New York Times Torture Story Is Recycled From Blogs

The New York Times' lead story today reports that, according to the torture memos released last Thursday, the CIA waterboarded two suspects a total of 266 times. They read about it in some blog.

It is true that the memos say we waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah 83 times in August 2002. It's also true that the memos said that four days ago, when they were released. The Times made the release its lead story on Friday. So why are they going back to the well for another Page One story with no new information?

The new information on the number of waterboarding episodes came out over the weekend when a number of bloggers, including Marcy Wheeler of the blog emptywheel, discovered it in the May 30, 2005, memo.

The sentences in the memo containing that information appear to have been redacted from some copies but are visible in others. Initial news reports about the memos in The New York Times and other publications did not include the numbers.

In other words, a blogger noticed something really important in these documents that we totally whiffed on, even though we read them all and wrote a really big front-page story about them. Kudos to the Times for actually naming one of the bloggers in question and acknowledging the lack of a hook for their story. Still, aren't bloggers supposed to be rewriting newspaper stories, and not the other way around?

But the bit about how it's not really the Times' fault for missing it in the first place, because it was "redacted from some copies but are visible in others," appears to be total bunk. The relevant language is clear in all the copies we have seen—which would make sense if, as is likely, the Department of Justice released them electronically, since all the copies would be identical.

We asked Scott Shane, the Times reporter who wrote today's story, if he had a copy of the memo with the numbers redacted, and he helpfully replied right away: "I'm still uncertain — seems a technical glitch. Look at ACLU site version of p 37 of May 30 2005 memo — at least last night that was whited out."

Indeed, much of the ACLU's version of the memo is whited out, in what is clearly a glitch associated with their OCR software.

New York Times Torture Story Is Recycled From Blogs

So maybe the Times initially read the ACLU's version, and missed the big story because of a bug. Of course, if they had read the version posted on their newspaper's own web site, they wouldn't have to be chasing after bloggers on four-day-old stories:

New York Times Torture Story Is Recycled From Blogs