I sat down this afternoon with today’s New York Times and read the news section straight through. In part, it shows what the resources of a great news organization can do when properly applied. To a lesser extent, it shows the usual limitations and constraints under which the Times routinely operates. I take my cue from the old Chambers Brothers hit song “Time Has Come Today”: “There are things to realize!” Let’s start with the highlight.
“Torture and death of Jew deepen fears in France.” The Times seems to me unconscionably late to in-depth coverage of the torture/murder of Ilan Halimi. Reporting from Bagneux, France, Craig Smith makes up a lot of ground in this story. Smith reports:
Mr. Halimi, 23, died Feb. 13, shortly after he was found near a train station 15 miles away by passers-by, after crawling out of the wooded area where he was dumped. He was naked and bleeding from at least four stab wounds to his throat, his hands bound and adhesive tape covering his mouth and eyes. According to the initial autopsy report, burns, apparently from the acid, covered 60 percent of his body.
“I knew they had someone down there,” said a young French-Arab man, loitering in the doorway of a building adjacent to the one where Mr. Halimi was held. He claimed to live upstairs from the makeshift dungeon but would not give his name or say whether he knew then that the man was a Jew. “I didn’t know they were torturing him,” he said. “Otherwise, I would have called the police.”
But it is clear that plenty of people did know, both that Mr. Halimi was being tortured and that he was Jewish. The police, according to lawyers with access to the investigation files, think at least 20 people participated in his abduction and the subsequent, amateurish negotiations for ransom. His captors told his family that if they did not have the money, they should “go and get it from your synagogue,” and later contacted a rabbi, telling him, “We have a Jew.”
With a minimum of Timesspeak, Smith also reports details of the criminal investigation that I have not seen previously elsewhere.
“A Muslim leader in Brooklyn, reconciling two worlds.” On the other hand, the descent to dhimmitude is vertiginous in this lengthy first of three parts in a series the Times has titled “Old Values in a New Land.” I’ll forebear from commenting on the apparent limitations of Andrea Elliot’s view of her subject pending publication of the remaining installments, but here’s today’s incredible lowlight: “Like many of their faithful, most imams in the United States come from abroad. They are recruited primarily for their knowledge of the Koran and the language in which it was revealed, Arabic.” It’s hard to imagine the Times incorporating the tenets of any faith other than Islam into the text of a news story, but there you have it.
“Pro-Israel lobbying group roiled by prosecution of two ex-officals.” I write below about the Washington Post story on the current investigation and prosecution of illegal leaks. The only pending prosecution is the one involving two former AIPAC officials who are charged with violating 18 U.S.C. section 793, one of the broader provisions of the Espionage Act that certainly applies to the Times’s disclosure of the NSA al Qaeda-related surveillance program. As is customary for the Times, no connection is drawn between this prosecution for conduct far less injurious to the national security of the United States and the Times’s own legal jeopardy for the NSA story. The story, however, does carry this pointed quote from the federal judge presiding over the prosecution of the former AIPAC officials:
“Persons who have unauthorized possession, who come into unauthorized possession of classified information, must abide by the law,” the judge, T. S. Ellis III, said. “That applies to academics, lawyers, journalists, professors, whatever.”
Reporters Scott Shane and David Johnston relegate the truth to this quote in the middle of their story, leaving readers to make the connection to the Times’s own conduct on their own.
“As crisis brews, Iran hits bumps in atomic path.” The Times provides a kind of comic counterpoint to the Telegraph’s disclosure of Iranian chicanery in proceeding with their atomic program. In their story on the Iranian atomic program today, reporters William Broad and David Sanger portray the Iranian nuclear program as impaired by factors including Clinton administration diplomacy. Broad and Sanger also present the program as subject to a comedy of Clouseau-like errors; I can almost hear them singing, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
The article nevertheless acknowledges that “Iran tried to hide most of its nuclear sites,” though it makes remarkably little of it. Toward the end of the article, Broad and Sanger write:
Atomic forecasts are driven largely by assessments of technological maturity, sometimes colored by judgments of the risks of guessing wrong.
That may explain the gulf between Israel’s claim that the world has as little as six months before the “point of no return” and estimates that an Iranian warhead is many years away.
“We live within Iranian missile range,” said a senior Israeli official who has worked on the country’s estimates. “Our survival depends on understanding the worst-case scenario.” Thus, in the Israeli view, it would be a huge mistake to let the Iranians figure out how to clean up and enrich their uranium.
Israel cites studies like one published in October by the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College, “Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran.” Its timeline is short, one to four years. Iran, it asserted, “lacks for nothing technologically or materially to produce it, and seems dead set on securing an option to do so.”
Henry Sokolski, an editor of the report, said neither he nor anyone else could actually produce a truly accurate forecast. “A lot of people are fraudulent, making it sound like a science,” he said. “It’s not.”
Credit Broad and Sanger for ending on a realistic note:
“As much as anything, officials worry about the unknown. They note that the United States missed signs that a country was about to go nuclear with the Soviets in the 1940’s, the Chinese in the 1960’s, India in the 1970’s and Pakistan in the 1990’s.
“People always surprise us,” said a senior nuclear intelligence official who was not authorized to speak publicly. “They’re always a little more cunning and capable than we give them credit for.”
And that seems the appropriate note on which to end.
PAUL adds: I think the appropriate note on which to end, after reading the New York Times news section straight through, is the long grunt that ended the Chambers Brothers’ classic.