Times versus the Post


That is, the New York Times versus the Washington Post. What follows is a lesson I've constructed for myself. A writing lesson. A 'how to' and 'how not to' comparison of two articles on the same subject, namely, Newsweek's retraction of its Guantanamo Koran flushing story.

Or is that Qur'an? I can never decide whether or not I should use the apostrophized spellings. Whatever. But let's jump into the business at hand, much of which, I hope, will be self—explanatory, though I'll do my best to muck it up. Story headline:

NYT'Newsweek Says It Is Retracting Koran Report'  by Katharine Q. Seelye and Neil A. Lewis

WP'Newsweek Retracts Guantanamo Story'  by Howard Kurtz

According to the NYT, Newsweek is only 'saying' that it is retracting the 'Koran report.' Does this mean it really isn't doing a retraction? And why is it a 'report' and not a 'story' as the WP describes it? Is a report more authoritative than a story? If the 'Periscope' piece was a report, students nationwide have now a new yardstick by which to measure the length of their compositions for qualification as 'reports.' Also the choice of the adjective 'Koran' versus 'Guantanamo' is quite telling. Fascinating how so few words regarding the same subject can say such different things.

Lede paragraph:

NYT — After a drumbeat of criticism from the Bush administration and others, Newsweek magazine yesterday went beyond an apology it issued Sunday and retracted an article published May 1 that stated that American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had tried to rattle Muslim detainees by flushing a Koran down a toilet.

WP — Newsweek issued a formal retraction yesterday of the flawed story that sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan and other countries, after the magazine came under increasingly sharp criticism from White House, State Department and Pentagon officials.

Can you believe this? The NYT story is really about the Bush Administration's 'drumbeat of criticism' of  Newsweek! And Newsweek is being most noble by going 'beyond an apology it issued Sunday'! To top it all off, there, in the lede, the NYT repeats the falsity while not even mentioning the consequences of same. The WP attributes the criticism of the story in manner that leaves out the name of the NYT's embodiment of evil, 'Bush.' And they also specifically call the story 'flawed.' Doing a word search of the original NYT article yields zero hits on 'flaw.'


NYT — The carefully worded retraction came after the White House said the Newsweek article had damaged the image of the United States abroad. It reflected the severity of consequences that even one sentence in a brief news article can have at a time of intense anti—American sentiment overseas and political polarization, as well as extreme distrust of the mainstream media at home.

WP — The magazine's statement retracted its charge that U.S. military investigators had confirmed that an American interrogator at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet..."That story has damaged the image of the United States abroad and damaged the credibility of the media at home," (White House spokesman Scott) McClellan said in an interview. He said that Americans, including President Bush, "share in the outrage that this report was published in the first place."

The NYT article presents any damage to the image of the U.S. caused by the article as an allegation by the White House. And who believes anything the White House says? Why was, or is, the retraction be so 'carefully worded'? Should it have been carelessly worded? Why so much time describing the characteristics of the alleged retraction of an a—flawed report? I am fascinated by how much difference 'one sentence in a brief news article' can make 'at a time of intense anti—American sentiment overseas.' Here at home we have 'extreme distrust' of the MSM and 'political polarization.' The zeitgeist is to blame. Newsweek did no wrong. They just floated the story in hostile waters.

I could go on at length, but you get the idea.

I'm no great fan of the Washington Post. But I must compliment Howard Kurtz and his editors for writing a news story in the active voice, that, at least as far as I can tell, is factual and not riddled throughout with innuendo and leading descriptions as is the New York Times version. Whatever one thinks of a newspaper's editorial positions, or even the bent of 'news' articles, what one reads should, at a minimum, be decently written. The WP, at least in the instance of Mr. Kurtz, meets that standard. Ms. Seelye and Mr. Lewis, assuming their first names are, in fact, an accurate description of their respective genders, really should retake English Comp 101.

And readers, please be assured that I will gratiously consider any suggestions that I do likewise.

UPDATE: Wonder of wonders! The NYT rewrote the headline! It now comes up "Newsweek Retracts Account of Koran Abuse by U.S. Military." Wonder what else was changed?
This is so much fun. The NYT goes out of their way to make themselves a sitting duck, an easy target, a pushover, a...oh well, you get the idea.

Dennis Sevakis  5 17 05