Update: And there's none forthcoming...see the email from the L.A. Times below. I wrote earlier in the week about Los Angeles Times media critic Tim Rutten's attempt to weigh in on the Beauchamp story with this piece that was riddled with factual errors. Rutten described the disfigured woman Beauchamp claimed to have mocked as Iraqi--even in Beauchamp's imagination she was always American. Rutten said the editor at TNR had conceded that the story was "concocted." It is, but they haven't, choosing instead to shift its location to Kuwait. Rutten claimed TNR had been unable to communicate with Beauchamp. This is obviously untrue, they've been able to communicate with Beauchamp, they've just refrained from communicating the substance of those conversations to their readers. And finally, Rutten accused Drudge of reporting the existence of a "Memorandum for Record" and not posting a copy of it. Of course, Drudge did post a copy of it, but Rutten failed to read all the documents before filing his sorry excuse for a column. Since then, a number of bloggers have pointed out these serious factual errors, including Bob Owens, Mickey Kaus, and Patterico. Patterico has even taken the time to help Rutten craft a correction:
In an October 27 column, Tim Rutten wrote that the editors of The New Republic had been "unable to communicate with" Scott Thomas Beauchamp since an Army spokesman had denied the existence of a signed statement by Beauchamp disavowing his piece. As Rutten's column stated, editors from The New Republic claim to have spoken to Beauchamp at least three times since August 7, when the Army spokesman issued the denial. In the same column, Rutten wrote that "the magazine determined that the incident involving the disfigured woman was concocted and corrected that . . ." In fact, the magazine did not determine that the incident was "concocted," but admitted only that the incident took place in Kuwait, and not Iraq. In the same column, Rutten wrote that Beauchamp had "described the ridicule of a disfigured Iraqi woman . . ." In fact, the woman has never been described as Iraqi. Rutten also said that Beauchamp "described . . . attempts to run over stray dogs with Bradley fighting vehicles . . ." In fact, Beauchamp actually described three incidents in which military personnel had killed stray dogs. In the same column, Rutten wrote that Matt Drudge had failed to provide a link to a purported "Memorandum for Record" signed by Beauchamp. Drudge did in fact provide such a link, but later took it down.
Patterico reports that he has been in touch with the paper's "readers representative," Jamie Gold, and I have as well. Gold recently sent me a note explaining that he was "checking with the reporter and editor and will get back to you as soon as possible." That was yesterday, I'd sent him a note the day before that, and Rutten's column appeared last Friday. So it's now nearly a week that the Times has knowingly allowed a number of factual inaccuracies to stand uncorrected. The New Republic's investigation into Beauchamp's tall tales has lasted more than four months and shows no signs of coming to an end anytime soon. Rutten is obviously a fan of Foer's approach, but one would hope that "the editors" at the Times are slightly more serious about accuracy and integrity than their peers at the New Republic. Update: Los Angeles Times reader representative Jamie Gold just emailed the WWS a note explaining that the Times believes that Rutten's column is error-free. Here is the full text of the email:
L.A. Times columnists, Rutten among them, are encouraged to use their columns as forums for their fact-based assessments of news events. His assessments might not match yours, but that doesn't mean that his assessments warrant correction. (By the way, you might disagree with his opinion column but he did base it on having read the materials that you suggest he was unfamiliar with.) The chief allegation of error that you seem to make is that Rutten erred in writing that "Drudge provided links to the transcripts and report but not to the purported 'Memorandum for Record.'" You wrote that this is wrong because "the memorandum was appended to the second portion of the transcript." Rutten's assessment is that it was not clear that the memo at the end of the military officer's report/summary is the same one to which Drudge's original post referred. The columnist's thinking: Drudge lists it apart from the final document, but -- as Rutten wrote -- Drudge provides no link, nor does he say it can be found at the end of the report, seeming to indicate possession of another document, but providing no link. I don't believe that Rutten's column warrants correction on that point. As to points made by Bob Owens: The July essay did not refer to the disfigured woman specifically as Iraqi. However, Rutten inferred from the fact that she was there (vs. being sent home as a U.S. soldier or civilian would be) that she is Iraqi. Rutten referred to the Bradleys as trying to run over stray dogs, vs. kill the dogs, but I'm not seeing that point as factually wrong (I don't believe that a reader thinks that a Bradley trying to run over dogs is different from a Bradley trying to kill dogs). As to whether the magazine "determined that the incident involving the disfigured woman was concocted and corrected" it, as the column said: Rutten's point is that, as a scene in Iraq, it was "concocted" in that it never happened there. The magazine corrected it, which means editors admit that it never happened there. Obviously this is a controversial issue that has given rise to a good amount of interest and greater number of opinions. I'm sorry that you feel so strongly that your differences in interpretation are points that need correcting, vs. points of interpretation of various facts. Thanks again for writing. Jamie Gold Readers' Representative
At the end of the day, it's up to each institution to set its own standards for accuracy. If the editors at the Times are comfortable with Rutten's explanation that it was unclear to him that the "Memorandum for Record" described by Drudge, and linked to by Drudge, can not be clearly identified as the "Memorandum for Record" because it was not linked separately, that's their prerogative. But to anyone not drawing a salary from the L.A. Times, it's obvious he didn't read the documents all the way through. Also, Gold's, and by extension Rutten's, explanation about his exclusive discovery that Beauchamp's mysterious disfigured woman was Iraqi is . . . creative. Maybe if we go to grad school some day, we'll learn how to find hidden meaning in texts. Missing is any excuse for the paper's failure to correct the Rutten whopper that "Beauchamp has remained in Iraq with his unit and the magazine has been unable to communicate with him" since August. Even the New Republic--which like Lewis Carroll's queen believes six impossible things before breakfast when it comes to defending Beauchamp--doesn't believe this. That the Times would reduce all these errors to a mere difference of opinion is fascinating, and not a good sign for those who still root for the survival of traditional newspapers.
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