War Crime charges of Marine are a Fraud...More proof of the leftist Media

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Why did the press swallow Massey's stories?
By Ron Harris
POST-DISPATCH WASHINGTON BUREAU​
11/05/2005


WASHINGTON

Media outlets throughout the world have reported Jimmy Massey's claims of war crimes, frequently without ever seeking to verify them.

For instance, no one ever called any of the five journalists who were embedded with Massey's battalion to ask him or her about his claims.

The Associated Press, which serves more than 8,500 newspaper, radio and television stations worldwide, wrote three stories about Massey, including an interview with him in October about his new book.<SCRIPT language=javascript><!-- // beginDisplayAds("Frame1","","");// --></SCRIPT><SCRIPT language=JavaScript1.1 src="http://OAS-Central.RealMedia.com/RealMedia/ads/adstream_jx.ads/www.stltoday.com/news/stlouiscitycounty/1052393099@Frame1" type=text/javascript></SCRIPT>

But none of the AP reporters ever called Ravi Nessman, an Associated Press reporter who was embedded with Massey's unit. Nessman wrote more than 30 stories about the unit from the beginning of the war until April 15, after Baghdad had fallen.

Jack Stokes, a spokesman for the AP, said he didn't know why the reporters didn't talk to Nessman, nor could he explain why the AP ran stories without seeking a response from the Marine Corps. The organization also refused to allow Nessman to be interviewed for this story.

Some media did seek out comment from the Marine Corps and were told that an investigation of Massey's accusations had found them baseless. Still, those news outlets printed Massey's claims without any evidence other than the word of Massey, who had been released from service because of depression and post traumatic stress disorder.

"Why would we have run this?"

That Massey wasn't telling the truth should have become obvious the more he told his stories, said Phillip Dixon, former managing editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and currently chairman of the Howard University Department of Journalism.

Dixon examined dozens of newspaper articles in which Massey told of the atrocities that Marines allegedly committed in Iraq.

"He couldn't keep his story straight," said Dixon, who has also been an editor at The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. "First it was a 4-year-old girl with a bullet hole in her head, then it was a 6-year-old girl."

Editors at some papers look back at the Massey articles and are surprised that they ran them without examining whether the claims were true or without ever asking the Marine Corps about them.

"I'm looking at the story and going, 'Why, why would we have run this without getting another side of the story?'" said Lois Wilson, managing editor of the Star Gazette in Elmira, N.Y.

David Holwerk, editorial page editor for The Sacramento Bee, said he thought the newspaper handled its story, a question and answer interview with Massey, poorly.

"I feel fairly confident that we did not subject this to the rigorous scrutiny that we should have or to which we would subject it today," he said.

Rex Smith, editor of the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, said he thought the newspaper's story about Massey could have "benefited from some additional reporting." But he didn't necessarily see anything particularly at odds with standard journalism practices.

The paper printed a story in which Massey reportedly told an audience how he and other Marines killed peaceful demonstrators. There was no response from the Marine Corps or any other evidence to back Massey's claims.

Smith said that, unfortunately, that is the nature of the newspaper business.

"You could take any day's newspaper and probably pick out a half dozen or more stories that ought to be subjected to a more rigorous truth test," he said.

"Yes, it would have been much better if we had the other side. But all I'm saying is that this is unfortunately something that happens every day in our newspapers and with practically every story on television."

"The truth suffers"

Michael Parks sees it differently. He is the director of the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalism and formerly the editor of the Los Angeles Times. Parks also reviewed stories written about Massey.

"A reporter's obligation is to check the allegation, to seek comment from the organization that's accused," said Parks, a Pulitzer Prize winner who covered the Vietnam War as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. "They can't let allegations lie on the table, unchecked or unchallenged. When they don't do that, it's a clear disservice to the reader."

In many cases, journalists covered Massey as he was speaking at public gatherings. Some reporters said that because he was making public statements, they didn't feel an obligation to check his claims. Some editors worried they could be accused of covering up his claims if they didn't report on his speech.

Dixon and Parks disagree.

"We're not stenographers, we're journalists," Dixon said. "What separates journalism from other forms of writing is that we practice the craft of verification. By not doing that, that's saying they're abdicating any responsibility from exercising news judgment."

Parks said the journalist's responsibilities when covering someone who makes allegations while speaking in a public forum can be different from those when seeking an interview with an accuser.

"Still, if the person making the allegation has spoken at a public forum, and the audience has heard it, the obligation of the reporter remains to get the other side."

Dixon said: "As a journalist, you want to put accurate information before the public so they can make opinions and decisions based on accurate information. When something like this happens, harm is done, the truth suffers. "

rharris@post-dispatch.com | 202-298-6880


 
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