Monday, May 31, 2004

Jayson Blair, failed poet?

The Smoking Gun Web site may have found out what led to the plagiarism scandal at the New York Times: Jayson Blair was a failed poet.

The Smoking Gun found several of Blair's poems still posted on his student Web page on the University of Maryland's site.

Looking at the clumsy, error-ridden verse, one might be inclined to say it's a good thing he had journalism to fall back on -- only we all know better.

One can only wonder how things may have been different had Blair pursued his passion instead of becoming a journalist.

Who knows: If only he had talent, he might have been serving coffee somewhere while struggling to gain recognition for his art.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Blogger was interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison

The Washington Post is running an article by Ellen McCarthy that reports that since January, an ex-military interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison maintained a blog called Joe Ryan's Iraq Diary.

"Joe Ryan", who now works for Arlington, Va.-based military contractor CACI International Inc., posted entries to the blog, hosted at St. Paul, Minn. radio station KSTP-AM.

The blog has been removed from the Web site, but the last month of entries to Joe Ryan Iraq Diary is archived in Google's cache.

"I'll not be sending my diary out any more because of the allegations being spread through the media. I will keep my diary and maybe someday the truth of what is and has gone on here will surface," Ryan wrote in an e-mail, according to Ethan McIntosh, a producer at KSTP.

The blog refers to a Steve Stefanowicz who works with Joe Ryan at Abu Ghraib prison, who may be the same Steven Stephanowicz -- a CACI employee named in Seymour Hersh's article as one of the people military investigators said are "directly or indirectly responsible" for abuses and torture at the prison.

This is an excellent example of the value of blogs to journalists. Finding a primary source who was in the prison -- and who likely witnessed much of the horror that is said to have been inflicted on Iraqi prisoners, given that he appears to know a key figure in the scandal -- would normally require a lot of legwork, deep contacts or a lucky break.

Thanks to this blog, journalists -- and the public -- can gain a kind of access to a source of information that might otherwise never come to light.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Web site or website?

Yes, I know I'm breaking CP style (that's Canadian Press, for any non-Canadians reading this) when I write "Web site" instead of "website". So why do I do it?

1. This is my blog, so I can do whatever I want.
2. More importantly, I strongly disagree with CP's decision to a) fuse, and b) decapitalize the word.

So, just as I ruthlessly enforce the use of "website" in my newsroom (OK, maybe not so ruthlessly), I pursue the popularization of "Web site" with equal vigour on my own time.

What do you think? Should Web site be two words or one?

Just in time... Metro tech blog

I finally received approval last night to start a blog on my paper's Web site, which would make it one of the few "official" news media blogs in Canada.

The timing couldn't be better, since it'll give me something else to talk about when I speak at the Canadian Association of Journalists annual national conference in Vancouver on Friday.

No URL for the blog yet, but I'll supply one when I know what it is, and add it to the list of blog links on the right.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Seymour Hersh on U.S. soldiers, spies and mercenaries torturing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison

As shock and outrage over the abuse and torture of imprisoned Iraqis at the hands of U.S. occupation authorities and their agents continues to grow in the face of disturbing photographs of activities in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, leave it to The New Yorker investigative journalist Seymour Hersh to expose more of the story.

In the current issue of the magazine, Hersh's Torture at Abu Ghraib details some of the corucumstances and events at the prison, drawing from an internal U.S. Army report not meant for public consumption.

Hersh writes:

A fifty-three-page report, obtained by The New Yorker, written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba and not meant for public release, was completed in late February. Its conclusions about the institutional failures of the Army prison system were devastating. Specifically, Taguba found that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. This systematic and illegal abuse of detainees, Taguba reported, was perpetrated by soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, and also by members of the American intelligence community. (The 372nd was attached to the 320th M.P. Battalion, which reported to Karpinski’s brigade headquarters.) Taguba’s report listed some of the wrongdoing:

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

There was stunning evidence to support the allegations, Taguba added — “detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence.” Photographs and videos taken by the soldiers as the abuses were happening were not included in his report, Taguba said, because of their “extremely sensitive nature.”

As disturbing as the news of the report itself might be, also disturbing was the spectacle of Hersh being interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer about his article.

Although Hersh early, emphatically and repeatedly told Blitzer that Abu Ghraib's prisoners -- at least 60 per cent according to Taguba's report -- were largely ordinary Iraqis picked up at random who had nothing to do with the Iraqi resistance or unrest, yet imprisoned indefinitely without charge, Blitzer repeatedly suggested that those tortured were terrorists of some kind, and implied that torture might be useful to extract information U.S. occupation forces might need.

CNN has been accused of being less than objective in the past, and virtually cheerleading for the tactics and techniques that sparked the current scandal does nothing to alleviate those conerns.