Too many of us in journalism are still stuck in that stupid old rut: We won’t follow up on a good story broken by someone else, as if the reader cares who got it first. We are reluctant to acknowledge someone else’s scoop. And that’s especially true if the news was broken first in a regional newspaper or another media that isn’t the New York Times or Washington Post. Even now they’re ignoring a helluva good story.
As a reporter for Knight-Ridder Newspapers and later Newsday, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated because my good exclusive stories were ignored by the big Washington-based media outlets. It’s as if they weren’t stories until the Post or Times recognized them. But imagine what might have been if the Post and Times had followed up aggressively on the Knight-Ridder Bureau’s accurate, repeated and skeptical reports that doubted the existence of those WMDs in Iraq.
The other day, the Times Public Editor, Byron Calame, was on the mark when he chastised his paper for ignoring, for nearly a week, the Post’s two-part piece exposing the miserable conditions for wounded soldiers awaiting outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Then, it buried its piece, which grudgingly gave credit to the Post.
But while I have cheered, on this site, those Post pieces by Dana Priest and Anne Hull, I must note that the Post as well as the Times all but ignored the same story, and more, as reported and written in detail by Mark Benjamin, two years earlier, first for UPI then for Salon. The problem, I’ll wager, is that the struggling UPI and the online magazine Salon don’t count as legitimate, where the Post and Times are concerned. It’s bad enough for the Post and Times to scooped by one another; what’s worse is to follow up on the stories of a lesser media, no matter how good.
You can look up the Benjamin pieces at Salon.com, in which he exposed deplorable conditions at Ft. Stewart, Ga., as well as the mistreatment of the wounded and the terrible maltreatment of emotionally disturbed soldiers recovering from combat at Walter Reed, including one suicide. [And see this piece from Nieman Reports in 2004 by Benjamin's editor at UPI, updated and run earlier this month on Nieman Watchdog.]
I did not know until Benjamin told me, that the wounded are brought to Walter Reed only at night, lest we see them. Benjamin was interviewed on the radio by Democracynow.org on March 15, 2005. But his stories were not recognized by the mainstream media until after the Post series.
And now again, Benjamin has broken a great story in Salon, which I’ve read on some liberal web sites, but not the Post or the Times. In the long, well-documented, well-reported piece, Benjamin tells us that the military, hard-up for cannon fodder to send for the Iraq escalation, is ordering wounded or injured back into action although they may not be fit for duty. “As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq,” he wrote on March 12. “A unit of the army’s 3rd Infantry Division, Ft. Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.”
I’d say that’s worth a follow up.