Wednesday, November 30, 2005

New York Times Editor Offers Explanation for Falsehoods

(Welcome visitors from Betsy's Page, Confederate Yankeee, David Boyd, Peer Review, Right in Raleigh, and Mudville Gazette.)

Many of you know that on June 28 the New York Times published an op-ed that claimed the United States Army systematically lies to young West Point graduates.( ''The Not-So-Long Gray Line,'' full text of op-ed available only to Times Select subscribers)

Here's part of what the Times published:

The lies became embedded in the curriculum of the academy, and finally in its moral DNA.
The mistake the Army made (at the time of Vietnam) is the same mistake it is making now: how can you educate a group of handpicked students at one of the best universities in the world and then treat them as if they are too stupid to know when they have been told a lie?
Despite the gravity of the claim that the Army systematically lies, the Times offered readers no facts they could independently verify other than this paragraph:
There was a time when the Army did not have a problem retaining young leaders - men like Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, George Marshall, Omar Bradley and my grandfather, Lucian K. Truscott Jr. Having endured the horrors of World War I trenches, these men did not run headlong out of the Army in the 1920's and 30's when nobody wanted to think of the military, much less pay for it. They had made a pact with each other and with their country, and all sides were going to keep it.
The claims in that paragraph are false. Eisenhower, Bradley and Truscott never served overseas during WWI; Marshall was in France as a staff officer; and only Patton saw combat. I know of no historian who’s ever claimed the five future generals made any sort of pact with each other.

Begining on June 29 I called the falsehoods to Times public editor Byron Calame's attention. I cited sources refuting what the Times had published. Other bloggers (Betsy's Page, Michelle Malkin, Right in Raleigh, and Blackfive helped press the matter. If I've missed other bloggers, let me know and I'll correct).

Now from Times Op-Ed page Editor David Shipley comes this email response to which he attached a portion of correspondence from the author of the op-ed, Lucian Truscott IV.

>Dear Mr. Matthews,
>Many thanks for your note, which only recently found its way to me.
>You have a point. Mr. Truscott should have been more careful with his
>language and we should have been more careful in editing his language.
>That said, it seemed clear at the time -- and seems clear to me now --
>that he was speaking figuratively. Mr. Truscott did not, for example, say
>that these men had been "in" the trenches. A response from Mr. Truscott is
>pasted below. Given his answer, I am inclined to continue to give him the
>license to use this language figuratively.
>Thank you again for being in touch.
>David Shipley
>Editor, Op-Ed page
>Here's a portion of Mr. Truscott's note:
>>>I knew that about grandpa, Bradley, et al., but rather stupidly used the
>>>"trenches" thing as a metaphor. The "pact with each other" was made not in
>>>a literal sense, but in the sense that all of these men shared a sense of
>>>duty-honor-country that THEY took literally -- a dedication to their
>>>country, the army, their mission, and its rightness. It was the kind of
>>>dedication that didn't have to be talked about around a table -- although
>>>most of them spent many, many hours around tables of various kinds together
>>>between the wars.

I plan to respond to Editor Shipley in a day or two. Meanwhile, I'd like to hear your thoughts and suggestions. I hope other bloggers will link to this post as well as my first post to Public Editor Calame (It's here).

I recall in the days of Senator McCarthy he said some pretty reckless things about individual members of the Army. But I don't recall him ever making the broad charges of institutional lying that the Times published on June 28 with no verifiable evidence whatsoever, if you now accept Editor Shipley's claim that the statements about the five generals are really just figures of speech.

Alarm bells should be ringing all across this country.


David Boyd said...

It certainly seemed more a statement of fact than figurative.

Anonymous said...

If anyone is treating well educated people as if they were fools then it is the NYT.

I think that very very few people would read the "trenches" paragraph and think it anything but literal.

Fake but accurate indeed.


Mr. K said...

will post this link in my own blog...I think that we have to do our part in the war here, which is to fight the lies propagated by the media. this is afterall a war of ideologies and ideas...great post.

Grumpy said...

Why do we keep thinking that the Times, et al, will stop lying if we catch them or even care if we catch them. A significant number of Times readers won't notice the lies and another significant number of their readers won't mind the lies as long as the liberal template is followed. Nice try though.

UncleSmrgol said...

His grandfather was a decorated general in the United States Army. He is a newspaper reporter living vicariously on his grandfather's exploits. Talk about the dumbing-down of America.

straightarrow said...

Sorry guys, but I took it as figuratively speaking in both the "trenches" comment and the "pact" comment. Surely nobody really thinks they all took a "pinky swear". C'mon.

As to his serious allegation against the USMA, I see no reason to believe him. However, let's not portray ourselves as idiots. If he had spoken more literally, would we then have attacked him for imperfect punctuation?

Get real, we all should have known he was speaking figuratively and in that particular instance, truthfully as to the character of the men of which he spake.

That he did speak falsely or, at best, laid unproven accusation against the USMA, is the issue upon which we should challenge him.

We look weak and unfocused to direct our criticism at his literary skill of lack of same.

That's my opinion, and I'm never wrong. sort of

JWM said...

Dear Straight Arrow,

You say, “We look weak and unfocused to direct our criticism at his literary skill of lack (sic) of same.”

Everyone should know that when you say “we,” it doesn’t include me and many others.

You say: “Get real, we all should have known (Truscott) was speaking figuratively and in that particular instance, truthfully as to the character of the men of which he spake.”

I don’t agree it was clear Truscott and the Times spoke figuratively. I say why in my post.

You say: “That (Truscott) did speak falsely or, at best, laid unproven accusation against the USMA, is the issue upon which we should challenge him.

So you're saying that Truscott and the Times’ statements about the five generals are not false because they’re fiction, and that’s obvious. Then you're saying you’re sure that Truscott “did speak falsely (and) we should challenge him?”

How were you able to determine all of that?

You never say how you determined, at least to your own satisfaction, what the Times meant to be fiction and what it meant to be fact? Why not?

You tell me I’m part of a group portraying itself as “idiots.”

I don’t mind being included in such a group as long as you tell people I don’t agree with almost anything you said in your comment.


jb said...

The "trenches" part seems clearly literal in its detail--had he said "having endured the horrors of World War I," it'd be reasonable to assume he didn't mean that they all served at the front.

The "pact" bit seems clearly figurative, if badly worded. Of course army officers have solidarity--the "each other" represents not only the 5 generals but all other officers in the army.

John, I think you're overstating your (admittedly sound) case here.

JWM said...


Given all the problems with that paragraph, and given that the Times sees nothing to correct, I don't think I'm overstating the case.

I'll bet we can agree that for a major American newspaper with international influence to publish an op-ed charging the Army systematically lies is a very, very serious matter under any circumstances, but especially so at a time of war with the country undergoing physical and propaganda attacks from our enemies.

Now that the 5 generals part of its op-ed has been exposed as fiction, I don't think there's anything else in the op-ed that either of us can find that a reader can independly verify.

It's shocking that the Times is comfortable publishing its "Army lies" op-ed with only a combination of fiction and unverivable anecdotes, which we now have every to doubt are factual.

In a day or two I'm going to post more on this matter. I hope you will take a look and continue to comment.

Meanwhile, the following comment I received soom time ago (you can find it on the June 29 post thread) illustrates further what the Times did in that op-ed.

The same NYT article contains the following charge: "By the time we [the Class of 1969] were seniors, honor court verdicts could be fixed." This is a serious, and so far unsupported, allegation.

Any cadet who "fixed" an "honor court verdict" or tolerated such conduct on the part of another would be guilty of a serious offense, punishable under the USMA Honor Code and under the Uniform Code of Military Justice that governs all members of the US military.

Moreover, the individuals from the Class of 1969 (and other USMA classes) who made up such "honor courts" were - and still are – well known, not only to their classmates who elected them to this permanent position, but also to a larger group, which includes friends and families.

Notwitstanding the seriousness of its allegation, the NYT article does not cite names, dates or other supporting facts that would permit the reader to assess its credibility.

It is incumbent on the NYT to provide all facts relating to the credibility of its charge that "honor court verdicts could be fixed" by members of the USMA Class of 1969, in order to rebut the presumption that the charge made by the NYT was manufactured and is defamatory and libelous on its face.

straightarrow said...

I don't mind that they were called to task for the license taken to portray the officers of the army accurately. They could have done as well and stuck to the literal truth. It was sloppy journalism, but it is just as sloppy criticism to focus on that as proof that all his other claims were false or, at best, unproven.

When someone says "America learned some harsh lessons about unpreparedness in the fiery crucible of the December 7,1941 sneak attack on the U.S. Naval base and Army airfields in Hawaii." are we supposed to believe we were all there? And if it can't be proven that we all were, does that mean we didn't learn anything about unpreparedness?

That's how I determined it was figurative, I know something of history and hyperbole and have a modicum of good sense.

I would bet you that every one of those generals learned lessons and understood the horror of those trenches, though they were never in them. They served with and lost comerades who were. As I said, it is sloppy journalism to say they endured the horror "in" those trenches. It is most probably true that they witnessed the horrors "of" those trenches as evidenced in the ruined lungs,and shattered health of their comrades.

Ruined men from reasons other than combat incurred, far outnumbered combat injuries. I took his point to be that they stuck because of their pact with nation and duty and their brothers at arms. I never thought it was a signed contract, nor did I think he was suggesting that they had among the five of them made a formal pledge. But, rather, they kept the pact they had made with themselves individually, as was the standard for men of substance in that day.

You said in your last comment: "The same NYT article contains the following charge: "By the time we [the Class of 1969] were seniors, honor court verdicts could be fixed." This is a serious, and so far unsupported, allegation."

From that point on you and I are in exact accord. My initial comment was intended to show that should have been the thrust of the criticism. Exposing a serious allegation as unsupported and demanding correction of a substantive issue that levels accusations with no proof seems to me, to be much more effective than getting hung up on a sidelight that has no real bearing on his accusations.

It's sort of like making sure you turn off all the lights in the house to save electricity, when you should be spraying water to put out the fire in the living room before it spreads. Both may be desirable activities, but one is, by far, the more beneficial.

As for the "idiots" comment. I did include myself as one who should try to avoid appearing as idiotic. I didn't say we were idiotic, I merely said we should not portray ourselves as such while we turn out the lights and let the house burn down.