Thursday, January 28, 2010

Direct conflict between major newspapers:
Who is calling the shots on the NYC terror trial?

5:53 PM  January 29 | Ken Bazinet of the NY Daily News stands firm and says Scott Shane got his “butt kicked” (see end of thread). But this is much more than a tiff between reporters. Analysis follows. – p.k.

10:55 AM  January 29 | Scott Shane of The New York Times says Ken Bazinet’s story in the NY Daily News “is wrong.”  Read about our conversation at the bottom of this thread. – p.k.

January 29, 12:56 AM | NOTE TO READERS: I began this story to document the slowness of the Times’ coverage of a huge national story that the Daily News ran with hours before, and which was broadcast to the globe by Drudge.

However, the story has changed; it is now about a direct conflict between the Daily News’ claim that Obama “ordered” Justice to change consider changing the trial venue, and the New York Times’ opposing claim that “Obama left the decision” to Justice.

Therefore, I have changed the headline from “The anvil heard everywhere but The New York Times” to read “Direct conflict between major newspapers: Who is calling the shots on the NYC terror trial?”

I will continue to follow up with reporters and make live updates to this thread. The story began at 10:33 PM; updates begin directly below and continue in sequence. – p.k.

January 28, 10:33 PM | Tonight at 8:04 PM, the New York Daily News published the news that Barack Obama had ordered the Department of Justice to consider other places to hold the KSM terror trial.

It’s 10:22 PM and The New York Times still has no mention of the story.  In fact, at 10:16 PM, the Times ran a brand new headline stating “Opposition to 9/11 Trial Increases in New York.”

They have phones and e-mail at the Times, so I tried them out.  At 9:39 PM, I sent an e-mail to the newsroom, the tip line, and the Executive and Managing Editors.  At 9:55 PM, I telephoned the newsroom and spoke to a very young-sounding man, who said they’d check this out.  I also used an online form to send a Web message directly to Scott Shane, who ran the 10:16 PM headline.  Still no response.

This follows remarks recently made by NYPD’s Ray Kelly -- remarks which I reported here, and which Fox News, The Washington Times and others quoted directly from my blog -- stating “we were not consulted” about the trial location.  My headline was furiously tweeted up until about a day ago.

So tonight, I’ll treat this post as a live thread, and continue to try and speak with someone at The New York Times.  Keep your eyes open here for details.  It’s 10:32 PM and still no mention from the Times.

10:46 PM | Just spoke to Valencia, another youngster in the national newsroom, giving her my name and the name of my blog.  She says they’re aware of the story, and that it has been recently updated online.  However, I know the story of which she speaks (see above) and inform her that, in fact, it makes no mention of Obama's order to the Justice Department to consider another location for the trial.

Valencia states that they're working on it, but that they’re in between editions.

I ask her when they’ll run the story, and she says, “Soon.”  “It’s part of another story,” she informs me.

[Damn; in mid-sentence I remember that I planned to ask to speak with someone senior.  If they don't run this soon I'll call back and do just that.  Back to Valencia.]

“Which story?” is this part of, I ask.  “Terror,” she replies.

Wow, that’s a little odd.  Is there another larger story about terror I don't know about, or is she just grasping for straws?

It’s 10:55 PM and now the story has been updated to read, “But Mr. Obama left any decision on moving the trial to the Justice Department, and administration officials said they had begun to discuss contingency plans for possible new locations."

It clearly does not say that Obama has ordered Justice to do anything, nor does it state that they’ve been talking tonight.  It doesn’t state when administration officials made the statement about new locations.  -- p.k.

11:06 PM | The Times updates the “Opposition” headline above to read “Administration Deliberates Site of 9/11 Trial.” Nothing new in the story; in fact it repeats the sentence that begins “But Mr. Obama left any decision…” So they're updating the site a bit sloppily, and still no word that Obama has issued any order.  -- p.k.

11:19 PM | I just hung up the phone after leaving a voicemail for the NY Daily News. I thought it was time to get their take on this discrepancy. Their tip line is a voicemail only, no live person. Tried another number but it did not answer at all, so I called back the tip line number.

I told them there was a clear discrepancy in their headline and the Times’ story. The Daily News states that Obama ordered Justice to consider a new location; the Times still states that Obama is leaving it up to them. I also requested that they reach one of the three authors listed, inform them of the discrepancy, and ask one of them to call me. I did not mention that I publish a blog.

The Times did correct the duplicate sentence, so their story is now more coherent.  -- p.k.

11:33 PM | I just sent the following message to the Daily News’ Story Tips, using a Web form on their site:


Your breaking national story which states that Obama “ordered” the Justice Department to consider a new KSM trial location is in direct opposition to the New York Times, which finally picked up on the possibility of a new location, but which clearly states that “Mr. Obama left any decision on moving the trial to the Justice Department.”

Please have one of the three authors of your story to contact me to comment on this discrepancy. They are Kenneth R. Bazinet, Adam Lisberg and Samuel Goldsmith.

Paul Klenk
tel. 646-XXX-XXXX

11:42 PM | I just sent the following message to Benjamin Weiser of the Times, again using a Web form linked from his byline. I included a link to the Daily News’ story.

RE The KSM terror trial and the Justice Department’s reconsideration of a trial location...

Mr. Weiser:

Your new story on this trial states that “Mr. Obama left any decision on moving the trial to the Justice Department.”

However, this is in direct opposition to the Daily News, which states that Obama “ordered” the Justice Department to consider a new KSM trial location (see attached link).

Drudge is running with the Daily News version; can you please contact me to comment on this discrepancy? It is not possible for Obama to have made and [sic] order, and also left the decision to Justice.

Paul Klenk
tel. 646-XXX-XXXX

11:58 PM | The Daily News’ headline has changed; it backs down from its claim that Obama “orders” Justice to change of venue of the trial, and now reads “asks.” The URL of story, however, still reveals that the original headline used the word “orders.”

The New York Times’ story is developing and changing rapidly online, with new links and new copy.

I have sent an e-mail to BigGovernment and BigJournalism notifying them of the discrepancy, and of my efforts to document it. -- p.k.

12:13 AM | Drudge is still quoting the original Daily News headine: PAPER: OBAMA ORDERS JUSTICE TO MOVE TERROR TRIAL OUT OF NYC. -- p.k.

12:32 AM | My so-called “orders”-to-“asks” controversy is really a non-story, I am realizing.

The headline at the Daily News has changed, but their story still reads, “The White House ordered the Justice Department Thursday…” So I was wrong; they are definitely not backing down from their claim that Obama ordered this.

And the Times still states that “Obama left the decision” to Justice.

So their is still a direct conflict in these two reports.

Which is it, journalists? It can’t be both. Who is calling the shots, Obama or the Justice Department? – p.k.

2:41 AM | Is my “direct conflict” claim true, or is it much ado about nothing?

A careful re-reading of the statements by these two newspapers indicates that it may be somewhere in between.

I have been contrasting one report that “Obama left the decision” to Justice, and another report that he “ordered” a change.

I have made a slight correction after reading the NY Daily News’ account more carefully, and have struck out “change” and replaced it with “consider changing,” based on their text.

But think about this: When you “ask” someone to consider changing something, it is a suggestion. But what is it if you “order” someone to consider something? How exactly does one order someone to consider a change? That does not make sense, and should not go unchallenged.

Obama is the President, and he has been pushing for a civilian trial based on his philosophical beliefs, and his desire to present a showcase to the world of… well, of something. Does anyone really believe that Holder made a unilateral decision and then informed the President what he had decided? I certainly don’t.  This is Obama’s doing.

And that is the heart of the conflict in these two accounts. It seems someone wants to have it both ways.

I can be charitable and concede that there is a tiny bit of wiggle room (but only a bit) for the Times and the NY Daily News to present their stories the way they are. But I still believe their stories conflict.

And I place the ultimate blame for this conflict on the Obama administration. Obama is hiding behind Holder, and perhaps is even setting him up to take the blame for any disaster which results from this reckless decision – by someone – to hold the KSM trial in a neighborhood with thousands of residents living steps away.

The question remains: Who is calling the shots? The American people deserve to know. And the press needs to stop wiggling and demand a direct answer.  – p.k.

3:11 AM | It is the middle of the night, so of course I have not heard back from either paper.  But for the record, I will detail my latest contacts with them.
  • I left a voicemail with the Times’ National desk at 1:56 AM, asking for a callback from Shane or Weiser, and sent an e-mail to them at 2:08 AM asking for the same.
  • I left a voicemail with the NY Daily News at 2:10 AM, asking for a callback from Bazinet, Lisbert, or Goldsmith.
What I really need to know from them is, can they provide direct quotes from anyone? At the moment, neither of their stories offers direct, attributed quotes from someone taking responsibility for these decisions.

And it’s time I began reading other accounts of this story, and stop making it about two newspapers. Surely someone is pressing for clarification from the administration on the question, “Who is calling the shots?” – p.k.

9:24 AM | As of this moment, neither paper has returned calls or e-mails.

A quick check reveals that neither paper has updated its stories linked above, and neither has published a new story since last night. I’ll start reaching out to the reporters and newsrooms again.

Meanwhile, the kettle is on and coffee will be ready shortly. – p.k.

10:18 AM | I just spoke with Kenneth Bazinet, White House correspondent for the NY Daily News. He had returned my call, knowing from my voicemail exactly what it was about. I was on the phone with Adam Lisberg of his paper’s City Hall bureau when his call came through, so I called him back moments later. (Lisberg said he did not know the answer to my question, which is understandable; he’s covering the local angle, and not Washington. He agreed that Bazinet was the one to speak to.)

I reached Bazinet directly this time and asked him about the discrepancy.  He said that with “15 16 years working in this town” he does not “discuss sources and methods.” I assured him I did not expect him to divulge sources, but merely wanted a comment on the wording of what he had been told, and the difference in the papers’ claims.

He did not express any curiosity about this question, or the issue of whose order it was. He said I should “call an academic,” a comment I found strange, and which I guess might mean the paper’s academic department (?) for their view of the order of constitutional authority.

He said mine was the first, and he expected the last, such call he would receive on this question today.  He asked what my blog was all about and wished me luck. – p.k.

10:55 AM | I just spoke with The New York Times’ Scott Shane in Washington about the Daily News’ claim that Obama “ordered” Holder to consider changing the venue. Shane first told me that the Daily News had since changed their story. I informed him they had not, and that I had just spoken with Bazinet, who did not back down on his story. I then read the opening sentence to him:

“The White House ordered the Justice Department Thursday night to consider other places…”

About this statement, Shane stated, “It is wrong; just think about it in terms of common sense.”  Holder “doesn’t need to be ordered” to change the venue, because when even Senator Charles Schumer, who is “close to the White House, changed his view, it was obvious” that it needed to happen.

Shane said that there are not many places they can hold the trial. I asked him about the possibility of a military base, even though it’s a civilian trial, and he said “there’s talk of that,” but didn’t think it would happen, and that when it comes to ideas for venues, “I don’t think anyone has one.”

He reiterated that “there’s no decision yet” to move the trial, only to consider moving it. – p.k.

1:45 PM | Ken Bazinet (@BazmanianDevil) is tweeting that the Justice Department denies his claim of being “ordered” to rethink its decision. But “Baz” seems to be holding firm, neither retracting or nor standing by his story:
  • Justice: AG decided himself to consider moving KSM trial from NY. Admin source scoffs: "When does anyone do anything on their own in Wash?"
  • Justice Dept reconsidering decision to hold KSM trial in NYC, but disputes White House ordered it rethink the hugely unpopular decision.
I tweeted him: NYTimes sez your story "is wrong" and linked to this thread. Will he reply…?   – p.k.

5:53 PM | Yes, Bazinet did reply to my tweet, and yes, I was correct that he is standing by his story. I’m glad I linked him back to my blog so he could read Shane’s entire statement. I wasn’t even sure whether he would see my tweet; I’m new to Twitter and not certain if people who are not following you can see your replies.

I wish I could have seen his face when he read Shane’s quotes. Here’s Bazinet’s response, written in between working on a follow up to his breaking story from yesterday:
“I don’t fault Mr. Shane for his opinion on my story. When you get your butt kicked on a story, your editors tend to yell at you. It happens, and let’s face it, Mr. Shane was so far behind on that story that he was sitting in the caboose.” – Kenneth R. Bazinet
Something tells me Baz was smiling devilishly as he typed that.

It’s time for me to sort through all of this and ask some bigger questions. This is not about a tiff between two rival reporters – not at all. Some deceptively subtle differences in wording reveal two very different takes on who made a key decision about one of the most controversial, historic, and possibly dangerous trials in modern American history. This is about who is calling the shots in Washington, who they’re talking to (and not talking to), who is reporting the truth about what they’re saying, and who is sitting on their ass and repeating the party line.

Watch for my analysis, which will follow shortly. – p.k.

8:45 PM | I just e-mailed Shane a link to Bazinet’s response. He confirmed receipt of it by phone. – p.k.

1:42 PM Sunday January 31 | I just noticed that NY Daily News reporter James Gordon Meek tweeted about the Times getting scooped. I replied to his tweet with a link to this page. If he did not know that both reporters went on the record with me, he does now.
While I was at it, I tweeted him about another matter, and invited the readers of Big Journalism to do the same:
– p.k.


Editor said...

You need to go back and read the NYT Manual of Defile:

If it turns out good for the crypto-commie-muslim, then he "ordered it" / takes credit.

If there is any chance that something might come back to bite him on his royal ass, then write it a "other Departments/Mao-Czars" take the responsibility.