The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, February 04, 2004

NY Times try to shut down Shafer/Landesman - but I'm not so sure

Following up my January 31 piece on the Peter Landesman sex slaves article.

The New York Daily News (February 3) says that
The New York Times has closed the books on a graphic story in its Sunday magazine about sex slaves that had drawn a hail of criticism on Web magazine

The Times said yesterday that an in-house review found the piece to be "sound."

Shafer has a piece (also February 3) in which he is clearly not prepared to let the matter drop.

Having no particular interest in Landesman's subject matter, I have tried to look at the case as on summary judgement, not getting into the underlying facts. Which Landesman, according to Shafer's last piece, took four months and a lot of air miles to research.

Landesman's charge in that piece is essentially collateral (and therefore apt for summary judgement-type consideration): he attacks the credibility of the story by attacking his handling of his key witnesses. He names several, and explains their apparent ideological motivation (religious, mostly). He goes on:
Of course, Miller, Bales, Lederer, Haugen, and Cohn can be reliable sources even if they possess political or social agendas or relevant back stories. But the journalist who simultaneously fails to note the, um, relevant prejudices of his top talking heads, as Landesman does, and declines to locate any moderating views about the panic he's inciting has lost his soul to his sources.

Perhaps a more painstaking reading of Shafer would devine the fact: but I am not clear whether he is suggesting that
  1. Landesman does not realise that his sources had agendas which affected the credibility of his quotes from them; or

  2. he knows it, and failed to signal those agendas to his unsuspecting readers.

I get the feeling that Shafer's piece is slightly overheated:
Landesman's journalistic hysteria parallels the white slave panic that consumed the United States in 1909 after McClure's magazine reported that flesh-peddling Jews were luring innocent country girls into sex slavery...

I like a historical analogy as much as the next guy - well, rather more, perhaps - but there doesn't seem to be panic in the streets quite yet. (And perhaps there's an article in that...)

But I'm convinced that there is evidence that, on one reading, raises the suggestion of a lack of candour on Landesman's part which demands an explanation from the Times - at a senior level - which I don't believe has yet been forthcoming.

There is also movement on the site of Daniel Radosh. Firstly, he looks at one relatively approachable element of the Landesman story: the supposed website on which it is possible to buy sex slaves for delivery in the US. He raises all sorts of circumstantial questions on this site and Landesman's investigation of it that, unanswered, detract from the credibility of the story, though none is a killer, perhaps. Marzorati's response to Shafer deals with the website, but is less than satisfactory on the point. And obviously doesn't address many of the points that Radosh raises. He says, for instance:
Many times throughout the article Landesman carefully hedged his statements with qualifiers, but you seem to understand that the use of qualifiers is not to show care but rather to create vagueness.

Or, O ye of little faith! He could give us proof, but that would only make the situation worse. Moral blackmail, looked at in a certain light.

I like Radosh's method here: within the limits of blogging (without straying into actual journalism), one can walk through a story, and ask oneself, What would the hack (or his subject) be doing, or able to do, or see, or whatever at this time?

If the story is on the level, such questions are a piece of cake to answer.

Meanwhile, elbowing their way onto the Grassy Knoll, are couple of pieces he mentions (here and here) from an interesting character who seems to have issues with Landesman. Caveat lector off the chart.

Latest from the Times was Daniel Okrent's piece at the weekend, where it rated a footnote.

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