authenticity of which the military later confirmed to Gall, stated that Dilawar -- who was just twenty-two years old -- died as a result of "blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease."

Gall filed a story, on February 5, 2003, about the deaths of Dilawar and another detainee. It sat for a month, finally appearing two weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "I very rarely have to wait long for a story to run," says Gall....

Gall's story, it turns out, had been at the center of an editorial fight.... "Detainees had been killed in custody. I mean, you can't get much clearer than that," remembers Roger Cohen, then the Times's foreign editor. "I pitched it, I don't know, four times at page-one meetings, with increasing urgency and frustration. I laid awake at night over this story. And I don't fully understand to this day what happened. It was a really scarring thing. My single greatest frustration as foreign editor was my inability to get that story on page one."...

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