W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘Digital scrubbing’

10 weeks on: Still no word from WaPo about apparent digital scrubbing of Lynch articles

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on July 6, 2012 at 7:45 am

Where’s the digital version?

The Washington Post ombudsman noted in a column last month that it is “increasingly difficult for iconoclastic, questioning voices to be heard, whether left, right or center.”

The ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, urged the Post and other news organizations “to seek out and cover the unconventional and outsider voices — whether citizen or expert, whether right, center or left. They’re out there; we just have to listen.”

Trouble is, Pexton, himself, doesn’t always much care for “questioning voices” — such as the questions that I’ve raised with him periodically for the past 10 weeks.

Those questions relate to the apparent digital scrubbing of the Post’s botched reporting about Jessica Lynch and her purported heroics early in the Iraq War.

The Post on April 3, 2003, published a stunning report on its front page (see above) about the supposed heroism of Lynch, a 19-year-old Army supply clerk, during an ambush at Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

The Post’s report said Lynch had fought fiercely and “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her” in the fighting, which took place March 23, 2003.

The electrifying report — which the Post headlined “She was fighting to the death” — was picked up by news organizations around the world.

But soon it became apparent that the Post’s hero-warrior story was utterly wrong in all important details. Lynch never fired a shot in Iraq; she was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post had reported, but badly injured in the crash of a Humvee as it fled the ambush.

The botched hero-warrior story is unavailable at the Post’s online site. Until a few weeks ago, clicking on a link to that report did turn up the story’s headline, byline, and publication detail. But otherwise, it was an empty link: It contained no content.

Now, not even the headline, byline, and publication date are available. The link opens to a page that declares in large headlines: “Page Not Found” and “We’re unable to locate the page you requested.”

So changes recently have been made that expunge any reference to the hero-warrior story.

I pointed this out in an email to Pexton a week ago. He has not replied.

In his most recent correspondence with me, an email sent May 30, Pexton wrote:

“This is a stickier problem than I initially thought. It could be as innocent as the Post has moved masses amount of files three times in the past ten years to different servers. Or it could be deliberate.  …  I have one newsroom employee researching this and an IT person checking on it. When I have an answer, I’ll let you know.”

Pexton turned prickly in that email, making clear he did not appreciate my turning to social media to call attention to this matter.

He expressed objections to the Twitter message I sent on May 25, calling attention to a blog post of the same day that four weeks had passed and the Post had offered no explanation for the apparent scrubbing of the Lynch  content.

“Tweeting about your frustration over the time it is taking is a disincentive for me to push harder on it,” Pexton wrote in his email of May 30. “Most readers are polite and understanding. Why should I put your request ahead of others when you choose to coerce and bully?”

Coerce and bully? C’mon. My inquiries about the Lynch stories are much more akin to the “questioning voices” that Pexton has encouraged the Post to seek out and embrace.

More than five weeks have since passed he sent that prickly email. Pexton has offered no explanation as to why the Lynch content has been excised from the Post’s online site.

“I will get an answer for you if it is obtainable and I will let you know when I do,” he wrote on May 30. “That’s the best I can do. If that’s not to your liking, then I apologize but that is your issue, not mine.”

Woah. It’s not important to him whether the Post has scrubbed digital reminders of an acutely embarrassing story?

The Post, after all, called out Vanity Fair in April for digitally scrubbing a flattering profile of the wife of  Bashar al-Asad, Syria’s dictator. At that time, the Post described Vogue’s removal of the digital version of the profile as “an almost-unheard-of step for a mainstream media organization.”

Interestingly, some Lynch-related content from 2003 remains freely available online — notably this article, at the Post’s link-rich Iraq War archive.

I’ve asked Pexton: Would the Post and its readers not be better served by being consistent about its Lynch-related content?

And I have suggested to him that “my request can be distilled thusly:

“Why is some Lynch-related content from 2003 freely available online (see here), while content more embarrassing to the Post (see empty links here, here, and here) not available? Shouldn’t those empty links be restored, and added to the Post’s link-rich Iraq War archive, where Lynch’s name and image already appear?”

He has given no direct responses to those questions.

So what’s to be concluded, 10 weeks after my initial inquiry to Pexton?

Not unlike Vanity Fair, the Post appears to have scrubbed the digital reminders of an embarrassing misstep, of a high-profile story that the newspaper got utterly wrong.

It’s also pretty clear the Post has no interest in making freely available online its botched reporting about Jessica Lynch.

It’s pretty clear, too, that Pexton doesn’t eagerly follow through on his rhetoric about the value and importance of “iconoclastic, questioning voices.”

WJC

Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post.

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Four weeks on: No answer from WaPo about empty links to Jessica Lynch stories

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Newspapers, Washington Post on May 25, 2012 at 6:55 am

Lynch photo at WaPo’s Iraq archive

Want to read the Washington Post article of April 10, 2003, about the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces? The article’s online link is here.

How about the Post’s report about the Iraqi lawyer who helped lead U.S. rescuers to Jessica Lynch, the Army private taken prisoner and hospitalized following a deadly ambush in the war’s early days? Here’s the link to that story,  which the Post published on its front page April 4, 2003.

How about the Post’s front-page article of the day before, which told of Lynch’s supposed heroism in the ambush, how she had fought fiercely and “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her”?

It was an electrifying report, one picked up by news organizations around the world.

But it turned out that the Post’s hero-warrior tale about Lynch was embarrassingly wrong in all important details. Lynch never fired a shot in Iraq; she was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post had reported, but badly injured in the crash of a Humvee as it fled the ambush.

Try finding the botched hero-warrior story at the Post’s online site. All that turns up is a headline, byline, and date of publication. Otherwise, it’s an empty link. No content, in other words.

That’s also true for a column published April 20, 2003, by Michael Getler, the newspaper’s then-ombudsman, who criticized the hero-warrior story: Another empty, no-content link.

Same for the Post’s partial rollback of the hero-warrior story, published in mid-June 2003: Also an empty link.

So what gives? Why is some of the Post’s content about the Iraq War — and Jessica Lynch — freely available online while the more embarrassing material shows up as empty links?

Is this a matter of digital scrubbing, akin to Vogue magazine’s excising of a flattering profile of the wife of the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Asad? The Post last month described the Vogue matter as “an almost-unheard-of step for a mainstream media organization.”

Periodically over the past four weeks, I’ve asked the Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, about the digitally unavailable versions of the newspaper’s reports about Lynch.

Pexton has  promised to look into my questions.

But four weeks on, he has yet to offer a substantive reply.

I have asked him: “Does the embarrassment quotient explain this apparent inconsistency?” That is, is the Post too embarrassed by its botched reporting about Lynch to make the links freely available online?

I suspect it is.

In his most recent email to me, on May 16, Pexton said he receives “200 to 300 e-mails per day and we’re always behind. We are working on trying to get you some answers on this.”

I replied the following day, thanking him for the update and saying I hoped to hear from him soon.

I also wrote:

“I believe my request can be distilled thusly:

“Why is some Lynch-related content from 2003 freely available online (see here), while content more embarrassing to the Post (see empty links here, here, and here) not available? Shouldn’t those empty links be restored, and added to the Post’s link-rich Iraq War archive, where Lynch’s name and image already appear?”

That email produced no response from Pexton, however.

The Post‘s digital archive of the Iraq War offers a functioning link to the article about the Iraqi lawyer who helped guide rescuers to Lynch.

In fact, the only U.S. soldier identified by name and image at the archive is Jessica Lynch.

I discuss the Post’s reporting of the Lynch case in a chapter in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

WJC

Many thanks for Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post

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Two weeks on: Still waiting for WaPo on missing Jessica Lynch online content

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Newspapers, Washington Post on May 11, 2012 at 9:41 am

Lynch photo at WaPo’s Iraq archive

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post ombudsman promised to look into questions I had posed about the unavailable digital versions of the newspaper’s embarrassingly wrong reports about Jessica Lynch’s supposed heroics during the Iraq War.

I’m still waiting a response from the ombudsman, Patrick Pexton.

At issue are empty links for at least three articles and commentaries about Lynch that appeared in the Post in 2003 — all of which are keenly embarrassing to the newspaper. Among them is the Post’s infamous “Fighting to the Death” story of April 3, 2003, which is at the heart of the bogus hero-warrior tale about Lynch.

That story — which isn’t available at the Post’s online site — described Lynch’s purported derring-do on the battlefield, saying she fought fiercely in an ambush in Nasiriyah and was captured only after running out of ammunition.

As it turned out, the story was utterly wrong in all important details. Lynch never fired a shot in Iraq; she was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post had reported, but badly injured in the crash of a Humvee as it fled the ambush. (I discuss the Post’s handling of the Lynch case in a chapter in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.)

Another element of the Post’s narrative about Lynch that’s missing online is a column written several days later by Michael Getler, then the newspaper’s ombudsman. Getler criticized the hero-warrior story, noting that readers thought it suspicious.

In mid-June 2003, the Post grudgingly walked back from aspects of its hero-warrior tale — an embarrassment that media critic Christopher Hansen characterized as “the journalistic equivalent of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.”

The Post’s walk-back article also is unavailable online.

But at least one of the Post’s  stories about Lynch in 2003 is freely available online, as I’ve noted in email messages to Pexton.

That article — which is decidedly non-embarrassing to the Post — was published April 4, 2003; there’s a functioning link to it at the newspaper’s link-rich digital archive about the Iraq War. Interestingly, the only U.S. soldier identified by name and image at the archive site is Jessica Lynch.

So why aren’t the Post’s other reports about Lynch available at that online archive? If some Lynch-related content from 2003 is freely available, why not the rest? Wouldn’t restoring all Lynch content make the digital archive richer, more comprehensive, and more balanced?

I believe it would.

I’ve asked Pexton: “Does the embarrassment quotient explain this apparent inconsistency?” In other words, is the Post too embarrassed by its botched reporting about Lynch to make the links freely available online?

I suspect so.

Pexton did say in an email 14 days ago that his looking into my questions “will take some considerable time to research, but I’ll check into it. It’s very hard to trace some of this back when The Post has gone through several computer systems since that time, but I’ll make an effort.”

In reply, I suggested that the matter could be readily distilled by focusing on this question:

“Why is some Lynch-related content from 2003 freely available online (see here), while other and more embarrassing content (see empty links here, here, and here) not available?”

I sent Pexton follow-up email messages on May 1 and May 7. In those email, I asked why the empty links about the Lynch case couldn’t be restored and added to the digital archive about the Iraq War.

I have received no reply.

And that’s a bit odd because Pexton, in a column in March, pointedly urged Post staffers to be responsive to inquiries, writing:

“Return the blessed phone calls and e-mails from readers! And do it with courtesy, respect and politeness, even when the caller, or writer, is persistent or even unpleasant. Please.”

That’s advice too good to be ignored.

WJC

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Digitally scrubbing WaPo’s embarrassment on Jessica Lynch?

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on April 27, 2012 at 2:15 pm

The Washington Post carried a fine story yesterday about Vogue magazine’s apparent removal from its online site of an unaccountably flattering profile of Asma al-Assad, wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Where's the digital version?

The Post said the 3,200-word puff piece in Vogue “apparently proved so embarrassing to the magazine that it scrubbed it from its Web site, an almost-unheard-of step for a mainstream media organization and a generally acknowledged violation of digital etiquette.”

That observation — “violation of digital etiquette” — evoked for me the unavailability online of the Post’s embarrassingly wrong-headed reports in 2003 about Jessica Lynch and her supposed heroism early in the Iraq War.

In an electrifying account published on its front page April 3, 2003, the Post reported that Lynch, then a 19-year-old Army private, had fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq.

Lynch, according to the Post,  “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in the fighting,” which took place March 23, 2003.

The hero-warrior tale about Lynch turned out to be utterly wrong in all crucial details. She was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post reported; she suffered shattering injuries in the crash of a Humvee fleeing the ambush.

Lynch was taken prisoner and moved to an Iraqi hospital where she lingered near death until her rescue by U.S. special forces on April 1, 2003.

The Post’s hero-warrior tale appeared two days later.

But try finding the Post’s digitized version of that story. Here’s the link; but clicking through turns up the article’s headline, byline, date of publication, and page placement. But no text.

(The Post’s story is available in full at the online site of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

Later in April 2003, the Post’s then-ombudsman, Michael Getler, published a critical column about the hero-warrior story, noting that “several readers wrote to complain, saying they did not doubt ‘the gravity of Lynch’s situation,’ as one put it, but that The Post, ‘using unnamed sources,’ was ‘creating a sensationalist story riddled with inaccuracies.’ ‘I smell an agenda,’ said one reader, suspecting wartime ‘propaganda.’ Another was suspicious of the ‘Hollywood-like telling of the story.'”

Try finding Getler’s column online.

Here’s the link; but in this case, too, just the headline, byline, publication date, and page reference are available.

In mid-June 2003, the Post revisited and grudgingly walked back from aspects of its hero-warrior story about Lynch. One media critic characterized the article as “the journalistic equivalent of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.”

(And as I point out in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, the walk-back story “included a nervy attempt by the Post to deflect blame from its central role in spreading the hero-warrior myth of Jessica Lynch.”

(The Post, I note, “faulted the U.S. military and the administration of President George Bush for failing to correct an error for which the Post was responsible. ‘Neither the Pentagon nor the White House publicly dispelled the more romanticized initial version of her capture,’ the Post said, ‘helping to foster the myth surrounding Lynch and fuel accusations that the Bush administration stage-managed parts of Lynch’s story.’  It was an astounding assertion: The Post, alone, was responsible for propagating the ‘romanticized initial version’ that created the hero-warrior myth. To claim the Pentagon and the White House should have done more to dispel that report was, in short, exceedingly brazen.”)

Well, good luck in finding the Post’s walk-back story online.

Here’s the link; but, again, only the headline, byline, publication date, and page reference show up.

So has the Post excised the digital reminders of an embarrassing misstep, of a dramatic story that it thoroughly and singularly botched? Has it, at a minimum, committed a “violation of digital etiquette”?

Rather looks like it. (The Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, promised to “check into” my questions. He also said in an email today: “It’s very hard to trace some of this back when The Post has gone through several computer systems since that time, but I’ll make an effort.”)

Separately, I’ve been told that Post stories published before 2005 have largely been placed behind a paywall. For the most part, that is, they’re not freely available online.

But some special sections are accessible online without payment — and they include the Post’s link-rich “War in Iraq” digital archive.

And in a box at the lower right corner of the digital archive is an Army photograph of none other than Jessica Lynch.

Lynch photo at WaPo's Iraq War archive

The box carries the headline, “Saving Pfc Lynch,” and offers a link to an article published in the Post April 4, 2003, a day after the botched hero-warrior tale.

The April 4 article ran to 1,500 words in discussing the Iraqi lawyer who helped set in motion Lynch’s rescue.

And that article is available in full.

WJC

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