When you read The New York Times (if you still bother to read it), always ask:
What is the Times NOT telling me?
The answers are invariably more compelling — and newsworthy — than what the paper actually deems "fit to print."
Let me give you an example.
Last Wednesday, the Times published a 4,624-word opus on American casualties of war in Iraq. "2,000 Dead: As Iraq Tours Stretch On, a Grim Mark," read the headline. The macabre, Vietnam-evoking piece appeared prominently on page A2. Among those profiled were Marines from the First Battalion of the Fifth Marine Regiment, including Cpl. Jeffrey B. Starr. Here’s the relevant passage:
Another member of the 1/5, Cpl. Jeffrey B. Starr, rejected a $24,000 bonus to re-enlist. Corporal Starr believed strongly in the war, his father said, but was tired of the harsh life and nearness of death in Iraq. So he enrolled at Everett Community College near his parents’ home in Snohomish, Wash., planning to study psychology after his enlistment ended in August.
But he died in a firefight in Ramadi on April 30 during his third tour in Iraq. He was 22.
Sifting through Corporal Starr’s laptop computer after his death, his father found a letter to be delivered to the marine’s girlfriend. "I kind of predicted this," Corporal Starr wrote of his own death. "A third time just seemed like I’m pushing my chances."
The paper’s excerpt of Corporal Starr’s letter leaves the reader with the distinct impression that this young Marine was darkly resigned to a senseless death. The truth is exactly the opposite. Late last week, I received a letter from Corporal Starr’s uncle, Timothy Lickness. He wanted you to know the rest of the story — and the parts of Corporal Starr’s letter that the Times failed to include:
"Obviously if you are reading this then I have died in Iraq. I kind of predicted this, that is why I’m writing this in November. A third time just seemed like I’m pushing my chances. I don’t regret going, everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it’s not to me. I’m here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark."
Reader Michael Valois questioned the Times’ reporter, James Dao, about his selection bias and forwarded me the exchanges. A defensive Dao (who did not respond to my e-mail inquiry) argued "there is nothing ‘anti war’ in the way I portrayed Corporal Starr." Dao then had the gall to berate the reader:
"Even the portion of his email that I used, the one that you seem so offended by, does not express anti-war sentiment. It does express the fatalism that many soldiers and marines seem to feel about multiple tours.
Have you been to Iraq, Michael? Or to any other war, for that matter? If you have, you should know the anxiety and fear parents, spouses, and troops themselves feel when they deploy to war. And if you haven’t, what right do you have to object when papers like the New York Times try to describe that anxiety and fear?"
Mr. Dao sounds a bit unhinged playing the far-left chickenhawk card. Only people who have traveled to Iraq can criticize a paper’s war-related coverage?
And Dao’s dead-wrong about Corporal Starr’s presumed "fatalism." If you don’t believe Corporal Starr’s own words, which Dao chose to ignore, listen to Corporal Starr’s father, Brian. I asked him this week whether his son was fatalistic. "I don’t agree at all. Jeff had an awareness of death, but was very positive about coming home."
Dao apologized to Valois for the tone of his snippy e-mail, but apparently feels no shame or sorrow for distorting a dead Marine’s thoughts and feelings about war, sacrifice and freedom.
Will the Times correct Dao’s grave sin of omission and apologize? Or will the paper just hope you shrug and look the other way?