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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An example of how the NYT reports the news

This is a minor but telling example of the laziness of reporters.

An article by Robert Worth in the New York Times:
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered a fiery address on Monday accusing the United States government of orchestrating desecrations of the Koran by right-wing American Christian groups last weekend, Iranian state news agencies reported.

The speech appeared to be part of an effort by Iran’s hard-line leaders to amplify Muslim outrage over scattered gestures to burn or tear pages of the Koran, in the wake of the threat — later withdrawn — by Terry Jones, a Florida pastor, to burn the Koran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In Tehran, about 1,000 protesters chanting “Death to America” and “U.S. pastor must be killed” clashed with the police and threw stones at the Swiss Embassy, Reuters reported. The Swiss have handled American interests in Iran ever since the United States severed diplomatic relations with Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

After Iran’s state-owned Press TV ran reports about Koran desecrations in the United States, India blocked local cable operators from broadcasting the station in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where angry anti-American protests have taken place in recent days.

In his speech, Ayatollah Khamenei said “the leaders of the global arrogance” — a code for the United States among Iranian conservatives — had engineered the plot to desecrate the Koran, Press TV and other agencies reported. He added that “Zionist think tanks which hold the most influence in the United States government and its security and military organizations” were also involved.
In the fifth paragraph, Worth says that Khamanei "added" that Zionists were also, parenthetically, behind the Koran burning incident.

Where did he get this from? The esteemed reporter relied completely on the translation and context provided by Iran's PressTV, which said:
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has condemned the desecration of the Holy Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the US.

"Without a doubt, the leaders of the global arrogance engineered [this plot] and [were in charge of] the command room of these atrocities," the Leader said.

Ayatollah Khamenei added that "Zionist think-tanks which hold the most influence on the US government and its security and military organizations" were among the accomplices in the scenario.

Iran's ISNA reported on the speech as well. Here was their description:
The Islamic Revolution Leader said in a message to the Iranian nation and the entire Islamic Ummah that the Zionist circles within the US administration are the main conspirators of the sacrilege.

"The abhorrent and disgusting desecration of the Holy Quran took place in the US under protection of the American police. It is bitter and great event which cannot be regarded as a practice done by several idiots and lackeys. But, is a calculated action by the circles which have launched propaganda to promote Islamophobia and anti-Islamic campaign and have resorted to several hundred methods and thousands propaganda means to fight Islam and Quran," Ayatollah Khamenei said.

"It is another ring from the disgraceful chain which began by apostate Salman Rushdie's treason and followed by the dastardly Danish caricaturist and tens of anti-Islam movies produced in Hollywood."

"It has reached the current abhorrent play. What or who are behind the shameful moves? Study of the villain process of criminal events taking place in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Pakistan leaves no doubt that designing such schemes and the think-tanks are in the hands of the leaders of hegemonic system and Zionists who have the most influence on the US government and its security and military organs and on the British and several other European governments as well," Islamic Revolution Leader said.
In this case, the "Zionist" influence is at least on par with (and probably indistinguishable from) the US leaders accused of being behind the Terry Jones incident.

The Gulf Times provides a little more context:

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday called the plan to burn the Qur’an “an insane and hateful” act and blamed “the Zionists working within the American government” for masterminding it.

“With deceiving and half-empty words, the leaders of the American regime cannot acquit themselves of ... accompanying this ugly act,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television.

“To prove its claim of not being involved ... the American government should appropriately punish the main figures behind this great crime,” he added.

Top Iranian officials have issued harsh criticism over the issue, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad even saying the US pastor’s bid to burn the holy book was a “Zionist plot” that would lead to the speedy “annihilation” of Israel.

“Zionists and their supporters are on their way to collapse and dissolution and such last-ditch actions will not save them, but multiply the pace of their fall and annihilation,” state television quoted Ahmadinejad as saying on Friday.
The Friday statement by Ahmadinejad primarily blaming "Zionists" was never reported by the New York Times.

Robert Worth read a single source - Iran's English-language PressTV - and used that as the basis of his report. He apparently did not spend any time to double-check whether the PressTV account was accurate, what the original speech said in Farsi, what the larger political context was (the Gulf Times article properly spoke about how two top Iranian clerics called on anyone desecrating the Koran to be killed, for example. Another quote that would have provided context is here.) While the words he quoted were abhorrent already, Worth could have spent thirty minutes more to have written a more accurate article showing the insane hate that spews out of Iranian political and religious leaders on a daily basis.

Instead, he grabbed a single source, wrote a poor piece that downplayed what Khamenei said and ignored what everyone else said on the matter.

In this section of the article, Worth did no original research, nor did he even make an effort to even verify his single source. (He added an unrelated three paragraphs about a new Iranian crackdown on dissidents which surely should have been its own article, but blame for that lies with the NYT editors, not with Worth.)

This is not reporting. This is the mindless copying of material that has already been edited by someone else and made to fit in an already-existing narrative.

And the New York Times represents the best in American journalism today.