Wednesday, October 31, 2007

LA Times is Trying, but not Succeeding

I have just read a very strange comment from the Readers’ Representative of the Los Angeles Times. It was in answer to a criticism of an LA Times writer, Timothy Rutten. Among many erroneous and unprofessional comments Rutten reported about criticisms of The New Republic’s “Baghdad Diarist” series, one stood out to me as characterizing the worst form of biased editorializing masquerading as “fact-based assessments of news events.”

The phrase, “fact-based assessments of news events,” is what the LA Times Readers’ Representative, Jamie Gold, says Tim Rutten does.

OK, then what were the facts Rutten based his assessments on?

Private Beauchamp, who wrote the “Baghdad Diarist” stories published by The New Republic, wrote about another Army private, a driver of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle:

He (the driver) slowed the Bradley down to lure the first kill in, and, as the diesel engine grew quieter, the dog walked close enough for him to jerk the machine hard to the right and snag its leg under the tracks. The leg caught, and he dragged the dog for a little while, until it disengaged and lay twitching in the road.

Then Private Beauchamp followed his first tale of dog killing with:

A dog that was lying in the street and bathing in the sun didn't have enough time to get up and run away from the speeding Bradley. Its front half was completely severed from its rear, which was twitching wildly, and its head was still raised and smiling at the sun as if nothing had happened at all.

Ms. Rutten, of the Los Angeles Times, wrote that (Army Pvt. Scott Thomas) Beauchamp described "… attempts to run over stray dogs with Bradley fighting vehicles…”

Challenged on the accuracy of what Rutten wrote, Jamie Gold, the LA Times Readers’ Representative explained:

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).

Ms. Gold, you are probably right that your readers don’t think “that a Bradley trying to run over dogs is different from a Bradley trying to kill dogs.” I don’t either.

But I do think “that a Bradley trying to run over dogs” or “a Bradley trying to kill dogs” are both different from a Bradley actually killing dogs.

Ms. Gold, don’t you understand that when you say you are “trying” to do something, as you did in both your examples, in either case does it logically follow that the reader would understand that dogs had been killed as a result?

Let me try to make it clear for you. I’ll type very slowly. Suppose I say “I’m trying to take that pretty lady to bed.” Would my readers conclude I slept with her because I said I was trying? No, they would be waiting for additional information, like: “I was trying to get her to sleep with me, but I struck out.”

So it is with trying to kill dogs with a Bradley, or trying to bed a pretty lady. Just because you’re trying, doesn’t mean you’re succeeding.

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