Just sent this to the Washington Post’s Ombudsman:
Today’s lead editorial on the Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft case blindly repeats a piece of government propaganda that has been decisively falsified in the court proceedings of that very case.
“High Court Should Overturn Kidd v. Ashcroft” begins like this:
ABDULLAH AL-KIDD was arrested at Dulles International Airport in 2003 after purchasing a one-way, first-class ticket to Saudi Arabia.
In fact, testimony and subpoenaed airline records establish that Al-Kidd had a round-trip coach ticket. The government’s false statement — originally made to the court to justify arresting him — misled the court and it is this very pattern of government misrepresentations that played a significant role in the judicial turn against immunity which the Post (in my opinion wrongly) critiques. The Post’s error is no mere detail but serves as means of obfuscating — avoiding — the central facts that undermine the argument the Post wishes to make.
I guess if you use fake facts it’s easier to write editorials in favor of unlimited and un-accountable state power to detain US citizens (AP: “Over the next 16 days he would be strip-searched repeatedly, left naked in a jail cell and shower for more than 90 minutes in view of other men and women, routinely transported in handcuffs and leg irons, and kept with people who had been convicted of violent crimes. On a long trip between jails, a federal marshal refused to unlock al-Kidd’s chains so he could use the bathroom.”).
No mere factual correction can fix this problem since that would fail to make clear that the factual change undercuts the entire logic of the editorial, but I have never yet seen a correction which makes such an admission, and don’t have much hope here.
The question for you, though, is this: how could the Post allow someone to write an editorial on such an important matter who isn’t even aware of one of the better-known facts of the case? And who doesn’t then check the facts. Or read the AP feed on the subject (2/27/11) which in addition to summarizing the vile conditions of confinement in which the government held Al-Kidd states,
But the sworn statement the FBI submitted to justify the warrant had important errors and omissions. The $5,000 one-way, first-class seat that the agents said al-Kidd purchased was, in reality, a coach-class, round-trip ticket. The statement neglected to mention that al-Kidd had been cooperative or that he was a U.S. citizen with a wife and children who also were American.
In other words, the accurate facts were and are no secret: it almost takes work to avoid them.
And one more question for you: even as the Post preaches a doctrine of no-accountability for government officials who lie about and mistreat US citizens, does it practice a similar doctrine of non-accountability for editorialists who get basic, key, facts this badly wrong? Or will there be some internal sanction?
I got this auto-reply a little while later:
I will be out of the office starting 01/31/2011 and will not return until 12/31/2011.
Thanks for writing. My two year term as ombudsman has ended and a replacement will be named soon. In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns about news coverage, I’d suggest you e-mail or call the appropriate department in the newsroom. Among them:
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Post Main Number: 202-334-6000
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For circulation or delivery issues, call the subscriber services department at 202-334-6100, or firstname.lastname@example.org
So it looks as if the Post has been Ombudsless for a month (suggesting that filling the job is not a priority, or perhaps no one good wants to touch the job with a ten foot pole). And also that the Obmudsman role doesn’t extend to editorials. I don’t know that there’s much point in sending this in as a letter to the Editor. They’ll just chop it to bits even if they run it.
Update 2: More on the Post and Ombudspersons at The Washington Post Says It has an Ombudsman.